1) Acting is Like Pole Vaulting. How in the world is acting like pole vaulting? It is similar in that it takes tremendous skill, talent and especially trust. When I was in High School I was on the track team. My favorite event, and probably my best, was pole vaulting. It was a very difficult sport that took longer to learn than most. It took me nearly four years, until my senior year, before I felt comfortable and talented as a competitive pole vaulter. I’ll explain why, but first a bit of histroy. Back when Olympic pole vaulting began in the late 1800’s vaulters used wooden poles, which often would break. Then somewhere along the line someone had the great idea to use aluminum which led to less breakage and higher vaults. Even so, the heights vaulters were clearing in those days were no where near what we do today. Why, because the poles didn’t bend. Pole vaulters would race down the runway, plant their aluminum pole in the box (which always let out a loud clank) and then tried to muscle themselves over the bar. Once fiberglass poles were invented, everything changed. Now when a pole vaulter plants his pole it immediately bends. Then, as the pole straightens again it shoots the vaulter into the air like an arrow from a bow. That extra boost nearly doubled the heights that vaulters were clearing in the aluminum days.
When I decided to give pole vaulting a try my coach started me on an aluminum pole, like everyone else. Like the vaulters of the eras past I would plant my pole and muscle my way over the bar as best I could. With the aluminum pole, however, I learned to focus on proper technique for running down the runway, planting the pole and using my body and arms to propel me over the bar. Those were the basic essentials of pole vaulting. But everything changed the day I tried my first fiberglass pole. The moment is still vivid in my mind. I ran as fast as I could down the runway, as I usually did, planted my pole and attempted to muscle my way over but something happened that I wasn’t prepared for, the pole bent almost in half. Suddenly, I was way out of my comfort zone and completely out of control. I thought for sure the pole was going to break. But, the pole didn’t break and in fact it suddenly shot me into the air like a canon. Still thinking the pole was going to break and feeling things that I had never felt before, my body began turning and twitch in every way possible. I was panicking, trying to make sure I would land on my feet. Miraculously, I managed to hit the mat and was fine but the experience sacred me to death. And, thus began my three year journey to learn how to master the bend and release of the fiberglass pole. Simply put, the hardest part was learning to trust the bend. Every single time it felt like it was going to break (and in fact it did break a few times) but eventually I got used to it and ultimately learned to use the bend to my advantage and to propel me higher than I had ever been before.
So, how is that like acting? Pole vaulting, like acting, is all about trusting yourself and your technique and allowing it to propel you over heights you never dreamed possible. I think it is incredibly difficult to “let go” in acting. We want to control our line readings, our movements, our emotions. We want the reading to go the way we practiced it. But, the greatest acting is always when we let everything go and allow the moment and the chemistry to propel us into the air. It is scary, really scary, because you have no idea how it might end up. You could suck so bad people boo you off the stage. Or, you could do brilliant things that you never imagined possible. As my track coach used to say, “Trust the bend! Let it cary you over the bar, don’t try to muscle your way over.”
2) Acting is Like Driving a NASCAR Race Car. Again, the operable issues here are technique and trust. I’ve mentioned before in my blogs that one of the greatest privileges of my life was getting certified to drive NASCAR stock cars. I can’t begin to tell you how thrilling it was. It is to this day one of the greatest experiences of my life. But, like most great sports, it requires a lot of practice and training to be good at it. The most difficult part of driving a race car, especially around a high-banked oval race track, is trusting the car. Race cars and tires are brilliantly made. They are able to hold the road at speeds you would never imagine possible. But, when you dive at speeds of around 200 miles an hour it feels like the tires are going to let loose, sending you flying into the guard rail, killing you instantly. I’ll never forget my first lesson. I went with a friend of mine who served for several years in the military. This is a guy who is tough as nails and has been in literal life and death situations. And yet, when we finally got to take the cars on the track for the first time he was petrified to get up to speed. We had a spotter watching from above telling us what to do through our headphones and even though he kept saying to my friend, “Go faster, trust the car,” he just couldn’t do it. It’s actually very common, we found out. My buddy was sure he would loose control and fly into the rails. Admittedly, I was afraid too, but somehow I let me self go and trusted the spotter who had been doing this for years. And sure enough, he was right. The cars held the track like Spiderman to a building. Later in my training when I got up to speeds over 200 miles an hour it got even more difficult to trust the car (and yourself). That’s where technique and lots of practice comes in handy.
I think you know where I’m going with this. Like race car driving, acting requires a lot of skill and trust. There is nothing in the world like going 200 miles an hour, feeling at any second you are going to be flung into a wall and be killed in a ball of flames. And, there is nothing in the world like going all out in your acting, knowing that at any moment you could loose control and be flung into utter calamity. I think of the great improv masters who live for that adrenaline rush of going for it blindly, trusting that somehow they will find an amazing way out of the situation the audience puts them in. They are willing to push themselves at top speed just to see what happens. It’s exhilarating and deeply satisfying to experience that as an actor. Like driving a race car, that’s when you feel the most alive.
3) Acting is Like Getting Married. For those of you who are married, you know what I’m talking about when I say the moment when you walk down the aisle and look your soon to be spouse in the eyes is probably the most terrifying and yet exhilarating moment of your life. At least, I hope it is! And for you who are still single, your time’s coming. It is one of those few moments in my life when I felt completely alive. It was as if time moved in slow motion, the kind of slow motion where you actually see the bullet piercing the apple and exploding it into billions of pieces in almost poetic fashion. Getting married is probably the biggest decision of your life, it certainly was for me. I thought over and over about that decision. I wrote lists of what was good about it and what was bad. I weighed thoroughly through my options. I asked everyone I knew if I should do it or not. I even listened to a sushi chef beg me not to do it because he said his wife ruined his life. All those things were racing through my mind as I walked towards my soon to be bride. I knew that I still had the option of turning and running if I needed to. But, I didn’t run. I seized the moment and let myself go. I threw caution to wind and let go of my doubts. I took the step that would change my life forever. I said yes, and I meant it. I took all those fears that I had in that moment and faced them head on. By the way, everyone has those fears. Everyone! In fact my own brother tried to jump out a three story window just moments before his wedding. He probably would have seriously injured himself had I not stopped him. That’s how strong the fears get. None the less, I made my decision more sincerely than anything I had ever done before. And, I was so glad I did. I was suddenly alive more than ever!
Great acting is no different. Like getting married, it is taking on your fears, making a decision in front of oodles of onlookers, to live your life to the fullest. To go where few dare to venture. To expose your vulnerabilities and your deepest passions. To throw caution to the wind. To make those life changing decisions (much in the same way the characters you play make their life changing decisions). That is why actors are so in love with acting, especially on stage. The adrenaline high can be unbelievable. It is showing the world your inner-most passions and your deepest doubts and your best and worst features as you stand naked on a stage. It is the most exhilarating and incredibly satisfying thing you can do while everyone’s eyes are upon you. And, like your marriage, it changes your life forever. Once you’ve tasted from the goblet of acting, as well as the goblet of marriage, you will crave it until your very last breath. I would get married every day of my life if I could, just like I would act every day. I just wish acting had those great cakes.
4) Acting is Like... What? I looked it up on Google to see what others compared acting to. Here are some of my favorites. See if you can figure them out:
Acting is Like Living As If There Were No Tomorrow.
Acting is Like Being in a Dream.
Acting is Like Sex.
Acting is Like a Full-On Internal Bitch-Slapping.
Acting is Like Flossing a Rhino.
Acting is Like Having an Awesome Dream, and Then Going to Sleep Every Night Hoping You'll Have the Same Dream Again.
Acting is Like Riding a Dragon to School Everyday... Where You're Taught that Dragons Don't Exist.
Acting is Like Feeding Steak to a Vegetarian.
Acting is Like Hijacking a Porsche and the Purposefully Driving It Into a Wall.
Acting is Like Falling In Love Every Night.
Acting is Like Practicing Yoga in the Middle of the Street.
Acting is Like Giving Birth.
Acting is Like Living Though Someone Else's Eyes, Only Better. Acting is Like Lying.
Acting is Like Catching Wildlife, but You're Sneaking Up On Yourself.
Acting is Like a Bit of Knicker Elastic.
Acting is Like Sports.
Acting is Like Letting Your Pants Down.
Acting is Like a Halloween Mask That You Put On.
Acting Is Like Being Sherlock Holmes.
Acting is Like Being In Therapy.
Acting is Like a Child Walking in the Park, the Better the Actor, the Greater the Playground He Has.
I’m sure you can come up with some of your own (and feel free to. You can list them in the comments section below.) Whatever acting may be like, it is still something unlike anything else. Comparisons can only come so close to exemplifying what it really is. But, think about the comparisons above. Do they ring true for you? Do you act like a pole vaulter trusting your tools to bend but never break and to shoot you over the bar? Do you act like a race car driver, pushing yourself to the limit, living in the face of constant danger? Do you act like someone walking down the aisle of their wedding, tossing your fears aside and committing 100%? Do you act as if there were no tomorrow? Well, you should.
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Mark Atteberry is an award winning actor, teacher and photographer. As an actor his work includes features like Miranda July’s "The Future” and Ang Lee’s "The Hulk.” His recent TV work includes “Luck,” "House M.D.," “Justified,” "The Closer," “The Mentalist,” "Dexter," “Criminal Minds,” and "24." Mark is internationally known for his advertising, documentary and headshot photography. His clients include NBC, CBS, A&E, Bravo, CAA, ICM, WME, and Big Lots. Mark regularly teaches and lectures on the topics of "Branding, Marketing and Type" and "How to Succeed in the Entertainment Industry." He has authored or co-authored several books on the business of acting including the best selling, "Working Actor's Guide to LA." For more of Mark’s acting credits go to: www.imdb.com/name/nm0040992. For Mark’s headshot photography go to: www.idyllicphotography.com. And, for Mark’s classes go to: www.beaworkingactor.com