What? Me Worry?!

I struggle all the time with every role in every play.  Never feeling like I am really in it.  Like I’m endlessly faking my way through the scene.  Which is really no big deal.  I mean, it’s only acting.  It’s not surgery.  But I end of feeling like such a liar.  And then I hate myself.  And that’s just a really bad day at work.

So then I begin to dread the next day of performance or rehearsal.  I don’t even want to look at the script because it only serves to remind me how lost I am in the role, in the play.  Then starts the worry.  About how awful things will go tomorrow, and the next day, and the next month and year, etc.  I unconsciously project myself into the future without even wishing to do so.  It’s like my brain, my imagination, is on fire.  Completely engrossed in this unstoppable juggernaut of who-knows-what.  I actually see myself in awful circumstances in just a few short months.  Alone.  Nobody knows me.  Can’t pay my bills.  Tossed out onto the street.  Embarrassed.  Ashamed.  A bleak future ahead.

And that’s the imagination at work!

The challenge is not getting the imagination to work.  The challenge is getting it to work at precisely the correct time.  At the scheduled time necessary for rehearsal and performance.  And in the precise way that will serve the story, the play, the scene.

Gut Check

It might go without saying, but it is a challenge to adequately describe any visual medium in words….A painting has an immediate effect as soon as its image is captured by the eye and processed by the brain.  The artist is manipulating materials like paint, clay, or video images to elicit these sensations. The deliberate and relatively slow act of reading and taking in each word is bypassed. [Visual and performance] Art goes straight for the gut.”

The quote above is from the introduction to The Artist’s Mentor edited by Ian Jackman. The last line is great and is worth repeating:  Art goes straight for the gut.

There was a basketball coach at my high school.  His name was Mr. Weidman.  (I probably spelled that incorrectly.)  Anyway, he was one of these really, really passionate coaches.  Unabashedly so.  It was unfamiliar to a bunch of teenage boys who were working 24/7 to be cool and aloof.  Removed and unaffected by anything and everything around them.

This wasn’t the case for Mr. Weidman.  He’d scream red-faced at his players in the locker room during half-time, “YOU GOTTA HAVE IT IN HERE!”  And he’d point right to his gut.  (In the interest of full disclosure, I wasn’t on the basketball team. But my best friend was. Still, this is not a first-hand account.)

It seemed so extreme at the time.  I mean, it was just a basketball game. In some small town in South Jersey!  But that kind of extremist point of view — there’s something noticeable about it.  More than noticeable.  There’s something compelling about it.  On the court or on the stage.

You gotta go for the gut.

And You Are……?

Speaking your mind, speaking one’s mind, expressing yourself as an artist or as a human being can be a dangerous thing.  Not dangerous in the sense of bodily harm (of
course, that too is a possible alternative!)  Dangerous in the sense that you put yourself
out there.  On the record.  For all to analyze and critique.  Criticize.  Even ridicule.

There’s a funny, odd dichotomy that exists among a group of actors.  At once inclusive and exclusive.   A motley band of brothers and a cruel clique of mean girls. Everyone wants their shot, their chance, their big break.  In that way we are all the same.  But God forbid you get your shot before I get mine.  Or even instead of me!  That’s when the daggers come out.

I am no different than anyone else.  I am certainly not on a soap box here, nor do
I deserve to be.  But I am so tired – perhaps of myself – of the endless criticism offered for each and every performance out there.  Each and every choice.  Each and every creative decision.

The thing of it is:  if you have such a great idea, such a better way of doing whatever it is you’re criticizing, then you would have done it already.  And if your excuse is that no one ever gave you a shot, gave you a chance – that’s no excuse or explanation.  You would have found a way to do it.

I admire the people who put themselves out there.  I am endlessly jealous of their courage, their joy, their creative fervor, their belief in themselves.  I am challenged day in and day out by their example to lay it all on the line, a take-no-prisoners approach to their own artistry.

So the next time you or I see a performance we don’t like or don’t agree with, let’s just keep it to ourselves.  It’s amazing how many truly creative and talented people I have known.  At least that’s what they told me.  They also told me how horrible some such other person or production was.

Those who can, do; those who can’t, don’t (and endlessly talk about how they would have done it better.)