How Bright and Beautiful You Can Shine

When I was 19, I wanted to go to RADA-- The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art-- in London. I was in my third year at NYU, a Theater major, and it seemed like the biggest and best choice. If I could say I went to RADA, then it would be like saying I went to Julliard or Yale, because NYU wasn't good enough... because I got in to NYU... so they must not be great.

I had an awesome opinion of myself.

Well, I didn't get in. I was WAITLISTED. So, true to form, I thought, "Well, screw them. Even if I get off the waitlist, I'm not going because they didn't want me the first time."

Young -- I was so young.

Instead, I decided to take a semester off from acting because clearly I wasn't very good at it, and I went to Florence to study abroad and re-evaluate my life choices.

I didn't know it at the time but not getting into RADA was one of the best things that could have happened to me. Sure, I went to Florence and barely went to class. I had the lowest grades I had ever gotten in college, barely passing with C's-- except for Italian, in which I got an A <<pats sé sul retro>> <--- thanks, Google Translate.

I did the bare minimum. Sorry, mom and dad, that you didn't pay for me to further my education in the sense that you thought. But you did afford me the opportunity to learn about life, and more importantly, how to listen.

I ate a lot in Italy. I talked to a ton of people. I took the train to Venice for the day and, unable to afford a room to stay in, I stayed awake till the sun came out then took the train back. I listened to Mozart in the streets of Austria and took a bus down to Naples, where I drank too much Limoncello and fell asleep in a boat on the beach. I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to explore life, freely, in a different place.

I didn't do one bit of acting while I was gone, but when I came back to the States, I found I was more of an actor than I ever was before. I decided I would continue to be an actor because I saw that there was too much life in this world that I wanted to represent. I had taken the time to listen to the stories of people I didn't know, to their histories and to the histories of their cities. Their stories helped me to delve deeper into who I was, where I came from, what I believed, and to the life that was going on all around me, that I had come into contact with. It was all part of me, and I wanted it to flow through me now, out into others and then back to me, so we could have this exchange...

... which I later learned was what art is all about.

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Before I left, my acting was about me, and how people saw me, of which there were only two possibilities -- I was good or I was bad. When I took some space from my life in New York and from my ego, I could finally hear what I needed to hear about what I was meant to be and what I was meant to do. 

Because I simply listened.

Today, my acting is 99% listening, no matter how many lines I have. I don't just respond, I don't just wait for my line, I don't think about how I am going to say that line or what it should sound like. 

I just listen.

And then speak.

And live.

Acting is about living in the moment on the stage or in front of a camera. We live in front of others so they too can experience a new life or relate to their own. We live, breathe, listen, connect, respond, and listen again. 

Some would say this is my method, but that word makes me think of something you put on yourself as a manner of construing the way you ought to be. It feels like armor to me. I'd rather call it coming back to the self and the world. I think of it more like shedding the armor and the reality I think I know, so that I can enter the reality of what is possible.

And I never could have done this if I didn't take the space to learn how to listen to life. Many actors are workaholics-- I raise my hand in admission of falling into that pattern, too. We think we have to do do do: make a lot of work, go on a lot of auditions, rehearse rehearse rehearse, hone that craft. 

None of these things are bad, it's our intentions behind them that are perhaps not so healthy. If we do do do to control our acting, the way we think it should be, the way we want our careers to go, we deny the possibility for it our art to be so much greater than what our imaginations assume, when constrained by thoughts of doing.

We deny ourselves of being.

The universe has so much more in store for our talents than we can comprehend. We tap into that by getting quiet so we can hear what's around us and what's meant for us, so we can follow the path laid out for us.

When we listen and then respond, there are no limitations to how bright and beautiful we can shine. And when we shine, we give others permission to let their own light shine. We all have had that experience of exchanging energy with another person, the experience of giving and receiving, and the power born of that exchange -- whether we are artists or don't readily define ourselves as such. And it all began with listening.

Have you ever found yourself stuck, like I did when I didn't get into RADA? Are you stuck now? What did it feel like? Feel free to send me a private note if you'd rather keep it between us :-)


Rebecca is an artist and coach in New York City, dedicated to helping people realize their creative potential in work and life, through collaboration and guidance.