The Actor As Healer: How to Use Your Talent For Good
Posted Nov. 23, 2016, 10 a.m.
This article originally appeared on Backstage Magazine
As an actor, you probably already identify with being an artist and a storyteller, but you may not see yourself as a healer, even though you are one. Here’s a breakdown of why you’re a healer, and how owning this important role can profoundly advance your acting career.
1. You move people.
You make them laugh, cry, and feel inspired. Human emotion needs to flow in order for people to be healthy and as an actor, you lead them to feel their feelings more deeply and fully. Even scaring people can serve a positive purpose sometimes—for people who struggle with apathy, feeling scared might be the only time they really feel alive.
2. You expand people’s minds.
The drive to evolve and change is embedded in our biology, as it is in all species. To truly thrive, our minds need to be challenged and we need to be constantly exploring new ideas. There is no better or more effective avenue for that evolution than through story. By engaging your audience in stories that expand their minds, you can show them new ways to move beyond crippling challenges and allow them to see the world in ways they never have before.
3. You give people respite from their challenges.
Sometimes what people need most is to temporarily disconnect from what ails them. To stop worrying or feeling afraid or heartbroken, and go on a journey that distracts them from their pain so they can find renewed hope. You do that for people, by acting as the messenger.
4. You reduce judgement.
Harboring harsh judgement toward others is like drinking poison that tears away at our innate desire to be loving and accepting. When you do the hard work of stepping into another’s shoes—especially those of someone who seems very different to you on the surface—you search and explore until you find the parts of yourself that are the same. You then experience a level of empathy and understanding that naturally dissolves judgment, and then you model that process for your audience.
5. You break down the painful walls that divide people.
For the reasons listed above, story is the most powerful way to help people overcome judgment and prejudice. As a storyteller, you have the power to bring down walls and bridge divides that not only heal individuals, but cultures, and the world. By overcoming your own internal boundaries, you help others empathize with—and even ultimately love—entire groups of people they may never have related to before. Think about roles like Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain, Charlize Theron in Monster, and Denzel Washington in Training Day.
You might be thinking, “This all sounds well and good, but I just need to focus on booking my next job so I can eat and keep a roof over my head.” I totally understand that mindset. But here’s the thing: Deeply connecting to why you’re in this business is the most powerful way to advance your career. Waiting for someone to “give you the chance” to play a great role that really moves people is putting the cart before the horse.
You have to embody the kind of actor you want to be first, before people will see you as such.
When you connect to your role as a healer, you open up new channels of power and influence inside you that make your work more compelling. When connected to your purpose, you’re more confident, and confidence is everything in this business. Deep down, making a greater impact is every actor’s dream. It matters more than booking a series regular or a lead role in blockbuster film, and yet, owning your purpose is what leads to those results. People can feel when you’re connected to your purpose—it strengthens your brand and makes you a magnet for the kinds of roles that align with the impact you want to make. It makes casting directors want you without even knowing why.
So ask yourself: What kind of change is most needed in the world right now, and how can my work effect that change? Write your answer on an index card and post it on your bathroom mirror.
That daily reminder will help allow your purpose to fuel you and your work.
I’ll leave you with this quote from the incredible Toni Morrison:
“This is precisely the time when artists go to work, there is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.”
If you want to share your purpose as an actor, artist, and healer in a safe, supportive setting, I created the private Facebook group, TEA House, for that very purpose, where you can let us know the kind of difference you want to make, through your art.