How To Be The Friend Your Acting Career Needs

hugActors are simultaneously asked to be readily in touch with their most vulnerable emotional selves, and to have the hide of a rhinoceros. We must bare our souls and brush the rejection off our shoulders. But the myth is that this skill should somehow be inherent, that it doesn’t take work, that actors who make it look easy are somehow better, and actors who struggle with it can’t hack it.

 

And if that myth monster isn’t whispering in your ear, check your other shoulder. There’s gremlin number two, insisting that real artists have to suffer. That your pain validates and authenticates your artistry.

 

So here I am about to give you a lot of advice that I am constantly struggling to take to heart myself. If you somehow haven’t internalized any of this nonsense, you are a flawless unicorn and yes, you still need to hear this. Because even unicorns need help sometimes.

 

  1. Make your mental health a top priority. I have a very hard time with this. At the intersection of people pleasing and overachieving, I’m forever waiting for the bus that will come “at the right time,” when I’m not inconveniencing others, when all my “real” responsibilities have been seen to. That bus is not coming. It will never come. Walk away from that intersection and pave your own road to emotional stability. You are worth it and your career needs it. Taking care of your mental health has to be a constant priority at the top of your list because no one else can take care of this for you.
  2. Suffering is not a prerequisite to poignant art (she screams into the abyss). Your job is to reflect and embody the human condition, and guess what? Suffering is but one slice of that. And it is a greedy slice. It likes to eclipse and hobble all the other slices. It wants to be the whole pie. Don’t give in. Joy, love and confidence are all equally valid slices. To be able to access and portray a full and versatile human experience, you need to help yourself be a stable and balanced human. This does not mean great art cannot come from great pain. It just means that suffering is not a one way ticket to an Oscar. It means that sometimes anguish is hindering rather than helping your art. You have the right and responsibility to look at your darkness for what it is. Examine whether it is fueling you or consuming you. You can’t wield a tool you don’t know.
  3. Medication does not have to mean stripping your capacity for emotion. Real talk, I avoided treatment of depression/anxiety of any kind for years because I swallowed this lie whole and am just now coming around to the idea that maaaaaaaybe I was bamboozled. Try to treat mental health like physical health. No one would blame you for wrapping a sprained ankle, or say that icing it was preventing you from truly connecting to your character. Take care of yourself. If you need medication or therapy or both, seek them out. Even if it takes you awhile to find the right fit. I’m just saying I know many talented actors who talk to therapists and mediate their mental health issues and they are no less riveting and present in their performances. Not everyone’s fix looks the same. But be open to learning abou yours.
  4. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Hey. Hey all you perfectionists out there. It’s not. It’s just not. It takes courage and wisdom to ask for help when you need it. Acting is a collaborative process. Your life should be too. It’s a lonely enough career without imposing needless isolation on  yourself. Ask for the help you need. When you are taken care of, your career is too.
  5. There are resources when you have none. Here’s the thing. Unfortunately lot of the ideal treatments for mental health take time, money, and access to reliable healthcare that many of us lack. So it’s important to keep yourself well-versed in the options and resources that are available to you. Figure out what forms of mental healthcare your plan covers (if any, if you have one). Familiarize yourself with local services that might be free or sliding scale. Take note of hotlines, programs and support groups you might need someday, even if it feels stupid or unnecessary. Gather these shortcuts when you’re feeling strong so when the hard times come they are readily available.
  6. Surround yourself with a support system and cultivate it like a garden. Everyone needs a support system. Actors and freelance artists especially. Look around you and take stock of what connections are enriching your life, and what you can do to strengthen them. Then get honest with yourself about the toxic weeds in your life. You get to choose on this one. If family isn’t where you feel safe, surround yourself with trustworthy friends. Find other actors you can lean on. Join community groups centered on film and theatre. It’s not just networking for advancement. You need a community around you who is committing to the same struggle. People you can call on to help with a last minute self tape. Shoulders to cry on when the fear that you’ll never get cast again is overwhelming. Gather strength in the people around you.

 

Look out for one another. Check on your strong friends. And give yourself a break. A friend of mine recently advised me to talk to myself as if I were my friend. It’s not the first time I’ve heard that advice. But I needed to hear it. For a while now, I’ve stopped being a friend to myself. I use language to internally describe myself I wouldn’t throw at anyone else. I berate myself for imagined failures and perceived inadequacies. So if you needed to hear this today, so did I. Now I’m going to go research local therapists, revamp my workout routine and start taking vitamins again. I expect my work to benefit from it.

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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

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