What these Olympians can teach us…

Feb 20, 2018

Goals Setting sure, but then …Train and Practice!

February every 4 years  is sacrosanct time to me and my family. Watching these Olympics in Pyeyongchang, I so admire the immense efforts of Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Schiffrin in their last races. They have withstood huge public pressure and expectations, and even some very mean Twitter trolling. There are truly the most winning and remarkable female athletes in Alpine skiing. Ever. I am awe of them.


Caryn Ski Racing

Long before I was an actress, I aspired to be an Olympian. I made it to the US Alpine Team B team but missed the smaller cut for the Olympics twice (once too young, once too slow).  I was lucky to find  a passion just as consuming in acting. But I got far enough along in the sport and won enough to grasp some fundamentals about excellence and performance mentality under pressure. (And yes, that is Jean Claude Killy the 3 time Gold medalist and first overall World Cup winner. I got to meet and ski with him and my mind was a blur in this picture as he was GOD of the slopes!… He tried acting too! )

Skiing is much more sophisticated now in all respects, than in my day. The preparation for a 100 second Olympic Downhill is measured in months and years to be ready and fit.  Sure I trained hard, or so I thought. But Lindsey Vonn took preparation to a new level. Now these skiers spend a ratio of 6 hours in the gym for every of 1-2 hours on the hill skiing.  And in the wind tunnel working on their aerodynamics and running thousands of gates on the mountain.
You cannot hold the high speed turns on these rock hard courses without extreme strength, balance and agility. Vonn’s training regimen sometimes restarts the day after a surgery, still in a cast or still in rehab. It explains how she has miraculously come back from injury many times to dominate her events for over 12 years.
Eleven years her junior, Mikaela Schiffrin, the reigning World Cup overall champion,  is now dominating in Slalom and Giant Slalom. But she is branching out, even winning a downhill this year beating Lindsey! She also is famously driven in training and analyzes her technique on video more than anyone. Between the two of them, they have won more World Cup races than any other American. Mikaela was only 18 and the youngest to win an alpine ski Olympic Gold medal, and at 23 has won 41 thus far.  Vonn is 6 wins away from being the best ski racer , woman or man, with the most victories in the history of Alpine Skiing( currently having won 81 World Cup races).
Yes, both set their goals on Gold. But neither ever rest on past laurels or talent. Their focus and discipline are legend.
In acting, we have hear about and seen the same kind of dedication and meticulous preparation in the work of Daniel Day Lewis, Leonardo DiCaprio, Gary Oldman this year (my Oscar hunch), Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman,  Jessica Chastain, Alfred Molina, Cate Blanchett, Tom Hardy, Bradley Cooper, Marion Cottillard,  Vanessa Redgrave, and my underrated  favorite, Andrea Riseborough to name a few superb actors.
This kind of talent does not rely on moment to moment intuitions. These actors still go to class, have coaches to work on dialects, voice and body changes, on script analysis, ask alot of questions of themselves and others. They read alot about history, psychology and time period, explore the walk, the habits and physical tics of their characters and often want to inhabit their clothes early or raid their own closets. They practice their characters until they don’t just understand their role, they are LIVING the role. And that takes time. But like Vonn and Schiffrin, it pays off. Olympic actor effort.
I just played a neurologist doctor/ friend to Lena Olin in the film THE ARTISTS WIFE. The director gave me access to the neurologist who actually treated his father and Lena wanted to hear all of the long recording of what the doctor and I discussed about the disease and working with dementia patients and their families. That research lead to details in the scene, script changes and ideas that made our characters more authentic. I hope it brought more levels to our work.
I find young actors less and less interested in this kind of research about a character or dwelling in the details that can lead to character revelations.
Our whole culture wants results so quickly. The speed requested for self taping , the fury of a 4-6 week pilot season, the rush to get you into an office.  It is daunting, especially for auditions. Most settle for learning the lines, hoping for the best when they get to the audition and waiting for inspiration to show up.
Other things I learned from ski racing: a Positive Winning Mind Set is essential. How to Play, and Focus on the Process ( just the next turn) not the result. At the end of the race, there is only ever one  “winner”. But all you can truly do on race day is your personal best and not sabotage yourself worrying about the competition or others’ expectations.
Nobody thought much of my abilities when I started acting. I did not know how to even read a play well. But I worked my butt off  in college classes, in a 3 year MFA  program (which had the best Linklater voice teacher I could find as I was told it was my weakest skill), worked on dance and movement to be less a ski racer and more graceful actress, and years of NYC and LA classes and was taught to really think about the dramatic writing in Stella Adler’s famous and beloved Script Interpretation classes.  I still study when I feel rusty or uninspired.
I can learn most camera audition material in an hour. It is tempting to sometimes learn it the same day of an appointment. But I force myself to pore over the script for twice as long the day before, looking for details, hearing my lines or dialogue out loud, to make sure I am really listening. I am tempted to make short cuts. But short cuts make me doubt myself later when I am called on to deliver. I do not work on material until “I get it right”. I work on it until “I can’t get it wrong”.
Training and in depth preparation lead to the gems and discoveries in acting and expansion of your skills. I remind my students all the time: “God is in the details” and ” Genius is an infinite capacity for detail”.  So set the Goals,  but then do the little Steps  and  Give it your Gold medal effort.
Study and fall in love with the craft again.  oxcaryn
Caryn West is an veteran acting teacher, director and coach who auditions and acts. She has taught many gifted and well known actors both in LA and NYC and is the only teacher cited on both coasts by Backstage polls and one of the “BEST AUDITION COACHES”. She has run Caryn’s Space for Actors since 1999 www.TheAuditionCoach.com  carynwest@mac.com   Facebook   @CarynWestSFA   West Hollywood / NYC

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Posted in Acting Technique, Auditions
3 comments on “What these Olympians can teach us…
  1. Thank you, Caryn, for these reminders! Beautiful and powerful.

  2. Sally Purifoy says:

    Thank you for this inspiring blog Caryn

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