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How to Defeat Self-Doubt

Photo courtesy: Tertia Van Rensburg

By Marci Liroff

My Los Angeles Audition Bootcamp starts May 16, 23, 30th, 2017. Only a few spots left – sign up here!

I started casting a new film this week. In the days leading up to it, I got extremely anxious. It happens every time I start a project. The loop in my head goes something like this: “I have no idea how to cast this film. They’re all going to find out I have no idea what I’m doing.”

Can you imagine? I’ve been casting for almost four decades and I still have self-doubt.

Once I start the project, within the first morning, I realize I actually do know what I’m doing and I’m very good at it. As the ball starts rolling I immediately recognize the familiar day-to-day back and forth of the casting process.

Since I’m an independent casting director, I don’t keep an office. Like a gypsy, I move to a new space each time I start a project. Perhaps that’s part of the issue; I can’t picture where I’m going to work or who I’m going to work with. Once I get relaxed into my new surroundings, I can marinate on my casting ideas and they start flowing. Like riding a bike, it all comes back very quickly.

Then why the anxiety and self-doubt? I’ve taken great pains to analyze this to try and nip it in the bud. As a perfectionist, I find that that quality can actually work against me sometimes. There are such huge expectations on me when I’m in charge of a project. I’m so swept up in doing everything right that I forget the big picture.

Renowned acting teacher Howard Fine wrote this about self-doubt and insecurity in terms of the acting community. I think it’s a great lesson for us all: “Let me explain the positive benefits of self-doubt. Those who question their talent work harder. The doubt translates to a work ethic. The insecure actor will not take anything for granted. To those of you who feel insecure about your talents, it is your very sensitivity toward life and toward your fellow human beings that is a core part of your talent. You must seek to find balance. It is OK and natural to question your talent. Do not think that this disqualifies you from having a wonderful life and career. In fact, you share the trait with many whose work you admire.”

I agree with Fine on many of his points. What I’ve learned to embrace is that this feeling keeps me humble and keeps me on my toes. I don’t rest on my laurels. I’m constantly pushing myself to be better at my job.

As an actor, you’ve got to exude confidence in your work. Even if you don’t feel it inside, you can act “as if” and it will telegraph. I’ve often cited social psychologist Amy Cuddy’s TED talk on this topic. Take a look at her video. It’s life-changing.

There’s nothing better than an actor who comes in to audition, who is comfortable in her own skin, and who’s there to “play”; it allows us to relax and feel like we’re in good hands. Confidence is sexy and it’s infectious.

Make sure to check out my new online course “How To Audition For Film and Television: Audition Bootcamp”. You can view it on your laptop or your mobile device and your subscription gives you lifetime viewing privileges for this course. I’ll be adding lectures throughout the year.

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Is Your Acting Teacher Making You Sick? – Part 3

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By Marci Liroff

In my May 29 and June 12 columns, I spoke to some acting teachers and coaches about some of the horror stories I’ve been hearing from actors about their classes. But what happens to these actors when they finally come to the realization that those classes are hurting them? How would other teachers describe these walking wounded?

Acting coach Jeffrey Marcus responded, “For me, the walking wounded are the people who come to me depleted of all their self-esteem and confidence from, sometimes, a word said or a hope or dream dashed by their last teacher. Actors are sensitive. When they put their trust in a teacher, pay them their hard-earned dollars, pour their heart and soul into the work, and then get trashed because the teacher taught a famous actor who became a star…they must know.”

“There is a teacher in town…and I can always tell from the dead look in their ex-students’ eyes where they just studied when they come to me.”
Jeffrey Marcus

With so much bad behavior running rampant among teachers, what kinds of relationships are healthy? Marcus gave a thoughtful reply, saying, “It is my job to be of service. I am there to challenge, support, encourage, enlighten, and expand limitations. I am there to send them out with more joy and confidence with which to face the travails of the industry. Hollywood is tough. Class should be a safe haven from which to drink from the well and get replenished for the week ahead.”

“Acting can be a brutally difficult craft,” actor and licensed marriage and family therapist Julie Carmen told me. “Coddling students can set them up for a crash when the business rejects them, but abusing, humiliating, ridiculing, and insulting an acting student is totally unethical, dangerous, and counterproductive. Ideally, actors grow when they join companies, attend class daily, and do their inner work to discover the range of their personal palette. The most valuable trait is courage. Nurturing, attunement, and secure relationships breed courage.”

As for his part, actor and teacher Jack Plotnick thinks teachers and therapists aren’t that different. “I believe that an acting teacher should have the same relationship that therapists have with their clients,” he says. “I try to create a safe space where they never feel judged. I make sure that no one but me comments on their performance. I am always sharing with them that it doesn’t matter what I think about their performance. What matters is what they think. Acting runs on ‘empathy,’ which means that an audience can only experience what you experience. That’s why I tell actors they must be selfish and only interested in their own experience in the scene. Because any part of them that is trying to impress the teacher or deliver a good product is a part of them that is not having a rich emotional experience, thereby giving the audience a rich emotional experience.”

What about you? Have you ever experienced what you’d call inappropriate or cult leader behavior from your acting teacher? Why did you stay in the class?

Make sure to check out my new online course “How To Audition For Film and Television: Audition Bootcamp”. You can view it on your laptop or your mobile device and your subscription gives you lifetime viewing privileges for this course. I’ll be adding lectures throughout the year.

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Is Your Acting Class Abusive?

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By Marci Liroff

In my last blog “Is Your Acting Teacher Making You Sick?”, I wrote about the cult of acting teachers and how actors can sometimes be swept up in their bad behavior. I’m gathering these stories to shine a light on this culpable behavior and to clarify what is healthy and what is abuse. I know this goes on in every industry, but it’s particularly heartbreaking when it’s in a situation like an acting class, which should be a safe place to learn and make mistakes. Actor and acting coach Jack Plotnick has another story.

“One actor did a scene and the teacher said the girl could not train with her until she got some therapy from the teacher’s sister, who is a therapist!” he says. “She said that the teacher keeps the students coming by instilling the idea in them that they are not ready and are not good enough yet. She felt that this played into her subconscious gluttony for punishment, which I think a lot of actors have because they are unconsciously punishing themselves for being artists in a world that does not respect artists and instead worships business.”

Plotnick has also heard of a gay actor being told that if he wanted to work he would need to drop all of his gay friends and only hang out with straight men. And according to Plotnick, one teacher “allows her students to comment on other students’ work, and even leaves them alone to run the scene in front of their peers and lets their peers give them feedback. These actors are paying out the  nose and she isn’t even at the class! As soon as I began coaching actors I started hearing horror stories of the bad training and abuse that can happen in acting classes. And the sad thing is that most of the worst stories came from the  students of the most prominent teachers.”

I’m mystified by this.

Why would actors continue to attend classes with—and pay great sums of money to—these kinds of teachers?

Plotnick had a thought-provoking take on this.

“The issue is that actors usually leave an abusive or unhelpful class feeling like the problem is them and not the teacher,” he says. ”Actors want to feel that they are ‘working’ at their craft. Perhaps they want to prove to their family that they are not ‘lazy’ or ‘irresponsible,’ or perhaps they have bought into the belief that classes lead to bookings. I believe in working at my craft as well, but for me, that always meant to be acting as much and as often as I could. And since I love acting, it never felt like work. And the best part is that whenever I would put up a play or a sketch show, some wonderful job would be delivered to me. I became a magnet for the work instead of chasing after it.”

Acting teacher and coach Jeffrey Marcus had an interesting response. “The only reasons I can think of are that some people want to recreate the abusive relationships that they had with their mentors-parents. The ‘no pain, no gain’ mentality: If it ain’t hurtin’, it isn’t making you grow. It’s very sad to me. In this town, the buzz is everything. When a teacher gets hot, they start believing their press, too. What started out as a calling to assist becomes an ego-driven vehicle to build up their own crumbling self-esteem. Any teacher who uses their power to seduce their students, whether sexually or to create a social network, is out of integrity.”

Check out Part 3 of this exposé June 26, when I talk about the healthy relationship you should seek from your acting teacher.

What about you? Why do you stay in class if it isn’t helping you?

Make sure to check out my new online course “How To Audition For Film and Television: Audition Bootcamp”. You can view it on your laptop or your mobile device and your subscription gives you lifetime viewing privileges for this course. I’ll be adding lectures throughout the year.

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