From what I keep hearing, training programs seem to be telling actors ‘To make it in this business, you have to really want it.’
While it seems logical, it turns out, that it’s not necessarily true—at least not at every level.
Think about it: How many ‘perfect’ roles have you missed out on because you wanted the job so much that you stressed yourself out and blew the audition? (More than you want to remember, right?)
Why does this happen?
The Federal Reserve Bank and the London School of Economics did some research to see what kinds of rewards motivate people to perform at their best, and it turns out that when dealing with a complex task (such as acting), the bigger the reward offered for a job well done, the worse people actually performed at the task. The studies indicate that when there’s too much riding on a situation, people shut down. The stakes are just too high to allow creativity to blossom.
If you want to hear more about this study, watch the video at the bottom of this blog entry.
If you would rather take me at my word and run with it, here’s what I suggest: Next time you have an audition or gig that makes you feel particularly nervous, take notice of what kind of self-talk you are using. Are you fantasizing that this gig might lead to something huge? More lines? A recurring role? Your agent’s undying love? If you are, then you have probably raised the stakes too high to allow yourself to do your best work. Why not see what you can do about changing the self talk to reflect a much smaller reward? Instead of something big, try something like ‘If I book this one, I’m going to spend an afternoon at my favorite museum to celebrate’ or ‘If I prepare well for this piece and actually do what I set out to do, afterwards I’m going to Santa Monica Pier to ride the ferris wheel’, and see what happens…