In a recent acting master class the master instructor suggested that I shave my beard.
She said I’d be more castable when people could see my whole face.
Now, I’m a voice actor, which she didn’t know, so I just laughed it off. I mean, I’m not going to be on camera, and I’ve had a beard or at least a van-dyke for about 30 years.
(BTW, a *van-dyke* is hair on the chin AND lip. It’s often mistakenly called a goatee which is hair only on the chin and NOT the lip.)
Anyway, the idea of not having a beard just felt…uncomfortable. And again, there was no need.
My regular acting teacher was a spectator in the master class. And the subject of my beard came up again with her in my regular acting class.
Of course I explained that I’m not on camera, always had a beard, blah, blah blah…and my teacher said, with incredulity, something to the effect of “So what? That beard is a mask. And keeping it, especially knowing it will grow back, is pure ego!”
Record scratch…fingernails on a chalkboard…Marty McFly being called “chicken.” Yep… that struck a nerve.
And you know why? Because it was the truth…I was being vain and protecting my ego. And on reflection, this was true well beyond the beard. My ego was (and still is sometimes) stifling my acting and even my ability to learn to be a better actor.
I realized I could EITHER play it safe and protect my ego OR I could become a better actor…but NOT both. I could hold grip on what I thought I knew, or I could let go and open myself to learning new things. I could idle or grow. And thus for me, the beard did indeed become a mask and symbolic of a barrier to my getting better.
So…I did it…off came the the mask. I shaved my precious beard.
It took more courage than it should have for something that, in retrospect, was actually quite trivial. Here’s a look at me in different stages of facial covering.
The immediate impact was the sheer amount of face staring back at me in the mirror! Jowls, a double chin, puffy cheeks. I felt like I just looked fat. And then of course, it was cold! I walked outside to a cool breeze that tingled and I shivered. But by the next morning all of these sensations abated.
As the freshness of the shave wore off, I quickly got used to the look and feel of a cleanly shaven face. No big deal!
And my family, friends, and colleagues, while shocked, also said I looked a lot younger, a lot better, and even healthier.
AND, when I met on Zoom with a potential new voiceover agent, she said, “you have a very castable face…have you considered on-camera work or print modeling?” She went on to ask for new headshots of my new (mostly) beardless look…here are a few of those:
And now I have an agent for that work…go figure.
So I let go of the ego, dropped the mask barrier, and son-of-bitch…new, good things started to happen!
Respect to my acting teachers who motivated me to act and reminded me of something that, in reality, I already knew…
See, my undergraduate degree is in Philosophy. I’ve studied the stoics. I know that, as Ryan Holiday puts it, “Ego is the Enemy.”
Epictetus said, “If you want to improve, you must be content to be thought foolish and stupid.” I accept this…and I think if we replace the phrase ‘be thought’ with the word ‘look’ it would be no less true. And anyway, I’m pretty sure that I am (which is to say that my ego is) the only one who ever thinks I act or look foolish.
So, you want to feel better and improv? Get out of your own way, let go of that ego, drop the mask, and find your equivalent to shaving that beard!