Act Natural: A Place to Dare Greatly
Who loves Brené Brown and what she’s saying about vulnerability and courage? Lest you have somehow missed this social researcher, she’s the person who – along with publishing numerous books and articles about “whole-hearted” living, leadership, shame and belonging – gave a hugely influential TED talk on vulnerability and the price we pay for invulnerability, for numbing our vulnerability. And just what is the price we pay? Vulnerability is the wellspring for joy, creativity, and connection. And how do we numb? Hello, North America: the most addicted, medicated, obese, in-debt society on the planet.
Dr. Brown uses "The Man in The Arena," a speech that Theodore Roosevelt gave in 1910, as a rallying cry for whole-hearted living:
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs; who comes up short again and again; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory, nor defeat.
Ladies and Gentleman, Jane and I are actresses. And what Dr. Brown (and Teddy Roosevelt!) talks about is our life. Okay, well, what she talks about is everybody’s life, but as an actress, in order to do my job (or, in fact, get a job in the first place through the process called auditioning), I have to stand in front of people (sometimes hundreds of people) and be as human and authentic as I can muster, in order to tell the story of a character in a play. This certainly counts as being in President Roosevelt's arena. This certainly requires vulnerability and this, necessarily, requires courage. There is no courage without vulnerability. In my twenty-five years as a participant, and leader at the Haven, I have learned that there is also no aliveness without vulnerability. If what I want is aliveness and meaning and connection in my life, I must be willing to experience the risk, the uncertainty of outcome, and the emotional exposure which make up this experience of being vulnerable.
I suppose that Jane and I are lucky (though it doesn’t always feel that way) to have such an explicit opportunity to be vulnerable. One such “opportunity” is the aforementioned auditioning process. Something I recently put myself through. The process of auditioning for a large professional theatre goes like this: You select (through a painstaking research process) two contrasting monologues (perhaps one drama, one comedy) of about two minutes in length. The idea is to select material from plays that will show off your range as a performer, highlight your strengths, and demonstrate mastery. You have only five minutes to get up onstage and say with this audition that “you casting directors should hire me to act in your season this year.”
I put months of preparation into my audition. I worked with a coach. I was invested. Clearly, the more investment, the more vulnerability. I’m proud of what I did at the audition; I was fully prepared and gave it my all. So when I was not hired by this company, I was … not quite devastated, but the word “disappointed” doesn't cover it, either. “Devappointed,” might we say? But this is the risk, this is the uncertainty about outcome, and this is the emotional exposure of vulnerability. What, after all, is the alternative to being “marred by dust and sweat and blood”? Not engaging, not investing, staying numb. If we retreat from the discomfort, anxiety, and shame of Life, we live without joy, innovation, creativity, and the connection we are hard-wired to need.
Jane and I, thanks to our work in the theatre, live lives full of opportunities for stepping into the arena, for letting ourselves be truly seen and heard. Indeed, that is the first responsibility of the actor: to be seen and heard on stage. In the weeks of rehearsal leading to opening night, it is our job to try things, to innovate, to take wrong turns, perhaps look foolish. For all the risk and exposure of self, this process is playful, interesting, and just plain fun. Remember, vulnerability is the birthplace of joy, creativity, and belonging. We like to think that we are giving Act Natural participants the same opportunities. This workshop is a safe place to get to know yourself in a new way, to exhibit courage and vulnerability – and to experiment with “daring greatly.” Plus, you’ll learn acting fundamentals and techniques that will serve you well in your work, your life, your relationships. Jane and I believe we all are worthy of living courageous lives. We can be perfectly imperfect, we can have connection, and we can experience profound joy and aliveness.
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