Actors: Find the Thankful

Annabelle Bradstreet and TJ Vinsavich as Mary and George in It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play

Thanksgiving is one of those wonderful times of the year were we can sit back and reflect about all of the wonderful things that we have in our lives. This feeling of true optimism allows us to truly be fortunate for what we have, even if that primary thing is life itself.

How interesting it is that we (or at least I can speak for myself) have such trouble accessing this throughout the other days of the year. It is almost as if our selfish lives consume every spare minute, day, and hour, ultimately leading to the sense of inferiority and unhappiness. I must say I am fortunate for these holidays where I can check myself, and realign, hoping to push forward in an improved way.

I think this can be an interesting lesson learned for our actor process as well: both in a business sense and a creative sense.

I often find myself upset with growth because I will compare myself to other careers that seem more polished and shiny than my own. This comparison is counterproductive. This is because everyone has a different story. Everyone has their own rising action and climax. Their own stasis at different beginnings and endings. How can we compare our stories to others? That’d be like comparing a Picasso to a Monet, or a Dickinson to a Whitman, or dare I say a Burkart to a Miller :). The answer is, you simply can’t. So why waste time looking at their story wondering why isn’t my Chapter 10 the same as their Chapter 10? It’ll never be the same, because it has a completely different creator. The most you can do is continue to write (or act, or paint, or direct, or whatever) your own independent thing. In other words, be thankful for what you have, and where you are.

Creatively in our acting process it’s also easy, just as it is in real life, to create thankless characters. We attach ourselves to selfish behaviors, often resulting in indulgent performances, and audience members end up craving some sort of relief. This becomes increasingly difficult in plays, films, or stories that are inherently sad or angry (or emotive in general). This is because these stories are emotive because the characters are constantly not getting something they want. And because of that, they become increasingly selfish. What I challenge you to do is to think about the moments that your character is perhaps “Thankful.” If you were looking at a stark white painting that had a single red dot in the middle of it, your eye would dart immediately to this dot. Thankfulness in your characters can be this red dot. And because it is used specifically, and uniquely by different artists, it can be a powerful choice. Selfish and emotive characters are already often written as selfish and emotive, you don’t need to make the choice to be that way on top of what is already written: it’s a given! Instead, give it a little red. Find a moment to give it a little thankfulness. Even if it is for a split second. That said, I do need to clarify that you must be able to reveal those selfish and emotive parts of yourself. That is necessary for storytelling. I’m just asking for you to also look for the splinters where your characters… aren’t.

Perhaps this holiday too is a brief moment in the grand sea of a life, and that’s what makes it so specific and so important. We need that red dot, that holiday, in our own personal painting. We need it for the white to make sense. To draw our eyes and hearts to what is most important. That flicker of thanks.