What I mean by the Voices in our heads are the Voices that tell us about who we are, what we're doing, and what we are not doing.
Sometimes friendly, sometimes fiendish, these Voices have many sources but one common result: confusion. It could begin with a note from an acting teacher that makes you question your mind/body connection (for me, it's the recurring problem of people thinking I am being a smart-ass when I am actually sincere. I blame my face). They could start with an argument with a friend that leaves you feeling isolated; a breakup that hurts way longer and deeper than you expected; a book that messes up your head; or even a discouraging casting breakdown like those featured on the brilliant new actress-run Tumblr Lady Parts, like this one: "[Seeking:] Ultimate fantasy woman of sexually frustrated college graduate. Sophisticated, stylish, sexy, intoxicating."
Any of these things (and more) can set off the Voices. Dialogue ensues:
Voice 1: This is some sexist bull$@*t. This isn't a part for a human. You're an actor. You portray humans. Move on.
Voice 2: What the hell is an ultimate fantasy woman? Am I an ultimate fantasy woman? Am I pretty?
Voice 3: Oh god not you again.
Voice 1: If I submit to this, does that mean I'm egotistical for thinking I'm a sophisticated, stylish, sexy, intoxicating fantasy woman? If I don't submit, am I letting the Man and patriarchy get me down? Stupid Man. Stupid patriarchy. Stupid infinite amount of breakdowns that make no sense.
Voice 3: Is this paid? Because we could really use money about now. Don't submit unless it's paid. Because we don't have time for games anymore, literally. Only submit if you can do the gig. Tick tock rent.
Voice 2: Ummm submitting doesn't mean you'll get it. Because woah there, cocky. Also, am I pretty?
Voice 1: You're supposed to be smarter than worrying about that. Great dramatic artist here, remember? Shakespeare. Devised physical theater. Focus!
Voice 2: Am I a fantasy woman?
Voice 1: Who am I to judge? What is fantasy? What is a real woman? What is reality, anyway? What is art? What is life?
Voice 3: Blah blah blah blah blah pay your rent.
Oh, Voices. Usually they're trying to be helpful, trying to make choices, trying to help us grow. But Voices, whether from outside or in, can become quickly overwhelming and unhelpful. A big journey in the life of an artist is learning to discern the Voices from the really important questions.
My Voices usually ask me whether I'm doing enough (obviously not - no Oscar yet) and analyze and re-analyze what I've done (Three stars average rating on that thing I did? Why not four?). Sometimes, in the voices of my parents or friends trying to be helpful, the Voices ask what I am working on right now or whether I've considered changing my hair or my city or my life-plan, because that might be what tips the scale. They ask what I was thinking. Why I did that. Why didn't I do more.
Voices. Comparing us to other artists. Chiding us for being so slow, so picky, so unemployed, so over-scheduled or over-worked, or blah blah blah. Telling me to speak louder, or I won't be heard - faster, or I'll be passed over. I publish a poem and then agonize over whether the semicolon was the best choices. I update my reel and then hate what I did with that line about chinese food. And then a Voice whispers: what would Meryl Streep have done? Look at what friend X just did! Why aren't you mobilizing a documentary film team to cover the Ebola outbreak? And Facebook newsfeed-stalking, there's the healthy way to handle this!
Voices need to chill.
I remember one of my all-time favorite days of grad-school. It was in our second-year Voice class, exploring Linklater Technique. Taught by the amazing Susan Main, we had done everything from pretending we were mythic creatures together to laying on top of each other making odd honking, bubbling noises. But this one particularly powerful day, which sticks in my mind, Susan instructed us all to stand against the wall of our black-box studio in a line. Then, one by one, we each had to walk to the middle of the room, turn to face the group at the wall, stand still and make eye-contact with every single person in the class. Each moment of eye-contact with each person had to last for an entire breath: in, out.
We were allowed no comment, from ourselves or others. If people messed up this part, Susan would make us start over. Eye contact. Breath. Silence. No movement, no comforting habits or dismissals. Just real eye-contact, for a full breath, with everybody else. One student burst into tears after, when Susan asked us what we had experienced. He had felt so exposed, so seen - and so uninteresting.
"You are enough," Susan said.
I'm not saying that we shouldn't work on our technique or honestly examine what we do with our time, skills, and talent. I'm not saying we shouldn't be prepared and trained and exhausted in pursuit of our art. I'm not saying we don't need to develop a thick skin and discernment to handle the chorus of Voices we'll deal with in our lives as artists. But I am saying that under and over the other Voices, whatever might be said about us or by us or around us, it all comes back to that simple truth that I learned (appropriately) in voice class: you are enough.
Our identity as artists doesn't stem from the last thing we did (how often have you been told that an actor is only as good as their current project?). Our identity as artists doesn't depend on interpretations or reviews. Those things are really, really nice. So is money. But those things are not the basis of our identity, whatever the Voices may whisper. And that's not what got us in this game. What got us in this game was who we are, and what we want to explore. Our core. Our self.
You are enough.
That is where the Voices rest and the artwork begins.