We briefly referenced the book, The Art of Possibility, in a recent post, but since it's such a damn profound read, wanted to dive a little deeper into another of its game-changing insights and how it can be wielded by us actor folk. The Art of Possibility was written by Rosamund Stone Zander (a family therapist) and Benjamin Zander (the musical director of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra). Which may sound like a bizarre occupational combo, but like Sriracha and peanut butter (do yourself a solid, friends), happily results in pure magic. The book presents 12 practices, and each invites us to challenge the limits and boundaries we unknowingly impose upon ourselves and the world around us. As the authors state in the very first pages, "Our joint conviction is that much, much more is possible than people ordinarily think."
"It's All Invented"
The first of the book's 12 practices – and the one we're going to explore here – is, "It's All Invented". This catchphrase alludes to the fact that our interpretation of the world is just that: an interpretation. We now have the science to show that our senses (i.e. sight, sound, smell, taste and touch) bring us selected information from the external world – not the complete picture of things as they really are. As the Zanders say, "The world comes into our consciousness in the form of a map already drawn, a story already told ... a construction of our own making." Like the Wizard of Oz, our mind is working away behind the scenes, orchestrating this selection process. Essentially, we humans "see" (via all our senses) what we believe to be true. Therefore, each of us invents our own reality. When we give ourselves a hot second to truly reflect on this, we're likely to arrive at something along the lines of, "Well damn, I might as well invent a reality that benefits myself and those around me!" (Our realisation came more like a rude slap in the face, but to each their own.) This potentially life-altering first step can then be followed by the two questions suggested by the authors:
"What assumption[s] am I making, that I'm not aware I'm making, that gives me what I see?"
"What might I now invent, that I haven't yet invented, that would give me other choices?"
Ruling Emerald City
Which leads us to how this ties to the experience of being an actor. Specifically, the widespread belief that life as an actor must be "hard". We don't know who whipped up this platitude, but their good intentions were misguided. Sure, the industry is competitive, but so are the fields of athletics or law or entrepreneurship. Again: "What assumption am I making, that I'm not aware I'm making, that gives me what I see?" We, personally, have sure as hell bought into this belief at multiple junctures in our own career. For those who haven't, we'll save you the agony: it's a pretty unpleasant and disempowering place to operate from – let alone create inspired art. Yet if it's all invented, why in the world would we choose the "hard" invention? Past Tahlia: "Because it's more admirable!" Today's Tahlia: "But even that assumption, dear lost friend, is an invention." (Yes, we often debate against ourself. And yes, we often lose.) We could just as easily decide admiration more rightfully belongs to the actor who dances through their career with ease and joy. Thusly, we now do.
Ann Skelly, star of The Nevers, has similarly shared, "When I was younger, I loved hearing the interviews of the actors who slept on the stages they performed on – who gave up their lives to play a part authentically." Yet, after observing the behaviours of numerous "brilliant actors" first-hand, today maintains, "You don't need to flagellate yourself or live in suffering … Quality of life and lightness matters to everything." We'll wrap with a Chinese proverb that encapsulates our invitation to embrace a lighter, more enjoyable actor existence: "Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are." We're both the Wizard of Oz and the citizens of Emerald City in our own lives. Is our kingdom one of constant tension or effortless relaxation? The choice is continually ours.
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