Don’t get caught up in the moment. It’s not about you. Listen to hear how some stern words eased Jason Alexander’s anxiety and pushed him back onto the acting path.
This week, we welcome Rob Grundel back to Anecdotally Speaking! Rob will be joining us for two episodes while Mark is on leave.
Rob gets straight into it, sharing a story from Jason Alexander, who you might know better as George on Seinfeld. Jason told the story on You Made It Weird with Pete Holmes, where Rob first heard it. It’s stuck with him ever since.
For your story bank
Tags: advice, anxiety, confidence, individual vs collective thinking, overwhelm
This story starts at 01:23
Jason Alexander started as a theatre actor. In 1987, he was in his third Broadway show, playing his first great role in a Neil Simon play.
The set on stage was a two-storey house. The first two months of the show went well, and Jason was content with his role.
The was a scene where a couple discussed something while, in another part of the house, Jason was asleep in a bed, in full view of the audience. He had to lie very still to ensure the audience focused on the couple’s discussion.
One night, while in the bed, Jason had a panic attack. He started shaking, got a cold sweat and grasped the edge of the bed. All he wanted to do was get off the stage, but the next scene was his big scene.
He finished the play and wondered what had caused the panic attack, but he brushed it off.
The next night, the scene rolled around again, and the same thing happened. But this time, it was even worse.
It happened every night after that for a month, with eight plays a week. It shook his confidence. He knew it was coming and started to worry in anticipation.
He was embarrassed too. He wanted to be a good actor. So he didn’t talk about it with the cast. He only mentioned it to his wife.
At the end of the month, he thought, ‘I don’t think I can be an actor if this keeps happening.’
In New York, there was an acting guru at the time named Larry Moss. He was Jason’s acting guru. Jason finally gained the courage to go to Larry and told him what was happening, how he’d tried to resolve it, and that he didn’t think he could be an actor.
Jason was expecting sympathy, but Larry said, “Jason, you’re an egomaniac. It’s all about you. You’re going to pass out, or you’re going to ruin the show. You, you, you, it’s all about you. No one cares about you, Jason. The people in the theatre are there to see the story. Tell them the story!”
Jason was annoyed and angry. He wanted to be coddled and given encouragement, but he’d received the opposite.
That night, he went on stage, and the panic attack didn’t happen.
Jason reflected on what had been different that night and thought, ‘Rather than focus on me, in those quiet moments, I can focus on what’s coming up next.’ That’s what he did, and he didn’t have another panic attack.
Jason now teaches acting, and one of his core principles is to focus on other actors.
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