Part 2: Leadership, softball, and the theatre

Another thing I get from watching softball, (see “What can the arts learn from softball?”) is how all these egos can work toward one main goal: to play well and win the game. Yes, there are egos involved that may take a person to private goals such as striving for personal best statistics, but I think it is important to have a well-developed but realistic ego so you know what you are good at and where you need work. Yes, these sportswomen know they are excellent at this sport and part of their mission in life is to impart this fact to the rest of us in the world. Ego is a good thing, as long as you don’t get caught up in your own or anyone else’s drama that ego often generates. The ego is not you. It is only an indication of how you think of yourself.

What emerges from those whose ego takes them to something larger than how they played the last game, is to have some notion of keeping the game going. Not the individual game, but the whole notion of the game. In softball, it is important to win and to be the national champions and all that hoopla, but what is larger is that those watching are entertained enough to want to watch another game and then to watch next season and then to look forward to softball at the 2020 Olympics. Somebody, back in the day, thought more about football than college rivalries and so little by little, the NFL now hosts a huge audience and seeks to keep it as the all-American sport. Which, by the way, used to be baseball.

So our idea is to keep the theatre going. It has come this far, from back when cavemen might have enacted the day’s hunt, but there have always been times when some loudmouth declares “Theatre is dead!” It isn’t. It is still here because besides winning Tonys, the theatre people often see what they do as part of the larger picture: to keep the game of theatre going on. Tony awards, then, do more than give a person a statuette, it also celebrates the excellence in this conglomeration of arts and keeps moving it the bar upward and theatre, despite the terrifying ticket prices, is alive and well and thriving.

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Lovers & Players and other creatures of the night

modern commedia

modern commedia

I just saw something you don’t see every day: the first production of a new play.

I went to SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) last weekend to see my niece in a play, Lovers & Players, written by Kathryn Walat, who is on the faculty and who is an established playwright. Besides being delighted with Sara, as I always am, with how she makes a role her very own, I was even more delighted being in the audience of a first production that was fresh and compelling and just plain fun.  It was as if a whole new world was opening in front of me like an animated rose bud blooming before my very eyes.

Walat, I learned, had gotten a grant to study commedia dell’ arte in Italy over the summer and came back with this action-packed take on an old comedy form.

I have been interested in commedia and am always seeing modern versions of the old stock characters in much of the television I watch.  Those commedia actors did much to popularized theatre in Europe and established certain conventions of theatre that are still true today: standard character types that are recognizable from play to play (or TV show to TV show), plots that people can relate to with narratives that seem to be going one way but resolve with a twist, and physical action to keep everyone on their toes. Oh, and those bawdy bits to keep things interesting to most of the regular folk who would show up to watch these plays.

But here’s the thing some theatre critics might ask: Why would Walat want to write about the past? The simple answer is she doesn’t. She places the narrative in sixteenth century Padua, but with situations and sensibilities firmly in our present. Kathryn Walat has written a play that combines theatre history with a clever nod to the present day. And she has written it for these young, impressive SCAD troupe of actors, who just begs that she bring a modern sensibility to an old comedy form. Discovering those anachronistic is part of the delicious fun. One character proudly announces to us that what we just learned about him is his “backstory.” Another character, an apothecary, is a walking drug store, someone you expect to see loitering on a corner in a run-down neighborhood. There is even a local mobster who sounds like the Godfather, a character that has become a theatrical type.

Even the old plot standby, the lost twins reunited, works even though they look nothing alike and one is even the wrong gender. Gender misidentified has taken on a new meaning in modern day, but one gender being mistaken for the other is nothing new to the theatre.

The characters who are the actors who make their living as a traveling commedia troupe, are well-drawn, which is not an easy task since the standard stock characters of commedia are – well, stock characters. As the dramaturg, Eboni-Jade Wooten and the director, Sharon Ott, wrote in the program notes, commedia tradition is “- the wonderful, sometimes messy, always inspiring and often beautiful collaborative art we call theater.”

Lovers & Players carries on that tradition with this new play, written for a troupe of players who are right for it, directed by someone who understands the play, the playwright’s intentions, and the skills and personalities of her actors. What a collaboration!

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Theatre is a business

It may come as a surprise that I sometimes talk about theatre as a business. If you are interested in pursuing theatre and have already taken theatre classes, they most likely emphasized the creative and artistic side. All very good, but even the most creative and artistic people eventually have to make business decisions and when are hired to perform and find themselves having to fit into a reporting structure, something typical of business.  It also will give you a greater appreciation of how the performing arts fits into our lives.

As most artists find out, there are always career decisions to make. For example, let’s say you want to be a costume designer. If you are serious about it, there are steps you would do well to follow: take drawing classes so you will be able to sketch your creations, maybe take fashion design so you know what goes into designing clothes and accessories.  History classes are a must to not only find out what people in all levels of society were wearing, but even more important why those particular clothes. Did you know that there are thoughts, even philosophies behind what we wear? You’ll take theatre classes, become familiar with plays from different periods, and when you can, sew costumes, become an assistant to a designer, and learn as much as you can about the theatre and the performing arts. Oh, yes, and a little talent and lots of the right personality traits would also help.

Mapping out a strategy to get to where you want to go follows a business model. And if you are an artist, these steps and strategies won’t take anything away from your innate talent one little bit. It will make you hirable. Or at the very least, a more informed theatregoer.

And guess what? Summer and maybe more free time is almost here. The perfect time to get busy and to map out your strategy to meet your goals, whether in the performing arts or where ever you want your life to take you.

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The Big Transition: summer and beyond

There comes a time when school ends and you are faced with Your Life: a new reality series starring you. It was fun while it lasted but now you are faced with being tossed into college or out into the world where you are expected to support yourself, make good choices, and kick-start your career as an actor, dancer, musician, scene designer, stage manager, etc. etc.

Do you have a plan?

If you have a plan for your career, you have already decided where you belong in the performing arts and you have begun following up with classes and what you do for the local productions you are involved in. You have people who can advise you and you listen to them, acting on some of the advice, rejecting some of it (for now.) If you have followed a strategy and were able to put your goals together at some point and thought about “what if…” you have already gotten a start managing your career.

You know, for instance, what that next big step is and you are not among those “OMG-ers” who are wailing that the college they got accepted to doesn’t have the classes they need, or they are in the Big Transition and are howling about having to get a job and support themselves while auditioning.

You have already confronted this Big Transition and have some plans for it. While you are not quite sure how it will go, you have a good idea about what you need to do and that you must stay positive and focused.

Put together a strategy

If you have put together a plan for your career, you are already managing it.

For instance, you are managing if you already:

  • Have saved some money to tide you over for a few months after college or a conservatory.
  • Have a workable physical fitness regime.
  • Are already living within a budget and are ready for the inevitable adjustments to this budget (food, shelter, and transportation at least will change.)
  • Decide what city you will live in and what opportunities are there.
  • Know what kind of housing you need.
  • Have an idea of what it’s going to cost (housing, food, transportation etc.) to live in that city.
  • Have put together a few audition pieces or a design portfolio.
  • Have professional and current headshots.
  • Have an updated resume.
  • Have a way to organize and store auditions information:
    • What, when, where.
    • Dates.
    • What materials did you use? Was it a cold reading?
    • Casting director’s name and contact info.
    • When are callbacks?
    • When should you hear back?
    • Any follow-up on your part?
    • What was the outcome?
  • Are familiar enough with unions to know how and when you should join.
  • Understand about personal representation and when and how to get an agent.
  • Have a professional email address that you check often.
  • Have a reliable mobile phone that you keep charged and usable, and that you check regularly for calls and messages.
  • Know that it is performing that keeps you alive, so performing becomes your focus:
    • Work on audition material.
    • Take classes; develop technique and skills.
    • Work for free if it means adding something meaningful to your resume and adding to your experience (workshops, student film, stuff like that).
    • Put yourself in with other positive people in your situation who have something useful to add to your plan and who keep you in touch with your performing arts community.
    • Stay away from the negatives – people, places, behaviors, and substances – whatever is a major distraction from your focus. You must stay in shape – physically and emotionally for your art.

If this is all new to you, maybe before that next Big Transition, you’ll give it some thought and formulate your own strategy. Do it right now and stick to it, change it when circumstances call for it, and add to it when you can. Find people who can help – like, oh, parents, teachers, guidance counselors, therapists, life coaches, mentors, and financial advisors (my Uncle Andy was my financial advisor) who can help with a budget and a plan for your financial future.

Just know that others have done it before you, had your breaks and hardships or others just like them. Just know that with realistic planning and knowing where you are going, you can get there just like those before you.

See also: Are you in “Woe is Me” mode?

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Awards season: Ya can’t win ‘em all

Here we go again. I don’t know about you, but I get caught up in the awards mania by trying to see every movie that counts. I go to afternoon shows (cheaper and I work at home, so I can take off) grumbling about awards in general for the arts – how is one performance in one movie better than another equally impressive performance in another movie and how come I like a movie that got zero nominations better than any of the movies nominated?

As a teacher/coach, though, my main beef with awards for the arts is that they give you up-and-comers a completely false sense of what you are working toward. Art moves, instructs, and holds up a mirror of what it is to be human. Many artists work toward expressing truth, your vision of what we humans are facing in our lives and some ways to understand those things better. It is not to take home the Super Bowl of awards for your efforts. As was Carrie Underwood’s brave and ambitious portrayal of Maria in The Sound of Music, most of what you do will be hard work. You will make mistakes and missteps that you will learn to turn into triumphs, and honing your skills and instincts along your way even as the critics throw zingers at you.

As the Zen sages might say, it is the journey that counts, not the Tony award.

I bet most of you didn’t win Best anything this year. Does that mean you should quit acting (dancing, writing, directing, etc.) and get a “useful” job working in an office toward someone else’s dream? No. It means you did just fine. Just showing up for rehearsals and doing all the work and learning along the way is a huge win. If you learned and grew through triumphs and mistakes, it means you hit the ball out of the park. My favorite analogy here is that not only was Babe Ruth (an old-timey baseball player for those of you just not into sports) the home run king, he was also the strike-out king of his time. It means he took lots of swings and misses just to get a hold of that one ball he knew he could hit out of the park. He got booed a lot, cheered a little. So keep at it. Be there, in the game, to meet your next opportunity to do what you love.

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Are you in “Woe is Me” mode?

You feel helpless, wondering where the old confidence has gone, the old I-can-do-anything! You feel deserted.

A situation I recently heard of brought it all back to me. I have felt like that and I bet you have, too. Or might some day.

You get your degree. All through college, family, friends, professors praised your work and the guts it took to succeed in the performing arts. You have big plans for the future. They will love you in (pick your destination) New York, Hollywood, Broadway, television, movies, Cirque du Solei. Based on past glowing reviews, you have it made.

But then IT, the Woe is Me, thing appears in the form of Stark Terror!  You just graduated begins to weigh you down. What do you do now?

Maybe you’ll delay the Big Career a little, get seasoned, whatever. You look at graduate school. You look at an acting studio. You pick one, and of course, with your undergraduate credentials and strong resume, you get in. You are safe. Again. For a while.

Again you graduate. And now you face….Square One (read more about this free fall in Martha Beck’s Finding Your Own North Star.) Nothing. You are nowhere and there is no direction, no safety net. Dad, who always thought you should be a nurse or teacher, something you can always fall back on, is out of money and just can’t support you anymore. It was that graduate school that broke his bank.

And here you are, trying to live on your own, and are faced with the dilemma of having to find a means of support. An acting job? You look at the want ads. Fat chance, they say, finding anything in the arts. You do, though, see an ad for job sweeping hair and cleaning hairbrushes in a hair salon.

But there is a problem. A mighty big one. Your confidence is gone. You aren’t sure you know how to sweep hair. Your resolve has dissolved. If you sweep hair today, you will never have the time, the energy, or even the will to go to auditions, much less prepare for them. And with your current luck and past successes, it is inevitable that you will soon be made manager of the salon and working 24/7 to keep the place afloat. Acting? When will you ever do that? Maybe, your diminished self tells you, you were never meant to act.

You don’t get out of bed. You get this storyline embedded in your head that you will never again see the inside of a theatre. You have no identity anymore. You have no roadmap, no direction.  Your life as you knew it is over.

Woe is you!

What do you do? What do you do?

Guess what? You are not alone. This is what happens to almost everyone when there are big life changes. You feel like someone set you adrift in a row boat in a huge hurricane and not only is your dream port nowhere on the horizon, you just realized that you never learned to swim, even though your sainted mother tried her best to get you to take lessons. “Who needs to know how to swim on Broadway!” you said, wishing now that you could take it back.

How did you get from confidently knowing you belonged on Broadway to worrying about how you’re going to convince someone that you’d make a swell hair sweeper and still have time to get to auditions?

What auditions? How will you find them? What should you do to prepare for them? None of these things seem to matter much now that just getting out of bed is something you: 1) Don’t want to do, 2) Forgot how to do, or 3) Just not an option today.

You are in a place that has never been on your horizon. And yet this is what happens when big life changes happen. You are set adrift.

So what do you do? I would advise spending a little more time in bed muttering to yourself, “Oh, Woe is Me!” and trying to feel just as bad as you think you do. Then let things settle. Then  put one foot on the floor and soon after, put the other one down. Head for the bathroom or kitchen taking baby steps. When you no longer have to think about how to walk and can do it on your own, I would begin to make plans for getting out of this situation.

  1. First, Butch up! Yes, you do have to take a job to support yourself. Get over it.
  2. Next, find others who were in the same boat and get their story or even their advice. (Yes, read Martha Beck’s books. They will give you heart, courage, and a plan.) (So will this blog.)
  3. Make a list of all the things you need to do to go on that very next audition. You probably know what those things are – the same stuff you did in college. Guess what? You also need to do them in the real world.

In case you need reminding, here is what I would do in your shoes.

  1. Whether there are auditions for you right now or not, prepare for them by having four two-minute scenes ready:
    1. Classic drama
    2. Classic comedy
    3. Contemporary drama
    4. Contemporary comedy

    Get someone who knows (a former prof, a working actor, etc) to coach you with the scenes.

  2. Get online to everywhere auditions are being held in your area. Remember that Broadway isn’t the only venue. There is probably a regional and other professional theatres near you. Be well-suited to. Leave out the parts you know you can’t play with your limited background. (For example, you would have a hard time convincing a casting director that you could play Hamlet in a classic version of the play if you are a girl.)
  3. Find out (contact the director/theatre) what the auditions require and plan for that.
  4. Heck, contact the theatre to see if there are other, part-time jobs you could take (working in the box office comes to mind or working in the costume/scene shop) while you go to auditions. The big advantage is that you are right in the middle of where you want to be; theatre people now know you. You fill in some more reasons yourself.

No matter what you think you know about success and the making of a career, it doesn’t just happen overnight. You do what you need to do to make sure you are at least in the running. You get out of bed RIGHT NOW and do it, even if you are terrified. Remember Babe Ruth? The Home Run King? He was also the Strike-Out King. You gotta be hitting at speeding balls all the time to finally hit one out of the park.

Courage, after all, isn’t possible without fear.

It’s time to get out of bed.

 

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Another dream snuffed out

It is a sad day and I know a lot of you are mourning Cory Monteith as I am. I only hope that you find your essential self in your art and find the courage to do what it takes to pursue that art with no stops off for that “feel good” high.  The high doesn’t last. It turns into something ugly. Nurturing your art and those beautiful things inside last a whole lot longer.

It’s not a new story. A talented kid, successful, loved, but troubled, is found dead of an overdose of something. It didn’t just happen overnight, but it sure seems that way. We find out about it maybe by checking our internet news feed and there it is. We feel shocked and slightly disorientated. We knew this person! He or she was one of us! How could this happen? Where were his friends or family or teachers or mentors? Why didn’t someone close to him or her see it coming or ward it off?

That is a fine attitude, noble even, to think that you can help a friend get off drugs or alcohol or whatever that is eating up your friend’s life. The trouble is, it is not realistic. Yes, you can offer support, advice, even set a good example for him or her, but what you can’t do is to make another person change. You know what I’m going to say, next. You can only be responsible for changing yourself.

So I sit here in front of my computer screen as mad as hell that I had to read about one more talented, beautiful, successful, young person give all that up for one more “feel good” experience. There are so many of you who are talented, gifted even, who have great families and support groups, yet who are heading toward this path of destruction. It could be alcohol. Or drugs. Even food can be addictive and seriously harmful to your plans and ambitions.

I can yell all I want that someone shoulda, coulda watched this young man’s back, but the fact is, he had plenty of people watching his back: people who loved him, cared for him enough to do what they could to help.

But addiction is a very personal thing that starts with an emotional or chemical switch in the brain. It is not something that others can see right away. All we “others” see is the effects once this switch is thrown.

So what can you do for the person? Stay with them, stay on their side. Don’t encourage the addiction. Continue to support and help their attempts to get clean and sober and abstinent. But don’t expect anything to change because of what you do or don’t do. It is not your fault. It is not within your power to make someone to change. Also, it is not your job. Your job is to be a friend, not the All-Powerful Manager of the Universe.

What you can do is much closer to home. Gandhi once said something like, “Be the solution.” He meant, for instance, if you want to bring about world peace, you must learn to be peaceful. So you want to solve addiction? Be the solution. You stay clean and sober and abstinent. You, yourself, for yourself, and for those who need the example.

But right now, I feel very un-Gandhi-like. I am angry. I am madder than hell that some of you kids, who I care very much for even though I never met you. You kids, right now, who have great big fat beautiful dreams that make you happy and excited just to think about them, and are willing to do whatever it takes to see them come true, and yet…. And yet. It could very well be you who I read about next. And that makes me want to cry or want to break something.

The thing is, you just don’t know what will happen after that first drink, or whatever. It will creep up on you. It could accelerate from an occasional drink in a friend’s Man Cave to being the life of the Friday night frat parties. If you are drugging, drinking, or overeating regularly, I got news for you. You are already causing concern among those who love you. It is not just about your life. It is our lives, too. You may already be leaving us, your back-watchers, in despair because whatever we’re doing for you isn’t enough. We are doing everything we can to keep you from that next binge, but your little lizard brain has already figured ways around us and the well-meaning obstacles we have put in your path. With addiction there is an overpowering obsession and that kind of will finds a way to keep the addiction going until it can’t anymore. You hit a wall and one way or another, it stops. Either you get back to the dreams of your real life, or your life just ends. And what do we do then? We’ll get over it? Don’t bet on it.

So I’m turning the spotlight now on you. The only behavior you can effectively control is your own. Yes, many perfectly good kids try out all sorts of stuff and go on to live perfectly fulfilling lives clean, sober, and abstinent. But what about the others who plunge into a life of sheer hell, addicted to something they were sure they would be able to control? The thing is, no matter what your reasons for trying out addictive things, what you don’t know is whether you have this chemical switch that will get turned on and hook you to whatever substance you are tempted to try. By the time this switch has been turned on, it is already too late. We don’t understand completely what chemical things are at work in the body that makes a person dependent on a substance like drugs, alcohol, and even just plain too much food, because something, some chemical switch gets turned on that makes you want more and your rational brain in no longer in control.

So there are forces at work everywhere trying to hook you into something —designer shoes, lattes at Starbucks, The Walking Dead, etc— or substances that once made you feel good but are growing into a malignancy that has thrown you out of the world of the theatre and truth and beauty, and into your own private hell.

The thing is, you never know what will do permanent harm until it becomes almost impossible to shake it off. This is not to say you should go live on a mountain and contemplate your navel all day to stay out of trouble, though that doesn’t sound like a bad idea to me right now. It does mean that you need to take care of that dream you have of your life in the performing arts. That dream doesn’t come to just anyone. You are one of the chosen. Honor that and have the courage to do what it takes to see it happen. Only you can do it. Well-meaning friends, mentors, coaches, therapists, teachers, and parents can help you but you are the one who must want to keep your artistic and very personal light alive. Only you can do it, to keep your dream going, to keep it real.

Be the solution. Hang with people who live the way you admire and will help you turn your art into reality.  And watch your own back

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Season 3 of The Killing: It’s personal

In the beginning of Season 3, The Killing appears, on the surface at least, to be going the way of the latest serial dramas (The Following, The Walking Dead, etc.) where it isn’t enough to be looking for just any old garden variety killer to put away.  Now, a TV crime drama has to be about something more horrendous. Law & Order: SVU was maybe the first to raise the stakes when they went after more personal, sex crime criminals, people who hurt and exploited children. Even that wasn’t enough. Criminal Minds got us up close and personal with real monsters, many of whom were serial killers.

A new way to write for television

The newer television shows have upped the ante. It can no longer be just a killer – a bad guy – acting out and who, in television dramas anyway, are as ubiquitous as a mail carrier and though ordinary guys, are committing unheard of atrocities. Now the bad guys have expanded their personal agendas and are finding other like-mined psychopaths and are forming cults, preying on women who remind them of the first girl who said no to being his date at the Prom, or in other ways acting like mythic bad guys found in the Game of Thrones books or Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series.

And so Season 3 of The Killing gets on this bandwagon, afraid of getting lost in the dust. Part of what I like best about The Killing was the quiet, the contemplation, the way it took its time telling the story. You put a serial killer in that mix and now you’ve stepped up the pace. Now you’ve added an urgency to stop him or her from more killing. But well into Season 3, it is clear to me that The Killing has not abandoned what made it so good to me. It is doing more than trying to get into the hearts and minds of serial killers. It is getting into the hearts and minds of all the characters: the detectives, the bad parents, the caretakers, the abandoned kids. Yes, there is a serial killer out there and it is imperative that our dogged detectives find him before he kills again, but that is only the arc upon which so much else has been hung.

So, yeah, there are serial killings, but what saves it from being just another distance myth (a serial killer is a mythical character) is the way both Linden and Holder take it so damned personally. Finding the killer is not just a job with them. It is a reason for being. Their mission. That they go about it differently, just makes the hunt interesting.

An actor’s medium

It is personal with the two detectives, Linden and Holder. It is their hearts and minds we get a good, long lingering look at and that look isn’t always pretty. This is good news for actors who land gigs on television. It used to be that television was The Great Wasteland to the top tier of actors, and never, NEVER would they descend to that level. Television was for the also-rans.

Not anymore. All that has changed, especially with the shows that are presented in seasons rather than in single hour-long stories that end nice and neatly. Now there is a story arc (you writers take note) to follow. Really fine actors have done turns on shows like the Law & Order series and spinoffs. Heck, look at Vincent D’Onofrio, who is an actor’s actor if ever there was one, making a living on television in the Law & Order: Criminal Intent. He did it by revealing many facets of his character and someone – the producers? – allowed him to do it. So we got more than an interesting, quirky character. We got a prism of backstories just watching his face change.

The arc: a devise for both actors and writers

This is happening all over television, especially in the non-network shows that are finding their niches outside and inside the mainstream viewer tastes. Whoever thought a show about zombies and blood and terrible gore (The Walking Dead) would find such a diverse audience. I know of grandmothers and young adult males —extreme opposites, to say the least— who are addicted to it. The best part for you actors and writers working on your art is that you can see places to go with what you’ve worked on and honed without feeling compromised or a sell-out, like some twentieth century novelists and playwrights did going to Hollywood to write screenplays for the money. Now we now have long-running series anchored by arcs that span whole seasons rather than one episode, leaving the actors and writers the freedom to really create something.

The writers can give something for the actors to play. In The Killing this season, Sarah Linden starts off happy, carefree, a new woman, full of health, love, and smiles. Then we get to watch as her old self reappears, the one who obsesses, who just has to get into the dark, seamy side of life until she discovers who is doing these horrible things and to put an end to it. Why does she do that? Why is it better for Linden to give up a really nice, cozy relationship with a really nice guy to take up smoking again, to ferret out the wrongdoer and to live on the edge and alone again? I can’t say why exactly, but I do know it gives Mireille Enos as Sarah Linden lots to play. We see her lean into an old lover who she knows she can’t have again, to wave off disappointment and criticism, and to play off the wonderful Joel Kinnaman as her partner Stephen Holder. We hear her anguish when what she is investigating turns the tables and forces her to confront her past. We watch her walk rigidly in another direction from a crime scene as if she was one of the living dead.

The best, though, is just how personal this all is: to the detectives who both have reasons to pursue this that has nothing to do with closing a case; to the people in the drama whose lives are so affected by what is going on in the larger arena of Seattle, which in this season is just the backdrop (it could be happening in any city where it rains a lot) and most by us, who know, like, and care about some of the flawed victims. This is not just another serial killer who needs to be stopped by the end of the hour. This is someone who is taking from us, taking people we have come to know and care about. This maniac is taking our people and people who mean something or are beginning to mean something to other characters in the drama. The writers and producer make us care. The actors make us care. Who can resist Bullet played by Bex Taylor-Klaus or even Seward (Peter Sarsgaard) about to be put to death for a horrendous killing? We know them. We have watched them change. We relate to them.

And that makes it personal.

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Find your specialty this summer (especially the non-performers among you)

You love the theatre. You love the performing arts. But you don’t want to act, sing, dance, tell jokes, juggle, or do anything that puts you front and center on a stage with a live audience. Or in front of a camera, for that matter.

But you love the theatre.

What do you do?

You find out more about what the performing arts are and where you might fit in.

You figure out:

  1. What you like about the performing arts
  2. What you like to do (say, for instance, you like working with light and how it changes things and creates moods, but you don’t know anything about stage lighting)
  3. What you think would be a great job later on (such as running the light board)

I suggest that you use the flexible time this summer to find out some details about the performing arts and begin to narrow down what it is that is so exciting about the theatre and what “speaks to you” (like in those Pier One commercials??).

The thing about focusing in on something is one of those good news/bad news things.

Focus as good news

On the good news side, if you focus in on something now, you:

  1. Can focus in on what you want to do, which will, in turn, help you focus on looking for the next level of education (college, conservatory, technical schools)
  2. Get to be really good at something by the time you need to go out and look for a job
  3. Will have learned to be, well, focused rather than to approach life in a hodge-podge higgily-piggily (don’t you love those non-words, you writers out there?) way. Being focused isn’t being obsessive/compulsive. It is knowing where you are going and taking the time and effort to identify the ways to get there.

Focus as bad news

On the bad news side, it may seem futile to focus on anything now, at your age, when you are just getting confident that you what things are “out there.” So, ok. These are my thoughts, not yours. But there is a very real possibility that no matter how committed you think you are to theatre, it could all change, maybe sooner than later. I am asking you to use part of this summer to explore what is available for you. You think you know the performing arts, but I would bet there are still some things you don’t know about yet. Do something to find out if the performing arts are for you.

An example of what could happen if you commit

The thing is, if you commit to something, like costume design for example, you may find that what you really like about costumes is that it gives you an opportunity to create clothes. In the theatre, you see fashion through the prism of what is going on now in front of a backdrop of what people were wearing at other times in history, and more interestingly, why and how those things came into fashion. In the theatre, a director has some idea of what he or she wants the clothes to look like but it will come, maybe, in the form of, “We’re doing this play set in ancient Rome.” You have to take that meagre idea, read the play, get an idea of the style of the production, see what the set designer is doing, and away you go. You maybe see that you can blend ancient Rome with some clothes you saw in an anime and come up with an idea that is unique and you. Oh, and the director will like.

But if you think that history is a drag and that you could care less about ancient Rome, and that plays always seem rooted in some kind of style that isn’t you, then maybe you need to be somewhere else. So you switch to fashion design and don’t give theatre another thought. At least you know now rather than as you are about to graduate from a performing arts department.

My point is that if you investigate the areas of theatre production and performance now, it may lead to a solid career in the theatre or will point you in another direction entirely. It is better to know that sooner than later before you spend time, money, ambition, interest on something that isn’t going to work for you.

But no matter what you find out about theatre, whether it is for you or not, you will have been focused, you will have learned how to draw, to make sketches, to use colors, to understand how light changes everything and best of all, you learned the value of planning ahead and to get the kind of discipline to stick to your plans. This is what any artist must learn to do if he or she wants a career in the arts.

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More on a mindful summer

Here are some of the things you can be doing now so you’ll be ready to catch the next wave of your dreams.

It continues the thread I started in “Zen and the art of summer” (May 6, 2013).

Live mindfully

Make choices with your career in mind: i.e. know that if you are to be a disciplined artist, it might not be a bad idea to start training now. I’m talking about the simple things, like when someone asks you, “Supersize those fries for you?” you don’t automatically answer, “Sure!” Instead, you take the question seriously and that gets you to realize that you need energy to build a set or paint scenery this afternoon, or rehearse a dance routine, whatever, and that you can’t afford to be bogged down with sugar and starchy carbs.

Living mindfully is to be alive to what is going on with you and the people and events around you. When you know – really see- what is happening and why, you can make whatever the situation is better, not worse. Living mindfully helps you see things realistically and helps you plan now for what will bring you closer to your goals. A person doesn’t just wake up one morning and say “I’m going to be a great set designer” and sketch out a memorable set. One wakes up one morning and says, ‘Here’s what I’m going to do today to keep myself on the path to becoming a great designer” and note a few ideas on your sketchpad. One of those notes might be to find out if you can take a drawing class next semester.

Got a job?

You may have a job this summer that has nothing to do with theatre or the performing arts. You can still do it mindfully, with your artistic goals in mind. Any job:

  • Makes you more self-sufficient
  • Gives you a chance to see how the business world works (remember that there is also the business side to any art)
  • Gives you plenty of chances to absorb human nature (how people look for the costume designer, what things they carry with them for the props person, what a work setting looks like from the perspective of a set designer, what people do and why they do it and how they act and sound doing it for the actor (any performer.)

Make good decisions

Begin to see that what you do, the decisions you make today, will expand and grow as you get older and more experienced. If you make your bed today, you are telling yourself you want to be a well-ordered person who knows where he is going and who knows how to get there. It begins with simple acts that become habits you don’t have to think about every day.

  1. Decide what areas of the performing arts interest you.

I’m going to give you an overview of the theatre called “Introduction to the Performing Arts” (I’ll give you a link to it when it’s ready), with side-trips into television and movies and dance and music when I can, to give you an idea of the kinds of things you might want to do in the performing arts. If a job interests you, you’ll be able to click the link and find out more about it.

  1. Decide on what you want to read this summer and start one of those books today. Don’t wait for the summer. Do it now, while you are motivated.
  2. Decide that you will have fun this summer but that some of this summer will be devoted to finding out more about your interests in the performing arts.

Base your choices on the areas you decided in #3 (above.)   Please, I’m talking about maybe three – you don’t want this to feel too much like school. Except: Please note, there are books colleges expect you to have read before you cross those hallowed halls, so the list I provide will have a boatload of those very must-read books.

“Motivation will almost always beat mere talent.” Norman R. Augustine

Just remember, the future is more of today, so if you are frittering away today, chances are that’s what you will do tomorrow. But what if you took a class in acrylic technique today? Probably you’ll have assignments that will keep you busy tomorrow learning how to use acrylic paints to bring your set designs alive. You’ll be getting more skill at designing, not dreaming.

More tips for the summer

  1. Read a lot of plays. (Need a hint for what to read? Check out Reading list in the menu of this blog.)
  2. Keep up with what is going on in New York and regional theatres around where you live.
  3. See plays wherever you can.
  4. See movies, watch television, only do it mindfully, not to kill time.
  5. Find new books to read and not just theatre books. You want a balanced education that deals with all aspects of human life – you are, after all, looking at the world through a developing artist’s eyes. Also, be mindful there are always reading lists you’ll have to get through if you are anticipating going to college.
  6. Discover your performing arts interests and be honest with yourself about what you like and what you’re good at. Other people are always quick to tell you what you’re good at or lousy at, but find out what you want for yourself.
  7. Find a class to take: acting, writing, drawing, singing, dancing, piano, whatever is within your major interest. Look at regional theatres or local community theatres for theatre and performing classes.
  8. If you are an actor, find and list at least 4 monologues (comedy, drama, classic, modern) that are around two minutes long that you can use for auditions. Do the same for scenes with another person you can use for class work. Learn and rehearse at least one.
  9. If you are a designer, put together a portfolio of things you could show people, such as costume sketches, set designs, lighting plot for a play your school is doing in the fall, a prompt book for a play you were stage manager for. Something like that, something you can build on. (I will try to give you more concrete information later on this summer. Stay tuned….)
  10. If you are a playwright, write a scene or a one-act and finish anything you have already started. Get it in a play format (the internet has plenty of examples.) Edit it. Get it ready to show someone. Start the next play, maybe a one-act. Same goes for comedy sketches. Finish and polish. Get them into your portfolio.
  11. Volunteer for a local production or summer theatre. If you’re an actor, try out for a part. If you are a technician or a designer, volunteer to hang and focus lights, paint the sets, sew costumes, run the light board, run props, or be part of the backstage crew.
  12. Start to think about what the next level will be for you. Is it a liberal arts education? A fine arts degree from a respected college? A conservatory where you concentrate on your art.

Remember, you have to have a concrete idea of where you are going in the performing arts to know where you need to be right now.

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