There are times when getting to know our emotional selves goes beyond improving the quality of our personal lives. One of my specialties is working with actors and actresses on emotional connection and expression for their careers. People often ask me what it is I do with performing artists that helps further their careers, and how I started into this specialty.
Generally, people tend to see a therapist when they’re experiencing some sort of mental or emotional discord in their lives – whether the experience of their daily emotions has been in some way disruptive to their functioning at an optimal level (anxiety, depression, stress, etc.), or when there are daily life issues or transitions (relationship issues, work/career issues, etc.), as well as other reasons that people enter therapy.
In creative and performing arts, engaging with emotions is not only something that contributes to daily life satisfaction and fulfillment, it actually is the foundation of their career. Seeking out therapy for the specific purpose of better engaging with their emotions and emotional history helps an actor be able to take on a role, create a character, and execute the performance of this character. It helps with daily life as well, but it’s a necessity for success in their work.
A good actor knows that emotions can’t be forced. You can’t fake an emotion on tv, in a movie, or on stage without the audience likely picking up on the fact that it isn’t genuine. In fact, many acting studios will require their students to be in therapy because they know the importance of engaging with one’s own emotions and emotional history to help excel in an emotionally-based career.
How I Became a Specialist for Actors and Actresses
When I was in post-graduate training for contemporary psychotherapy and psychoanalysis, professional working actors as well as many acting students were a regular at the institute. I worked with actors here in New York City multiple times every day. I saw those who were trying to become working actors as well as professional working actors who wanted to improve their craft while simultaneously grappling with daily life issues outside of work.
As my work with actors and actresses continued, the crossover between emotional history and the relevance of these emotions in their work became abundantly clear. I wasn’t just helping people to feel good in their daily lives, I was helping people be able to access and express emotions in order to succeed in their career. It was an extra necessary layer to our work.
People at times would come in with memorized scenes (or scripts in their hands) wanting to better connect with a character they were hired to portray. What I noticed over time was that I not only enjoyed helping manage the emotional life-work crossover (essentially, this was the degree to which our work with connecting to their emotional life would significantly improve their acting output), but my clients were actually reaching their performance goals — having successful auditions, performances, filming, and engaging with their roles on a deeper and more effective level.
What I Do with Actors and Actresses
First, let me say that I’m not an acting teacher or an acting coach. My role isn’t to tell someone how to better act a part, and I don’t try to step into that role. That’s not why someone hires me as their therapist or coach.
Actors who hire me do so because, most simply said, they want to connect with themselves more deeply in order to better connect to their work in any given point in their career. They know the emotions they need to access have to come from deep within themselves. Some start because something is going on in their daily lives they that want to work on for life fulfillment, but simultaneously want to work on their emotional access for their work. However they start, it is a process.
My approach to therapy is direct and honest. I will tell you what I’m thinking and what I see. This approach is highly effective with actors as I aim to address areas of blocked or stored emotion, while also helping connect relevant parts of their history to the emotional life situations that come up in the present. In turn, this process can be recycled in their work to inform and enhance their emotional connection to a character.
For example: When an actor acts out scene for me online or in my office, I will stop them to ask what they were feeling in a particular moment if I sense that something isn’t connected. From there, digging a bit deeper, there often is some form of emotional history blocking a deeper connection. It may not even be a major life event in their history, as much as a pattern of events, or emotional tendencies, or otherwise.
A woman I worked with for a period of time started a session one day nervous about a scene she had to shoot later in the week for an upcoming movie. The scene involved becoming somewhat sexual with her on screen partner. As we explored her feelings about this upcoming shoot, as well as feelings about being sexual in life as well as on camera, we ended up deep in her anger towards her mother about the shame her mom would make her feel about sexuality. Her mom had a way of making her feel that she would heavily disappoint her mom if she acted on her sexuality, and therefore as a teenager would hide this side of her life from her mom. The idea of being sexual on camera made her conscious of the fact that her mom would eventually see this movie, and she could feel the judgement looming, thus making it very difficult to engage with the character in the way she needed to.
After spending the session, and an extra session prior to the filming, connecting with and expressing the anger and resentment she felt having to always be a good girl for her mother, something lifted for her. I received a text the day after her shoot saying she had no idea what happened, but she was able to fully engage with the character and drew significant praise from the cast and crew from her performance in the scene she was originally quite nervous about. It turned out that not only had connecting to and expressing her anger in this area of her life lift her fear, but she was able to utilize that anger to fuel her engagement in the role for the scene.
I have been fortunate to work with actors and actresses who are driven to succeed in their work. This therapy/coaching isn’t simply acting work, it’s a combination of understanding, experiencing, connecting to, and expressing the history of one’s own life in order to use it for success in their careers.
*Details were altered from the scenario above to protect confidentiality..
Nathan Feiles works with professional actors and actresses in television, film, and stage, as well as acting students starting out in their careers. If you would like to inquire about working with Nathan either locally in NYC, or long distance via video coaching, please visit www.nathanfeiles.com.