Sunday, October 3, 2010

A Letter from Someone Who has Been There

What did you get on your SAT? GRE? What part did you play in that one show in college, you know that one....what was the name of it? What grade did you get on your scene your first semester in your sophomore year? When you auditioned for that Broadway show, how much did the fact that your Junior year voice teacher gave you a B on your speech project affect your audition? I can't answer one of these questions. My point is, as a 34 year old grad student of acting, grades and acceptance don't mean shit when you get out of school. All that you can take with you is your experience.
In the 6 weeks that I have been taking and teaching classes, I have heard more students talk about how things will be graded, what is "the amount" of something to get an A, and they don't want to do something wrong while they perform or upset the teacher because that's not what they want. I have heard countless times a student ask the professor if "it's ok if I do this" when it is in direct correlation with their creativity and exploration. Sometimes I check the front of the building and make sure I didn't accidentally walk into the Math building instead of the Theater building.
How in the hell do you grade creativity, exploration, feelings, vulnerability, expansion of the mind, trusting oneself to fail miserably and know they only benefit from it in the end, strengthening of confusion, breaking of bad habits, breaking of good habits, trying something that you've never tried before, taking a big shit on the stage and wondering where that will lead to, and in the end, going to sleep that night a better artist than you woke up as? This would be the trouble with putting an education/degree stamp on art. The professors have to have a scale to judge and further the student's academic achievement record. They need to submit a letter grade, something from A-F that tells the world what type of student they are in that particular class. Can you see where this bothers me?
I came back to school because I had issues with my acting. I had serious issues with my craft. I had issues with my previous instructors. I had issues with my auditioning. I had issues with my book and repertoire. Sadly, the LAST thing on my mind right now is grades. An unlimited amount of A's will not bring me closer to this goal. Although, by achieving these goals, an "A" will most likely be waiting for me because it shows progress and execution. I've been out in the war. I have fought in battles that ranged from EPA's to Chorus Calls to Agent submissions. I NEED. I NEED. I NEED. I WANT. I WANT. I WANT. I HAVE TO HAVE. I HAVE TO EMBRACE what it takes to become the greatest actor and student of this art in my time here. The only way to do that is to walk in each day and look at the walls as just metaphors of what can suppress you and limit my creativity. Would it bother me more to get an F or get an F because I just didn't get it. If I succeeded in all aspects of what I was trying to accomplish and still received an F, that would suck on a couple different levels. Because I could get kicked out of school? Or get kicked out of school with some knowledge that will propel me into a stratosphere that few other artists have? Or get a safe B+ without challenging myself and pushing my limits? If not, why the fuck am I here?
I watch countless scenes and work by students who make every safe choice known to man. It comes down to they are afraid to fail. They are afraid to disappoint the professor. They are afraid to look bad in front of their peers who just got praise in the scene before. They are afraid to be vulnerable. Than why the fuck be here??! We are artists. Our souls belong on the table for people to crush, spit on, urinate on, make love to , and be held in order to never let any harm come to it. In order to become a true artist, you have to answer the question, "I would not be able to survive if I wasn't able to create and make art for others to experience, whether they love it or hate it". If the answer is yes, you're half the way there. If the answer is no, find out why. It doesn't mean you have to quit, but find that driving force that makes you want to be in a profession with 30,000 other people who are as talented and more talented than you and spend most of your life just wanting. Wanting more. Wanting what you might never have. There is a reason why there are WAY too many actors out there, because it can be safe. If the actors who are "way above average" in their craft stayed in the business, the numbers would decrease to 3,000.
These are the years we explore. These are the years we challenge ourselves. These are the years we fail so badly that it takes a Dairy Queen milkshake to pick up our spirit. If you plan on moving to NY or LA, there is no time for exploring there. You show up and do your job. It's what you've worked years on to get ready. It's like Roger Federer. He spent years just hitting forehands and backhands so that now, at the height of his game, he knows what he's doing. He goes out there, he doesn't think, and he's really freaking good. He has to fine tune things from time to time, but he's out there, floating from moment to moment and his body and mind know what to do. That's what we should strive for. We are learning to hit forehands and backhands, but don't just try to get 8 out 0f 10 in the court because it will get you a good grade, study each shot. How did it feel? What could you have done to make it better? What would happen if you just tried this slight alteration? If you're lost in my comparison between tennis and acting, let's get you back on track.
Every time you step in front of the class, it is not a performance!!! Performance is for paying patrons and you get flowers after. You are with students who are just as scared as you are. If they're judging you, they suck as human beings and they suck as artists. They're not worth your time. It is your responsibility to do the best that you are capable of and learn from every goddamn thing that is said to you by your instructor in order to MAKE YOU BETTER, NOT AS A PUT DOWN!
And most importantly, have fun. If you're not having fun. Get the hell off of my stage and stop wasting everyone's time. If this is agony for you, you might as well go to the medical building and study there because they are in agony, but they're going to make a shit load of money when they're all done. It's fun. We all got in this business for a reason. We're all going to have bad days, but our worst days are other peoples' best days. Love one another. Be good people. Be good friends. Be good boyfriends and girlfriends, wives, husbands, fathers and mothers, and thank your higher being that you have been blessed with what you have.

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