Posted by: michellemuldoon | May 21, 2014

Actors Are Athletes

Tools of the film trade.

Actors are athletes. Yes, I know that in some circles that might sound inflammatory or just plain ludicrous, but they are, and I’m going to share with you why I feel this way.

The germination of this thought occurred several month’s ago when I sat in on a morning presentation by a prominent Vancouver acting instructor. His assertion was that actors needed to speak of their job as if they were a lawyer or a doctor or a retail manager. It was their profession and no different from any other that required study and education.  While I may be a bit of a contrarian, I had to disagree with him for legitimate reasons.

I know a lot of actors. Unlike a lot of writers I know, I seem to gravitate to them.  I know, I know, who doesn’t like all that creative energy swirling around in a tornado of emotion, but that’s not why I like actors. I like actors because I can relate to their needs. I like actors the same way I like athletes, because their needs and their mind-set are actually quite similar.

After more years than I care to admit as an athlete and a coach, I walked away from sport because of my love for creativity.  When I made that jump, I didn’t realize I would find a sense of familiarity in what is supposed to be a completely opposite pursuit. It’s like finding a sense of home in the attitude of the people on the front lines, in front of the camera. The belief in the actor as athlete dictates how I deal with my cast on the set of my projects. It fuels the timing of patience, communication patterns, and motivational techniques. It dictates my conduct on the day of production, and it reinforces my belief that the commitment to the actor must go beyond the confines of production, especially on limited budget productions where paying them their worth is impossible.

  • Like athletes, actors require prep-work similar to early season training. They need to experiment with the new emotions of a character, risk mistakes to find their rhythm, be encouraged to break their comfort zones, find confidence in individual beats, and trust that there is someone there to catch them when they fall; someone who will dust them off and give them the information necessary to succeed in the next attempt.
  • Like athletes, actors need to know that they can dare to find greatness within themselves because they have the support system to push them beyond the average.
  • Like athletes, an actor needs clear direction as to what’s expected of them.
  • Like athletes, actors train to know and understand how their body moves in specific space and time. They must learn to breath, to open up, and to use their voice and body in unison.
  • Like an athlete on game day, the actor comes to set prepared with an arsenal of skills specific to the challenge. It should be about minor adjustments from here on out, not about making wholesale changes to what has already been discussed regarding the role. They do their prep, and arrive ready to give it their all.
  • Actors, like athletes, are aware of what they put in their body, how much sleep and exercise they get, and what they need in order to be at their best when it’s needed.
  • Athletes, like actors, must be prepared to adjust, to improvise, and to find ways to succeed on the fly. And that happens successfully when they feel the team environment is there to support them.

Athletes and actors are both very attune to who they are, and how they move. They are focused on being the best they can be, regardless of the challenge they face. And best of all, they are thinkers; working their way through a challenge as if it’s a puzzle. For the athlete, that challenge is game day. For the actor, it’s principal photography.

Have I made my case? Tell me what you think. Who knows, you might even sway me.

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