Updated: Jul 8, 2022
Actors are the most courageous humans I've ever met. They go where most of us fear going. Actors must nurture faith in the creative power and surrender to the story.
Over the years, in my acting coaching practice, I've witnessed actors express dissatisfaction with their scenes. No matter where they are from or how many years of experience they have, beginners and working professionals alike show what Martha Graham calls divine dissatisfaction and what I like to call creative dissatisfaction.
“Actors are never satisfied with the work they create. When the director calls "cut" on a set, actors will ask for another take or wish for one more in silence.”
It's as if they don't believe they can be extraordinary, and I get it; we can always do better. Even famous Hollywood actors will admit they never watch their movies because they know divine dissatisfaction will surely kick in even at that level.
You must understand this dissatisfaction you feel is the very life force that keeps you longing to do more, to go further into unexplored territories. The desire for growth, to do better, to become something more, is a natural condition of human nature. The mind is always seeking a higher form of expression. That's how we evolve. And that growth is infinite. There's no place to arrive or a final destination, only milestones. And you shouldn't look at it negatively because how boring would it be to arrive at a place where there's no more possibility for growth?
This unsavoury feeling is even more pronounced in acting because the actor's work is never final. A painter may spend months working on the canvas, but one day, the painter will have finished that painting, unlike actors whose art is momentary. There isn't one correct way to play a scene, but infinite ways. Every take on a set will feel slightly or entirely different than the one before. The same is true on stage from one night to the next. So actors can keep tweaking away as long as there's another take. A movie is a final product put together by an editor who picks, chooses, and then crystalizes a few moments created by the actors. So when we watch a great movie, we see the best takes those actors produced put together by some genius editor, with music, transitions, colour correction, and all the bells and whistles, and so it all looks so wonderful and perfect and final. But we must remember that this is not acting. This is called filmmaking, an art form that encompasses many others: writing, acting, photography, and so on. The actors' work happened on the set. Each take a brand new deal. New moments are created after every single "action." And with every single take, a new potential arises in that unique moment, and we hope something even more extraordinary will take place. But you can't judge that creative force.
Surrender To The Story
You have to surrender to the story. Find that place of surrender because we are mere instruments through which the story plays. The more you let go of your needs to do a good job or impress or trying to figure it all out, the more available your instrument will be: body, voice, mind and soul; then, the story will find its way through you. You cannot control creativity. You can prepare the land for it to grow, but you cannot control how it grows. That need for control will come from a limited place within yourself. We can't create what we already know. It's already been done.
“Creativity lies in unknown territory, out of your comfort zone, and that's where you have to go.”
So creativity lies in unknown territory, out of your comfort zone, and that's where you have to go. There's no place for judgment because judgment will stint new possibilities and bring you back to what's comfortable and familiar. Your judgement comes from what you already know, and that judgement will keep you exactly where you already are. So next time you want to try something new with your character and a familiar voice pops up in your mind saying, "but your character would never do that." Ask that voice to sit in a corner, be quiet, and then go try that idea out! The voice telling you to try something new that may look absurd is your intuition. The voice telling you not to do anything ridiculous is trying to keep you in your comfort zone.
“So turn your creative dissatisfaction into a positive mindset.”
Actors also don't have a good perspective when doing a scene. You can't watch yourself to be able to judge if your scene fits with the rest of the movie. The movie is a big puzzle with many different pieces that the actors are creating in that moment. The director is responsible for piecing those new scenes together. So it's not just about you and your work; it's about the whole. The best thing you can do, and perhaps the only thing you can control, is to work on your craft. Make sure you have an instrument that is ready to tell stories. If you have a vocal disconnect, make sure you work on that voice. If you feel emotionally disconnected, start nurturing that part of yourself again by doing things that make you feel alive: dancing, reading, watching movies, playing with children, riding horses, walking in nature, whatever makes your heart warm. And then learn to let go and find freedom in storytelling. You'll find that you'll soar much higher once you do. So turn your creative dissatisfaction into a positive mindset. Don't beat yourself up if you feel you could have done better in your scene. Instead, be excited about finding a new challenge to explore in future scenes. You don't grow from being perfect. You grow from that awareness that you can do better. Your creative dissatisfaction is an opportunity for growth. So next time, raise the bar, and then let go. Will you surrender? That's the question. If you do, you will find the extraordinary you're looking for. I know it so.
- Isabel lehoux, Founder of ISA.