I recall vividly believing so deeply in Santa Claus. And the Tooth Fairy. My father got me but GOOD with a Tooth Fairy story. He presented me with a Chinese checkers set (???) after a particularly painful tooth loss. He claimed that the Tooth Fairy was behind him in the department store checkout line, and insisted he bring this board game back to me. Boy howdy did I buy it.
My father also teamed up with some extended fam one year to convince both my brother and myself that Santa had put together a sweet RC racetrack for us. I am not too proud to admit that I may have squealed. We played on that thing for YEARS, long past the time when we both knew it had been dad and Uncle Gary putting that track together in the back room.
To come around to the first attachment, by G.K. Chesterton… is Santa a fairy tale? Even deeper, could we describe any of the various religious stories and traditions surrounding these holidays “fairy tales”? And does it matter if they are? Or aren’t? Because while dragons may not be pulling Santa’s sleigh (although how cool would THAT be??), the thread that connects all of the stories and songs and traditions at this time of year—at least to my mind—seems to be kindness. Grace. Gratitude. A reminder that the feelings and needs of others are just as vital and important as yours and mine. And is this not also the core of our theatrical enterprise… to put the catharsis of the audience above our own? It’s not surprising that theatre has for millennia been intimately tied to sacred rites and religious celebration, or that so many buildings that once were churches are repurposed as theaters.
We KNOW that dragons exist. Some of you may be battling them right now, as this season and its pressures can cause anxiety and isolation just as easily as joy and community. But as artists and as those who serve an audience, we know that those dragons are beatable. Maybe not easily. Maybe not with glory. But beatable nonetheless.
And any particular individual patron can never have precisely the same experience again, even if they come back the very next night.
This is not to say that writers, or painters, or filmmakers do not also have their process, but their processes result in a tangible finished THING. Is the THING the art, or is the reader’s/viewer’s/watcher’s experience of that thing the art? That’s a fun and baffling idea to contemplate, but regardless, that THING resides in a space BETWEEN the artist and the patron. Whereas the THING that is theatre can only reside in the space SHARED by the artist and the patron.
I do not compare to say one art is better than another. I compare to remind you that being a theatre artist means you must be present and vulnerable in terrifying ways. And that particular terror can make it easy to put things off. To procrastinate. To withhold. To self-censor.
To counteract that terror, I offer you two cookies this week. First... Batman. Batman will make you brave.
Second, this awesome quote from the fabulous feminist humorist Cynthia Heimel: “There is a microscopically thin line between being brilliantly creative and acting like the most gigantic idiot on earth. So what the hell? Leap.”
Leap. Like Batman off a building.
She had made me a little piece of art. A craft project really, just a few inches on each side, and the picture you see here is of its front. On the back, this is what she wrote:
“This piece was made from an accident, a sad mistake. The entire pad of perfect construction paper got wet and the colors bled onto each other. After the paper had been discarded, it dried, leaving the pattern of the accidental spill in different colors on each sheet. I found it months later and thought it much improved.
I love you.
This picture of this flawed yet improved construction paper has been the background image on my phone ever since. I keep the original note and art on my corkboard at home. It is perhaps the most beautiful reminder I have ever received of a deep-seated truth of the human experience: mistakes, failure, pain… they are unavoidable, and to be cherished as the most teachable moments, as the opportunities for grace and discovery, as the tilling of our richest soil for our greatest art and insight and maturation. This does not absolve you from responsibility for your actions, not a whit, nor should you seek out growth by harming others. But when you stumble, and when the stumblings of others impact you, you will find that contrition and forgiveness--which are simply the act of letting go--will serve you far more than pride and punishment.
Have a great week. I do not wish hardship upon any of you, but knowing that it will come regardless, I wish you courage and endurance and kindness and grace. And ultimately… the discovery of healing.
As Bruce Lee said: “I do not fear the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks one time. I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”
This is the essence of expertise. Of mastery. Of rehearsal. Of effective replication of performance.
There may not be a lot of difference between your 1000th kick and your 1001st kick, but there will be a world of difference between your 1001st kick and your 7854th kick.
At the same time, the only arbiter of “real artist”, or “good artist”, is YOU. But note this: being a good artist does not instantly mean all of your art is effective. Recognizing repetition as the pathway to expertise keeps you humble, keeps you working, keeps you focused outwardly, because note how in the attached jpg the essence of our art is in the emotional response of the audience. Do not seek their praise. Seek their catharsis. Their praise is fleeting. Their catharsis fundamentally alters how they interact with the world.
Get back to kickin’.
They are meant to provoke. To inspire. To cause divine discontent and consternation. To simply make you think and feel more deeply about this art form and this business that you are exploring.
Let’s start with Stella Adler, who reaffirms what Caroline and I have been telling you for the last week: that this is gonna be HARD. Fun, and fulfilling, and all the good fuzzy things too. But HARD. Difficult. Meaningful BECAUSE it’s difficult.
As seemingly menial things like laundry and going to the grocery store and organizing the bazillion tickets for our patrons grind your patience…
…remember WHY we do what we do.
Cling to the commitment to simply move forward, at least a little bit, day by day, trusting that the BIG discoveries will manifest when the time is right and you are ready.
Re-invest in the never-ending work of CHANGING PEOPLE. Events are beyond us. People will always be before us. And they come to us, in our theatres, to be reminded why they do what THEY do. To be refreshed in their commitment to moving forward. To find the strength to re-invest in the daily things they do to also change the world by changing each person just a little bit at a time.
I have this feeling now that actually no one is ever ready to do anything. There is almost no such thing as ready.
There is only now.
And you may as well do it now.
Generally speaking, now is as good a time as any.
-- Hugh Laurie
My take on his idea of “ready” is that often we use the idea of not being “ready” as a substitute for admitting that we are afraid. We are afraid of failing, and in a real way we are even afraid of succeeding. It’s always tempting to remain in the space of “pining for.” Because that way I won’t have to go through the embarrassment of failing, and should I succeed I won’t have to face the possibility that what I was “pining for” didn’t actually totally fulfill me; I may realize that my dream wasn’t big enough; that achieving X doesn’t mean I’ve “arrived.”
Here’s the thing. Every single ounce of fear that you face down transforms into courage. You can’t have courage and then be brave. That’s entirely backwards. And thus the second quote—attached as a jpg. You first have to act bravely—which is simply acting IN SPITE OF fear—and then lo and behold, much like the cowardly lion, you discover your courage.
Don’t wait to be “ready.” Don’t let fear talk you in to procrastination.
Do it anyways. And do it now.
Theatre pro, amateur yogi, and competent home cook.