Dogs, therapy, and acting...

inspiration Dec 30, 2021

I was out walking in the woods just now with River, our Husky/Shepard mix (smart, neurotic, FULL of energy, and never-to-be-left-off-leash-if-you-hope-to-ever-see-her-again) and was struck by how much I thoroughly enjoy watching her engage the world around her.

Spirit. It's tangible and SO uplifting to be around such pure spirit.

And SOMETIMES it's absolutely enthralling to watch an actor engage their make believe world with such spirit. Sometimes. When they do so in such a pure manner, that is...and they are GOOD at it... (so ... yeah.... sometimes.)

A leash or a lead?

A leash is used to restrain. A lead is used to lead. I use neither. When River and go for a walk in the woods I find it far more interesting for HER to do the leading.  That means that we pretty much never stick to the path. She follows not the pat of least resistance, but the path of most interest (to her). Now, that doesn't mean we walk straight through impassable tangles... That doesn't interest her much. I think we probably follow the smells. Or the sounds. Every once in a while she'll stop and look. But we go over and under logs and branches and I only redirect her if I see something I can't make it through. Total adventure.

And it's thrilling to share in her world because she seems so much more alive than I'll ever be.

She SHARES with me that experience so that I can have a little bit of that for myself.

I know I've talked about sharing before- but it's such a powerful part of performance. When you tell a 2 year old to share their toys, you aren't telling them to SHOW the toys to the other kids, you are telling them to hand them over, let the other kid OWN that toy for a short period of time. When a singer shares their voice with us, it's as if WE can sing like them for that short period of time. And when an actor shares with us, we can be handed their truth to hold onto and experience for that short period of time.

But it ain't easy.

River is frankly a pretty special dog. She is far more aware of the ramifications of being on a lead than any dog I've ever had. She understands (most of the time) that if a tree or light pole passes between her and I along the leash, that she is gonna get tied up... so she back tracks in those situations to undo the "tangle" before it even happens. If she does get wrapped around something, she's the only dog I've ever had that KNOWS to go back around it and untangle herself. She picks archways through low hanging branches for sure, but she usually steers clear of the ones that she KNOWS I can't make it through. She's quite leash-competent.

Therapy and Competency

If you've ever been through physical therapy, you've probably gone through the "conscious competence ladder". When you have a problem that needs being fixed... you usually don't even KNOW you have the problem! (Maybe that means you are using your core muscles incorrectly, etc) Then once someone points out that problem, you start working on it. 

Here's the ladder:

  • Unconscious Incompetence - You don't even know that you are incompetent at something.
  • Conscious Incompetence - You have become made aware of the problem, and are struggling through the hard work to get your muscles working correctly. They don't always fire the way you want though!
  • Conscious Competence - You can do the task right AS LONG AS you are paying conscious attention to it, but you slip into old habits if you stop paying attention.
  • Unconscious Competence - The correct and effective way of doing that task has become second nature and you consistently execute it unconsciously.

We wanna get to Unconscious Competence.


What is talent? That's a hard one to tackle. Well... talent MIGHT just be a reference to where on that competence ladder someone exists naturally.

Take throwing a baseball for instance. Some people have unconscious competence with solid mechanics from the moment they throw their first baseball. They are "talented". Some look like they are throwing with the wrong hand no matter what they try to do! (I'd probably call that CONSCIOUS incompetence!). They are "untalented".

Even if you are a "natural" and are on that unconscious competence rung for a particular task... it doesn't mean you can't train further in that task. There are loads of super detailed scientific lessons around particular tweaks to baseball throwing mechanics - and great players can get even greater. There's always another ladder out there to climb.  But most of us do not start at that "unconscious competence" rung of even the more basic ladders- EVEN IF WE THINK WE DO.

River, she's pretty darned competent at "leading a person through the woods". Not very competent at "Walking politely on a leash in the city." To each their own.

You suck at acting and you don't even know it.

I want to share in your acting. You are on the front end of that lead and you should bring us through your magical forest. I want to share in your engagement of the world around you.

But just being able to be "honest" ain't gonna cut it.

This kind of sharing involves the freedom to explore wildly AND a solid set of well ingrained communication skills. You gotta take me with you. Communication skills help you bring me along. Connect me to that lead. Don't leave me lost in the brambles.

Many (most) aspiring On-Camera and Voice Over actors are unconsciously incompetent because they don't even know what they don't know. They don't know that the way they are moving (or not moving) on camera is killing their communication. They don't know that they mechanics of their phrasing is killing their VO reads.

They THINK they are competent because they have gotten SOME work, have gotten an agent, have made some headway.

Confidence is great. It's pure gold in fact. But if it keeps us away from growth for too long, it can lead to destruction. There's always ANOTHER competency ladder to uncover and climb. May this year be a year where you find out what you don't know, and start to grow in incredible new ways in your art.

Then go for a walk in the woods. We will follow.

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