Do you take RISKS when acting?

Psychologists analyze how we take RISKS.  Over the decades numbers of them have developed theories that explain how our minds process risk factors.  Daniel Kahneman in his book “Thinking, fast and slow” explores these theories.  He suggests that in life we establish a ‘reference point’ from which we assess whether the degree of loss we will experience will cause more discomfort than the pleasure of a possible win.

And of course, for some of us a negative life experience has taught us to be ‘risk averse’.  That life experience swings the pendulum strongly towards making conservative choices.  The ‘risk averse’ person often avoids a degree of risk that others would find quite acceptable.

Actors are constantly taking risks.  These risks have different outcomes from an investor, army general or athlete.  Actors, I suspect, don’t worry so much about winning or losing in the way a gambler does.  For actors, it seems to me, the risk is whether they will win ‘approval’ or ‘disapproval’.  Many of the actors whose performances astound us have taken BIG risks but actors who are learning their craft seem to be ‘risk averse’.


How many performances do we see in independent theatre and in the audition room where the choices are conservative?  How many times do we see actors placing the emphasis on being ‘real’ rather than being ‘engaging’?  I wonder what ‘reference point’ has been set that produces such predictably dull and safe outcomes?



I cast Tim Robertson in the ABC mini-series ‘Pokerface’ in 1985.  Tim often started his rehearsals playing the scene in an exaggeratedly LARGE way.  But in the end he reduced everything to an incredibly still and simple outcome that was always engaging and adventurous.  Was starting in a way that most would consider being ‘over the top’ his way of moving his reference point?  After that he perhaps felt free to do whatever he liked.




In the MASTER CLASS last week ASH HARRIS experimented with pushing the story difficulty his character was experiencing to incredible heights.  He gave everyone in the group a wonderful example of how far you can go.  He went beyond being safe.  The outcome was NOT perfect but it was exhilarating to watch.  He generated lots of laughs from his audience when the scene was replayed.  ASH succeeded in moving his ‘reference point’ relating to how bold he can be in playing a scene.


He has perhaps also moved the ‘reference point’ of many of the actors who were watching.  Hopefully they will be less ‘risk averse’ now that they have seen what ASH has achieved.


Giving yourself permission to play BOLDLY can only be achieved, it seems to me, if you change your ‘reference point’.  Somehow, you have to decrease the degree of loss you risk experiencing if you fail.  That way the hope of success has a greater relative value.


ODNA GEREL took her performance process to NEW heights in the Audition Workshop that has just finished.  Both casting directors were HIGHLY complementary.  ODNA achieved this on minimum preparation and maximum TRUST.  It seems to me that she has clearly moved her ‘reference point’.  She is no longer constrained by considerations that aren’t important.

ODNA’S listening was excellent, her ability to change was exceptional, her consistency was flawless and the level of engagement she generated was extremely high.


Both casting directors will remember her.

Actors need to think about the unproductive elements that constrain them.

Find out what’s holding you back from free, open and playful choices.  Maybe you need to find a new ‘reference point’ that reduces your tendency to ‘risk aversion’ so that you too can engage us with an enticingly energized and honest performance.



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