The Happy Accident

I was speaking with my brother recently.  He’s an engineer with a pharmaceutical company on the east coast.  But he’s not all bad.  He’s also a musician and a film en- thusiast.  I try not to talk too much about acting or theatre and the like.  I fear I will endlessly and needlessly bore him.  But he’s a nice guy, listens politely, and respectfully endures the machinations of my mind much of the time.  During our discussion about nothing in particular and everything under the sun, he started to talk about the difference between leadership and management.  (He’s thinking about going back to school for an MBA….Poor guy.  Good luck getting a job with that degree!)  Leaders, he offered, see things differently and create new ideas.  Managers maintain the status quo.  He then said that he sometimes gets frustrated with his job because there is such a carefully regulated work environment – understandably so due to the inherent hazards that are part and parcel of the work being done – that creativity is stifled.  Procedures must be so nailed down, fixed and precise in order to eliminate mistakes.  But, he said, when you study Nature — when you study the evolution of plants and animals — it’s the mistake, the random event that leads to variation.  The Happy Accident.

Evolution, nature’s process of improvement and survival, isn’t a steady climb.  It moves in fits and starts.  Sometimes slow and unchanging.  Sometimes incredibly fast and mercurial.  Creativity isn’t a smooth process nor is it a fixed process.  There are fixed elements involved – DNA, specific environmental influences, etc. – but there are also a lot of variations.  Some variations are useless.  Some are invaluable.  Some variations are truly life-changing and can send a particular species sky-rocketing into the future.

So what does any of this have to do with acting?

Process is important.  Rehearsal technique is a key ingredient to any actor’s success.   But it cannot be so fixed that it doesn’t provide the opportunity for variation.  Random Events.  Random Responses.  Happy Accidents.  A static process – memorizing the text so that it can be spoken in a convincingly naturalistic manner with a ready-made
emotional response — isn’t rehearsal.  It’s rote memorization.

Actors need to be leaders, not managers.  Actors need to be able to look at the situations in the script, create new ideas, and offer new perspectives.  Actors need their own unique points of view.  We cannot be managers merely interested in maintaining the theatrical status quo, of getting it done the right way, and guaranteeing only the same old outcome.

Fits and starts.  Random Events.  Random Responses.  Happy Accidents.  These are the by-products of a creative process.

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