How do I overcome perfectionism and enjoy my artistic performances? I mean, I want the emotion of the content to flow through me, rather than a constant monologue of me analyzing each and every moment of my time onstage. How should I do this?
Dear Steaming Cup, though I myself am no thespian to speak of, I did spend one summer following a certain raven haired snake charmer named Phillipa around the Caucases. From her, I learned much about show business.
Part of her act consisted of charming twin cobras out of a basket, then hypnotizing them into a sleep and tying both in a knot with her tongue. Blindfolded. One night, as we drank our customary post-show three bottles of vodka, I asked her how she remained so focused and calm on stage, and what she thought about while she performed these tasks. I asked her whether after 2,164 performances, she still enjoyed what she did.
‘The danger, the actual and real danger makes it new and exciting each time. I know that if I get bored or check out, I will pay with my life.” I insisted that, even so, she must get bored occasionally. “Of course Zamboni, but I am there for the audience, not myself.”
You, Steaming Cup, wish to turn off your inner critic and enjoy the flow of your performance. Only be careful about desiring “emotion..to flow” through you. Emotion is something we can’t have control over. No one decides to cry. No one decides to laugh. You react. You can decide to pick up a toy. You can decide try to make someone laugh. Hopefully your audience feels something, they are the ones who paid.
But there are practical ways to cut off the “constant analyzing” of your inner monologue. Give it less time and space in which to creep in. James Dean told Dennis Hopper his secret was, “do things, don’t act them”. If you are occupied with a toy monkey, really busy with it, your mental editor is forced to take number and wait.
There is an old saying among Estonian stone carvers; “if you want to keep the devil from calling, stay on the phone with your mother.”
Once I, Zambonesman, was in front of many thousands in the Krakow opera house. I gave someone an answer that I immediately regretted. I had overeaten Perogi at lunch and wasn’t thinking clearly. I then started to analyze everything I said and soon it was as if I wasn’t even present at all, I was just a head buzzing with criticism. At that very moment, I noticed a small child in the front row whose grandmother must have dragged him to the theatre. He had huge blue eyes trained right on me and a motionless face. I decided I would make that child smile at some point in my show. It took 72 hours, but finally I did it. I can assure I was too busy for any inner critic. Next time you hear that analyzing voice, listen politely, then say, “thanks for sharing, now if you’ll excuse me…”
Steaming Cup, thank you for your question. I thank you also for caring so much about your craft. Remember, it is called a “play” not a “work”- so enjoy!
Zambones has spoken, exit stage left, even.
One thought on “Question from an Actor”
As a prosaic expressive arts therapist I have to say that learning how to turn off the inner critic is a goal I share with the Great Zambonesman so thanks for the snake charmer’s hints.