As an actor, I have made the conscious decision to try any sort of role. Very recently I was asked to help out with a style of show that once I may have simply walked away from. That was then, a time when I found discomfort too confrontational and best avoided. A time when I let my fear tell me what to do.
Most of us do. We let our fears take control of our actions. As an actor, this can be disastrous. You end up forgetting your lines, freezing on stage (or in front of the camera), and then it becomes a vicious circle feeding on itself. We are told that we must conquer our fears, or overcome them. The advice is meant to be helpful and it is not. How do you conquer your fears? How do you overcome something so base and instinctual?
The problem is that this ideal of conquering one’s fears sets fear up as the enemy, a combative opponent. Something that is not a part of you but is in opposition to you, and it’s personal. Yet these fears are your personal feelings and beliefs, so how do you fight something that is actually part of you?
That’s the same question twice, so I’m repeating myself, which I’ve just done again.
Fighting yourself is hard. In any conflict, there are casualties and when you are fighting yourself, there can be only one casualty, regardless of the outcome of the battle. So whenever you gain ground, you’ve lost it as well. One step forward, two back, as they say.
When there is no enemy within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you.
So what’s the alternative? In hindsight, it was obvious and far easier than I could have imagined. Why was I afraid? Because I believed I could fail and that there would be consequences. Being on stage, in front of hundreds of people, to fail would be the height of embarrassment. Yet fighting, or pretending that this concern was something other than me, only served to heighten my awareness of it. It intensified the battle and now I was focused on that, not my performance. I had to find another way.
I read a lot, asked a lot of questions, searched my soul a little. I found more reason for confusion than solution, and yet through all this, I slowly began to change the way I saw my fears. I cannot say when it happened, as it crept up on me in the night, every night, whispered in my ear as I slept until one day I realised that my fears were but a signal, a tingling of energy that indicated a desire to do my best. It dawned on me that I had misinterpreted those signals as a reason to fear, when they were actually from desire, a desire to perform. My enemy had become my ally.
In the end, fear was just a reaction to something I didn’t really understand and had not learned to work with. It is the sensation that something challenging was close at hand, usually associated with walking in to something that you had little control over, and that is a topic for another blog. This sensation is a self-preservation trigger designed to warn you of danger, and according to classical behavioural studies, leads to the fight-or-flight response.
Response. That is the key word there. You can choose your response by redefining the meaning behind the sensation, rather than letting your response be dictated by instinctual and “learned” behaviours. These days, I welcome that feeling commonly called “nerves” or “butterflies.” It is an energy that I can use. My characters can feed of that energy because there is one thing that is common among all people; we are all nervous about something. The interesting side-effect, my characters have never felt so alive.