An Actors Dilemma: Vulnerability versus Confidence

Being an actor can be tough.  The audition process often makes you feel like an object, being judged on your appearance, your voice, your talent, your experience… There’s so much rejection.  It can all lead to a great deal of insecurity and fear.  All this on top of the fact that most actors are already fragile.  Their emotions are more near to the surface than most people, which is a benefit when they need to access them for an emotional role, but a detriment in how it can play into the fears generated above.

So an actor needs confidence to be able to overcome these negative feelings, and be able to do their job.  Often actors are called upon in a role to do things, wear things, behave in certain ways that are humorous for the show or film, but might capitalize on the actors own imperfections, such as accentuating and building humor on a large actor being “fat” and therefore ridiculous.  Also, in rehearsal, an actor must be available to try things that might fail, that might potentially embarrass them.  They need to be bold in trying out different unique approaches to playing their character or in building a scene.  Without confidence it makes it much harder for the director to bring them out of their shell, to get them to go far enough with a humorous bit, or in projecting a specifically strong emotion.  Directors love actors who make bold choices, who try things easily, who follow their direction without being timid or inhibited or withdrawn.  But many actors struggle with this based on their fragile nature and often the rejection and confidence crushing experiences they’ve been in before.

While confidence is so important, at the same time an actor must be vulnerable. They must tap into emotions easily.  They must be able to identify with the characters they are playing, relate it to their own lives and experiences, in order to give an emotionally rich performance, or a funny portrayal of a flawed character, or act in ridiculous ways for an over the top comedy.  Their vulnerability though can be directly at odds with their confidence.

This is an actors dilemma.

Where does the balance between confidence and vulnerability come from?  Is it something they must be born with, or can it be learned?  Should actors just budget for therapy, because they know they’re gonna need it?  There’s really no single answer or method to accomplish this.  For those who are less confident, it may be that they need to work with a coach who can help them to make bold choices and learn how beneficial they are.  It may take working in productions and pushing themselves to go out on the limb.  Fake it ’till you make it might apply here.  Fake the confidence until you really feel it.

What happens if they have too much confidence and not enough vulnerability?  Or is this just a cover for their insecurities?  It often equates to an actor who is difficult to direct, thinking he/she knows better than the director, who bosses the other actors around.  What happens if they have too much vulnerability?  Typically this can mean an actor who has tons of potential, but who is afraid to let go and tap into their abilities to a bold degree.

While the dilemma goes on without any simple solutions, the balance between the two is very important toward being a successful actor.  Experience and training and hard work are in order to bring out the positive qualities of both.

Patrick Spike - Marketing Director of Arts People


Patrick Spike is the Theatre Community Liaison, system expert, and one of the original architects of the Arts People software system, with over 30 years in performing arts creation and administration.

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