Acting Zen

Yogic Philosophy for the LA Artist

yoga.jpg

     Los Angeles, and California in general, has a distinct reputation around the globe.  Angelinos are seen as health-conscious, image-conscious, self-helping liberals who start or quickly follow the latest dietary, fitness, or spiritual trends (and that’s one of the more diplomatic categorizations).  It’s no wonder why yoga studios are so ubiquitous here.  As a yogi, I’ve had some pretty amazing conversations with actors who practice, and over the years I’ve seen how helpful yogic philosophy is for Los Angeles actors as they navigate the competitive and sometimes heartbreaking realities of the entertainment industry.

     While I’m no guru of Zen philosophy, I continue to read and practice with the idea of continued growth.  Here are some concepts from my practice that are more than relevant to actors in film and television:

     Stay Present.  You’ve probably heard this in your acting class.  The best performances are from actors who are truly living within the character breath to breath.  That actor who is truly listening when not speaking—the actor who is genuinely feeling the emotion from moment to moment—these are the most captivating performers who force us to be present with them.  “Staying present” wasn’t a technique that acting teachers created;  it is a concept borrowed from Zen philosophy.  By removing the fears/anticipation of the future and the regrets/diversions of the past, you have a better chance of finding peace and gratitude for everything that is happening right now.  When applied to scene work or photography or any art form, the same beauty emerges when you strip away all the distractions that are pulling you and your creative mind away from the task at hand.  True beauty can only live in the present—even beautiful memories are tainted by a melancholia for a moment that is gone.  Many actors have a regular meditation practice.  While meditating isn’t the only way to stay present, it’s hard to deny its power in calming a distracted mind, and that’s a great place to begin exploring your scene work.

     Duality.  Duality and balance are big concepts in yoga culture—the idea that two seemingly contrary elements must coexist for either to exist at all—complimentary powers that together create an interconnected, interdependent universe.  The yin/yang, light/dark, masculine/feminine, are all examples of this philosophy  and can be applied to every aspect of our physical and spiritual world.  This great cosmic balance is awesome and terrifying and overwhelming, because it’s the ultimate definition of truth.  When we witness great performances, we are witnessing actors who studied their characters enough to see the dualities and contradictions, and those explorations have led to multi-faceted, complex human story telling that is riveting and cathartic. 

     Some of the most exciting moments in our photography studio happen when actors reveal their own dualities.  The best headshots are portraits that convey both a confidence and an accessibility.  For me this is the headshot paradigm—conveying a confidence that shows the casting director that your professionally competent while still remaining vulnerable and accessible enough to contribute to a collaborative art form.  At first these two energies feel disparate, but when these two attributes are in balance, their interdependency is magical.  We are attracted to the photo and we want to meet the actor because what we see is a very complex universal truth staring back at us.  The same attraction to duality can be seen in the great characters of film and television—the edgy heroes who are dangerous but morally just, physically strong and emotionally vulnerable—the underdog who is weak in the world, but shines with inner strength.  We as viewers celebrate these characters, because they reflect the complicated truth of the world around us.  As an actor, you’re job is to peel away at the complexities and dualities of a character.  A good director or photographer can help you on that journey.

     Expansion/Contraction.  Expansion and contraction is probably one of the greatest dualities of our universe,  and we, as particles in that universe have our own expanding and contracting energies.  Our physical, emotional and spiritual worlds ebb and flow in ways we’ve only just begun to understand.  I think it’s useful to look at your life and career from this perspective.  It might help keep your sanity during periods of unemployment and allow you to find humility and gratitude during times of abundant success.  

     You’ve maybe heard, in regards to your acting career, that work begets work.  It’s true!  And this is a perfect example of expansion (and the definition of relevance).  Similarly, it might be harder to book work when you haven’t worked in a while.  Your industry work relationships also experience these ebbs and flows, with times of productivity and times of false starts.  By recognizing this universal truth of expansion and contraction, you can start to let go of the things that are out of your control and start focusing on what power you have and how to use it most effectively.

     The artists journey is one of self discovery.  Yogic and Zen philosophies are practices that turn your attention inward.  It’s easy to see how these reflective processes can compliment each other and how the yogi and actor are cut from the same cloth.  There are many paths toward self discovery and the journey never ends.  Namaste!