In the first term of our first year of the BFA Acting Program at UBC, our teacher Stephen Heatley made us do an exercise. We sat along the wall of the studio, and one by one we were to walk in the door, stop in the middle of the room, spread our arms out, say our name with confidence and clarity, and walk out. Easy, right? Not exactly. We were at the beginning of our training, many of my classmates had just moved to Vancouver or moved out for the first time, and we were scared. Really scared. As we went up one by one, our movements told the story of our defence mechanisms. Some people used comedy, taking up a funny walk, a smirk to cover up the nervousness. Some people seemed aggressive, daring you to question them. Some people shook, looking at the floor, mumbling their name. Me? I ended up in hysterics (first laughing, then crying) and Stephen had to literally hold my hand to get me in the door and across the room. How is it that people who want to make a living performing in front of hundreds of people couldn’t simply introduce themselves in front of a dozen of their peers?
The lesson for the day was “You Are Enough” – one of Stephen’s famous ‘samplers’ for the first year BFA Actors. The idea behind the exercise was to trust ourselves to be enough – no need for showboating, for nerves, or for an attack – just to walk in, breathe, say your name and leave and trust that simply being everything you are, just as you are, is enough. That day revealed to everyone their ways of protecting themselves from revealing that truth, and started us on the road to uncovering the root of that deep-seated feeling we all have – that we are somehow inadequate. In our chosen profession, we are forced to confront these feelings virtually on a daily basis, and finding security in oneself is vital to producing vulnerable, truthful work. In the three years since we did that exercise all of us, as actors and just as twenty-somethings, have come a long way to sorting out that puzzle, to saying our names with confidence and bringing that sense of self to our work. “You Are Enough” has become a favorite phrase in our group – sometimes as a punchline when someone does something dumb (“Aww, don’t worry, you are enough”) or as a frantic mantra when facing a stressful situation. That nerve-wracking day in the studio feels far, far away now, and the lesson just a memory.
But now, facing the ‘real world’, I am suddenly keenly aware of its value. I’ve been looking at the amazing season announcements and seeing the parts I dream of playing, and thinking “why would they ever choose me?” It’s a terrifying prospect, knowing you are a little, nervous fish in a big pond now. It’s time to start pursuing those dream gigs, and I just spent a few hours preparing my submissions, packing glossy photos of me looking oh-so-happy and chipper into envelopes, imagining them lost in a stack of hundreds of photos of happy-looking people all hoping for the same thing as me. The only thing I can do is hang on to that lesson from first year – I am enough. There are many talented actors out there, but I remind myself that I am unique in my experiences, my point of view, my humor and my life. And that’s just the thing – whether you have more experience or less, look the part or not, none of us have an equal in our ability to tell a story. Whether you’re up against stiff competition, whether you get the part or not, whether the doors open up for you or slam in your face, you must know deep down that you are enough. Somehow, as an artist, you must believe that your voice is worth hearing. As my class prepares to join the ‘real world’, I feel like we’re all back to being those shaky kids in the studio again. I’m grateful though, to have a mantra to keep in my heart as we walk out and introduce ourselves. Thank you, Stephen.