John Walcutt on How Actors Overcome Self-Consciousness
After one of our acting classes for kids in Los Angeles, a student asked Master instructor John Walcutt how actors overcome self-consciousness. “I’m up in front of the class, I’m doing the scene, and I… I’m… How do I get over being self-conscious?” Self-consciousness strikes everybody from time to time. Seasoned professionals know (and actors just starting out soon learn) that actors need multiple tools to deal with inner obstacles like nerves, fear, and self-consciousness.
A lot of acting is being aware of yourself, your feelings, what your body is doing. Unsure what to do with your hands? Eyebrows seem to have minds of their own? Feet seem out of place, oddly positioned or heavy? Breathing in weird spots, too much or not at all? When your awareness becomes a distraction, you’re self-conscious. And it happens to everyone, actors or not, now and then.
The work of acting is to make every moment appear natural, effortless and spontaneous. Different acting techniques help actors develop reliable tools to manage themselves
as well as their performances. After all, a great deal of learning to act is discovering what works best for you, no matter what script or part you’re performing.
So, first, if you’re feeling self-conscious, congratulations. You’ve identified your current obstacle, and that’s the first step in overcoming it. If you decide instead you’re just hungry, grab a quick, healthy bite and then get back to acting.
Next, realize that feelings of self-consciousness are rooted in knowing our separateness from the rest of the world. So one way to combat feelings of self-consciousness is to focus sharing, on how you are connected to the world in general or how you’re connected to the material you’re working with.
How do you do that?
“First of all,” says John Walcutt, “I want you to think about this: Asking the question, ‘how do I get over being self-conscious’ shows how much you’re making it all about you. You’re putting all this pressure on yourself, not only to act, to perform in the scene, but to get over a personal hurdle of fear. That’s not just one thing. And that’s a lot of pressure. And it’s getting in the way, right? Getting in the way of what you’re doing, as an actor?”
Our young, self-conscious actor nodded. The young man was clearly relieved that a professional like John Walcutt immediately understood his dilemma. John’s career spans Academy Award-winning movies and over 150 television shows understood his dilemma.
John has developed tools over the course of his career with which he manages his own distractions and acting challenges. When it comes to how to overcome self-consciousness, John recommends doing to prevent over-thinking:
“When you get a green light, go. It’s not a red light, it’s not a yellow light, you know? It’s a green light. Don’t spend your time worrying it’s some other color. It’s not. It’s a green light. So, go.”
He also recommends putting acting in proper–and positive–perspective, and acting classes help with that:
“That’s what you get in acting class, right? You’re getting a green light. You’re getting a lot of encouragement to go. So, go.”
Feeling self-conscious while working on a scene with a partner? John suggests, “something I do is I make it about the other person, right? You’re doing a scene, and you have a scene partner… Put that energy on them, on giving them what they need to do the scene. Listening to your scene partner. Responding, reacting, giving your scene partner what they need to have something to work with. You do that, suddenly it’s not all about you. That pressure is off, and you can focus on the scene and the person you’re working with.”
Learning what works best for you will take time and practice. The more tools you develop in your actor’s toolbox, the more avenues you have to success and confidence. So, grab a scene partner, get to an acting class, or try it out on your own. You’ll be amazed by what you can achieve.