THE WEREWOLF IN THE ROOM
By Gerry Vega (AT Student since Feb. 2017)
Longer than you’d like to admit since you’ve booked? Overwhelmed by actor-life finances? Exhausted from convincing your family and friends that you’re still happy “chasing your dreams”? Defeated by the boys (or girls) who’ve once again ghosted?
[“Chatter, chatter, chatter, chatter” continues The Mind...]
Take a deep breath in, hold it for 3 seconds, and release. Try it again.
I’m here to talk about my “werewolf”— that inner voice that tells us 45,000 mean things about ourselves before anything nice come through, aka anxiety.
Earlier today, I’m meandering through The Strand when I find “first, we make the beast beautiful”, anxiously written by Australian journalist and former-editor, Sarah Wilson. The book has a magical Octopus on the cover and is inspired by a Chinese Proverb. Ms. Wilson walks the reader through beautifying her own “beast”.
The book— which I implore any fellow anxiety-warrior to dig into— invites us to take down our inner-guard and use our beasts as an advantage. She states that In ancient cultures, leaders were chosen based on their anxiety symptoms. How was a sound sleeper going to keep the village safe from an overnight predator?
We all have a beast. If it’s not anxiety, it’s depression, it’s intense anger— maybe a combo pack. The moon comes out. It feels like everyone is against us. We get so in our heads that the world around us stops existing. When we’re in our right mind again, we put our tails between our legs and go into hiding.
Use it. Kween Sierra Boggess recently reminded our class that every breathing human in our current climate is overflowing with anxiety. She said the actor’s intention should become to heal other humans with our art. It stuck with me. If it’s going to be an unwelcome, inevitable accessory in your audition, might as well make it flashy, designer, and expensive.
My fellow anxiety-warriors, I’d like to admit that my werewolf was keeping me from feeling confident, connected, focused, etc. in the room. It’s why I joined Actor Therapy.
First, I had to learn to tame it. I read Self-Help books like “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle and “A Return To Love” by Marianne Williamson. I had Reiki healing done, committed to a meditation regimen, and taught myself E.F.T. (Emotional Freedom Technique or Tapping). I began using my AT/Scene Study material as homework (like a therapist would give you), and it helped!
A relationship with anxiety can be terrifying and isolating. It’s also a superpower if we learn how to harness it. Harnessing allows you to talk to that werewolf like it’s a puppy. It comes from finding presence. Depression and anxiety stem from mentally spending your time in the past and present.
Ms. Wilson implores us to “read up on Big Minds who contributed Big Things while anxious” and immediately I thought of the neurotic/anxious/genius orchestrations brought to us by Lin- Manuel, Sondheim, and (even our very own) Ryan Scott Oliver— to name a few. They say the music informs the actor. They want us to USE IT.
So, I can alleviate my anxiety by focusing on today and owning my AT homework? Yes, with due diligence. Allow yourselves to observe what presence feels like. Guys, it’s no secret— presence is one of the key foundations to acting, esp, for the Broadway stage.
A word of advice: don’t expect your 20, 30, 40-something self to learn a new behavior overnight. New research shows it takes up to 66 days to implement a new behavior.
As I’m writing this, it’s about 4am— the “mania” has already kicked in. Sarah suggests we write through these anxious spells, so here I am. I’m in the midst of a several-day rendezvous with my werewolf, and tomorrow I am coaching audition sides with Creatives behind Hamilton. This is not the first time my werewolf visits before something important. It won’t be the last.
So I use my techniques to “tame the beast”, even though I’d rather toss it from the fire escape of my fourth-floor walk up.
Being alone with your thoughts can be taxing, but it’s part of the healing journey. It connects you to your creativity. Americans, men specifically, are hard-wired to cement a band aid over emotional wounds while this “anxiety” convo has become the latest fad. In my experience, the cemented bandaids are what trigger Mr. Werewolf. Let yourself feel things. It informs your art.
As the hustle-and-bustle of NYC inevitably picks up— perfect timing for that werewolf to come out. Small behavior changes during busy times can be beneficial to harnessing that power.
Start small. Read the book.
Commit to a weekly yoga class or dance class to find that presence. Research what foods (or alcohols) flare up the anxiety— sugar is a big one, Tequila is my wingman. A challenge: Reconsider your relationship with technology. What if you moved the apps that distract you from your “studies” to the back page of your phone?
Most importantly, talk to someone: a therapist, family, friends. We’re all more alike than you’d think. We have wisdom to offer each other. You’re not alone. The best healing has come to me by way of fellow anxiety-warriors who’ve been through it. A Headspace subscription is only $13 a month (far more cost effective than a weekly Therapist trip), and meditation is all about having those conversations with yourself.
The author adds that she lets her “mania” take over when public speaking. It’s her own version of Sasha Fierce. The point is, we don’t have to pretend the werewolf is waiting for us in the holding room. She also suggests attempting to shift from anxious to excited vs. anxious to calm. Excited emotions live in the same wheelhouse with anxiety. Takes the pressure off, huh?
Frederick Nietzsche, a German Philospher, states, “He who has a why can endure any how.” Let’s go get our “why”. Although it may certainly feel like it, anxiety is not our downfall. Our “why” is the first time we take that Broadway-bow, the ability to tell the stories of our fellow anxiety-warriors. Makes the “how” worth it, right?
Gerry Vega has most recently performed and produced his two solo-cabarets: Growing Up? and Pennies from Heaven — at The Duplex and Don’t Tell Mama. A proud member of Actors’ Equity Association, he has performed at Santa’s Village (Berry the Elf) and as Brother Bear in the National Tour of Berenstain Bears Live: in Family Matters! The Musical. IG: @vegager