Oct 10 – Just Hangin’…

Earlier I was writing about acting student archetypes that I have been mapping as I journey through acting school. I talked about the Diva-in-training, which was pretty easy. I think we have all run into these before. Some of the other types I mentioned were the Cliff-hanger, the Processor, and the Meticulous. Today I want to talk about the Cliff-hanger.

This is the person who wants to be an actor, but is too afraid, but they don’t know they are too afraid (or maybe they do, I’m not a mind reader). I call them cliff-hangers because the get to the edge of the cliff, look down, and stay there. They don’t take the plunge. Another analogy might be the swimming pool. Imagine a kid who wants to go swimming, gets their swimsuit on, walks purposefully out to the pool, slowly tests the water with one big toe, only to stand on the edge and watch the other kids swim.

I have two examples. Let’s call them Marcus and Cleopatra. Marcus was my first encounter. He was a young guy about 19, who was going to a local community college while he still lived at home. He decided to take acting because he thought it would be a good way to make money. We all sort of lifted our eyebrows when he said that, but really, it is true that it would be a good way to make money. It is just not necessarily true that it is a good way to make good money.

Anyway, he paid over $600 to take this class, had to commute a fair distance to reach the school, and he took this load on while he was already in college. Hearing that, you might think that he was highly motivated, but… no. When it came time to participate in class it was interesting (and occasionally painful) to watch.

I can’t really say he froze up, because he moved and talked, but there was no energy behind it. Imagine automaton Abraham Lincoln at Disneyland. It wasn’t just bad acting, because you can tell when a bad actor is giving a good (bad?) effort. And when he was encouraged to do more, he resisted, mostly by offering lame excuses and foot dragging. In his defense I will say that he did improve over the course of the class. I just like to imagine what he would have accomplished if he had thrown himself down.

Cleo was different in manifestation, so at first I didn’t recognize her Cliff-hangeriness, I thought she was more of the Meticulous type. It was only after repeated events that the pattern developed enough to make this determination. She would come to class, and would sit quietly, listening intently, eager it seemed to me to learn.

It was a Shakespeare class so the material was difficult and specific. She would ask questions. Very thoughtful and specific questions. When it came time to do an exercise she would ask for specific clarification on what was expected. In the Shakespeare class we had to memorize a sonnet, a soliloquy/monologue, and a two person scene. We also had to write a sonnet. Yet almost every time when it came to the performance part, she would sit quietly and not participate.

She did participate in some things, and again showed purpose, unlike Marcus whose claw marks on the walls were readily visible as he was dragged to perform. Cleo did read her sonnet, but didn’t do it off book ( the “final” of the assignment), even though she professed to have stayed up all night for many nights memorizing it, which I believe she did. Same with her monologue. And when it came time to her two person scene, she ended up disappearing the last few classes so her partner had to find someone else at the last minute.

She probably had performance anxiety. But don’t we all? I guess the thing for me it was the contrast between her show of intention, and then the lack of follow through. I think I am sensitive to this because I encounter it annoyingly often in my personal life. I know a lot of people who say I want this, I want to do that, I want to be better, I want change, and then sit there. What was that line from the Cider House Rules? Oh yeah, “Shit, or get off the pot.”


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