What Actors Can Learn From Their Reactions

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Morgan Freeman says, “Acting is reacting in my book.”

That’s really what it is.

We hear someone say something to us under different circumstances and it makes us react. We cry. We lose our shit. We laugh. We express feeling. We follow an instinct.

Sometimes our reactions—when they aren’t planned and controlled—are surprising to us. The incredible honesty that being in the moment creates, triggers us in unexpected and very human ways.

This is where we want to go in our work. Always.

But it can also generate a conundrum. React without thinking in our work. And yet as we evolve, stop reacting mindlessly in our lives.

Acting isn’t asking us to be messes emotionally in our lives. It’s actually healing us into working through sticky areas we may have never faced before. Dealing with pain. Learning how to express authentic feeling. Standing up for ourselves. Communicating honestly. Owning our power.

These things can’t be achieved when we live in chaos. Acting doesn’t support that kind of disconnect (or rather, it can), but in the kind of breakthroughs we want to achieve in our lives, acting is the catalyst to become more present with our feelings in a very active, cathartic way.

The challenge is that as we become more mindful in our own lives of how we treat ourselves and others, what we demand for ourselves and what we no longer want to put up with, it oftentimes can make us feel as if we should be inhibiting certain reactions in our work.

Don’t. The actual reacting to things without a censor is also what simultaneously gives us insight into how we can make healthier choices in our own lives. And even though we’re on the road then to becoming enlightened Buddhas, it doesn’t mean we won’t backslide in our own lives.

We will.

You’ll see someone on the street you had a bad run-in with five years ago. You’ll both pretend you don’t see each other. Or you’ll cross to the other side just to avoid him. You’re at the gym and run into someone else you don’t want to see. Eeeeek. You’ll pretend to be on your cell phone. Events like these will demonstrate to us where we’re still stuck.

If connection is what we’re all after, it’s not just sweet, fun, flirty connection. It’s also connection that’s forged through awkwardness and hurt feelings and forgiveness and letting go. It’s created by creating healing with someone or reaching out even though it would be easier to ignore the person. Connection is really about allowing ourselves to be fully expressed even in situations that, at the surface, seem to be about mis-connection.

Icky, weird, awful, confusing, sad, and painful are also experiences of connection just as deep as uplifting, joyful, intimate, loving, creative, and passionate.

Just like in our acting, they’re all, ultimately, reactions—to a moment, a person, a situation, ourselves.

Allow yourself to do more of that in your acting and your life, while at the same time, you’ll be able to become more aware of how you’ve evolved past habituated reactions in life so that you can choose to react differently.

And isn’t that what life is all about? Choosing to react differently to things that we have no control over? That leads to a healthier, happier, more productive, and paradoxically, less reactive life.

Like this advice? Check out more from our Backstage Experts!

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Anthony Meindl
Anthony Meindl is an award-winning writer-director-producer, creativity expert, inspirational speaker, and artistic director of Anthony Meindl’s Actor Workshop (AMAW) with studios in Los Angeles, New York, London, Sydney, and Vancouver.
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