The Danger of Confidence Becoming Complacency
- OnStage Washington Columnist
Stop me if this sounds familiar: You go to an audition with a company you have never encountered before. You’ve checked the directions a dozen times before you show up early, nervously clutching your headshot and resume. Every step feels awkward as you stumble your way to the correct place. As you sit waiting, another actor strolls in. This person is all confidence and cool; they crack jokes with the stage manager, reminisce about old shows with the other auditionees, and finally whip out a stellar audition as if it was just an afterthought. Your hopes begin to sink as you realize how disconnected and fragile you appear next to this fine example of an actor.
Unfortunately for the more introverted actors, outgoing confidence tends to attract the eyes of directors. People who are naturally more reserved often learn to create a sort of affected extroversion which allows them to function in the harsh spotlight of the show business. Actors who do seem very secure in themselves often land many parts, and it is easy to understand why directors favor someone who appears strong and bold compared to someone who seems weak and unsure. However, this trend of focusing on the people who already seem “perfect” has an inherent flaw. The more these confident people get cast, the more self-assured they become. The more self-assured they become, the less they worry about losing their high status. As their egos are watered into blossoming flowers, theatre loses its risk and becomes a place where minimal effort gets them what they want. These people no longer feel the need to try, while the less popular actors sweat, struggle, and beat themselves up as they relentlessly seek to better themselves.
A good example of this phenomenon is within the academic context of actors auditioning for classes. This is a strange situation in which the casting team is not deciding who would play a given part best but rather who best deserves to continue learning. At my university at least, the people who managed to audition themselves to the top-level acting classes tended to be the confident type of people I just described. They were outgoing, charismatic, attractive, relaxed, or just had a distinct style which made them stand out. None of these people should be criticized for being who they are, for all of these are desirable traits for actors. However, many of the people who did not reach the highest level worked just as hard, felt just as passionately about acting, and performed beautifully. The rejects included more broken people still struggling to heal themselves, open up, and break down their walls. There were more introverts, more people who felt awkward in social situations, and, overall, people who somehow did not fit that picture perfect image of the effortless actor commanding the scene. What makes these people less worthy to study acting? Perhaps they do have farther to go, but I have seen incredibly growth from some actors who did not continue to the top level. It is the people who keep fighting in the face of rejection who I respect most.
Learning how to present oneself in a confident manner is a valuable skill, but it seems unfair to punish actors for having more obstacles than others. On the flip side, anyone who is constantly told they are already perfect will lose motivation to keep working as hard as they once did. This creates stagnation in the actor’s journey. Having spent the last three years in a small town seeing primarily community theatres and academic shows, I have seen far too many performers whose performances never change much between shows. Sometimes they fit the part just right, but after seeing the same mistakes and the same tricks repeated, it is clear that some actors at the top of the community’s food chain have stopped really trying to be better. And as they reign comfortably, the nervous newcomers struggle to so much as get their foot on the stage.
There are certainly exceptions to the situation I described. It would be a gross fallacy to imply all actors who get cast frequently are guilty of phoning it in. My point is to consider the overall system and how, whether consciously or not, we tend to cast certain types of people and block off others from continuing their acting journey. Ideally, we are all constantly reevaluating ourselves and pinpointing our areas of weakness. To those who feel assured in their ability to land parts, don’t get too comfortable and never forget your position as an artist constantly striving for deeper truth. To those who feel overlooked and forgotten, take care of yourself and do not allow criticism and self-doubt to erode your passion. Acting is a personal journey and, as long as we are all doing the best work we can, it doesn’t really matter where you are compared to anyone else.