I can not tell you how thrilled I am to introduce you to today’s guest Blogger. Efsun Alper is a breath of fresh air, over the top hostess, wise council, and always first with a smile and a laugh. I am fortunate to have her in my close circle of mommy friends and was entirely delighted when she mentioned that she would like to contribute to Bliss Habits.
I remember when I first met Efsun, at the park as we were both entertaining our very young toddler children, and she mentioned that she had been an actor back in Turkey where she was from. I didn’t think much of it, I’m from New York where practically everyone I knew had some actor cred, but then on a lark I looked her up. She was a full blown TV Star! Her show, Asmali Konak, was as popular as something like Grey’s Anatomy here in the United States. Who would have guessed this down to earth, friendly gal was a celebrity?
I feel lucky everyday to know her, celebrity or not, and I think after you read her terrific post you will too!
I am an actor. Ever since I’ve known myself, I’ve always identified myself as one. Even long before I was a professional actor, I was acting. And I don’t mean just the pretend playing I did as a kid – like changing my name and identity on a daily basis, so my parents had to check “who I was” on that particular day. I formed my own theater company by the time I was 9. I turned my grandparents’ half-constructed bedroom in the backyard into a theater with a stage, curtains and seats for the audience. I managed, wrote, directed and acted for our company made up of 4 girls. That was where I performed Hamlet, among many other characters, for the first time. What was the company called? Efsun’s Theater Troupe of course! Later on it came to be known as Efsun’s Party!
I have always loved acting and the creativity that it fostered, much to the puzzlement and dismay of my parents who didn’t quite understand why I had to express myself in this way and not in politics. I fought them for years! Now, things are a bit different. As a mother of two young children and a teacher to many, I have to figure out the “hows” and “whys” of things every day. And for the first time, creatively speaking, I struggle. I really do. Call it an artist’s block or mommy brains, I needed to figure out what were some of the things that made it possible for me to create so freely in the past. Kathy’s blog inspired me to break down the creative qualities and the processes of an actor, so I can understand it from an parent’s/educator’s point of view and use it to guide me with my little ones.
10 Creative Qualities of an Actor:
For athletes, it’s being in the zone. For geeks, it’s being wired. For us actors, it’s being present. Dare I say this is my favorite quality in an actor? Being completely in the moment, awake with all your senses; just being. Easier said than done, presence requires a lifetime of study. Trust me, I know! It is the combination of sharp focus and soft gaze, and full awareness with your entire being. This sort of openness and availability is a pre-requisite to creativity. For those of you who are skeptical, I’m pretty sure you’ve been there at least a few times yourself. Who doesn’t remember a first kiss? I bet you can still recall the details. It is the clarity of mind and engaging all of the senses that heighten the experience. You’ll find yourself in the moment and almost outside of yourself watching. And things will flow very easily and effortlessly. Creativity loves to accompany this kind of availability.
This is what we actors call “wearing someone else’s shoes”; sometimes the shoes pinch and sometimes they will be 2 sizes too big, but you wear them without pride or prejudice. Far beyond the ability to read another’s emotional cues, you have to actually feel what the other person is feeling to empathize. It works on two levels for an actor: 1. Empathizing with your character: Whether your character is an innocent victim or an axe murderer, you have to empathize with them to be able to portray them truthfully. 2. Empathize with the world: It makes you understand and connect with others, deepens your perspective of a person or an event. The more you can relate to someone or something, the more your knowledge and awareness will increase, which directly influences your creative output. I am a big believer of the overall empathy and sensitivity of the actor contributing greatly to her emotional intelligence, and fueling her creativity in return.
Trusting yourself (confidence) and trusting others is another must for an actor.
Confidence: I can’t imagine having continued on my artistic path without believing in myself first. Of course, there can be doubts and hardships along the way, but confidence -not to be confused with cockiness!- and “I can do it!” attitude can move you forward to accomplish your creative goals. I realize it doesn’t come overnight. You just need to step outside of your comfort zone a bit and be willing to take risks. Willingness to take risks, is one of the major contributors to creativity in general, with the pre-requisite being trusting yourself.
Trusting others: As an actor, I always had to trust my partners, know that they had my back, and have them trust me in return. Whether it’s your spouse or co-worker, it’s not that different. You might have heard of this simple acting exercise: one person falls backwards eyes closed, while her partner catches her. You don’t know if that person will be there, you just have to trust that she will be. This is usually the first exercise actors in a project will do, for immediate bonding and setting up a safety net. It is the kind of trust that makes you feel free to share and experiment creatively, without the fear of being criticized or conforming to others. Mistrusting your partner(s), however, will likely sabotage your ability to speak your mind or to take risks, and in turn will hinder your creativity.
As an actor, I always strived to be respectful of the playwright’s work (it’s called “nominal authenticity”), but even more important is “expressive authenticity”, which means the creative expression should be “personal, with originality, honesty and integrity”. It should be reflecting you and your unique point of view as its creator. Think of your favorite actor(s) -well I have a few!- and the odds are they’re your favorite, because they’re so unique in what they do. They may not necessarily even be the original inventor of a particular style, but they are authentic in their representation. It is incredibly challenging to stay true to yourself and I know first hand the difficulties of nonconformity, but that is exactly where you can make a difference in your creativity. Take Frank Sinatra’s example and do it your way!
I always liked calling myself a student of acting for life. I am a big fan of education and I trained in different techniques of my craft in a very disciplined manner for years, but it doesn’t stop there. To me, discipline is a certain mind set of will power, hard work and persistence in the mastery of one’s passion. Discipline will set your internal motivation clock to acquire the skills you need to accomplish your goals. It will teach you self-management and self-competition. A professional career in acting, or any artistic medium for that matter, will almost be impossible without a certain level of self-discipline. No wonder intrinsic motivation and persistence are now considered to be one of the most important factors in fostering everyday creativity.
The most fun aspect of being an actor is the complete freedom to imagine. A lot of actors, myself included, employ pretending, narratives, fantasy and “what if” to come up with alternatives to reality. I know many non-actors who use the phrase “if only” to exercise their own imaginative powers. We all have plenty of curiosity and imagination when we’re little. We start to lose it as we grow up and face the harsh realities of life; where our imaginations are locked away in dreams that we don’t even remember. Creative people tend to be different in that they retain a considerable amount of their childhood curiosity and imagination. Letting your “mind’s eye” wander around is a wonderful and fun way to unlock your creative sources.
“Listening to one’s gut” is one of the most distinguishable qualities of a good actor. It takes an extraordinary amount of courage and vulnerability in the face of public criticism to continue to trust your intuition. Acting is very much about making choices; and although the analytical abilities of an actor will help in the “understanding” of a character, her intuitive abilities will make it “believable”. It makes the work genuine and transparent. In the intuitive state, the “ands, ifs or buts” don’t really exist. Of course, trusting your gut is not achieved overnight either, but it can most certainly be practiced. Increasing your intuitive repertoire will certainly benefit your creativity in wonderfully surprising ways.
I have not yet met an actor who was not passionate about their craft; regardless of if they made it big or not. I know most actors would come across as fiery people (I know quite a few that would be considered shy), but passion for what you do has very little to do with being extraverted or introverted. It is a deep yearning within your soul that keeps calling you to do what you really love. If you’re afflicted with such intense emotion, I am thrilled for you. If you’re not there yet, don’t give up, and keep searching within. Cause nothing else will affect your creative powers as much as being passionate for what you do.
My first acting teacher told me that commitment to the craft was everything; “you have to marry your craft”, he used to say. I took his advice to heart; and for as long as I was acting I was deeply committed to all of its ups and downs. Now I’m not suggesting you to drop your partner or your life, but if you’re pursuing something that you are passionate about, you do need to take the next step and be really committed to it. That means you fully commit to the creative choices that you make. You do not give up on your creativity when the times are tough and you do not take it for granted when everything is grand. Just like in a committed relationship, you’re devoted to it till the end. I will tell you from experience that all my successful actor friends are the resilient ones; the ones that stuck it out during the bad times and not caved, even during immense monetary pressure. Never give up, never surrender!
I’m fairly certain that anyone who has an opinion on the subject would mention talent. Indeed, “the natural ability to perform” seems to be a common denominator for all good actors, even when the definition of talent varies from person to person. To me, talent is fluid, just like intelligence. It is the culmination of all the things I have listed above and more, which can be acquired with time and practice. I sincerely believe everyone has an inherent talent, though they may not be aware of it (yet). True, artistic or sports talent has the physical visibility factor that gets noticed when one possesses it, but what about the talent to teach, to cook, to write code, or to take care of other people? Creatively speaking, there is talent in all of it. Sometimes it goes unused, unappreciated, or unnoticed. Don’t let that be you…
Wishing you the best in all your creative journeys!
Which one of these qualities speak to you the most or the least? Are there any you already use in your creative work? Which one(s) would you like to consider or try in your next creative endeavor? Drop me a line. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
My deepest thanks to my good friend Kathy for her encouragement, patience, and giving me the platform to write about something so dear and near to my heart.
Efsun is a classically trained actor, a volunteer teacher to little kids, a passionate advocate of art education in the classrooms, wife to the sweetest man alive and the mother of two amazing girls, Alara and Aleyna -her most creative endeavor yet. You can visit efsun.org for her past acting work.
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