With a sigh, I breathed, “I just can’t get the character I guess.” Paralyzed by the camera’s blinking red light and surrounded by talented actors who intimidated me, my cheeks flushed bright crimson.  I forgot my lines and butchered the monologue; I dove in headfirst and choked.

“You are enough, just as you are,” Greg whispered to me.

We spend so much of life being the student, the daughter, the girlfriend, the friend; we spend so little of life just being. I did at least. I used acting to hide myself. The fourth wall that exists in a theater between the actors and the audience was carried out with me into my daily life; I protected myself with this impenetrable barrier thinking it would help me deal with the life script I was handed but never auditioned for. Acting was an outlet that I had deluded myself into believing was constructive sublimation because delving into somebody else’s world let me lose sight of my own. Forgetting that real life doesn’t have a clear introduction, conflict, climax, and resolution, I submerged myself into my characters and along the way forgot my deeper dramas.

The simplicity yet simultaneous power of Greg’s words didn’t resonate with me until much later. So often as actors we’re urged to get into the character’s shoes and embody them, but never to just be ourselves. My preconceived notions about acting stood in the way of successfully performing the monologue and my own protective armor stood in the way of exposing myself to the camera. But Greg’s Zen aura soothed my nerves and urged me to not give up. With his direction competing in my mind with what I had already convinced myself about acting, I took a breath, faced the camera, and began the monologue again as myself, the most complex character I had ever encountered.

I went to Acting Abroad, a summer program in Normandy, France, with so many preconceived notions about acting. One of them was that I hated the camera. More than anything though, I think I was afraid of it. I was afraid of exposing myself without the costumes or character traits: a work-in-progress. Paralyzed by this fear, my performance was a failure.

Yet, reviewing the tape the next day in class, I was enthralled by a new type of acting. The part that captivated me was the moment I forgot my scripted words. In that moment, I was a real three-dimensional human being searching for truth in the context of the moment with nothing to fall back on but myself.  Without knowing it, my On-Camera Acting teacher Greg, as well as my own motivation to succeed, taught me the paradox of life and acting. The best actors aren’t those who are best at pretending to be somebody else, they are those who are best at simply being. Whether they know it or not, people don’t go to the theater to watch a fake world and story unravel. They go to the theater because they want people to tell them the truth. So much of life is acting, that ironically, it’s the actor’s job to embody the honesty that the world sometimes misplaces.

The next time I was on stage in a scene from David Lindsay-Abaire’s Rabbit Hole, I played a character 30 years older than I am and who had experienced the traumatic loss of her son. Though her character is not very relatable, instead of putting on a persona to portray her, I let my own experiences guide me. In doing so, I was more present on stage than I had ever been. I was connected to my partner and listened in the moment, which allowed me to react naturally and disregard the fact that I was acting. Overcoming my fear of exposing myself in acting led me to an authentic and empathetic performance as well as an appreciation of my own self-worth.

My small failure, my moment of humiliation, led me to my greatest realization and success. With those three words “you are enough,” I learned that I alone am captivating and I don’t need to be anyone but me nor do I need to build an impervious fourth wall.

This essay was submitted Kelly Schuster for the December 2010 – HowToSaveMoney.com Scholarship. See and vote on your favorite essays here.  More about Kelly:

I am a High School senior getting ready to go to college so this money would be put toward going to my dream school, Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY.

I heard of the Yakezie scholarship through Andrew Hallam, who teaches at the school I attend and that my mother works at, the Singapore American School. He said that he is part of an online personal finance blogging group and thought that I would be interested in applying for the scholarship.