Holiday Survival Tips For Actors
Posted on: December 12, 2011 in category: Steve's Blog
The business is winding down for the holidays and actor's all over LA are booking flights home, pulling money together for gifts and strategically sending "Remember Me?" holiday cards to casting directors. It is a time of reflection. Of family, friends and food. A welcome break for many. But beyond all the merriment and cheer, the hectic, emotionally-charged holiday season can also offer many challenges for actors. So, here are some tips to keep you happy, healthy and out of jail this holiday season.
If you're an actor, you're probably hyper-sensitive. You've got big feelings. And those feelings can get you in all kinds of trouble during the emotionally-charged holiday season. It seems like everything is emotionally heightened this time of year and you can feel like you're on an emotional roller-coaster. The expectation of merriment and bliss make you feel small. The extra money you have to spend on flights, gifts, etc is a source of anxiety. The increased sugar intake jacks your emotions up only to send them crashing down. And then there's family (more on that later). It's all enough to drive a hyper-sensitive person insane. In order to get through it, it's so important for actors like you to take time to check in with yourselves amid all this emotional craziness. Ask yourself how you truthfully feel. Write it if you can. And remember that feelings come and go. Big feelings will move and get smaller in time. Don't react in the moment as you would in your work.
It's entirely possible that your family doesn't get you. They may not understand why you want to be an actor. They may not be happy about it. It's even possible that they are lawyers or doctors or systems analysts or account managers and they don't speak the same language you do. AND THAT'S OK. We all speak different languages and it is on you, the person in the family who understands human emotions more than most, to accept them for what they can give you and what they can't. That probably means that you won't be seen for who you are this holiday season. And you have to get right with that, too. Don't expect things from people whom you know can't deliver. Let the passive aggressive comments go. Don't meet resistance with resistance over the holidays. Only bad things will result for you. Just breathe and maintain your inner emotional life by writing, texting friends or whatever medium you use to get it out in a non-combative way. Remember: they're not actors (even if they are). They're family. Breathe.
We've all heard the statistics that suggest that an inordinate amount of suicides happen over the holidays. I bet the contrast between expectation and reality has a lot to do with it. With all due respect to the actors who worked on it, I happen to find the Lexus, "We got Mommy a car" commercials and the "Every Kiss Begins with Kay" commercials off-putting. The advertisers decide what happiness means in our society (and it just happens to include owning a Lexus and a diamond from Kay Jewelers) and the result is that most of us don't feel like we measure up. Given that the desire for acceptance and "happiness" is a powerful motivator, the media- advertisers in particular- forces us to examine our own lives relative to those they portray and we rarely measure up. Our spouse didn't buy us a car cause she doesn't make enough money. Our family isn't together at Christmas cause Daddy left. We can't have turkey dinner cause Aunt Jackie has a gluten issue. This is the stuff of life. It doesn't mean that you can't be happy. It means that you are a human being. Deciding what Christmas or New years should be like as opposed to discovering what it is, is just like deciding how a scene will go before you've spoken a line of dialogue. It craps all over the beautiful, truthful and surprising moments of life. Aside from the kiss advertisers at Kay can plant on my reality-loving ass, every kiss does not, in fact, begin with Kay.
When you go back to your proverbial village for the holidays, everyone wants to know how far you've come and what you've accomplished along the way. "So, you been in anything big lately?", Uncle Cal might ask. "You meet any celebrities out there?", Cousin What's-His-Name inquires. The reason why we find those questions offensive is because they assume a narrow definition of success; a definition that most of us don't maintain consistently and many of us don't achieve at all. We all want to be the local boy or girl who made good and impressed our family and friends back home. But aside from the tangible evidence that standing beside Mark Harmon on NCIS gives them, what we have to offer probably won't be understood by most folks as success. "I got some great feedback from a big casting director in November." "I made a huge breakthrough in my acting class this year." "I wrote and shot a short over the summer that got into a festival." "I don't get scared when I drive on the 405 anymore." Understand that we may measure victories in a way that most people who don't know the business won't understand. If you're feeling courageous you can try to explain it to them (good luck). But don't take it personally when they ask. They just don't know. Be above indicting them for their ignorance (did that sound harsh?).
Anytime you put food, alcohol, and family together during a three to five day celebration, excess is bound to appear. You'll eat well past capacity, drink like a fish and just generally do whatever the hell you want. "Screw it! This is my holiday", you'll say. But this can be bad for your body, your emotional life and your craft. Food and drink can mess with your feelings making small things seem big and big things seem small. Also, keep in mind that pilot season is around the corner. You're going to need to be in fighting shape and have your mental and emotional shit together by the middle of January. For the sake of your career, moderation is the key. Have a good time, but don't do damage that you'll have to undo when you get back to real life. Moderation is not something actors are great at. But try.
Many of you are Type A people who are always working on ways to get ahead in the business. You live and breathe acting and your career 24/7. This forced break can be irritating to some of you; a red light on the Autobahn. For some of you it can be like all of a sudden the music was turned off and all you have to listen to is the deafening sound of your own thoughts. It can make you antsy and make you want to fill the silence with bad behavior, negative thoughts, etc. Do what you can to embrace the silence in a positive way. Take a step back and think about your career and your craft. What do you want? How are you going to get there? Are you doing enough? What's working and what isn't? Beyond that, I'll remind you again that pilot season is around the corner and the holiday break is always a good time to organize your life for the hectic season ahead.
THE HOLIDAY ORPHANS
For those of you who don't have family and friends near you over the holidays, my advice to you is to seek out a community of actors to be with. Isolating isn't good- especially for hyper-sensitive people over the holidays- and it's a broad stroke but I've known actors to be some of the most generous and accepting people around. Reach out to other holiday orphan actors you know, tell them where you're at and offer your community and generosity in exchange for theirs. Do the work of finding a community. And breathe.
I'm sure your Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or Festivus will be happy and joyous. But I'm also sure that life is always more than happiness and joy. If you stay in touch with your inner life, are accepting of others and celebrate in healthy moderation you'll survive anything that the holidays can throw at you. And you'll be ready to get back to work in January.
Happy Holidays! (Don't forget to breathe)