You are discovering the interesting and somewhat terrifying truth that personality is fluid, can change and be manipulated to appear different in different situations. Such as, for example, onstage. That’s obvious. But you are also developing several selves for your day to day life; you are a different person at school than at home, different maybe at camp or with close friends. You may even be experimenting with putting on a character when you are out and about (I once had several co-workers at a new job convinced I was from Texas for a month before I dropped the accent and told them I was just working on a character). So that means… basically, you could be anyone, so who the heck are you? And when is Someone going to Find Out that you are taking basically your entire life? You may feel like someone, soon, is going to expose you for the fraud you are. Someone will figure out that you are just getting whatever awards or roles or public praise that you are getting based on luck and the fact that you are a sham. Here is the big life secret, OK? Are you ready?
Pretty much everyone feels like this, at some level, all the time.
Your parents, teachers, peers, bus driver, the President of the United States, all have that feeling that they are flying blind, flailing around and only figuring things out by dumb luck or other nefarious circumstances, and one day it will all catch up to them. The people who don’t feel like this tend to be psychopaths and sociopaths, people who have no empathy or awareness of the fact that there are other people in the world with them whose opinions of them are important. The fact that you feel this way means you are normal and healthy. That’s good news!
The bad news is that it doesn’t really ever go away. You will always have this nagging peripheral feeling that the Fraud Police are following you, and could at any time decide to pull your disguise away and show you for who you are. But here’s the really great news: who you really are is enough. You are truly and honestly valuable and necessary in the world, completely defrocked and exposed. That’s something you need to keep in your mind, whenever you feel like the Fraud Police are getting close, and that today might be the day that all the facades crumble: if and when that happens, you are still enough, in your purest form.
When I first started my professional stage management apprenticeship, I had a dream that I was at the stage management table with the stage manager and the Production Assistant, who was sort of my most immediate peer in the job. In the dream, the SM asked me to get something from across the room, and when I got up, I realized that I was naked from the waist down. I ran back to behind the table, trying to cover myself with my sweatshirt, and noticed that the PA was sitting there completely naked. It didn’t seem to bother her. I asked her, “Um, I’m naked, so are you, shouldn’t we do something?” And she looked up and said dismissively, “Oh, if they haven’t figured out yet that I’m naked, they’ll never notice that you are.” And I figured that was probably true, so I went about my business.
The message of the dream is, we’re all feeling naked and exposed, so most of the time, the other people that you are working with are going to be way more focused on keeping their own face on and their own act going on to notice if your face slips or your inexperience is showing. You are in good company.
The Fraud Police serve an important purpose. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be a part of just about everyone’s daily lives. Their purpose is to remind us that we still have work to do. We are not There yet. That there are people counting on us for stuff that we need to do our best to live up to, whether or not we believe ourselves to be qualified/talented/experienced enough. That we are not the best thing in the entire world, we don’t know everything, we are not the Gift of the Artistic Universe. They keep us humble and working and improving, which is a good thing. It’s when they get in our way and stop us from moving forward that they need to be told who is the boss of you, which is not them. Thank them if you can catch them (PS, they are afraid of you, too).
There is a great song from a show called (title of show) -yes, that is the name of the show, (title of show), look it up- called “Die, Vampire, Die.” It does a super job of illustrating what it feels like when something truly amazing is within your ability and an opportunity presents itself. The trick is, once you have accepted the Fraud Police as your constant companions, how to keep them from interfering with your work and your progress.
Let’s say that there’s a show with a role that’s perfect for you, and you prepared for the audition, and you get a callback. How to keep those self-doubts away for long enough to do a fantastic job? How to freeze, for just a little while, the belief that Someone Else is probably better for this than you? That is a tough one, and it’s something that should definitely be a part of your preparation for auditions, callbacks, scene study finals, and any other times when you have something at stake. I have a few things you can try, and definitely get creative, see what works for you.
1. Give Them A Face. Part of what gives them power over you is that you can’t confront them. But you can. See if you can create the monster, give this entity a form that you can actually have a conversation with (you are not crazy, this is OK). My Fraud Police are in classic form, two humans in trenchcoats and fedoras, dark glasses, the works. Yours might be a wolf, or a space alien. A friend of mine has hers as a spotlight, ready to turn on at any moment and show everyone who she really is when the light hits her. Give yours a shape, and a name if you can. The more you can take control of them, the less they control you.
2. Coexist. They are not going anywhere. They will not leave you permanently, ever. So you need to be able to know that they are there, and consciously allow them into your space. Like seeing the spider on the wall and leaving it there rather than breaking your dad’s basketball trophy throwing it at the spider. But you are in charge. Which brings me to my third point:
3. Give Them A Break. You can’t tell them to take a permanent hike, but you can tell them to go to Starbucks while you are in an audition, or have them go count the cars in the parking lot while you are performing, or that you just need them to take a shower while you are working on a scene with a new partner. Actually telling them, out loud or in your head, that for the next XYZ minutes they are to leave you alone, can break them away for a little bit, and you are free to be whatever it is you are. Which, by the way, is exactly what you need to be.
Fraud Police are like everything else in this business; a little bit good, a little bit of a pain in the neck, and a lot necessary. Good luck with them; make peace with them, they are going to be with you for a long, long time.