The Art of Demon Slaying: An Actor’s Guide to Staying Optimistic

Let us switch to a minor key for a moment and talk about depression. Chances are, if you are in the arts and haven’t actually experienced clinical depression, you’ve at least flirted with self-loathing (that tease), and the crippling sense of worthlessness that accompanies what feels like your 97th rejection. We all have our dark days.

We’ve touched a little on self-doubt, but what about those times when you pole vault right over self-doubt and crash land on the wrong side of depression? It happens. Every now and then, regardless of how much you practice positive thinking, or how many Vitamin D supplements you take, you’re going to hit a rough patch. Unfortunately, few things are as destructive to the creative process as some good old-fashioned, soul-sucking melancholy. So now is the time to start developing some strategies to help you fight those toxic voices in your head. Ladies and gentlemen, gird your loins. We’re going demon slaying.

The first thing to do is work on adjusting your expectations. Rejection will never go away. It is one of the few glorious constants in this business. You could act until you are ninety-five and you still won’t book every gig. So start training your brain now to see it for what it is. Rejection cannot be read as a description of your talent. You can be perfect for the role, audition well, have enough experience, and still fail to get cast. Maybe the director has a different vision, or you don’t look right with the leading man, or a million other factors. Forget them. Throughout your career you win some, you lose some, and you can’t let either define your worth as an actor. That is something you have to bring to the table on your own.

However, it’s hard to work on adjusting expectations when you have already hit rock bottom, so sometimes you need shorthand. Something that helped me recently was creating a mantra. Normally I’m not really a mantra type of person. Looking in the mirror and reciting affirmations makes me feel silly. But when things get overwhelming, distilling your thoughts can be a very positive step. For me, it was easiest to start out by thinking about what I needed to hear. It can be as simple as “I am a good actor” or “I am resilient.” Come up with three or four things of which you need to be reminded. Choose your words carefully (maybe “tough” sounds better to you than “resilient,” for example). It’s your mantra, so choose statements that will give you courage, rather than what you think you should tell yourself. Then write it down. If it helps, make a ceremony out of it—burn some sage or order pizza to celebrate. Let it live in your head for a while. When you start slipping, repeat those words, even if you don’t really believe them yet. Then repeat them until you do.

For me, creating affirming shorthand was a jumpstart, so the next thing to do is keep up the positive momentum. When I feel like I’m knocking my head against the wall, I need a change of scenery. It doesn’t have to be long, but I would recommend trying to take a little time away from the acting world. Just take a day to clear your head. Do things that make you feel happy and inspired. Maybe sign up for a new, non-theatre-related activity, or go for a run, or get coffee and read, or call some friends and hang out. Take note of what lifts you up and save it for the future! Don’t come back to work feeling depleted and weak. Take a breather, get your head on straight, and then try a new approach. Look for auditions out of town, or redo your resume, or have a wine and workshop night with some actor friends you really trust. Remember you are in it for the long haul, so you can’t run yourself into the ground. Mental maintenance is not a frivolous undertaking.

Finally, it never hurts to get a little perspective. At the end of the day, you’re doing what you love. If you are lucky enough to be a working actor most of the time, you are extraordinarily lucky by world standards. I have a couple friends who, when people start to get stressed over little things backstage, say “I play pretend for a living.” To me, this doesn’t mean you can never have a bad day, or that your work as an actor is superficial. It’s just a nice mental check that reminds me I am lucky enough to be in a line of work where a spirit of fun is an asset. And on a greater scale nothing is as bad as it seems.

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Rachel Rachel Frawley is an actor living in Atlanta. She holds a B.F.A. in Theatre from Michigan State University (with cognates in Music and Professional Writing) and is an Apprentice Company graduate from the Atlanta Shakespeare Co. She also works as an education artist for local theatres, which have included the Shakespeare Tavern and Aurora Theatre. For more information, visit her website at www.rachelfrawley.com

One Comment

  1. Posted February 11, 2016 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    Just saw the movie at a special shinwog at Creighton University in Omaha. Excellent film. Thank you for producing and support this project. I also appreciate what Joe Rickets and the American Film Company are trying to do with making historically accurate films. I look forward to their next several projects. By the way, our all time family favorite The Milagro Beanfield War! Take care, Tom

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