Post from March, 2016

The Path to Passion

Monday, 21. March 2016 0:13

“Acting is my passion!!” is a statement those of us who teach theatre have heard more times than we care to think about. And for one in a hundred, it’s true. For most, it’s what one is says when one is studying drama and has not yet discovered his/her true passion, or maybe even his/her real direction.

For most theatre (and other arts) students there are tens if not hundreds of choices. Everything interests them, so with such an overabundance of choice, it becomes easier to settle on one that seems comfortable and desirable and expected than it is to explore all of the possibilities to discover one’s actual passion. So they profess that acting is their passion and their life.

All one has to do is watch, and the actions of these will tell you whether they want to really be actors or not. People who are passionate about acting will behave like they are passionate about acting. They want to learn all they can about the craft. They want to do actual acting. If they’re not doing it, they’re talking about it or reading about it, or watching it or thinking about it, all of which, for an artist, is part of doing.

Just like writers in the anecdotes who would write on any scrap of paper they could find, those who are passionate about acting, who must act, will find a way. They may not become professional actors, but they might. They might find that some other path provides a better opportunity for income, so the passion gets relegated to the status of hobby or side-job; others go the other way: they take side-jobs so they can afford to be a professional at the work that is their passion.

“People are known by their actions, not their words.”   It’s a sentiment that gets attributed to lots of people in lots of time and places. It’s also true. If a student indicates by actions that he/she doesn’t want what he/she says is wanted, then that student is not being truthful or he/she cannot connect want and behavior.

If a student who has declared acting to be his/her life spends more time on computer games, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he/she wants to be a professional computer gamer, but rather that he/she doesn’t want to be an actor. What such a student really wants is impossible to determine; it may be some other area of drama or completely outside the theatrical universe.

The larger problem comes when the artist-to-be doesn’t know where or how to look elsewhere. Some of us, teachers or not, have encountered this same problem before we found the path that led to the passion that has brought us to where we are today. So now we owe it to these young artists (whether they are students or not) to guide them away from that which obviously is not their passion and encourage them to discover what really kindles their imaginations, what, once discovered, they can’t not do.

And we must remind them that there really are no restrictions on which paths to explore. I know a number or people who, had they felt really free to explore without limits when they were young, would have ended up with far different artistic lives.

Almost everyone advises us to follow our passion. Sound advice, I think, but you can’t follow it if you can’t find it.

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Artistic Ineptitude

Sunday, 6. March 2016 23:42

One expects ineptitude from students: actors who don’t yet have the experience to make good artistic choices; sculptors who are lacking a firm grip on the concept of the piece, painters who are just beginning to work out their technique, musicians whose technical skills are not fully developed. That’s perfectly fine. Although they would probably resent the label, these are artists-in-the-making. Their skills are not fully developed and their knowledge and experience are limited. Thus ineptitude.

People who are professionals, however, are a different story; one expects—well—professionalism. Some professional artists are able to jump from art to art and exhibit capability in several areas. Others, however, cannot make this sort of jump gracefully. James Franco, for example, an actor of some repute, evidently thinks he can excel at any art. Unfortunately, he has not found the same success in several fields that he has found in acting. This is evidenced by the title of Charlotte Runcie’s review of Franco’s poetry: “James Franco’s poems: hard to forgive.” In reviewing some of Franco’s attempts in areas other than acting, Runcie quotes New York Times critic Roberta Smith, who called him “embarrassingly clueless about art.

Occasionally, the ineptitude is in the artist’s primary field. Some of the most egregious examples of photographic ineptitude to be found on the web are displayed on a site called, created by two people calling themselves Ginger and Mary Anne.

One doesn’t have to look far to find artistic ineptitude. For instance, I had the misfortune once to act as consultant to one of the inept. I found the experience more than a little frustrating. He refused to listen to most of what I had to say, picking up just the bits that supported what he had already decided. The notion of actually learning anything that would have improved the production was completely foreign to him.

The resulting event was, at least by my standards, a complete bust. It was disorganized, badly produced, and exhibited a complete lack of understanding of the audience. It was boring not only to me but everyone in our party, some of whom were young and relatively inexperienced. The sad part was that it didn’t have to be. Had the “producer” listened to any of the several advisors who were available, he could have learned a little about producing and directing. He was not interested. He was certain—without any sort of training—that he was qualified to produce, direct, choreograph, design lights and sound as well as curate visual art. Alas, his lack of training showed.

The problem is not the lack of available of expertise, but the refusal to access that expertise—for one of two reasons: (2) the person who is inept is lacking the self-knowledge to understand that he/she needs the help of a trained professional and/or (2) simple hubris.

Let me be clear, I am all for anyone attempting to do anything. I am a firm believer in the human ability to learn and create in any number of fields, with or without formal training. However, to attempt to work in a field armed only with intuition and with no attempt to learn is foolish. Then to do really sub-standard work and have the temerity charge money for it requires egoism that borders on narcissism. The antidote? Learn who you are. Learn where your excellence lies. Do that. Learn other stuff. Become excellent at that. Do that too. Disavow ineptitude.

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