I’ve been told lawyers follow two rules when asking questions: never ask a question to which you don’t already know the answer, and: never ask a question to which you are not prepared for the answer. I feel that working with performers and creative artists, often they ask for information without considering the answer may be one they don’t want to hear.
I had this interaction, where I was asked to give feedback. It was clear from this interaction that this performer did not believe what I had to say. But why would I lie? Remember, for the accompanist, they do not have a horse in your race; this is your time and your audition.
For singers looking to audition, gain a better understanding of their repertoire, it’s helpful to hire an accompanist to go through the music with them; your accompanist is your best friend. Like many other accompanists, I wish nothing but the best for the audition.
Which is why it is surprising when performers are surprised by my answers to their questions. There’s no games or hidden meanings. Sometimes new information, or a reminder of old information can be startling, but it shouldn’t have to be. And without guile or ulterior motives, your accompanist should be able to give you the information. you need to succeed.
It’s easy to think that whatever we learn, everybody else learns the same way. Likewise, what I know is something you should know, and vice versa, right? And if you or I don’t know the same thing, then one of us is obviously misinformed.
I used to think that there were certain genres of music that were superior to others. Classical being better than pop music, rock being better than country, and so on. It was easy for me, as it was (and is) for other young budding musicians-in-training, to put boxes around what was good music, and what was bad music. Classical music good, everything else, bad. Wrong.
As I talked with a colleague about this recently, I was reminded of one common denominator: music is music is music. The difference, perhaps is in the execution; there are lousy performances of classical music, and amazing performances of country. Personal preferences aside, if we get hung up on the labels we put on art, on music, we get bogged down with the labels, rather than focusing on the music. And as working musicians (and often aspiring to work), will attest, keeping an open mind to all types and genres of music will usually benefit in getting the job.
How often do we second guess ourselves? Or our decisions? Was that the right choice? Should I have done something differently, said something differently? How often do we allow the negative voice in our heads tell us we are not right for a job, or to talk to someone?
It’s easy to allow the nay-sayers both in and outside of ourselves to have control over our lives. And for actors, looking at an audition, it’s easy to say, “I’m not right for this.” I can’t go audition for that; they’ll see I’m just not right. I better stay home and not go. And on it goes from there. Or it doesn’t go from there, because the actor stays home.
Talking with a fellow performer about this recently, I realize that we are not in the position to second guess ourselves. There are so many opportunities that we think we’re not right for: too ld, too young, not the right height, we do’t look like the movie star that the show is based on. And yet, the casting director finds you to be perfect for the role! Or at the very least, they’ll keep you in mind for something else. But none of the outcomes (besides staying home) are possible if we second guess our own abilities.
When we set out to accomplish something, we typically don’t think to ourselves, “I can’t wait to fail.” Yet failure is a reality in many endeavors worth pursuing. And when we enjoy other people’s accomplishments, innovations and inventions, we don’t immediately realize the amount of failure that went into the success.
I heard an interview on the problems we face in the world of invention. When it comes to sharing ideas, creating and brainstorming, our society is focused on who gets the credit: who created that? Who invented this? Often it takes a village.
Ad when success is necessary, the fear of failure can stop us in our creative tracks. If, for example, you work at a company where the financial success of the product determines your job. You won’t necessarily take risks or be creative. We may not set out to fail, but it’s bound to happen. The creative process needs to allow for failure, not negligence; when faced with the possibility of failure, I find it is important to take what you can from it and try again, and keep trying until the thing you need to accomplish is accomplished. And as society I hope we can embrace the failures that lead to the successes.
People react differently under stress. Some of us overreact while others remain calm. Sometimes the pressure of a deadline or a high-stakes situation forces us to act and produces results. Other times it causes us to self destruct.
When is stress useful and when is it counterproductive? So often in professional theatre I’ve experienced the unnecessary correlation between stress and success: in order to succeed we must stress the hell out of this. The results are often tough, untenable situations. And often they result in great accomplishments, but at the cost of many people’s physical and mental health.
And then there are the situations where the excellence is not slave to the stress. The people involved do excellent work with a smile and respect. As a fellow performer said to me recently, those situations and people are rare, which is why we want to hold on to them. If success is possible by either methods of the process by stress or proves by confidence, which would you choose?
Sometimes it’s easier said than done: you gotta love what you do. I was raised with the expression, “love what you do, and the money will follow.” Sometimes you need the money first.
If we all only ever did what we loved, I’m not sure how productive we’d all be. On second thought, following your bliss might make you excited to get up in the morning and go to work.
When the job comes along that you love, you certainly appreciate it over the ones that you don’t. And taking the work because you need the money is absolutely normal; we’ve all had the horrible day job. With that experience, it makes the job you love all the more valuable.
Show business is a tricky one, especially when it comes to working with friends. We like to think of the theatre community as a family. I think ‘community’ is more appropriate than ‘family;’ being so close to one another can make doing business sometimes uncomfortable, and it’s hard to not want to take things too personally.
A colleague of mine expressed how working with nice people is a priority. I agree. However, when there’s bad news, or a something that cannot be changed, it’s easy to get frustrated. Cue the emotional connection. If we are indeed friends, how do we conduct ourselves without taking advantage of that relationship, even inadvertently? It’s difficult.
I find myself wanting to be people’s friend, and make everyone happy. The truth, I keep finding, is I can’t make everyone happy, especially those who choose to be unhappy. Rather, being honest and matter-of-fact with information is showing consideration and respect. It is “show business,” not “show friendship,” after all.
It’s tempting to be right. God knows we all long to be right. But what happens when we are wrong, or misinterpret things?
So often we are placed in situations where we don’t immediately understand the outcome; we might understand it over time. Often we are expected to be ‘right.’ It can be a lot of pressure.
What is missing is the feeling of creativity, and the acceptance of the unknown. What is right can be unknown and that can be alright for a new work; often we need to set aside the need to be right for the need for exploration.
We often take for granted the things that come easily to us. The certain abilities that for someone else might be a challenge like being good at tennis, or hearing harmonies in a piece of music. And when we create, it’s easy to ignore the first impulse because we think it’s “stupid,” or “not smart enough.”
Lately I’ve come to realize that the first impulse, that thing that comes easily, is the inner voice. I talked to another writer about this recently; we both commiserated over our lack of trust in ourselves when it comes to the inner voice. The music, the words, the intuition that is solely our own, gets tossed aside so that we may endeavor to “be more complex,” and therefore better writers…
Doing what comes naturally is hard; we strive to emulate those who have succeeded in their given craft and aesthetic. But it is their ability to listen to themselves that helped them get where they wanted to go. I’m reminded of Maurice Ravel, when asked by George Gershwin for lessons: “Why should you be a second-rate Ravel when you can be a first-rate Gershwin?”
Knowing yourself goes a long way to improving communication. As generic and simple as it sounds, being aware of your reactions to unexpected news or matters you don’t want to discuss, helps the conversation.
In the performing arts we often give and receive notes. Notes on the performance, the staging and singing. Notes are given in every form in every business. Being able to give and receive constructive criticism is an art.
For my part in giving or receiving, I’ve noticed when I let go of expectations that I am present and available to the other person. When there’s no agenda to what we think should happen in the conversation, we are open to what might come out of the conversation.