Actor Guilt

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  • Arianna Engnell

The curtain closes on another show and a cluster ball of emotions hits you like a tidal wave. You think back on the rehearsal process and can list all these things that you should have done. You wish you could go back in time and do it all over, again.

You passionately love the show but you already, hours after the show closed, worry that you did not do your character justice. You walk through every scene and feel that you know how to do it better. Admit it, these feelings began before opening night. The thought that you did not build the life of your character enough plagues you. The word “enough” is becoming commonplace. You did not do enough. You did not study this fact of their lives enough. You did not know enough of their given circumstances. You did not give enough to your scene partners. You did not meet the director’s expectations. You could go on and on about how you were not enough.

Wracked with worry and guilt, you worry about your ability to play and depend more on the thoughts of others. You are not alone. It has a simple name that many have also felt: actor guilt.

Beware of acting methods that only send you in a sea of thoughts of how you did not go far enough, you did not focus enough, you did not focus on your partner enough (this word has become sickening), and you know the spiel. Some methods are as giving as Oprah, “Now you have actor guilt! You have actor guilt! We all have actor guilt!”

You do not have to put yourself in a box as a Stanislavski, Meisner, Hagen, Strasberg actor, and etc. Follow Mamet’s advice to just be an actor. Discover your own method. A method that is beyond just memorizing lines and blocking. Truth be told, it is safer and more effective to do so under the watchful eye of a mentor/coach. They will be able to see what works for you and what makes you drift further into your mind. If you follow your proven effective method, you will feel less guilt by not strictly following the guideline of an old theatre practitioner. There is much to learn from them but they are not the gods of theatre and, therefore, are not the dictators of how one must act. Listen to your mind and your body and what connects and is safe.

Sometimes we do not trust ourselves to have done enough to be the best we can be in a role. If you have heard, “you can always go further,” you know this to be true. Optimistically, we believe that we will do more to prepare for a role than what reality presents us. We often end up doing less than we had planned. Our fear can paralyze us forcing us to wallow in the guilt from previous shows.

Create a routine out of your method for how you will embrace and absorb a play. Once you have prepared, ease your soul by swatting away the plaguing thoughts and reminding yourself that you have done the work and are ready. Work on trusting yourself throughout the process so you will not wish you did when the show is over. Trust is a major missing component if actor guilt is weighing you down. Any time doubts slip into your mind, stop them. If you encourage them, they will fester and become your mentality. Feed your soul happy thoughts and contentment and trust will come more easily to you. Trust becomes bolder choices, by the way.

Now that you know the term, if you did not already, do not use it as an excuse to coast. Use it to drive you to prepare. If coasting is your method, the fear is legitimate because you have let your castmates and director down. Be above reproach and trust yourself.