About 5 years ago, I was searching for an acting studio, a new place to study and grow. At the time, I was working in NYC in the musical Young Frankenstein. By all accounts, I was already “successful” as an actor. I had never waited a table. I always had insurance through my union. I had great credits under my belt. But I still wanted more opportunities, and I thought an acting class would help.
I came across what is now known as MCS (Matthew Corozine Studio). Back then, it wasn't even called MCS. It was this guy, Matthew, who had a simple studio in Times Square, one block from my stage door. Having worked as an actor/singer/dancer in musicals for the better part of 10 years, a lot of my acting training had occurred on the boards, minus one acting class in town where the teacher said, “Oh, you do musicals...” I cautiously interviewed, looking for any sign of similar condemnation. The vibe felt great, and even though I was in for the ride of my life, I can still gladly say that I never heard that phrase uttered, EVER, from my new coach.
I showed up dutifully every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, eager to open myself up to new possibilities. It was an exciting time. My new coach stretched me into parts of myself that I never knew how to access. But I'm not just talking about my emotional availability (“Oh, I can CRY now, that must mean I'm a good actor!!!”). I was stretching into a new way of being.
I was one TRAINED individual – in show business, and in life. I was trained to behave, to do the right thing, to look “just so.” Trained to take the director/choreographer's word as gospel. Trained to perfect my tap dancing steps. Trained to remove the tension from my singing. To stay perfectly optimistic. To be mistake-free.
But working with my new coach was, perhaps, the training I needed most of all. The UN-training.
I didn't even realize it, but for much of my career, I'd been living in very limited realm – where there was a right way, and a wrong way. And in my world, there was only one option. I HAD to do things right. I HAD to be liked. I HAD to rank high on the show business value system, where “Who you work with is important!” and “Where you work is paramount to success!!!” Agents, entertainment shows, and industry periodicals constantly affirm the message that people with good credits raise eyebrows. If you're in a Broadway show, a feature film, or are starring in a television show, then you've “made it.”
“And don't you want to make it?!!!”
I believed in that opinion. Over time, I got swallowed up in the engine. My simple love of being on stage became laced with an intense sense of ambition. I had this need to prove myself to family, colleagues, and people who didn't even know me. You know how in Monopoly, everyone wants Boardwalk and Park Place? I felt the same way about my career. The more high profile the work, the greater its value.
I continued to work at the studio. My acting began to expose new sides of myself. My main hope was to put those new colors into my acting work. I was definitely doing that. But the self discovery left me with an unexpected side effect, a sort of rude awakening. When I took a good, hard look at myself, I realized a deep problem:
I cared way too much about what other people thought of me.
Control. Trying to look “good.” My need to do it “right.” The very things I thought were helping, all the "trainings", were actually suffocating my acting work. Ironic, huh? But when there's no room for failure, or letting go, then there can be no spontaneity. No “unknown” moments. No magic.
And that's death to an actor.
I'm so thankful that I now had a coach who knew that if I was ever going to grow further, this was where I needed work. He helped me let go, to allow something greater to surface. Not for him or others. But for ME. He paved a way out of my need to look good, which was not only blocking my depth as an artist, but shaping the choices of my life.
Week after week after week, I was encouraged to allow my whole self, flaws and all. I let my natural impulses out and put them all into my work – the good, the bad, and the ugly. My need to do things “right” slowly began to shift.
I gave myself permission to be human. I found the joy of true spontaneity. I felt more creative. For what felt like the first time in a long time, I experienced the beauty of TRUE communion with another person. All in a little studio in Times Square. As I continued the work, my own opinions – my own voice – began to bubble to the surface in my real life, too. And I found some clarity:
I realized that success is not wound up in the affirming opinions of other people. It's not found in the credits, the awards, or the relief that swells when you have an exciting answer to the question, “Oh, what are you doing now?!”
The success is really found in the doing. In the creating. In the love of the art. The accolades and the bragging rights fade away, but when your love and dedication can manifest an opportunity where your art can be used in service to the world – THAT is success.
You may not be serving in a high profile job, but if you shift even one person with your work, THAT'S where the meaning lies.
And what does it really matter who that person is? Granted, if it's Ben Brantley, then cool. But not because the write up in the Times gives you something to talk about. It's cool because of the bigger picture, that a glowing mention from the BB could fuel opportunities to create more inspired work.
From the former to the latter. THAT is my shift.
Old habits die hard. It's still a daily struggle for me to stay free from the approval of others and keep room for my own opinions. I have to continually remind myself: “Use your voice. Say what YOU need to say.” Because I realized that when I do that – when I plug my God given talents into the truth of who I am – I'm awakened to the authentic artist I want to be.
I'm doing things I never would have thought to do before. I'm creating my own pieces: monologues, songs, and a one-man show slated for performances this year. I'm writing this blog and sharing it with the world. And yes, I still pursue high profile performance opportunities, but I don't define myself by them now. Even though eyebrows go up when I say that I was on Broadway.
Some people will never get it. And there's an industry side of show business that just works that way. I still have to play the game. But I now recognize it as a game. Some people hear that you were on Broadway (or that you weren't on Broadway), and it will mean everything to them.
But that's THEM. Or a supposed majority. It doesn't mean that I have to buy into their way of thinking. Those people may not understand my thinking, but they haven't had my experiences. There is work I have done – not high profile by anyone's definition -- which has held more meaning, more intimacy, more connection for me than a Broadway show. What's important is that I honor my take on the experience as sacred. I can't hand it over for the sake of the majority's approval. What greater gift can I give to the world than my authentic self?
I choose to stay fueled by the love and meaning in the work. Whatever the work may be. And that's an enlightenment that's priceless to me.