Acting is Being Awake

Awake, being present and mindfulness – they are all the same thing. And without it our art dies.


Never before has our society been so preoccupied with the past or the future or what we might be missing out on. With the increasing popularity of the likes of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter the anxiety associated with the fear of missing out is on the rise. All of this takes us out of the present moment. With our fast paced living we are becoming less and less present in the moment.

“We often cannot hear our own inner voice, the voice of our artist’s inspiration, above the static.” Julian Cameron – The Artist’s Way

Without these distractions, we are once again thrust into the sensory world. The present moment is one of the greatest tools for an actor.

Actor training has become more about training the mind of the actor to remain present and the discipline associated with being mindful to the moment. If an actor cannot demonstrate this kind of discipline over his/her mind then their art is lost. It is in the moment in which the spontaneity of the scene lives.

One of the first lessons my first acting teacher taught me was there are 3 types of actors:

  1. The first swims on the surface with mask and snorkel observing the fish below.
  2. The second dons scuba gear and bravely swims amongst the fish.
  3. But the third type of actor swims down and breathes with the fish.
I love this analogy! It describes the mindfulness needed for a magical performance and also hints at the discipline and training that is required in order to achieve it. But the reward, once it is achieved, is so breathtakingly exciting.
When you are fully present in a scene you breathe with the fish. There is no opportunity in that space to judge the work or even to bring the work to the scene. It is a space only for play, joy and celebration of your scene partner who is sharing the space with you. It is where the magic happens.
So how do we develop mindfulness in performance?
Chekhov advised: “If you want to work on your art, work on your life.”
It’s another way of saying that in order to have self-expression, we must first have a self to express. “As we lose our vagueness about our self, our values, our life situation, we become available to the moment. Art lies in the moment of encounter: we meet our truth and we meet ourselves; we meet ourselves and we meet our self expression.” Julian Cameron – The Artist’s Way
It takes discipline of the mind and a surrendering of the ego.
  • Leave the work behind
  • Become alert and live through the senses
  • Breathe
  • Really chase what you want in the scene, taking in each and every obstacle as it presents itself – not just the ones you prepared for in your rehearsals
  • And play, play, play!
What serves us well in the craft often serves us well in life. It is time to wake up and smell the coffee!! Live life through the senses and start disciplining your mind to the present moment. Take in the sights, the smells, the tastes, the sounds and the feels and breathe with the fish.
Be awake!