When Your Comfort Zone is Your Danger Zone
OnStage Connecticut Columnist
If there’s anything more challenging and nerve-wracking it’s putting yourself physically as well as emotionally bare on the stage. Acting is one of the most vulnerable and risky professions in the world. The idea of breaking down in front of hundreds of people eight times a week is extremely daunting. In a small acting class of about fifteen people it’s even more daunting and the idea of “playing it safe” is absolutely enticing. Playing it safe, in this case, means holding back your potential to create a fully-fledged, existing and thriving character. It means being too scared to experience the full range of human emotion and experience. I know, first hand, how incredible frightening it is. At this point in my training I finally feel I am traveling outside of my comfort zone and can explain how freeing it is as well as how detrimental it is for any actor to be complacent and stay in their comfort zone.
In my particular acting program, we go by the Meisner and Stanislavski teachings. We’re taught to fully delve into the imaginary world, live in the moment-to-moment circumstances and respond truthfully to partner behavior. We are encouraged to take risks and to make daunting decisions. Holding back is unacceptable. If your impulse is to kiss your partner, then you kiss them. If your impulse is to verbally slap them and reject them, you do just that. This can be extremely scary and it was certainly scary to me as a little freshman (I’m a junior now). For the first year and a half of my training I struggled with following those impulses and, more often than not, backed away from them entirely. They made me severely uncomfortable and while I thrived with creating interesting characters on paper, I struggled to bring them to life and push myself to explore every aspect of human emotion. I felt safe in my area of comfort and only doing the bare minimum in my scenes.
It was this year that I realized how I was suffering as an actor by cheating myself of those vital and emotionally difficult situations. I wasn’t growing and I realized how I was denying myself roles and similar opportunities because I wasn’t willing to take risks. In one of my first classes of this semester I made the decision to accept my vulnerability and say how I felt. And I have to say that when I expressed the truth of the fright I was feeling, I felt as if fifty pounds had been taken off my shoulders and I could be honest at last.
By coming out of my comfort zone and following those intimidating impulses I allowed myself to become fearless and to choose to grow. The struggle with many aspiring actors my age is they aren’t willing to take even one step outside of their comfort zone. I see it in my own acting class, my university theatre community, as well as in the world when I work on shows. People are not willing to push themselves to their fullest potential and truly live in the rage of their character, the heartbreak they are going through, or even admit to their partner in a scene how much they truly love them. It does a great disservice to that person’s process and harms them in their career.
Here is a challenge I want you, my fellow actors, to attempt. In your next acting class when you’re communicating with your partner, check into how you’re feeling and how the other person is affecting you. Are they, in the moment, making you feel as if you’re falling in love? Tell them. Do you want to shake them and tell them how naïve they are being? Find a physical or verbal way to bring them to reality. See how that changes the scene and affects the relationship between the both of you in the set of circumstances you’re given. You’ll find it frees you internally and externally and it will allow you to be more brave than you already are. Free yourself. Take the plunge and see how you grow when you are out of your safety zone.
Photo: Lynchburg College