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No Small Parts

Monday, 23. November 2020 0:13

Constantine Stanislavski famously said, “There are no small parts, only small actors.” And while most directors and acting coaches firmly believe that, most actors, of course, do not. That’s primarily because actors look at the size of the role from an ego perspective; they are counting lines or stage/screen time. Directors, on the other hand, look at the role from a functional point of view, and understand that every role in a well-written show is absolutely necessary, and each contributes to the telling of the story.

Recently I was reminded of this truth when I was watching the second season of the science-fiction series, Counterpoint. One of the lead characters was in a serious predicament and there seemed to be no way out. Suddenly, his secretary, Milla, appeared, provided him with a solution to his problem—that she was the mole everyone was searching for and how he was to handle the situation and then obligingly killed herself with his gun. She, of course, was not the mole, but the problem was solved. Given that this was almost a Deus ex machina, one might question the writing. But the character, played flawlessly by Mirela Burke, was well established; she had appeared in five episodes, often bringing a message or tea or some other secretarial duty. And in the universe of Counterpoint, there is a sleeper agent behind every street sign, just waiting to be activated, so her suddenly becoming an active agent was not all that surprising.

What was significant was that this character, whom most would consider a very minor supporting character, managed in four lines (10 sentences) to turn the plot in a completely different direction and save the character we were worried about. The whole thing took precisely 49 seconds, and she managed to solve the mystery of a missing recording as well. It was amazing. The acting was good. The whole thing worked beautifully.

It served as a reminder of how important the things that most people consider small can be. As in this example, the whole plot pivoted on what most people would consider a “small part.” In most cases, the import of the “small part” does not jump to the fore as it does in this instance, but these roles are important nevertheless. Someone has to serve the wine. Someone must announce the visiting royalty. Someone must give Romeo the poison. Someone has to fall through the ice so George Bailey can save him. The list is endless. Small parts are not just important; they are necessary.

It is the same in many arts. The brush strokes in the clouds on a plein air painting fall into this category; as does the cat in the corner of the photograph; as does that scrap of blue at the right side of the collage; as does the mole on the chin of the witch’s makeup; as does the flourish at the end of the dance routine. How many characters there are in the chorus of a musical matters, as does every detail in the costume of those chorus members. And, just as in the case of the “small part,” small details, those tiny parts of all of the art we create, are not just important; they are essential.

Category:Creativity, Theatre, TV/Film | Comment (0) | Author:

The Zoom Show

Sunday, 11. October 2020 22:51

We just closed our first ever virtual production, which, because we do not have the resources of SNL, we did it with Zoom. Here are some things we learned:

  1. Familiar terminology has different meanings—or no meanings. The term “closed” above indicates that the last streaming of the performance is over. There really is no final performance in the new world. “Opening” is similar, in that the actors are home, watching themselves in a streaming show, a luxury never afforded in a live theatre situation.
  2. The Zoom format is a workable format for creating a virtual production. We did a great deal of research and a whole lot of experimenting and discovered that there are a number of tools and switches and controls in Zoom that allow the director, via the Zoom operator, to control the arrangement of actors on the screen, to allow off-stage voices, and to determine what the audience sees and hears. Zoom managed well does not require that every show look like the opening of “The Brady Bunch.”
  3. Material must be chosen carefully. Unlike the empty stage which will accept, and conform itself to virtually any material, the Zoom format, for all of its flexibility, does have some limitations, which, in turn, limit what sort of material will play well and what will not. The fact that each actor is isolated in their own window is the most basic limitation. Some gimmicks, like passing a prop from window to window, are possible, but that’s very much the extent of window interaction.
  4. There are significant differences for actors. Virtual production is different from both film and stage. The actor receives information from some portion of the screen, but must respond to the little pinhole of a camera above that screen. And the actors are close enough to the camera that eye movements are perfectly visible to anyone  watching. And each actor may be seeing a different thing on their screen. And there is no audience feedback, which is almost incomprehensible to the stage actor, who very often builds their performance based on audience response.
  5. There are significant differences for directors. The director has to think cinematically, but within the restrictions of the form. Instead of blocking, they have to deal with the order of actors on the screen and with who is visible when and who disappears when. It’s a very different sort of thinking for either a stage or film director.
  6. Set design is completely different. The design and execution are virtual and, of course has to be backed with green screens in situations which keep the actors safe. Then there is the problem of making an individual background for each actor and then figuring out how those backgrounds will match when put beside each other on the screen.
  7. There are significant differences for all the staff. The stage manager’s work is very different. Light cues are minimal. There is now a Zoom operator who is the person who is actually determining the looks and is in control of the recording—if there is one. As noted, the audience is virtual, which changes the function of the front-of-house operation and the box office.
  8. What you see is not always what you get. Zoom has its own recording rules. For example, character names disappear on the recording unless you tell Zoom to record them. Sometimes ghosts of a just-exited character appear unbidden, and weren’t seen until the recording was viewed.
  9. Murphy’s Law is alive and well and does exactly what it says it will. Because of the newness of the medium and the multiple layers of technology, there are hundreds of things that can and do go wrong, many of which were never before encountered in a play production. Fixing one problem does not mean that there is not another waiting just around the corner. Backing up work is a necessity.
  10. It’s doable. It’s not easy. But even with all the problems, it is possible to mount a virtual production that is stands up dramatically and has solid production values.

This is not a complete list, of course, but will suffice to outline the major areas. Within each area, we learned hundreds of things, some large and some small, but all significant, because even the tiniest thing matters to the success of such a production.

And we’ll do it again. Using what we’ve learned but anticipating new challenges, we are now in production for our second attempt at this new format—with a very different show this time. We, of course, are both scared and excited.

Category:Technology, Theatre | Comment (0) | Author:

Define It

Sunday, 1. March 2020 23:55

Several weeks ago, a photographer, a writer, and I were having a drink. (Sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, doesn’t it?) We talked about this and that, and finally the photographer, who does a lot of floral images, said that he wanted all his images to be sensual, but was having trouble making that happen.

“What do you mean by sensual?” I asked. It turned out that he did not know exactly what he meant by the word; it was more one of those “you’ll know it when you see it” kinds of things. We batted it around for a while and mostly discovered, at least for him, what sensuality wasn’t. It was sort of this and sort of that and a little of the other thing. He said it was a feeling but couldn’t get much more concrete than that.

“Have you ever tried to really define it in words?” the writer finally asked.

“Well…not really.” was the response.

“Maybe you should try.” she said. And we moved on to other things.

It turned out that the writer’s advice struck the photographer, who has spoken to me about it several times since. First he asked me if I thought it was really a worthwhile pursuit. I told him that, in my opinion, if he did not know where he was going, he could get there only by accident, and went on to explain to him the principle of the “directorial image,” a concrete image that many stage directors use to encapsulate their interpretation and guide the play toward a specific audience reaction. I understand that he is talking about a body of work rather than a specific picture, but the principle to me seemed to be the same.

In our next conversation, he told me that he had been doing some research—mostly into the dictionary definitions. He had explored sensual (of course) and sensory and sexual and erotic and titillating and carnal and on and on. None of the definitions had fit exactly the response he was looking for, but he had decided that knowing where he was trying to go was more likely to yield results than striking out blindly, although it was far less romantic.

In our third conversation, he said that he was very close to having a definition but that it was currently “too many words” for his comfort and “not exactly right yet,” and that he was trying to refine it. “More important,” he said, “it’s already affecting what I’m doing. I think about shoots differently, and my work is consistently getting closer and closer to what I want it to be. It actually helps my creativity; it’s like having an abstract aiming point. This is really a worthwhile exercise.”

And that last conversation made me think that this story was worth sharing. Many of us who work in the arts have never actually defined what it is that we are striving to accomplish. We move from project to project trying to realize the potential of each individual project without stopping to define exactly what we are trying to do. We, like the photographer, may not find an exact definition for what we want to do, but just the attempt to define our artistic goals can help focus our work.

Category:Creativity, Photography, Theatre | Comment (0) | Author:

Stay Open

Sunday, 10. November 2019 23:10

One of the most difficult things for student actors to learn is to keep inventing. It seems that as the blocking (the pattern of movement) and the line memorization become solid, there is a tendency to want to also solidify their readings and business. As they solidify these aspects of their roles, these actors tend to close themselves off to other possibilities.

One supposes that this is because they come from backgrounds in church plays or high school where the philosophy of production was to rehearse until they got it “right” and then repeat that for the performances. A number of directors, myself included, believe that that approach is a formula for producing stale theatre; we believe rather that actors should create their characters anew at each performance and that rehearsals create the stable structure that allows this to happen. This approach works best if actors stay open to new insights and ideas and realize them on the stage.

Yet they continue to stop inventing as the rehearsal process moves along. And that’s a shame because trying one new thing, even toward the end of a creative process can generate new concepts and open never-before-thought-of understandings that can only enhance and enrich the creation—if the artist is open to it. Actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman, quoted in Austin Kleon’s recent blog post says, “Really be as naïve as possible, you know as ignorant as possible, because then you can keep yourself as wide open as possible for anything that could be of help, could be of use…”

The need to stay open applies to artists other than actors as well. Artists are notorious for tunnel-vision, particularly as they near the end of a project. But along with that single-mindedness, artists need to remain available to other ideas that may appear along the way. Ask any musician who does jazz improvisation; sometimes a new riff comes because one person in the group played a single note differently.

And this idea is not restricted to performing artists. A photographer may note the particular way a model turns or notice something in an image during post processing that s/he had missed before and suddenly new doors open up. The painter may slip and make an unplanned brush stroke and then realize that it was not a mistake, but one of Bob Ross’ “happy accidents.” A writer can mistype a word and suddenly realize a direction that s/he hadn’t thought of before. These opportunities would have been missed had the artist resisted a new idea because s/he was too close to finishing the work.

And many of us focus not only on the work, but on finishing the work—particularly as we get closer to that goal. Unfortunately, this state of mind works to our detriment if we refuse to let new intuitions into our creative process

As for finishing the work, Pablo Picasso has famously said that to finish a work is to “kill it, to rid it of its soul, to give it its final blow…” The natural extension of this idea is that all art should remain unfinished, and since it is unfinished, new directions and modifications are always possible. Just thinking about our works this way can give us the freedom to continue to explore and invent, even as we move toward completion of a project. In other words, thinking this way gives us what we need: the ability to stay open to new ideas and insights all the way through the creative process.

Category:Creativity, Theatre | Comment (0) | Author:

Stay Flexible

Sunday, 29. September 2019 22:18

One of the most difficult things for actors to learn is live in the moment and respond truthfully to fictional environment of the scene. This is particularly observable in the way they cling to old line readings even though the circumstances of the scene have evolved since they arrived at those line readings. The impulse is to do what has worked before rather than trust oneself to step into the unknown and offer a new response based only on characterization, character objectives, and the immediate circumstances.

This unwillingness of the actor to trust him/herself in the moment can based in a number of things: (1) it could be laziness or intransigence; “I learned it this way, and I’m not going to change now.” (2) It could be that the actor believes that s/he has found the “right” reading, and anything different would be “wrong.” This, of course, means that if the scene goes in a different direction from the way it was last performed, then that new direction is “wrong.” These are the sorts of actors who believe that the goal of rehearsals is to perfect the performance, which then stays constant no matter how many times it is performed. Experience teaches that this is not the best approach to live theatre (or probably any performing art, or perhaps any art). (3) It could be fear (about which I have written a couple of times: here and here). Stepping out into the unknown is scary business, particularly when there are people watching. What if one were to make a bad choice in front of an audience?

The actor’s reasoning could be based on any of these, or some combination, or something I haven’t thought of. Whatever the reason, s/he sticks to yesterday’s plan, fails to adhere to the truth of the moment, and creates bad art.

This is not just an actor’s problem. Almost all artists are faced with creative situations where success demands flexibility. The characters in a novel take the plot in a direction unforeseen in the writer’s outline. An unexpected heat wave modifies the malleability of the sculptor’s materials. Rain mars the outdoor wedding photography. Every artist is likely, in the course of creation, to encounter some factor that modifies the work being attempted. The artist can respond in the same way as the actors above, refusing/declining to change what they are doing or how they are doing it. Or they can be flexible, see the situation for what it is, and respond to that situation in a spontaneously creative way.

Undoubtedly, those who are more flexible and can respond to the moment will be more productive, since they don’t wait until conditions are restored to optimum; indeed, that may never happen. And it is likely that they will—in the long run—be more successful. The actor who only repeats the same readings at every performance is soon considered stale and boring. The photographer or painter who will only use the one lighting setup will likewise find him/herself producing repetitious and uninteresting work.

So whether we are actors or musicians or painters or writers or photographers or sculptors, we need to stay open to the possibility of momentary change and be flexible enough to embrace those moments, modifying our procedures and practices as the situation demands. The bonus is that being that flexible has the potential to open doors that we didn’t even know were there.

Category:Creativity, Productivity, Theatre | Comment (0) | Author:

Let Them See Your Vision

Sunday, 28. April 2019 23:06

Artists working in the style of other artists is a fairly common practice that I have written about before, specifically about the uses of imitation and artistic theft (also here). Imitation and artistic theft are usually considered ways to develop as an artist: we imitate a style to learn from it or we take from here and there and make a new thing out of it. Perhaps the resulting work is derivative, but it also has some originality in it. So I was surprised and more than a little dismayed to discover how widespread the practice of copying theatre productions as closely as possible with little-to-no new input is.

The internet has made it really easy to find out what the hot shows are and to see enough of them to reproduce the style, the set, the costumes, and at least some of the choreography. What some directors are now doing is gathering that information about show that is currently popular and then attempting to produce that same experience on their home stages. This happened, for example, after the 2013 revival of Pippin, which was based on a circus metaphor. As soon as the show became available for non-professional production, circus-based Pippins popped up all over the place. Many productions attempted to reproduce the world of the circus that had been seen on Broadway; others just took the circus metaphor and production style. It was as if there were no other way to produce this particular show.

And this happens again and again. So what we are beginning to see in non-professional and academic theatre is copy-cat theatre. Very often the first move of the director or designer or choreographer is to the internet to see how others have done the show—so they can reproduce that. Some directors will go to New York to review shows, again to see how they’re done. Perhaps it’s an attempt to cash in on the national reputation of this or that show. Or perhaps it’s the result of artistic insecurity. Or perhaps it just a time-saver; everybody is incredibly busy. No matter the reason, it’s still reproducing someone else’s vision.

The same thing happens in other arts. “That film was terribly successful, so let’s make one like that,” or “that movie was successful; let’s make a sequel.” But in film, even if it’s a copy-cat film, it’s not an attempt at exact reproduction. And the same is true in other arts. If an artist paints too much like another, more successful artist, it’s called at best homage and at worst plagiarism.

Usually what happens is a painter or sculptor or photographer will follow a style or trend. This allows the artist to become part of the trend, which is useful commercially, but retain his/her own vision within that trend. Indeed, Creative Live Blog just this week published an article entitled “7 New Wedding & Portrait Photography Trends for 2019.” The article cites some examples, then distills the trend to generalities and suggests some ways photographers might participate in the trend. And no doubt some photographers will read this article and follow some of the paths, but to do so successfully, they will have to insert their own vision.

And inserting our own vision is what all of us as artists need to do. Those of us who became artists because we wanted to put our vision out into the world have no trouble with this. However, others of us came to work in the arts for other reasons; we are the ones who need to allow ourselves to go beyond copying, regardless of our insecurities or time constraints. We need to let our audiences see our own visions.

Category:Creativity, Theatre | Comment (0) | Author:

You’re Always Auditioning

Monday, 15. April 2019 0:08

Auditions suck. Just ask any actor. For that matter, ask any director. The problem from an acting point of view is to demonstrate that you are the best choice to perform a given role with—if it’s a generous audition—a couple of prepared monologues and a cold read against people you’ve never met. In just a few minutes you have somehow convince a director that after you’ve learned the lines and had some time to work on the character, you will be able to bring this character to life on the stage. It’s an impossible task. And it’s just as bad from the director’s point of view.

This is why directors use other means to help them make their casting decisions. Some even use casting directors, who also use methodologies in addition to the actual audition. Directors will call other directors and their friends to find out about potential actors. They go to shows and observe the actors, how they work, how they perform, what they might be capable of. They network. They invite actors they think might be able to do the job to come in. They interview. Then they hold an audition, sometimes to see if what they thought was true really is true.

Directors are in the judging business; it’s what they do. And they mostly do it all the time. The wise actor learns, hopefully sooner rather than later, that s/he is always auditioning.  Audition time is not limited to the time the actor is actively auditioning.

Here are a couple of stories to illustrate. A good while back an actor I know went to an audition. She is a bubbly out-going person and a man walked by as she was getting out of her car. They had a brief conversation about the difficulty of finding parking spaces. Then they met again in the elevator that she was taking to the interview/audition. Again they had a brief up-beat conversation. They both got off at the same floor but went in different directions. She checked in for the interview, waited a few moments and was ushered into the interview room. Behind the desk sat the man with whom she had just made friends. Her formal audition went well, perhaps because she had already auditioned and didn’t know it. She got the job.

The other story didn’t turn out quite as well. We were casting a musical; when I say we, I mean I was the director; additionally there was the musical director and the choreographer. We were doing an open callback, which is to say that all those called back were in the room. There was one actor we had pretty much decided would be the second lead, but we wanted the callback to confirm that decision. The actor that we had in mind was in the room when we got there, as were a number of other actors. As we got settled, we noticed that the actor we had in mind was not only overly loud and boisterous for the situation, but he was displaying an inordinate amount of egocentricity. His behavior was offensive and unacceptable. Each of us decided individually (we discovered later—we did not discuss it at the time) that we would rather not put up with that behavior and attitude for the rehearsal period. Fortunately, there was another actor there whose callback was excellent; he was the actor who got the role.

Behavior and attitude before and after the actual audition matter. In fact they matter all the time. It’s something actors need to know.  And it’s not just in the theatre that this happens. Wedding photographers, for example, are auditioning every time they meet potential clients.  Even when they are shooting, a potential client is watching and judging—deciding if this is the person they want to do their wedding. Graphic artists are always auditioning for the next project. Painters are always auditioning for the next commission or the next show or both at the same time. Writers audition for readership for their next book. Both stage and film directors are always auditioning for producers. No one escapes.

Like stage directors, people who seek creative services ask others; they watch, they evaluate—before they ever get around to calling for an appointment.

Not only actors, but every creative person who sells his/her work is always auditioning; there is no down time. It is something that we all need to be aware of—all the time.

Category:Marketing, Theatre | Comment (0) | Author:

The Most Thankless Job in Theatre

Sunday, 25. November 2018 22:18

Recently I overheard a couple grousing over the fact that the performance that they had paid several hundred dollars to see would feature not one, but two understudies that evening. They were understandably disappointed, but their rancor was unwarranted; they had no idea of the reason for the substitute performers. One presumes that management did not make the replacements lightly. Moreover, this was a touring company, with no real “stars;” while the performers were skilled, none were terribly well-known. Yet the couple somehow felt cheated at seeing performers they didn’t know replace other performers they didn’t know. All this was before the performance, so the relative quality of the performers was completely unknown (and, of course, would remain so).

Those performers, the understudies, have one of the most thankless jobs in the performance industry. Unless an occasional performance is stipulated by contract, a person who is an understudy has to not only know the role s/he may never perform, but he also has to study his/her principal performer so s/he can take the place of that performer with minimum disturbance to the production; in other words, s/he seeks to replicate the performance of his/her principal. At the same time, the economic exigencies of live production often require that the understudy carry another role to help justify his/her salary.

Unlike in the movies, the understudy does not suddenly become the star who eclipses the sidelined actor, s/he does her job, replacing the principal actor, until such time as that actor returns to the stage. This sort of thing happens in all live performing arts, because the mentality of the performing arts is that the show must go on, whether that show is theatre, dance, musical concert, or circus.

Lyn Gardner questions that mentality in her article, Must the show really always go on? In the article Gardner discusses the burdens that are placed on actors by a profession that not only demands that the show go on, but that the actor, unless s/he is incapacitated, be there to insure that that happens. Of course, when the actor is incapacitated, the show is either cancelled (anathema to producers) or the understudy goes on.

Over the last three years, I have had to promote understudies to principals in at least one show a year. In every case, the understudy took over the role and ran with it. This points to the efficacy of choosing capable understudies. However, in the non-professional theatre, it’s a job nobody wants. The understudy has to do all the work, and the likelihood of actually getting to perform is, under normal circumstances, very small. Done correctly, it’s enormous work with little to no payoff. But it’s a necessary job.

And it’s not only necessary from the producer’s point of view. Most who are involved with live production think this way. Despite Gardner’s admonitions, actors themselves think this way. I have seen actors perform with fevers, flu, colds, sore throats, sprained limbs, and personal emotional upheaval. They did this because they, like almost all of us who work in live performance and our audiences really do believe that, one way or another, the show must go on. And the way that often happens is through the craft and artistry of the understudy.

Category:Theatre | Comment (0) | Author:

Let Go

Monday, 19. June 2017 1:41

You may have heard that the Albee estate denied the performance rights to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? because the producing organization, the Complete Works Project, had cast an African-American in the role of Nick. The director, Michael Streeter, spread the word in his Facebook status and the story took off. Responses have appeared on all media and support both positions. Nobody questions the right of the estate to deny rights for whatever reason, but there is great diversity of opinion on whether this is a good or bad choice.

A friend who is a director and actor said that he thought he would have to side with the Albee estate in this particular situation, but that he wished that playwrights would release their death-grip on their plays. And they do have a death-grip, whether the playwright is living or is represented by an estate.

The first such restriction I observed was shortly after the Mickey Mouse Protection Act of 1976 in a contract for a college production of one of Neil Simon’s plays. The contract said that not a single word could be changed. Since that time, such a restriction has become standard, and one of many. The Albee estate-Complete Works rights denial is the first time I have heard of a copyright owner rejecting a specific cast member.

“Artist’s Rights,” can be taken to ludicrous extremes. For example, Arturo Di Modica demanded through his attorney that because he created Wall Street’s Charging Bull, he should have been consulted before Kristen Visbal’s sculpture, Fearless Girl, was installed just feet away. Di Modica said that “the adjacent art has changed the meaning of his work and violated his legal rights” (ironic, given that the bull, like the girl, was installed without permission).

There are two reasons I agree with my friend’s “death grip” comment on playwright’s rights. First, theatre is a collaborative art: there is an originator of the script and then the interpretation of that script by a production company. This is similar to the composer/conductor-orchestra relationship. The fact is that by allowing any group to produce the work, even with restrictions, the licensing agent is allowing interpretation. Set, cast, blocking will be different in each production. Restrictions applied to professional productions are not required of amateur productions. Some restrictions do not take into account the specific audience that will see the work. These taken together produce an inherent inconsistency in licensing with regard to protecting the “artistic integrity” of the work. Indeed, And at least two of the articles I read (here and here)—citing Shakespeare and Chekhov as playwrights whose work is interpreted in a number or ways and whose work lasts—suggest that if the Albee estate continues its current policy, it well essentially condemn Virginia Woolf to obscurity.

Both Tennessee Williams and the Williams estate have taken a position almost opposite the Albee estate’s position. Williams allowed his work to be done by almost any group, and the estate has followed suit. The results have been a broadening of understanding and appreciating Williams. For example, a 2008 production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof featuring an all-black cast demonstrated that the play is powerful regardless of race.

The second reason, in my mind, applies to all artists:  Once the artist declares the piece done, it exists in the universe as an entity unto itself. Regardless of his/her rights, the artist needs to have enough confidence in whatever s/he has created, that s/he can let go of the piece and get on to the real work of the artist—creating. A solid work can stand on its own—if the copyright owner will let it.

Category:Communication, Marketing, Presentation, Theatre | Comment (0) | Author:

Art Evolves

Monday, 13. March 2017 0:01

Occasionally, someone will ask me if the show is what I wanted it to be. The short answer is “no,” but that always seems a little abrupt and not what those who ask really want to hear. I think I am supposed to say something thoughtful and positive and “artistic” as an answer. The truth for shows is—as it is, I think, for almost all art work—that it never turns out exactly the way you thought it would. There are simply too many variables.

Neil Gaiman in Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fictions and Illusions, says much the same thing about writing stories: “once the story was underway, the real ending became inevitable. Most of the stories in this volume have that much in common. The place they arrived at in the end was not the place I was expecting them to go when I set out. Sometimes the only way I would know that a story had finished was when there weren’t any more words to be written down.” Gaiman is not the only author to make such a claim. Many writers talk about how the characters in a book or play or short story take the narrative in an unanticipated direction.

In the case of theatre anything can happen: an actor gives an unexpected line reading. The costume designer comes up with something completely surprising. The lighting designer wants to do something “fresh.” The assistant choreographer makes an off-hand comment. The musical director changes the tempos.  And it happens in other arts as well: the model shows up with a tattoo the photographer didn’t know about. A light burns out in studio and the subject looks different in the new lighting. The film editor got a new idea overnight. The sculpting medium has a mind of its own and doesn’t carve the way the sculptor anticipated.

This idea is not unique to me. An art professor that I know tells students that things arise in the doing that cannot be anticipated.  His opinion is that the act of making art creates a situation in which something “worth doing” might happen, even if that thing is the realization of what the artist really should be doing.

The artist, of course, has the choice of ignoring the unexpected and forging ahead with whatever his/her vision is. Or the artist can respond to the unexpected either by treating it as an interference and working around it or by incorporating it into the work. In either case, the work of art evolves according to the artist’s response—often for the better.

Insight (I hesitate to use the word inspiration, because I’m not exactly sure what that is, except unreliable) can come from anywhere. It can be something overheard, something read, something seen. It can be the result of an interaction with a collaborator or with a friend or with a stranger. It may come from talking to oneself or a dream or a daydream or out of the air.

Art does not spring fully-realized, Athena-like, from the head of the artist. Insights happen. Serendipity happens. The unanticipated happens. Happy accidents happen. It seems to me that part of what makes us artists is sensitivity to all of the things that occur in the process of doing our work and choosing from among them to create art that is far richer and has far more depth than the piece we had in mind at the beginning of the process. We must learn that part of our job is to let our art evolve.

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