Acting is Like Pole Vaulting. How in the world is acting like pole vaulting? It is similar in that it takes tremendous skill, talent and especially trust. When I was in High School I was on the track team. My favorite event, and probably my best, was pole vaulting. It was a very difficult sport that took longer to learn than most. It took me nearly four years, until my senior year, before I felt comfortable and talented as a competitive pole vaulter. I’ll explain why, but first a bit of histroy. Back when Olympic pole vaulting began in the late 1800’s vaulters used wooden poles, which often would break. Then somewhere along the line someone had the great idea to use aluminum which led to less breakage and higher vaults. Even so, the heights vaulters were clearing in those days were no where near what we do today. Why, because the poles didn’t bend. Pole vaulters would race down the runway, plant their aluminum pole in the box (which always let out a loud clank) and then tried to muscle themselves over the bar. Once fiberglass poles were invented, everything changed. Now when a pole vaulter plants his pole it immediately bends. Then, as the pole straightens again it shoots the vaulter into the air like an arrow from a bow. That extra boost nearly doubled the heights that vaulters were clearing in the aluminum days.
When I decided to give pole vaulting a try my coach started me on an aluminum pole, like everyone else. Like the vaulters of the eras past I would plant my pole and muscle my way over the bar as best I could. With the aluminum pole, however, I learned to focus on proper technique for running down the runway, planting the pole and using my body and arms to propel me over the bar. Those were the basic essentials of pole vaulting. But everything changed the day I tried my first fiberglass pole. The moment is still vivid in my mind. I ran as fast as I could down the runway, as I usually did, planted my pole and attempted to muscle my way over but something happened that I wasn’t prepared for, the pole bent almost in half. Suddenly, I was way out of my comfort zone and completely out of control. I thought for sure the pole was going to break. But, the pole didn’t break and in fact it suddenly shot me into the air like a canon. Still thinking the pole was going to break and feeling things that I had never felt before, my body began turning and twitch in every way possible. I was panicking, trying to make sure I would land on my feet. Miraculously, I managed to hit the mat and was fine but the experience sacred me to death. And, thus began my three year journey to learn how to master the bend and release of the fiberglass pole. Simply put, the hardest part was learning to trust the bend. Every single time it felt like it was going to break (and in fact it did break a few times) but eventually I got used to it and ultimately learned to use the bend to my advantage and to propel me higher than I had ever been before.
So, how is that like acting? Pole vaulting, like acting, is all about trusting yourself and your technique and allowing it to propel you over heights you never dreamed possible. I think it is incredibly difficult to “let go” in acting. We want to control our line readings, our movements, our emotions. We want the reading to go the way we practiced it. But, the greatest acting is always when we let everything go and allow the moment and the chemistry to propel us into the air. It is scary, really scary, because you have no idea how it might end up. You could suck so bad people boo you off the stage. Or, you could do brilliant things that you never imagined possible. As my track coach used to say, “Trust the bend! Let it cary you over the bar, don’t try to muscle your way over.” more