7 Life Habits I Learned in Acting Class

I look back fondly, and with a spoonful of laughter at one of my first required classes I took for my acting degree. My school called it “Voice and Movement,” but every acting program has a similar class. Before they’ll allow you to tackle text (or scripts), you have to learn how to effectively use your instrument (your body) and how to be kind to yourself. As a “kid” in her early 20s, I’ll admit I scoffed at some of the things we did. I called the class “kindergarten for actors” which I still do. And I still chuckle to myself at people lying on the floor doing “Dying Cockroach.” (Lay on your back. Put your arms and legs in the air and “tremor” or shake your arms and legs, while vocalizing (moaning out loud). It’s very silly looking, but it does help you relax your body and help yourself get a good deep breath.)

While we did many silly things, walked around the room with different parts of our body leading, said poems or tongue twisters while on all fours pretending to be animals, and other things that seemed silly then and now, but I’m sure helped embed technique into my soul. But the basics of acting, and life, really, were retaught to me in that class. I try to do these things daily, but sometimes they don’t happen–and honestly, my “bad days” are the ones I didn’t prep for. I’m not saying: do all of these things daily and everyday will be perfect. I’m just saying that if you go into every day “warmed up” you’ll have a much better chance at dealing with any crisis that arises.
1. Breathe— if you regularly read my posts, you’ll see a theme. I probably honed breathing in college, because it is the best way to conquer nerves, but my mother has been preaching deep breaths to me from day one. A good deep breath relaxes and centers you. It’s great to support your speaking voice. When I’m nervous, I think of my breath as those little scrubbing bubble dudes for my stomach butterflies and nerves; breath goes in and scrubs the stomach releasing the butterflies, who get caught in the bubbles and are released with an out breath. Laying flat on the floor and taking a deep breath in is also magical. It allows anything that you’re holding, to just release out. I should write a whole blog on breath and breathing…stay tuned!

2. Stretching–warm up that body. If you’ve been following my goals blog, I’ve been doing at least 4 Sun Salutations every morning. We did lots of yoga and Pilates when I was in Voice and Movement. Stretching was highly encouraged: every morning, before shows, and always at the start of class. Even if you’re just reaching high up to the sky and then down to your toes a few times and then twisting at the waist a little back and forth. Do your stretching after you’ve moved around a little. As in, pee, wash your face, put the kettle or coffee on and then stretch. I have truly gotten to the point where I miss stretching. I have a couple of jobs that require me to be very physical, and I make sure that I do some extra stretching on those days. I really can tell the difference.

3. Vocalizing–Everyone should make a little bit of noise upon waking up. Your vocal chords are a muscle, too! They need stretching. Do a gentle hum while making coffee or in the shower–the best place!! Just five minutes of gentle vocalization first thing in the morning–more if you want–will help. You’ll find you’ll clear your throat much less, you’ll be able to talk for longer and louder, and not be so vocally tired at the end of the day. Stretching your lips and face are good too. It’s ok. Make the funny noises and faces–no one is watching. (And if they are, charge admission!)

4. Use different tactics–one of my favorite exercises in class was using a technique created by Michael Chekhov–who has several technique books if you’re interested. One day my teacher walked in and while we were stretching and warming up, she wrote the following words on the board:

  • push
  • pull
  • lift
  • drag
  • penetrate
  • throw
  • cut
  • collect

The activity was to say our prepared monologue for the class that sat in a circle around us and during the monologue the teacher would shout out one of these words. We were to physically or vocally engage in the action without stopping our monologue. At first this was hard, but I now do it with any text I work on. This activity requires you to stop your already focused mind into doing something different.  It makes you change the idea that you’re working with and head in a different direction.  Switching up a tactic will do two things: give you a different perspective, and get you out of your rut.

When you are doing the same thing over and over, you get the same or similar results. When you do the same thing with a different tactic, even if it’s only inside you, there will be a shift or change. As I’m not one for drudgery or repeating the same things over and over and over the same way, I love using different tactics in life. Right now, I’m unhappy with my weight. On any given day I can push myself to eat more veggies, pull myself to work out more, and lift my spirits by telling myself that is only temporary. If I was only pushing myself, I’d give up.

5. Leave it outside–theater people are dramatic. Very dramatic. We were told that any time we had any emotional pull in our lives that it was to be left outside the door so for the 90 minutes we were in class, we had to focus on class, and not the emotional pull of our lives. This one was surprisingly easy–and I had a lot of drama back then, or what seemed like a lot of drama. We were to come in with open minds and hearts so we could do good work. This might not necessarily work for those of you who are at a desk for 8 hours, but giving yourself time limits for emotions is a good way to control them. Allow yourself to only be emotional on bathroom breaks. Or lunch time. Or only with specific people at designated times.  A coffee run can be a great kvetch session.  Again, it’s not for all people, but taking control of your emotions by allowing them at specific times is something I found very helpful to focus on other things. #savethedramaforyomama

6. Show up–first rule of my class was, sick or not, sad or happy, tired or awake, we were to show up for acting class.   This was required for two reasons, other than the “you should attend class” rule.  First–we all have a partner or someone we depend on.  If I couldn’t work, my partner would suffer my absence as well as me.  Sometimes if I wasn’t physically able to do my scene, just sitting and reading the script with my partner would make all the difference.

Second–most of the time showing up makes you feel better.  We were told that if we just showed up to class that we would get credit. If we were feeling too crummy to participate, we could just watch. If we were feeling death-warmed-up, we were dismissed. Most of the time, I felt better for just going. And twice I was allowed to leave without being counted absent. Maybe it’s only me, but perfect attendance feels pretty darn awesome.

7. Judge kindly–yourself or the work and creativity of others. We were told we should critique others work. It helps us see what we liked and didn’t like, and what works and doesn’t work.  Although you shouldn’t judge, critically looking at the work of others will help you understand the work.

Inversely, it also taught us how to take a critique or compliment. HOWEVER, when we were critiquing, if it was a negative–we were to use “I wish…” So instead of saying “you should have known your lines better” we were to say “I wish you would have been more familiar with the text.” Instead of “wow, you were over dramatic at one point” we would say “I wish you would have taken it down a notch in the middle, because everything on one note was grating.” Anything negatively can be said constructively. I find I get more results with everyone in my life if I ask or reply in a positive way.

It’s amazing that a class I took when I was 19-20 years old has rippled it’s way through my life. Little changes, little adjustments in your life and attitude make so much difference. Try some of these for a week or two. They really don’t take a lot of effort. Make a new habit and see how you feel!

–Clare

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How I Survived Spin Class

I deserve a sticker. Or a shirt that says “I survived…” Or something shiny or yummy.  I went to my first spin class!!
Ridiculous and over-dramatic, probably. But in all honesty, my third largest fear is group fitness classes at fancy gyms. I’m 100% serious; and when you figure out how to convince a small child that there is nothing under the bed, you can come back to me and my irrational fear of group fitness.

If I were analyzing myself, I would say that I probably am still suffering from some trauma(s) in a group fitness class in middle school or high school–teenage girls are mean. Something about even if you start on a level playing field in fitness, you’re still going to have lots of different abilities and levels… And because I’ve always been tall, people assume I’m athletic or want to be. Nope.  Always have had my muffin top, though.

Anyway, my Anum Cara, my soul-friend, has in the last year, transitioned his career towards group fitness-which I support 153.76%. However, I personally DON’T like working out when it feels like exercise. Take me on a hike, ice skating, swimming–no complaints. Group fitness–unless it’s seniors water ballet–count me OUT. There is something about the pressure to be “enough” in a class that my brain hates and tosses out the flight response, forget the fight–something in my past has told me fighting isn’t worth it.  I avoid group fitness classes like they’re a disease.
However, I love my friend dearly and he is amazing at supporting me, so I knew it wasn’t a choice when he turned my words against me one day and basically made it a “friend assignment” to attend one of his classes. And stay for the whole thing.


I tried to cheat. I tried to take it back. I tried to turn his words around. But, I knew I would feel guilty for the rest of my life if I didn’t TRY a spin class. And no one has died (yet) from taking one. “Yet” being the operative word I hoped didn’t pertain to me.

Here’s my timeline.
A month before: I accidentally say I’ll go to a class.
I recount the conversation to my mother, my friends, my boss, LL…none of who have the appropriate response: to pity me or to tell me that I shouldn’t go–in fact the opposite happened. Everyone told me to go; most told me I would probably die.

Two weeks before: I commit to taking a class, sending a confirmation text to my friend on Sunday. Class is Wednesday. Monday and Tuesday are brutal at work. I have not had a response text that I can take the class. In the middle of my happy dance that I was off the hook, my friend texts and says he can’t wait to see me in class the next day. Ugh. DOUBLE GUILT. I beg off promising I’ll come the week after the holiday break. Thinking I’ll go off to the beach, swim a lot, be more fit which equals less chance I’ll die. He says ok.  I breathe a huge sigh.  Maybe bad weather will ground me in the Dominican Republic and I’ll never make it home.


A day before:
I made it home a day ago. I realize I’m an idiot for promising to go this week. I didn’t get as fit as I would have liked, was on a bit of a detox, and mom was leaving at 3am the morning I was taking class…so I had two 4 hour naps.

Day of:
At 3am I help mom down the 4 flights of stairs to my apartment and into a car to the airport. When my second alarm goes off at 8, I limit myself to one cup of coffee because the less awake I am, the less I will feel pain. And my impending death-by-stationary-bike. I try on two different workout outfits–why? Because I was going to a fancy gym and I didn’t want to look out of place. I can fake a lot of things, and I’ve learned a good costume will get you far.
I wait in the lobby, hands shaking (I’m not being sarcastic or funny, my hands were shaking) while texting my friend to get further instructions. I felt like a needy jerk at this point, and was terrified. He texted back to sign in and make my way to the classroom. I think I hid my terror pretty well when I signed in and handed my coat to coat check.
Trying to take deep breaths and not panic while I was descending the stairs, and also wondering when life would start to flash by my eyes.
I got to the room to find it almost full-I hate being late. Luckily a bike was reserved for me. But my panic starts to overwhelm me.  I turn into a giant needy baby, just trying to control the shaking in my hands.  Looking back at that moment, my friend the instructor, was lovely, and adjusted my bike and talked me through putting my feet in the straps–seriously, he had to give me step by step instructions on how to put my feet in stirrups. The struggle was real.

5 minutes in: Head down, listening to the music, I pedal.  Hands are still shaking.  I’m sure everyone is judging me.  If I don’t make eye contact with any of them, I can pretend they’re not judging.

10 minutes in: Life is still not flashing before my eyes, and my hands have stopped shaking. I’m not happy, but I’m surviving.


20 minutes in:  The older ladies who are at least twice my age are doing better than I am.  I can’t stand on the bike for more than 15 seconds.  I want to cry.  No, worse: I want to jump off the bike and run out of the room.  I seriously contemplate leaving.  The only thing stopping me is that I KNOW it would be upsetting to my friend.  So, I woman up, and keep pedaling.

35 minutes in: I’ve slowed way down.  I’m still trying not to make eye contact with anyone, especially my instructor friend.  I’m telling myself that if I don’t cry I can have a donut after class.  (SERIOUSLY who puts a donut shop next to a gym?!?–someone who knew I was coming apparently.)

38 minutes in: for the last 3 minutes we are told to go as far as we can.  I pedal.  With a minute left, I’m not far from a mile… so I push, and right as 3 minutes ends, I hit a mile.  WOOOHOO!


We cool down.  I stretch. I feel like my legs are tied to cement pylons.  The pain in my legs and the pride that I did a mile at the end make me forget about all of my insecurities.  Shaking has moved to my legs now, but I’m sure that is healthy muscle stuff.  I walk up to my friend, when my legs allow me.  My lack of coffee leads me to answer way too bluntly when he asks if I had fun in class with: “NOPE.  But I’m sure I’ll remember it fondly.” Whoops.

After class I get my donut and coffee and head back across town to my apartment to meet up with LL to take pictures for the blog.  I suddenly become happy because I now have a whole different realm of conversation to have with my instructor friend AND LL!  My badge of honor is the ability to complain about the pains of working out for AT LEAST the next 48 hours.  Everyone tells me they’re proud of me.  No one is surprised that my toosh hurts.  For two days.

Somewhere in the following week, I somehow get talked into taking a second class… from a few people, several offer to go WITH me.  I never thought THAT would happen.  UGH.  Here we are again.  The cycle (no pun intended) starts over–I think to myself. Hopefully, my hands won’t shake when I enter the class.

Last week, as it happens… I went again.  This time, I got there early.  I adjusted the bike myself.  The instructor friend had to put my pedals on for me, though.  And I’m happy to say I made it to 32 minutes before wanting to cry, and at no time did I want to jump off the bike and run out of class.  AND, bonus, my toosh didn’t hurt at all this time.

My fear of group fitness classes is far from being quelled, but I’m no longer afraid of my friend’s spin class.  I might even go again.  (But, maybe don’t tell him…it will be our secret for now.)

That night, I went home and made myself a deluxe grilled cheese with lots of butter AND bacon grease.  YUM.  And I don’t feel guilty one bit, because as Michael says at the end of every class: he doesn’t like good choices, he likes fun ones, so make some fun choices.


–Clare

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Love Your Skin Now! 

LL recently wrote about Loving The Skin You’re In. I suggest you go read it, or re-read–spoiler, the article was about getting up and getting out and moving–but seriously, go read it!!! It’s VERY motivational! 

I want to reiterate that idea: Love the Skin You’re In! But I also want to remind you that you should love yourself now. Just as you are. Your body is like anything else in life: a result of choices; unique; amazing if you believe it is!
My body type is tall, curvy, overweight (according to BMI, I’m obese). I’m 6’1″ and people are in awe and at times jealous. I’ve made choices. I like to eat, and I love some exercise, but I don’t like to make time for it. This is ironic because LL is a pilates instructor, my roommate is a gym enthusiast (and just came home stating she dead lifted 200lbs–go, girl!), one of my best friends is a dancer and gym bunny, and another bestie is a trainer and a spin instructor. They ALL encourage me to get out and work out–and I admittedly make jokes and faces at them. What can I say–other things take priority.  Here’s me April 2015:
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Apple shaped–whenever I gain weight, I gain it all over–I have fought weight since hormones kicked in when I was a teenager. I have an crazily distorted body image (I forget I’m tall and just view myself as “big”). I’ve also learned how to dress myself so my squishy parts are camouflaged. When I was a teenager, I thought I was fat. I was a size 14 when most of the other girls were size 3s or 5s. Shopping in women’s sizes at 15 years old sucked. Pants and long sleeved things are always too short. I remember a specific incident when I shopped in the hip juniors fashion shop, bought a pair of Z Cavaricci shorts, that frankly barely hid my lower lady bits. I brought them home, and was immediately told to return them. I did–but for a pair exactly the same, but in a different color.  Those got returned as well, this time with parental figure towing me, and then a trip to JC Penney’s women’s section where I was bought bright coulattes–quite the opposite of what all kids my age were wearing. Needless to say, I was unhappy for so many reasons. As an adult, I mostly derive feeling I was fat. Probably because I insisted I was a 12, and the shorts that were too large were also too tight in the waist and I never wore them. I know that the phrase, “you’re too big for those shorts” was used for all unfortunate purchases during this incident. I’m pretty sure I gave up on myself sometime in high school. I know I tried again in my 20s to reimagine my body. But my body image has always been so distorted. My mind is a fun house mirror–the one that makes you look like Violet Beauregard AFTER she blows up like a blueberry. Every time I walk in front of the mirror, I hope I’ll see the other type of funhouse mirror–the one that stretches you and makes you look super tall and skinny.
Looking back at pictures from high school, I wasn’t ever that big. Tall yes. Round, no. I did get rounder as I got older. In fact at one point I was 270lbs–which on my frame was very plump. I struggled into size 20 pants. I was in a few plays around then so I know my measurements.  I was shocked when my waist took almost the entire measuring tape around my waist–56 inches.
I now walk as much as I can, I try to swim 2-3 times a week, and walk a little extra when I can. Even though I’m now down to a size 14, 223lbs, I’m just a little bigger than I was in high school, but I still have that distorted image of myself as Violet.
I’ve created a reality of my body that isn’t true. It is a daily wrestling match with my brain to actually know what I look like and to Love The Skin I’m In. It’s difficult. How do you fight the distortion?  Fight it with truth. Get down to the nitty gritty. Get naked.
Find a full length mirror you trust, and take it all off.
This is really hard–especially the first time. Because you are not allowed to pick yourself apart. The new TV show “Younger” Sutton Foster is about to go on a date and asks Debi Mazar about a “cleavage wrinkle”. To which Debi replies: women have such a distorted body image, stop creating issues that aren’t there.
Look at yourself. You beautiful snowflake!  Yes, there are things that could be changed, but the life you led and your genetics brought you to this. Don’t pick yourself apart for the first minute. Look at all body parts, all sides. Those oversized parts encompass joy. Those undersized parts are freedom. Those wrinkles are proof of wisdom.  Stretch marks show experience. Changing your body isn’t instant–even with surgery. Remember there is a healing process in THAT as well. Nothing is instant. The physical things you don’t like about yourself now took time to put there. I have my mother’s thighs and my father’s stomach. But I have MY memories–my friend’s birthday where we ate until our stomach’s hurt, my Christmas holiday in the Dominican Republic where French fries and margaritas were delivered to us on the beach, my dad’s pot roast whenever I’m home–my most favorite food. I have stretch marks on stomach and thighs to remind me of how unhappy I was at 270lbs and a reminder not to return to that–and I’m reminded to be happy at the 50 pounds I’ve lost.
Before you put your clothes back on, pick three things you really like about your body. It could be that you love your pinkie toenail on your right foot, it could be you love the shape of your belly button. Small details are ok. Hold on to the positives. When you start beating yourself up, use the three things you like as a mantra to remind yourself that you do possess beauty. You are a snowflake. Different. Beautiful!
Now, if you want to change things about yourself–DO!  But, unless you’re willing to actively and HEALTHILY work on yourself YOURE NOT ALLOWED TO COMPLAIN!  This negativity will only harm you more. Physically and mentally. Read this Danielle LaPorte article on positivity.
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To review:
1) Stop the negativity–towards your own body, and the bodies of others.
2) Get naked. Literally face the truth, your truth.
3) No matter what, find positivity about your body.
4) LOVE YOURSELF
5) Change it or don’t, just know you are the only one in control of how you look and feel.
…and someone hears Trumpets
Clare
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Art credit: Cheryl Richardson.