Fear of Acting
Fear of Acting
Emotions play an important part in our daily lives. They arise as natural responses to any given event or thought. Love, disappointment, jealousy, hatred are emotions we experience at different points in our life. Fear is also one such emotion that is pre-programmed into all animals and people. Fear arises instinctively whenever we perceive a potential danger or threat. Fear also stems from lack of sufficient knowledge or the thought of exploring an unknown territory. In case of acting, the latter is a more common cause.
You may wonder what lack of sufficient knowledge mean. It is incomplete knowledge about something that creates a tremendous gap between knowing something and actually performing it. Most people know a lot but end up doing much less; don’t you feel it’s true in your case too? Try comparing your knowledge levels to your actual performance, and you will find that in most cases you have under-performed. The truth is that we always over-know, or rather assume that our knowledge is complete. This is normal but sometimes there is too big a gap between knowledge and action which indicates that you haven’t explored your potential fully yet. In such a situation, it is important for you as an actor to try finding answers to a few questions. How big is the gap in your performance? How much of a gap are you okay with?
To get answers to these questions, think back and recall a time when after you performed a particular scene, you strongly felt that you could have done much better. Take time to contemplate about the cause of this gap. Do you think you sometimes operate from a confused map, a map that tricks you? Are you confusing true actions with deceptive substitutions that only give the impression of doing? Or are you confusing pre-action with actual action? When you arrive at answers to these questions, you will realize that one of the main reasons why you know so much more and perform so little is your fear. Fear makes actors afraid and inhibits them from performing up to their potential. It freezes them and paralyzes them.
There could be external reasons for this attitude too, for example: lack of the right opportunities. And of course there could be personal reasons too, such as failing to be action oriented, making excuses, etc. Another common personal reason is the fear of missing or the feeling ‘What if I am not able to achieve what I have set out to do?’ The biggest fear that actors face is failure to gain acceptance from the director, producer, or the audience. This forces most of them to the line and work within known boundaries, to perform as per the average acceptable standard. But what these actors forget is that while such careful approach may help them avoid outright rejection, it also leads to a very mediocre performance. Thus, this fear evokes a higher level about knowing and we tend to set up a sign that says ‘Danger, too risky, avoid!’ This is what makes our actions move further and further away from our knowledge.
There are also people who think that if they only know more, they will be able to do more. So they buy another book, listen to a lot of lectures, but still don’t act on this knowledge or take the next step. This only broadens their knowing-doing gap, because they are learning more, but are still not doing! If you already know a lot but aren’t putting much to action, it may not help you to learn more. The solution only lies in overcoming your fears and getting down to applying the knowledge and doing it or performing. Therefore, stop running away from your fears, face it, and perform freely! Take a calculated risk and just go for it!
Some people are bound and limited by taboos that forbid and prevent them from taking action. There may even be systems that do not allow the translation from knowing to doing. Do you have a plan by which you can put your knowledge of acting to good use without falling prey to these limitations? There are fat chances that you don’t. Then no wonder the gap between knowing and doing will keep widening!
You also have to be very careful about what you think and avoid the following deceptions:
- Knowing is sufficient for success
- Measuring things is an action or contributes to performance
- Making a decision is the same as taking an action
Here are some types of fears specific to acting:
Fear of complexity, lack of clarity.
- This looks so difficult
- I am not sure how to go about doing this shot
Fear of risk, mistakes and imperfections
- What if the next attempt does not go down well?
- What if I make a Mistake?
- What if I am not perfect?
- There’s so much competition in this field, I am so scared
- I am worried about what others are doing
- Let me see if I can copy others
Fearing change, repeating what worked
- I am afraid of anything that is new, different and unpredictable.
- Let me just fall back on what is standard and I have always been doing
Taboos that prevent and forbid action:
- Don’t make a fool of yourself
- Don’t risk making a mistake, it’s too dangerous
- Don’t be imperfect
Lack of action can also result from:
- No structure that follows up with your actions
- No structure that rewards you when you learn from mistakes
- No structure that rewards you when you take risks
Behavioral pattern that prevent us from taking action:
- Not being action-oriented, being inactive, and passive
- Making excuses and letting excuses stop us
- Discounting small actions
Here is a question for you: When is an action not really an action?
Answer: When the action does not actually lead to performance.
Many people think that studying, reading, and learning will help them acquire the art of acting. It’s not true! Reading another book or watching another tape will not help you experiential. It may provide you with more knowledge, and that may very well be the best knowledge in the field. Yet, if you do not act upon it, it may not help you much. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you should wait until you ‘know it all’ or have ‘expert knowledge level.’ You have to get out there and make mistakes!
Some people widen the knowing-doing gap by fearing about the mistakes they may make. They may know how to do something but won’t do it because they feel, “What if I mess it up?” or “What if I make a mistake or fail?” etc. So they excuse themselves from the most basic form of learning, which is ‘Trial and error learning.’ You can learn acting only when you have tried your hand at it and failed a few times. Get up, do something, experiment, get feedback, and work on that feedback.
Then there are those who assume that talking is equivalent to performing. Such actors fill their heads with more and more information and weaken their performance muscles by actually not doing anything. Talk may prepare you for doing. Talk may empower you to formulate your plans and motivate you, but talking by itself can never be a substitute for acting!
Another human tendency is consider measuring things as action. No doubt, measuring is an action, but most things that really count in acting cannot be measured, or at least cannot be measured with precision. This is where fears spring in again, because a film is a system of interactive parts, is complex, and involves multiple contributing causes. This complexity and the feeling of not being in control of other causes leads to inhibited action. Additionally, the fear of not knowing for sure what you are doing can also affect your performance.
We have seen how the knowing-doing gap prevents the actual implementation and undermines top-quality performance. We have identified and developed several patterns that help to translate knowledge into real life action. Here are a few questions to focus on while you try to close the knowing-doing gap.