A couple of years ago, I was in a lesson with a student who was in middle school at the time. This girl, oh man I love her. Bright as hell, witty, dry, confident, fantastically weird. She's awesome.
I had her do an exercise to increase the body's sense of intention. A variation on a handful of other exercises from over the years, as many of my exercises are. Pick a spot somewhere across the room from you. It can be any angle away from your body, just as long as it's on a wall, staircase, etc. from where you are now. Then, walk towards that point. When you reach it, turn around, choose another point and go towards that one. That's level one of sorts. Then we add text, maybe some hops when we reach the point and it grows from there in order for the body and mind to discover and act on intention.
This lovely student chooses a point and goes. She does it again and again, until one time she chooses a point and then stops before actually reaching that point. She then turns around and continues on with the exercise. I said, "whoa whoa, what happened there?". She said, "Oh, uh I didn't know if I was allowed to leave the living room".
You see, the living room at her parent's house has this big purple rug. When the rug ends, the living room, presumably, ends. After the living room is the front entryway with hardwood floors, a hallway to the kitchen and stairs to the second floor.
Our "acting space" is the living room, so that is where acting and acting exercises happen. However, there was no rule ever set in place by myself or her parents that we were not to leave the living room. This "rule" of staying on the purple rug was completely self-imposed.
She put herself in a box without even knowing it.
Interestingly enough, about a week prior, this student had an audition where they literally taped a box on the floor and told her to stand in there and act. She immediately froze and didn't dare step out of the box. Everything about her became smaller. Although part of the reason for this box was for Covid safety, as many young actors tend to get a little too close, she immediately decided this structure was limiting.
Whenever you're given a box to stand in or line to stand behind, respect it and those who put it there, but it's more of a guideline, a structure to play within. It is a box? Great, explore the parameters of that box. Allow yourself the freedom to step outside of it to the left, right or back without feeling like it's "not what you're supposed to do". Is it a line? Great, you have the whole rest of the room to play if you want! They want to see your whole body and not get sick, that's why it's there. They've given you the gift of structure, so play. It's not some complicated mind game they're playing.
After having a good laugh about this realization, finding the humor in how ridiculous it actually is to feel like we can't leave the purple rug, she went right ahead and certainly didn't limit herself to the purple rug anymore.
Those rules that we think exist? They don't.
P.S. If you're wondering what the pic of the lampshade is about, it's just cause I like it a lot and I want to post even if I don't have a good pic that goes along with the post. See? No rules!