Category Archives: Process

Fear, Itself

It feels like there has been a death in the family.  Someone you care deeply for is gone.  The utter shock and blinding amazement coursed through my body the night of the election.  How did this happen?  Why did this happen?  After all the progress and strides toward equality and acceptance, I fell asleep election night filled with despair.

I hope I am not alone.  I know I am not alone.  Many of us feel alone.  I am angry to discover after the election, the Trevor Project suicide hotline was flooded with calls from LGBTQ youth; how are we safe?  How do we live in a world with a person like Donald Trump?  Like Mike Pence?  Their very presence normalizes hate, racism, and what now feels like a constant state of fear.

Artists have the unenviable task of creating what is felt; unenviable because often time what is felt is not what we want to experience.  Sometimes we must shed some light in an otherwise dark time.  Let’s bury our heads in the sand; Lord, let me take four-years worth of Xanax and red wine.  Lord, let this cup pass me by.

We could be silent and hope this all goes away.  About a quarter of the country voted for Trump, another quarter (and about million or so more, but who’s counting?) voted for Hillary.  half the country didn’t vote.  If this election taught us anything, it’s that we cannot simply hope for the best.  We cannot bury our heads in the sand and cry, fearing what might be outside ourselves.

Fear, itself is a very powerful thing.  It keeps us from getting out of bed.  It keeps us from writing, dancing, and putting the paint brush on the canvas.  It also motivates us to act in ways we wouldn’t otherwise act, turning our gaze inward.  It makes us paranoid and selfish.  Many people in this country are scared there is not enough; there are latinos for Trump, minorities for Trump.  There are second generation US citizens; their parents, immigrated here and voted for Trump.  They are the good immigrants; these new immigrants need to get out.  They’re different.  We fear what they might be.

Artists struggle with their own fears on a daily basis.  More people fear public speaking than death.  Try walking out on stage, and you will know true fear.  We have to overcome that fear every time we perform.  And now we must overcome the fear that has permeated our culture.

At times of utter despair, artists give hope.  We can tell the stories and perform the work that gives people solace.  We have to speak to the unspoken and give voice to those who feel mute.  It is in art that we can speak up and be a source of inspiration and change.  Art can make people feel things they wouldn’t otherwise feel; it can humanize the ‘other,’ taking away some of the fear of the unknown.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously said, “Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself.” He went on to say it is “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed effort to convert retreat into advance.”  We are living in such a time of unreasonable, unjustified fear.

Now is the time to show compassion.  By our example we can show that we are not caricatures or stereotypes.  Not all Mexicans are rapists, not all homosexuals are filled with the devil, and not all women should be in the kitchen.  We can listen to each other and allow the emotions we feel to inform our work and our communion with our community.

Society doesn’t function without art.  You take away the art and you are left with a mob.  Let us not fall into a mob, but rather lift our society up; our society that so desperately needs to know we are not alone.

Say It Somehow

Our actions speak for us better than our words. Every so often when I want to express myself, the words don’t always come easily; this may be contrary to those who know me and my propensity for verbosity.

Working in theatre, I find I want to check my emotions because of the dramatic surroundings; it’s easy to get too emotional, and they can get in the way of executing the task at hand. If we allow ourselves to over-romanticize, we lose sight of the goal. The goal being to bring the audience into the emotion, and let them feel.

But when I wish to express my thanks, my gratitude, well wishes, it’s often hard to find exactly what I want to say. And when I realize the sentiment is realized by the work. The work we do shows the way we feel; sometimes there’s so little that can be said because there is so much expressed by action.

Make Our Moments Grow

I find myself wanting to quantify everything in music; every beat, every rest, every stretch of notes. Sometimes that makes sense, other times it’s not so black and white.

In theatre there numerous variables: the lighting and sound, the acting beats within the scenes. And when actors act in a song, trying to micromanage the moments doesn’t always deliver the best results.

Rather, allowing the moment to develop and discover what the moment is emotionally, and dramatically is key. Sometimes that means letting the moment develop and allow the solution to a problem present itself. If we prescribe the solution too early in the process, it can feel false and forced.

The Art Of The Note

Giving direction is an art. Knowing how and when to address someone about an issue, talking about criticism, can make or break a relationship, and in the case of theatre, the energy of a performance.

I’ve experienced directors and creatives who try to diagnose and prescribe a solution to a problem. I’ve also seen the interrogation of the situation, leading to a deeper understanding of the issue, and allowing the solution to present itself.

I’m of the mind of the latter; often the prescribed treatment can be premature. Rather, gently addressing the problem allows for clarity and understanding.

Hang On

At a certain level of ability, everyone can perform the job. When we reach the level of professionalism, competence, and confidence, the ability to perform doesn’t necessarily set you apart from other potential players.

I have this conversation often with other musicians: “they’re a great player and they’re really great to hang with.” There are also a lot of great players who are not great to hang with.

I used to think the ‘hang’ didn’t matter as much as the playing. It seems to matter as much if not more; it’s the communication, the comradery, and the time outside of playing that helps players play better. When there can be drama in theatre, knowing each other and spending time together keeps the work relaxed and enjoyable.

The Big Picture

Often we do not receive the opportunities we feel we are deserved.  It’s easy to point fingers and blame the circumstances.  In truth, there are so many variables to who gets the job and who doesn’t. When we look beyond the immediate moment, we are able to see the big picture.

Musicals are funny when it comes to hiring.  The first read-through of a new show can bring in all sorts of performers.  As the show grows and develops, the team can look for higher profile performers, actors who can carry the show and entice producers to bring in money.

And there are performers who do not get asked for the second or third run of a show; it’s frustrating at times, but the fact is if the show will run, there will be multiple opportunities to be a part of it.  And as the show grows, so do it’s needs.  Sometimes the leading actor of a reading becomes the supporting character of the produced workshop, or the production.  And often times the procures or production team is focused on the production, and actors have to respect the process.  Which leads to the big picture; sometimes the job doesn’t happen over-night.  It’s keeping the big picture in mind which helps performers see when they are hired and when they are not.

Questions, Please

I suppose we’ve all heard the phrase, “ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer.” Nice experienced questions, stupid or not, met with condescension. The tone of the answer implies: “you stupid idiot, why would you ask such a stupid question?” So who decides the intelligence of the question?

We all know something, and we all not know everything. This would suggestive sip that it’s easy for you to know something I don’t. One of the reasons I love working in theatre is because it is the meeting of so many different minds; the musicians, dancers, actors, directors, designers. What might seem obvious to one person might be a genuine question posed by someone else.

When we inquire about something, it makes us vulnerable; it shows our ignorance to something and opens the doorway to a conversation. When the person answering shoots down the question, it not only insults the questioner, but discourages further questions and then further conversation. Answer every question as though it is honest and intelligent. Makes for better communication.

Higher Arc

Sometimes we can feel as though we are on a “need to know” basis. If you don’t absolutely need to know the reason behind a decision; it’s hard to be given a direction or have a decision made, and not know exactly why.

We do need to know why to a certain extent, otherwise how do we connect to the direction? This happens in theatre often: a direction is given, and for performers, musicians, backstage crew, if the direction is void of purpose, it can be easily forgotten.

However, when there is a direction passed along, more often than not there are more reasons for that direction, that would take too long to explain. This becomes a matter of trust; there needs to be trust between the hierarchy of directors, actors and everyone in a production. I am often reminded to trust more, both in giving and receiving direction.

Use It, Or Lose It

I often hear about performers, “Wow, they have a gift,” “They are so talented,” or “They’re so lucky.” I think what audiences often see is the smallest slice of the process; and that is the final performance, not the years of training.

The performers we see could not present with such skill and expertise without the discipline behind it. What they do doesn’t simply just happen. I am reminded of this if I don’t practice; when I sit down to the piano without warming up or having played in a while, I feel like the Tin Man. Oil can, oil can. My fingers are stiff, less agile.

Like singers, dancers, actors: everything is a muscle. The voice is a muscle, the body is filled with muscles, the mind used to deliver the emotional understanding of a scene is a muscle. And when we don’t use them, we lose them. It is difficult to think that because once a master always a master. The student studies, and once the skill is mastered, they need to (and want to, hopefully) keep studying.

Some Of The Parts

Is what you do who are? Is what you everything that defines you? I’m a doctor, I’m a lawyer, I’m a pianist. I’m more than what I do. Sometimes it feels as if what you is what you are and only what you are.

I had the chance to catch up with a colleague. We discuss this feeling of doing more things than the job title required of us; often the job is limited to some of our parts; there’s more to us than the job. As freelance artists, we need to take on a variety of jobs: actor, writer, choreographer, rehearsal accompanist.

Nobody is just their job. I’m reminded of this every time I am surprised by how multifaceted people can be. And that should give hope; if there’s something you haven’t tried, it doesn’t mean you cannot include it in the sum of your parts.