Defining a man

Originally posted on www.fearlessinc.com.au

Question: What is a Man?

The definition of a man is an evolving concept. It is influenced by changing understandings of our physiology and psychology. There is also fashionable trends that can influence what it means to be a man. For a young man, this can be very confusing. Add into this mix, strong parental figures.

Toughen up boy. Be a man.

For me, my definition of a man was strongly influenced by my father, and observing the boys at school. I was born in a small community and began schooling in a small class environment. Part way through this, we moved to the city and I was “thrown” into large classroom environments. I wasn’t ready for it. The “culture” shock was rather overwhelming. The hierarchy, rivalries, power-games, bullying, and macho-ism was utterly unfamiliar. I withdrew becoming the outcast, or no-mates character that always form in such groupings.

I began observing, and not liking very much, my own gender. They were posers, acting “tough” which actually meant being mean, and often violent. There was a clear structure where the boys did not pick on the “tougher” boys, but in order to be a part of the pack, they had to show they were “tough”, so they picked on those that they saw as weaker. People like me, and girls in general.

My father’s solution to this was to encourage me to fight back. To be “tough” like them. After all, my dad was “tough”. Yet, I had watched these displays of toughness, and I knew that people got hurt. Even the ones being tough. I couldn’t understand why anyone had to be hurt in order to be to be a man.

My mother got me into self-defence and I think the intention was to teach me some fighting moves. I don’t think they realised that the classes they had set up for me were less about attack, and more about defence. I often wonder if, had my father known what Ju-Jitsu actually was, if he might have insisted I do Karate instead. So I learnt things like evasion, deflection, pain control, and most importantly, not getting angry or aggressive. The best form of self-defence is to avoid conflict if you can. If you can’t, find a way to end it quickly without getting aggressive. Disarm, restrain, and avoid. For me, it was a match to my evolving philosophies.

I endured the teasing, the bullying, and unreasonable hatred for 12 to 13 years, and I came out stronger for it. I still recall meeting ex-students from my schooling years, ones who had been so very cruel, and many seemed to be more emotionally uncertain of their lives then I was.

Getting it right, the first time.

My father was an impatient man. Trying to help him with anything was usually a path to humiliation and distress. If I couldn’t grasp a concept, or didn’t seem to be quick enough on an activity, he would often become frustrated, take over, all the while claiming I was “bloody useless.”

Men, it seemed, must enjoy pulling apart cars, being mechanical, doing laborious tasks, putting themselves in high-risk situations… basically tangible things. He would take me on site with him when he was working his own installation business, send me into the grid-work of exposed roofing supports of large work-sheds, drilling holes through concrete walls, working in extreme conditions like within the roof of someone’s home in the height of an Australian summer. He wanted me to take over his business.

I began to believe that I was never going to be good enough. I could never seem to get any sense of satisfaction from this. I felt like I was a failure, and that something must be wrong with me. I just wasn’t interested in doing the things we wanted me to do.

On the other hand, my mother was artistic. A potter, and painter. Her work inspired me, and I often tried to find my own ways of creating similar art. I tried my hand at drawing, and while I was only so good at it, I loved doing it. I loved taking pictures, and while opportunities were rare for me as a child, when they were there, I relished it.

However these pursuits would never make me a man. I’d never be able to make a career out of them. They were great as a hobby, but I needed to find a real job.

Ending the pain

Age 12, end of Primary School. The move to High School loomed liked a shadowy demon. The thought of high school, with the same punishment, the same kids, frightened me almost to death. I tried to take my life. I was deadly serious about it. I have my father’s rifle. I knew what a hollow-tip round could do. I couldn’t reach the trigger. My arms were too short. I became scared that my parents would be home soon. I quickly hide any evidence. Resolved to try again later, but fear of my father ever finding out stayed my hand from further attempts, and I endured.

I had even failed in that.

Creativity is not manly

I discovered theatre in my final year of high-school, or should I say, rediscovered. After a disenchanting experience at Primary School, theatre was never a thing I considered until it was re-introduced to me in my final year of high-school. I loved it. I wanted to do more. I wanted to study it.

I was told that I would never make a career out of it. I needed to find a real job. A man’s job. Look son, computing is the way of the future. You should do something in computing. This theatre stuff was a great hobby, but you need a real job.

Still very much under the sway of my parents, too scared to go against my father, I did just that. This would be beginning of a change in my perspective. I met new people who could see me for what I couldn’t see in myself, or was told not to see. I was shown that I had other choices. I slowly began to break the walls that I believed should define me. I began to define myself.

Redefining a life

I did as electives, theatre, philosophy, and creative writing. I was employed as a student tutor, and found that I loved teaching. Slowly, the social creature that had laid dormant for so many years, the being I had been in that small town so far away, was slowly revealed, under the layers of encrusting, hardening, and toughening up. Under the layers of false man-hood.

I continue to chip away the bits today, such is the legacy of my youth. My father has long since lamented the choices he made for me all those years ago, and likes to remind me that he was wrong, and that he he had encouraged me in my theatre, I could be something different than I am. Late comfort, but comfort all the same.

Everyday I learn more about myself for me, not to any standard or expectation of what I should be. I have my own definition of what it means to be Jeff. I am a man in physiology, but a person in psychology.

So if you were to ask me now what defines a man, I will tell you that lies define a man, because you’re asking the wrong question.

You should be asking what defines you.

The Hard Road Part 9 – Making a Stand

This brings the story to almost now, and there are things happening in my life now that once upon a time, I may have been unable to manage, and may very well have found myself contemplating the unthinkable yet again. Yet I am not. I feel I have “matured,” and in the true sense of the phrase.

I will say that when I compare my life experiences to others, I do not feel I have suffered as bad as some, and for that I am grateful and saddened equally. I know how it felt for me at my lowest points. To imagine someone going through worse is heart breaking. I would not wish it on my worst enemy.

I know that I could potentially come off as being arrogant, self-righteous, or similar, and that is certainly far from my intent. This has been a process that has helped to clarify many things in my life. It is the final step for me in becoming whole. I have let go, so to speak.

“When we let go, we are free”

Yet that phrase is a little misleading I feel. In some respects we let go, and in others we regain the reigns.

  • We let go of worrying about things we cannot control, and instead take the responsibility of our choices.
  • We let go of external expectations, and give ourselves permission to express our desires.
  • We let go of the lies and take back ownership of our truth.
  • We let out the bad to reclaim the good.

For me, it has become about perspective, and being aware the we will all have a different one. I can only be true to my perspective, and when I find something new, I adapt and evolve. I like to consider myself open minded, yet I will defend my right to choose what is right for me.

I certainly have let go of a lot of things, and found a new level of balance inside. It has had some interesting side-effects.

  1. My general tolerance levels have increased, and substantially so. I am not easily startled any more, much to the frustration of my daughter and her mother. I often scare them by simply entering the room, whereas their attempts to startle me are frequently met with a simple glance and “Hello.”
  2. It takes a lot to irritate me. Before, I would work very hard to hide any upset of anger, and would often sulk or mope as a result. These days, I find that I am less inclined to do so, preferring instead to think about things.
  3. I have not shut off my feelings, but now consider them more of an information service, rather than a directive. When seen in this way, I find that when I feel an emotion (anger, fear, sadness, joy, lust, love) I can see the options they present, and then make a choice that satisfies my needs, both emotional and intellectual.
  4. I have become more aware of my body. I can feel things changing in my body more keenly than ever before. I can sense the beginnings of alcohol intoxication long before it actually starts to affect me, or when I take cold and flu tablets, I swear I can feel the effects as it hits the blood stream.
  5. Not only have I become more aware of my self, I have been able to take more control over my body. When I feel anxious, it is an incredibly simple matter of focussing and gaining some level of control.

This is not to say that I don’t continue to suffer periods of anxiety, depression or darker emotions. I have developed the capacity to handle them better. It is almost like my reserves, which had previously been tapped out just trying to sty afloat, now have space to spare. When trouble presents itself, it takes a while to fill the reserves.

I don’t expect anyone to change their way of life because of what I say, and if they choose to consider my thoughts, then I would be happy if my words help.

My personal rules for life.

  • Aim high and expect nothing.
  • Don’t sweat what you can’t control.
  • If it is life-threatening, likely to cause harm, or will affect many people, then it probably warrants some thought.
  • Don’t enforce your beliefs on another, and do not let another enforce their beliefs on you.
  • Do consider another’s point of view, and respect their right to choose their own path.
  • Offer advice when asked, or at least ask permission first.
  • Placing blame gets no-one anywhere. Focus on resolution rather than attributing fault.

I thank you for staying with me for this tale. For those who may have just joined, if you would like to read from the beginning… The Dark Path Part 1

The entire story, both series, can be found under the Depression menu option above.

The Hard Road Part 8 – Perspectives

I was changing my view of the world. What I began to realise, and not just superficially, but innately, was just how much our world view is dependent on our individual perspectives. We aren’t just all different, we see the world differently. Yet the evidence is all around us.

I began to appreciate how much I lived my life with platitudes without meaning. I would say I believed in certain ideas and concepts, but my actions and choices often contradicted what I felt. More often I was acting in the way I thought I was expected to, which was in direct conflict with my desires. I was disconnected.

Suddenly certain phrases and bits of advice took on new and deeper meanings.

“Don’t sweat the small stuff, and it’s all small stuff.”

This deceptively simple statement holds a lot more truth that I ever gave it credit for. The things we get worried about, when one looks at them from a distance, how much meaning do they really have? It is so easy being the observer in another person’s life to see them issues that often get the most stress, anxiety, or attention, are often the most meaningless.

That may sound a little harsh, and honestly, it is. The thing was, I could see that in other people, but I didn’t apply the same scrutiny to my own life. I had developed a reactive tendency to find the worst in any situation, and usually at my own expense. So a situation that I would see as trivial in another’s life, I would see as another testament to my own failures.

I began forcefully apply the same observations I made on others to myself, and discovered something; there is at least two sides to any situation. One is always “better” than the other, and I was CHOOSING the worst of the options.

I think that realisation itself was the biggest shock. I was actually choosing depression over any alternatives. That may need a bit more explaining.

I gave up control of my decisions by letting in the voices and expectations of others, and allowing them to influence my choices and decisions. I may not have known better. I may have been naive. I still allowed it, but accepting this fact was hard… and I wanted to know why.

It took stepping out of my emotional perspective, which was a lot harder than one might imagine, but once done, I could see what my actual flaws were, which were to actually believe that I was flawed. This belief fuelled my drive to not trust in myself, and rely on the advice of others. Even those who didn’t have much to do with my life any more. I had allowed my life to be driven mainly by emotions, guided by well-meaning yet misguided advice.

Balance Equals Harmony

When viewed rationally, things are usually far more trivial than they seem emotionally. “Don’t sweat the small stuff” is a very rational piece of advice, because it is with a analytical approach that facts can be assessed. This is what we need to be telling our emotional sides, and I wasn’t.

Looking back over my life, my rational side had been rather beaten into submission by various circumstances and people, and I hadn’t done much to take it back. Now I had the opportunity to do just that. My experiences, both bad and good, now found a new use in reconstructing the spirit of myself. There was good to come from everything I had been through, I choose to see the good in every situation, and as I have described a few times already, when I made the choose, things got better.

In the end, my only real mistake was in not accepting responsibility for my own choices. I needed to find a balance between rationality and emotionality. I need to find the calm. I need to take back control over the only thing I had any right, or ability to control: me.


 

I am nearly finished with the series, and I invite you to read my other posts on my journey. The first series: A Darker Path. Series 2 – The Hard Road.

Patience is not a Virtue

Patience isn’t a virtue. It is not something special, nor even notably good or bad. Even according to Christian Values, it isn’t a virtue. To quote Wikipedia’s entry:

While patience is not one of the traditional biblical three theological virtues nor one of the traditional cardinal virtues, it is part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit, according to the Apostle Paul in his Epistle to the Galatians.

It is misunderstood I believe. Often seem as the lazy man’s excuse, or that inaction is often better than action, it is more commonly associated with waiting. Waiting for things to happen.

Patience has to do very little with sitting back and waiting for things to occur. It is actually about perseverance, and struggle. It has more to do with strength and will power than idleness and expectation.

PatiencePatience IS the appreciation that things take time. Like a crop coming to harvest, you plant a seed, then cultivate and tend to the growth of the idea, until it reaches a point that you can enjoy the rewards of your labours.

The mindset of the impatient, on the other hand, is to have someone else’s hard work and results handed to them without delay, and is a cultivated mindset of modern society. If you ask me, some people seem to regard impatience as a right.

In fact, the culture of impatience seems to be so wide-spread and so deep, that I find people often react to a new idea with concerns that they won’t have time, because they are busy now. It’s almost instinctual to be thinking short-term, or with assumed impatience.

And quite often, much of what we talk about and plan is short-term, so I guess presuming that would be natural. When talking about big ideas however, like starting a business, planning a holiday, a feature film, or web series. These things take planning, nurturing, and time. They are not going to spontaneously appear, which I would have thought was common sense, yet that does not appear to be the case.

I have spoken with many fellow industry hopefuls about plans they have, and they have wonderful zeal, energy, and enthusiasm for some grand project they wish to see happen, but the stars in their eyes seem to dwindle when you explain things like cost, planning, drafts, reviews, and process. They want it all to simply happen.

patience1And I am not perfect. I occasionally get swept up in the thrill of an idea, and become filled with hope and dreams, but these are just the kindling for a bigger fire, which takes time to build, and effort to stoke.

That’s where patience resides though. At the side of the fire, stoking and feeding it, keeping it burning bigger, and brighter, until the light it shines brings others in to bask in it’s warmth. Patience doesn’t let the fire go out. It means staying positive, hopeful, and industrious.

In a way, it is about believing in yourself. If you don’t have the faith in yourself to achieve your dreams, then you won’t be able to find the patience for the work ahead. Patience is a choice. It is acceptance.

Again, in the words of Wikipedia:

Patience (or forbearing) is the state of endurance under difficult circumstances, which can mean persevering in the face of delay or provocation without acting on negative annoyance/anger; or exhibiting forbearance when under strain, especially when faced with longer-term difficulties.

Expectation is a Dirty Word

Who Am I

I am a gamer. Have been for years. I built my first “console” long before the Vic 20 was released, which involved acids baths (not on me), soldering, and programming in hexadecimal. I think I just lost many of you.

No fear, I’m not going to get any more technical then that. What I am going to talk about is the recent explosion of “dashed hopes and dreams”, and how this seems to mirror the word we live in.

Recently, there was a reveal and confirmation of perhaps one of the most anticipated games of the past 10 years. Star Wars Battlefront. I still own a Playstation 2 just so I can play my copies of the first two games to use that title. I have followed the life of this game, through its troubled times with a now defunct developer, across murky legal waters, over the sale of LucasArts to Disney, the eventual handover of all gaming development to EA, and the saving grace when DICE (Stockholm) convinced EA to let them develop Battlefront. I know its story.

I have also watch the ebb and flow of Fans. More specifically, their fluctuating expectations, and tendency to react without getting the full story.

He is the underlying truth; Ignorance exaggerates expectations.

ExpectationOnce upon a time, I was taught that expectation was based a reasonable understanding of what was possible. These days, and please correct me if I am wrong (I would love to be wrong) expectation has more to do with personal desires and wants, rather than having any association with reality.

So here is where I attempt to make the analogy between Gamer Expectations and Society in general.

A trailer is released showing a potential graphical presentation of a game that has been anticipated for a decade. Fans go wild, for both good and bad motivations, and this line can be clearly seen, in comments and posts, as being driven by their expectations. Be it informed or naive expectations, this is what is dividing the fans.

Those displaying the most disappointment would (in the majority) appear to be very unaware of the history of the game, the promises made by the developers, and the time considerations. They are often expressive, to the point of offensiveness. Frequently argumentative, and often confrontational. There is also the occasional Troll, but I’ll not discuss them here. Essentially, it is the most ignorant who are the most upset.

DISCLAIMER: Ignorant means lacking knowledge or information as to a particular subject or fact. It is not a term for derogatory comparisons, so please, don’t take offence.

It seems to me that most people seem to take their aggressive ignorance as a sign of strength, which I simply find peculiar. In most cases, where the person in question is not simply playing Devil’s Troll, a measured explanation of the facts often subdues the beast of expectation. The person remains disappointed, yet without the vehemence of indignation.

WCHey, I’m disappointed too that certain things are not included, even with my background in computer development and software design. People tend to forget that technology tends to improve because we want to do things better, faster, prettier. For example, using today’s technology, is a game developer used graphics from the 1990s or earlier, then the game play would be outstanding. Crappy graphics, but incredible scope for diverse gaming, and expansive maps. Just because we have better technology, it doesn’t mean developers can do everything quicker, better, and more efficiently. It means that can to what they were doing better.

However, the expectation is that EVERYTHING can be achieved. This is simply not so. Technology and functionality push forward at the same rate, so if you want the best graphics, you need to compromise elsewhere.

What I find particularly interesting is the aversion some people have to what is called Downloadable Content (DLC), which is a brilliant way to expand an existing game. Yeah sure, certain companies see it as a way to increase revenue, but seriously, this is like supporting your arts industry. If you don’t pay the developers, testers, catering crews, actors, directors, designers, etc, etc, then you wouldn’t have any games to play at all. Yet DLC get’s a bad rap because “it should have been in the original game.” I prefer to see the incredible potential in DLCs, rather than bagging the obvious “it’s a money making scheme” to which I say “Well duh!”

Expectations lead to Depression

And here we get to the point. I have said it before, expectations are not a measure of success, they are a measure of failure. When ignorance fuels expectations, then the potential for disappointment, and emotional pain, according to what I see, increases rapidly.

People are incredibly attached to things; idols, TV shows, technology, sporting teams, whatever. So much emotional investment in something they have absolutely no control over. So when things don’t go well, and as expected, the pain is profound.

I know this feeling. My own passage through depression is filled with periods of disappointment in myself because I didn’t reach someone else’s expectations of me. I couldn’t be the person they wanted me to be, and I know now that I could never really understand what was expected of me, because they weren’t my expectations.

BeYouIf we could somehow take that emotional investment, turn it around, and invest in ourselves, rather than things.  That is not to say that we stop loving our shows, our idols, our technology. Just that we can emotional detach without going through withdrawal symptoms, because we have also invested in ourselves, because, we as individuals are worth it.

We all have something unique to offer, and it is not our disappointment, our expectations, or our aggression. It is our belief in ourself. If you need to expect anything at all, then expect that every day, you can do your best.

Expectations vs Reality

When one’s expectations are reduced to zero, one really appreciates everything one does have.

Stephen Hawking

I have said before that I personally believe Expectations to be a measure of failure, not success. They establish a virtual line-in-the-sand where one side is disappointment, the other enjoyment. Another way to look at it is as rigid, immovable goal markers, a little like most sporting events, and maths. You can work your guts out, make some really clever moves, but if you don’t get the right answer, or kick that goal, you still lose. Our world feels like it is driven by expectations.

It wasn’t always like this. I am sure that there was a time where the term “expectations” had a more general, and non-specific feel, but this has been passed on to the socially less appealing terms, ambitions and dreams. I say socially less appealing because generally speaking, these terms are considered too vague and idealistic to be useful. They are great to have, but they need to come with a schedule, a plan, or so I often hear.

Hey, that may work for some people, and I applaud them. I am not saying that this concept is wrong. I am saying it isn’t the only one, and that it may not be right for everyone.

We are living in a world that seems to be slowly waking up to itself, and its potential. People are looking past the expectations that society place on us, and they are discovering new potentials, new possibilities. I see it happening all around me everyday. Possibly because I am doing so myself.

I believe that hopes and dreams are things you can strive for, but they don’t need the extra baggage of a conditional clause. You don’t need the planned schedule, or any plan as such, yet you can still strive and make it up as you go along.

Life has a way of changing. New opportunities, new obstacles, new understandings. Life is evolving. Structured plans are often frustrated by day-to-day events, so plans are often changed. The corporate world, so dependant on Project Management principles, incorporate slippage to account for changes, delays, and the unexpected. Having a plan is useful. Expecting to be able to keep to it may not be as helpful.

Let’s put it another way. In your hands, you have a bow and arrow. Just one arrow. In the distance is a target.

  • Expectations of society: Society stands to one side and tells you to hit the bulls-eye. They also tell you that you aren’t allowed to get any closer than the line at your feet, and you have to do it now.
  • Expectations of the self: If you accept the rules and feel obliged to comply, then you are placing the same expectations on yourself. You are giving yourself the real risk of not hitting the mark, and you only have on arrow.
  • Achieve your dreams: Or you could choose to ignore society, do a little exercise, and walk, run, skip, meander, take your time, soak in the atmosphere, see the sights, have a drink with friends, make some more arrows, build a better bow… Your dreams will always be there, and you can find what ever pathway you want, until you are close enough that firing your arrow will always hit the mark.

It’s your choice.

Paddling the Deep End

Nothing gains you more experience than being chucked in the deep end. Problem is, it is not always a good experience. Certainly not like being able to dip your toes in the pool before you get your knees wet, but then many of us wouldn’t do anything if we always did that.

Taking the metaphor literal for a moment, I do this when going for a swim, I just dive in. It is much better to simply dive in, let the shock of cold water wash over you, then swim away. I’ve done it many times and sort of know what to expect… now.

Taking the same principle and applying it to something that you really haven’t done is quite another thing. The sense of drowning is rather disturbing, even when it is a psychological one, and that is how I have felt for a few weeks now since I made the choice to take the plunge, so to speak.

It is not something I have done before, and I didn’t know what to expect. Well, that is the reality. I thought I did know what to expect. I felt that I was ready, and I still do. Only, in truth, I didn’t know what to expect, which has taken me and my sense of readiness a little by surprise.

I look over the past couple of weeks, and in my hindsight, this is how I feel; unprepared. Yet, I also question how I could have been more prepared? And I really haven’t got an answer to that.

My biggest fear is for that of my family. Where is the money? While I see money as a false god of sorts, digital currency rather than something with intrinsic value, money is what the world I find myself in works on. It’s what the bills want to be paid in, and how you buy your food. Regardless of my desires to follow my passion, which I have the full support of my family, and rapidly growing array of friends, I have to make sure my family is able to co-exist with me.

This is the biggest challenge of my life. Even bigger than taking on the role of Presenter for a Web Base Series, which is a steep learning curve in itself.

Nothing could have prepared me enough I think, and yet I still have the voice inside that says I am ready. Fear and confidence, living in co-habitation within the murkiness of my mind.

I need a drink.

Stage vs Screen

20140228_0010Frequently, all too frequently, I see discussions around the difference between Film and Theatre, or should I be more accurate in saying Camera and Live Audience. So much emphasis is put on the differences between the two styles, and it scares many actors looking to make the transition from one to the other. Let me say right here and now, of course there is a difference, just as there is a difference between comedy and Shakespeare, or drama and musicals. I do not believe it is the great chasm that many propose it to be, and I believe many people do propose it to be a chasm.

First, I want to look at what the key differences are between live and filmed performances, which may or may not surprise you, because much of it is to do with the approach rather than any specific technique.

The Audience

CameraIn theatre, the Audience is always in the same place, there, beyond what is commonly termed the fourth wall, the wall no-one can see. There is no ability to get closer to the action, unless you physically get up, and get on stage, which would probably get you into a lot of trouble. It also means that the actor(s) are presenting a scene to the audience and need to be mindful of not blocking them through physical stance and placement. This causes issues with sight lines, masking, and upstaging that a theatre actor needs to be aware of.

In film, the Audience is the Camera, and they are sometimes fixed, often moving. The advantage with a camera is the Audience can get very close to the actor(s), see their facial expressions and dermatitis. The actor still needs to be aware of where the camera is, but due to the ability to change view-points and distance, there is less cause for concern over sight lines, masking and upstaging, but only less cause. Some of this will be covered by various angles, but an actor’s performance can be hampered by poor positioning and masking, so it is still important to block things carefully, and ensure your physical performance is suitable.

The Scope of Performance

FromtheWingssmBy the Scope of the Performance, I am referring specifically to the space the actor has for a performance, or the physical projection they require. Here I feel the only difference between the two mediums is in the extremes that one can go. In theatre, the scope will never get more personal as someone physically standing, and never so far away as the back of a theatre. Film obviously can get much closer, and conversely, substantially further away. Yet the basic principle of an actor(s) physical performance really is no different. The closer an audience is, the less need there is grandiose physical enactments, and the more opportunity there is for an actor to perform those aspects of their character that are subtle.

I think this is one aspect that some Theatrically trained actors may struggle with. Most will rarely ever experiment with the more subtle levels of performance, those that involve just the eyes, facial muscles and mouth. Many may be more comfortable using their hands and posture to help convey emotion. However, after working with a number of fellow actors, I believe that the transition can be simplified by simply being aware of how close your audience is. Consider the intimacy conveyed by two people, who are physically very close, and where all their expression is? When two people love each other, or are challenging each other, face to face, almost nose to nose, where is all the expression? Bring this level of awareness to a Theatrically trained actor’s performance can enable them to focus their energies in a manner appropriate for film.

Some of the best theatrical performances I have seen have been highly contained, tension filled, and still, with the actor, on-stage, barely moving, yet the emotion in their words, the feelings in their tone, convey far more than their bodies ever could. The character is being truly felt, and experienced, by the actor. You don’t even need to see them, although the stillness of their presence adds to the tension and emotion. This same performance translates brilliantly to film, and may even be improved by it, as you get to see the finer details of their expressions. So the two mediums are really not that different.

Performance Duration

Don Adriano de Armado

Don Adriano de Armado

Now many people would state that a play is done all in one go, and a film is done in pieces. Technically this is true, in most cases. Yet when rehearsing a theatrical production, you can spend a considerable amount of time stopping and starting, redoing scenes, doing scenes out of order, and so forth. In film, you have the opportunity to rehearse something very specific, then film it, in some cases on the same day. In this regard, I see the theatrical rehearsal period as the same process employed during filming. Where filming captures that “finished” moment during the rehearsal period, theatre tries to recreate that same moment. In addition, film will require hardware changes, such as moving the camera to get different shots, changing lighting

The question here is, is it really that different for the actor? I would say not really. The process is the same technically, baring some extra rehearsal periods in filming while they re-strike the set for the next take. You rehearse your part until the director is happy, then you play the scene through, then you move on. The cuts are then edited together in film, or the cast reconvene to recreate the magic on-stage. Either way, I find comfort in the similarities.

Audio Levels

Reading Lines

Reading Lines

Now this will very likely catch out actors moving between the two forms of performance, audio levels. A Theatrical actor is very used to speaking slightly louder then they normally would in private. Because nearly all theatre requires vocal projection, it becomes a habit of a theatrical actor to use their ‘On-Stage’ voice when performing. Of course the reverse occurs when a Film actor performs on-stage, as they are used to having their voices picked up by microphones or recorded later in ADR. The need to project in film is very rare.

In my experience, this is the biggest issue for actors to overcome, and it was certainly the main thing I stumbled over. I found myself naturally projecting without thinking about while filming a short film, or in a sound booth, and I know full well others have had similar experiences. Then again, as a stage director, I have worked with film actors who found it an effort to get their voices to carry to the back of the auditorium. So I may be willing to concede on this point, that there is a significant difference between film and theatre, if it wasn’t for one thing; with a little, and I mean a little, training, it can be easily dealt with.

The Similarities

ManuThe above differences I would term technical issues as that are focussed on the different aspects of the medium, but these technical differences are not really that different to the differences in the various theatrical styles, or cinematic techniques. To my mind, the stigma around going from theatre to film, and vice-versa film to theatre, is over stated. People place far too much importance on the fact that theatre and film are so unlike each other.

Sure there are some fundamental differences logistically, but do these differences place one so far apart from the other as people say? It requires an awareness of the key differences, but beyond that, it is all very much the same. Character development is still very much the same. Each actor has their own particular approach, something that works for them, and that is not going to change. You will still have a director who has a lot to worry about beyond what the actor is doing, and may either be a hands-on director, or a let-them-get-on-with-it director. You get them on both sides of the pond. There is a lot of technical aspects of both theatre and film including lighting, props, costume, etc where it is very much the same.

I guess my point is that the differences are really not that extreme, and for an actor to focus on them too much may actually hinder their efforts. It’s a bit like hearing tales about another city of the other side of river, where the river is wide, deep and dangerous, which makes you ponder to point of even going there. When you finally do make it there, with your third-hand impressions and artificially grown expectations, you are taken aback somewhat when you realise that you actually crossed the river some time back. Well, I was at least.

So if you are a theatrical actor considering trying your hand at film, then my advice would be to go for it, because you are most of the way there. For those doing film and wanting to try theatre, learn to speak with projection, and to always face the audience, otherwise, keep doing what you are doing.

Confidence

I question I have been asked, and I am sure has been asked of many an actor, or even public speaker, is “How can you do that?” Usually quickly followed with “I’d be too scared.” Usually some derivative of this discussion follows when you introduce yourself as an actor to “non-actors”, and I use that term loosely.

I have thought about this for a long time. initially I just passed it off as nonsense saying “Oh it’s easy. Once you get up there blah blah blah.” It’s easy to forget your first attempt. For me, it was in the early 1980’s when I was in primary school. I remember auditioning for Oliver and how excited I was at the thought of it. I thought about all the plays I had seen in my previous years and that I wanted to be a part of that. I rehearsed Oliver’s beautiful song “Where is Love” and my teacher was very supportive.

ConfidenceActually, you don’t see this any more, proper theatrical values at primary school. My daughter’s school has skit based theatre, and from what I hear, that is about the standard. Yet in my day, we did shows like “Paint You Wagon” and “Oliver!”, and I remember loving all the fan-fair that went with it.

So up I went to audition, in front of my classmates (and do this day it surprises me that I didn’t freeze from the beginning) and I sang rather well I thought, until the end, when I noticed the audience, and the smirks of the bullies, or the hidden giggles of the girls. I lost it and cracked on the final note. I also realised something in that moment; being on stage meant being in the spot-light.

I didn’t get the lead role and ended up filling odd extra and supernumerary parts. I hated it. I was ruthlessly teased after my breaking at the audition, and my enjoyment of theatre was somewhat drowned away, for many years to follow.

It was not until my first year of university in 1990 when I discovered Theatre Sports, or improvisational theatre, before I again felt that spark of joy and wonder. Yet I was tentative about joining in. My embarrassment was almost worn like armour in a (in hindsight) foolish attempt to protect myself from further shame.

However, from there I became involved in a theatre workshop group. I became involved with like minded theatre lovers and over the course of a year and a bit, I slowly develop enough confidence to take to the stage in a play written, cast and directed by the members of the workshop. It was easy to walk on the stage that time, as we were all about to jump together.

Then there was no stopping me. I had tasted something long forbidden to myself, and it was good. I auditioned for a play, got it, and then another, and so on. I was doing between four to five shows a year just because I could and loved it.

I look back on this and I find that fear was my biggest opponent. Fear of shame. More importantly, a fear of making mistakes. I made one mistake in Oliver! and it was an easy one to make, but the impact of that mistake became the focus of my excuses for not following what was in my heart.

Now look at Improvisational Theatre. These guys were utterly incredible to me, to perform without a script. Without knowing what was going to happen next. They still are incredible. I am not talking about the Improvisational Comedy here, but Improvised Theatre. Live Theatre. If you think stepping on stage with an awareness of the script and the plot is hard, try walking out knowing that you have nothing but your wits about you, to create drama. Now there is confidence.

Failure, Expectations are

Following on from my previous posts about selfishness and control, I toyed with a few follow up ideas to talk about. One of these is about expectations. I have formed my own opinions about expectations and I don’t see such opinions being echoed much elsewhere, so this may be in conflict with mainstream dialogue, and that rather excites me.

Expectation is a condition of failure.

Some may disagree with this so let me give you my reasons. You can reject them after if that makes you feel better. Seriously. It’s your choice, which incidentally will be the topic for a future post.

By expectations, I am talking about both those imposed on us by others (social standards, peers, family, law) and those we impose on ourselves (personal morals, ethics, measures of success.) by proposing an expected level of performance, you are in fact establishing a lower limit of success, or the point of failure. If you fail to achieve the measure or expectation, you fail the task. So let us, for the purpose of this blog, keep that in mind; expectation equates to failure.

So if expectation is a measure of failure, then the goal or dream must be the extreme measure of success; the ideal if you like. Then we have an extreme of failure which is to not try at all, or zero. What we have here is a rather interesting scale of achievement. Ranging from zero for didn’t even compete, through and past acceptable performance and on up to spectacular success, and let’s call this 100.

20131229-190656.jpg
And you thought you’d finished with anything mathematical when you left school right?

20140104-142422.jpgGoing up the chart, let’s say that this is the number of ways to achieve the level of success. So if we’re we’re to measure something like maths or physics, in which the answer is either right or wrong, but we will include factors such as speed, method and approximation of answer, we would still see that there is a very “bottom-heavy” chart as there are many ways to get the answer wrong as compared to getting it right. With these specific sciences, there is very little difference between correct and spectacularly correct.

20140104-142430.jpgOn the other hand, subjects such as creative writing, theatre and other artistic practices, where the measure of a successful outcome is more subjective, we will find that there are more ways to a good solution then there are bad. Having done several courses in creative writing myself, both within and without university level, there is a common belief that scores of over 80% are very rare and to those that can get these scores, well done to you.

20140104-142435.jpgOn average, if we were to consider all topics at once, I think it would be fair to say that we would see something more like a “Bell Curve”, and this I will use as we go along. This basically states that most people will fall within the middle between 0 and 100 with smaller numbers of people as you get closer to eithere end.

20140104-142443.jpgOne other point I think I should make before we apply expectations to these concepts is the level of difficulty. As I am trying to average out all possible topics, I think it would be fair to say that generally speaking, the closer to stunning success a task is, the more difficult it was to achieve. Keep this in mind as we go along.

It seems to me that we perceive achievement, or set our expectations, very high along the scale of success. We want things now, not tomorrow. It needs to be done just so. Second place is not good enough. I need to be better than the Jones. In other words, we equate success with rather high standards and not always standards appropriate to who we are. Setting such high expectations also means that we are asking a lot of ourselves because the higher the expectation, the harder the task.

20140110-195230.jpgWhy do we do this? As our expectations rise, that is moves closer to 100, the amount of opportunity for failure increases. In other words, we are setting ourselves up to fail. Why? I can’t comment for you or anyone else. I know I did it because I believed it was expected of me by others, not because it satisfied a personal drive or need, but out of fear of letting someone else down. Out of fear. I find it rather incredible how most of my poor decisions have been driven by fear, but in most cases it is true.

At this point, I find myself thinking about the academic scoring system used at my daughter’s primary school. 20140110-195238.jpgThey utilise the rather familiar A B C D F grading system. All students are expected to be able to achieve a C level. This is what the education curriculum anticipates the average student to be. Students achieving above this are considered to be above acceptable where B is exceeds expectations (there’s that word) and A is pretty damn awesome. D is for students performing below expectations, and F is for those that basically didn’t really try. Now this seems to me to be a rather reasonable measure where the average student is actually considered as a successful student.

Yet what I see most people doing is equating a C and a B as also a fail. Nothing less than an A will do. Heck, I knew fellow students at high school and university who put themselves through enormous stress trying to get the top 5% of their class and even the state.

20140110-195243.jpgGive yourselves a break people. Seriously, when you first start something, you are learning, trying things out and your lack of experience will give you a chart that looks somewhat like the maths chart above, bottom heavy. Expecting to get something near perfect straight up is pretty unrealistic. Keep your expectations low and give yourself the freedom to make a mistake or two. Then, as you gain experience, your chart will change in to the more familiar bell shape and you can raise your levels to match. Keep up this gradual development, and soon your chart will look more like the english one above because you have gained experience and practice improving your chances for success. Then you could possibly consider raising your expectations.

20140110-195248.jpgFor my own sake, as I see expectations and goals as different things, I prefer to keep my expectations low even though I am aiming high. It gives me room to move and I’m not in any particular hurry. I have found that when I placed high expectations on myself, I became more concerned with those expectations and not what I was doing. It actually reduced my range for success. This may not be true for everyone as some people like to claim they work well under stress. Well my hat is off to those fortunate individuals. I don’t so I’ll keep things a little easier for me.

I may not get there as quickly as others, or in the same way, but I’ll get there all the same.