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Every Single Experience Contributes to Your Acting

Every Single Experience Contributes to Your Acting
Photo Source: @rebekah via Twenty20

Until recently, I had no idea why the advice I often received as an actor—“use what works for you and discard the rest”—bothered me so much. It really irked me but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I still hear people offer that same advice to actors, but I’d like to offer you a preferable alternative. 

For years, I figured my discomfort with the advice was due to people discarding useful things every day because they have no idea how to use them. After all, to a caveman, a laptop is a weapon or a hammer and when it breaks, it’s entirely useless. It’s become clear to me over time, though, that this is still only a superficial understanding of my misgivings surrounding the council to keep what works and throw the rest away.

Every single thing you’re taught and everything you experience is valuable. Just as the carcass of a wildebeest hunted and killed by lions will be consumed in its entirety (first by the lions, then the hyena, followed by vultures and ants), each lesson can be consumed until there is nothing left to throw away. Death in nature is not the end of the line; it’s the transition from one state of energy to another. Each failed lesson and unpleasant experience in our life is a fallen creature but we live off the meat and organs and bones of what has fallen in order to sustain life beyond the one we thought was all-important.

Failures are not to be seen as useless and so discarded; rather, they are to be consumed in order to provide sustenance for the next phase of existence. So incorporate them...don’t throw them away. 

READ: How To Have More ‘Weight’ As An Actor

Every single day, I find myself turning little life experiences and observations into acting exercises for my clients and myself. If I can’t find a way to tie any lesson into a gem for students, it becomes my own personal discovery with the aim of improving my interactions with others. When I think of the lessons I feel taught me the least in life, they prompted me to create solutions for the problems they failed to address. If failing to learn can inspire you to go and do something about it, then you have been taught an incredible lesson after all.  

Drama school was never able to fully resolve my issue with the lack of an ironclad definition for a beat change (something mentioned by almost every teacher but left undefined by them all), but the void became a vacuum into which my own definition was eventually destined to fill. When I was told I needed more “weight” as an actor, the lack of specificity on how that might be attained spurred me on in a quest to find it, which I did. Now I can teach other actors to create “weighty” characters without force-feeding them, something that wouldn’t have happened without the gap in my own lessons as a student.

I’ve devoured every single morsel of life’s lessons. In desperate times, I have gorged myself. In foolish times, starved myself. But in the end, every life-sustaining lesson is there to sustain me as long as I don’t discard anything. 

Never discard what “doesn’t work.” Instead, chew it. Savor it. Digest it. Devour it. Incorporate it. Society may seem wasteful, but nature isn’t. Every experience, lesson or technique you have encountered is only useless when you fail to be sustained by its life-giving properties. Decide today to devour every single lesson life offers you, regardless of how useful you decide it may be, for only then will you be in tune with your true nature. And every success and failure actually provides you with the nutrients to grow.

Paul Barry is an L.A.-based Australian acting teacher, author of “Choices,” and a Backstage Expert. Barry runs regular on-camera classes in Los Angeles and online around the world. For more information, check out Barry’s full bio!

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The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

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