Thursday, March 17, 2011

Chess and Acting

You don't need to know how to play chess to follow this, I promise. Just the rules of winning: chess is won by threatening the other person's king without leaving the king an escape (putting their king in checkmate). That is how simple it is to win, simple but not easy. Having a single goal makes things more clear.

Theoretically, in chess, you can lose every other piece other than your king, you can be in a terrible position, make what look like bad mistakes, errors, and dumb moves, but as long as you get the other king checkmated before they do it to you, you win. Everything is unimportant other than that one goal. When I focus on the single goal, I do better; when I get caught up in smaller details, like focusing on my piece that is in danger or that I can take one of their strong pieces, I don't do as well.

Acting careers are helped by such clarity, if you know what your goal is. The rules of chess make one clear objective that is more important than any other. Not only can it focus you, but can relieve the anxiety or heartbreak of what seem like setbacks. Actors define what career success is for themselves.

What looks bad may be very good - having something that looks like a loss may actually be a good thing. Good and bad things are measured by the goal they serve or hinder. In chess perhaps your opponent takes one of your very useful pieces off the board. This looks bad, like a loss. And it might be. But it might be that by taking the piece they took, they opened up your opportunity to trap their king and win the game. In acting perhaps you did not book a role, or sign with an agent (or even got dropped). It might be exactly what best lets you get where you want to go.

It is too soon to tell right after something "bad" happens whether or not it's the very thing that lets you accomplish what you set out to do. Patience helps in chess, and because of the rules, only the final winner "counts." Patience helps in acting, and because we make our own rules (beyond science and the law) we may come to see a "setback" as a gift.

Every actor's path is different, and until it is followed there is no way to tell if the actor is heading where they want to go, or is closer to it. The keys may be to know what you are trying to accomplish more than anything else and to keep moving toward it.


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this posted by David August at 8:41 PM 

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