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Two More Days

Sunday, 23. February 2014 22:57

When other theatre people ask me how the show is going, my standard response is, “We need another week.” Since I thought that this feeling was unique to educational theatre, I was surprised the other day when I asked a friend who is a professional actor how his show was going. His response was, “We could use two more days.” My takeaway was that no matter what level we work at, we are never quite ready for opening, at least mentally. And, having done this for a number of years, I know that even though the director and most of the production staff wish for another week or two days or however much time they think they need to apply the last bit of polish, the show is really ready, and probably has been for a couple of days. What it really needs is an audience.

The desire for extra time is probably not about a need for perfection, which, as most of us know is an artistic killer. Rather it springs from a desire to make it better. We want dress up our kid, wipe its nose and scrub its face before we show it to the world. We want to make it as good as we can make it, and we are sure that if we had just a few more days, we could do that and go into opening with the confidence that this is as good as we could possibly do.

It’s a function of being creative. Creative people never quit creating. We look at where we are in a particular project and invent six new things that we want to try to move the project forward. It’s a process that does not stop—unless we have some sort of creative block. So even the day before opening, we have new things that we invented overnight that we want to try because they would make the play better, and we know that if we had just two more days or one more week or whatever interval we name, we could add and refine and improve.

The world of theatre, however, does not allow that. Usually, opening is set before we begin rehearsals, so whatever we do has to be done before that date. Even though we might have done this before and know how to maximize productive time, it seems that we always fall “just that much short” of having the time that we need.

Artists in other media have a similar situation, except more often than not, there is no official “opening night,” unless the artist is working toward a deadline for a show. Without such a cut-off, we are likely to continue to develop new facets of our art, never actually finishing, but continuing to make it incrementally better each time we work on it. So we continue to tweak and adjust and improve. It’s a cycle that can continue indefinitely.

We must recognize that, if we are to be genuinely productive, we have to let go. If an “opening night” is not part of our particular art, we would do well to establish one; then we can wrap up this project and move on to the next. But we must realize that with every opening night, whether externally established or self-imposed, comes the feeling that we need just two more days…

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

Learn to Sing!

Sunday, 22. December 2013 23:01

“I don’t sing” is a statement that I hear all the time from beginning actors. They state it as if it were an option when it’s really the equivalent of an architect saying, “I don’t do math,” or a photographer saying, “I don’t need to know lighting.” Singing is a basic skill of the acting trade just like articulation, stage movement, or the ability to used dialects and accents.

There are a number of reasons students say they don’t sing, but usually they resolve themselves to three: fear, the belief that to learn would be too difficult, and the notion that actors who do not sing are somehow more pure than those who do. This latter derives, of course, from the idea that the musical is an inferior form of theatre. The musical’s position in the theatre hierarchy aside, the fact is that many “straight” shows require that an actor sing. Even voice actors will often find themselves having to sing.

The perception of difficulty often goes unvoiced. Rather, some other excuse is put forward, such as “I can’t.”

Fear needs no explication, except to note that actors, particularly young, untrained ones have a fear of singing equal to or worse than most people’s fear of public speaking.

In any case, the only reasonable response is, “then learn.” Take voice lessons—every week, until you can sing or until the third voice instructor in a row dismisses you as completely hopeless. It may, indeed, be difficult, but certainly not impossible. You may not be able to sing the lead in a musical as the result of lessons, but you can improve vocally and that can only be a good thing.

Additionally, voice lessons not only improve the singing voice, they improve the speaking voice as well, so it’s a double win. And the actor gets to develop two basic skills for the price of one.

“I can’t sing,” when not an excuse, is a different matter. That’s about ability, albeit self-assessed, and for that the answer is the same: learn, and for all of the same reasons. And be aware that many working actors continue to take voice lessons even after they have improved their abilities so that they can, upon request, sing whatever song the role requires.

It’s the same with any art. We will sometimes refuse to learn certain skills or techniques that have the potential for improving our work in some way or another. We tell ourselves that that’s something we “don’t do” or “can’t do.” And we mean exactly the same thing that young actors do: it’s something we are afraid of or something that looks too difficult or something we mistakenly think will dilute the sincerity of our work. So, often in the pose of artistic snobbery, we limit ourselves.

There is no legitimate reason that we should not develop any and every tool we can. As we grow as artists, many of us find ourselves moving in directions that we did not anticipate and those skills we thought “ancillary” become not only useful but necessary.

So it may turn out that the skill that we didn’t want to learn is exactly the skill, perhaps in combination with others, that allows us to create our best work. Few of us end where we were aiming when we set out, and we may find that we’re really glad that we learned to sing somewhere along the way.

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

Acting and Flow

Monday, 18. November 2013 0:56

Almost every acting coach I know teaches that to really do the work of acting properly, the actor must be in the moment. We watch young actors struggle first with the concept and then the practice. We watch them inch toward that goal, and if we are lucky we get to see flashes of it in the occasional performance. It is a difficult thing to do, since to do it, the actor has to undo years of training and practice in avoiding the present.

Actors are not the only artists who do their best work in the moment. A number of artists, when they are working, drift into the “eternal present,” which is normally called flow and which I have discussed before (here, here, and here). They begin work, and often without their knowledge, the world drifts away to be replaced by a moment-to-moment existence wherein the very best of creation happens. This is the way it usually happens to actors as well. They start a scene and get caught up in it and then they are creating in a way that they never have before.

During the last rehearsal of the week, I was privileged to witness an actor leap fully into the present moment and stay there, sustained for an entire scene—repeatedly.  That doesn’t sound like so much when you say it in words, but it was amazing to watch.

Run-through after run-through, the actor leapt into the present and stayed there until a stop was called. Anyone who has attended even two rehearsals can testify to the rarity of such an event.

The show that we are rehearsing is Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol by Tom Mula. For an actor it presents an unusual challenge, at least the way we are doing the show. This actor’s problem was to portray a character named Actor 2, who, in turn, portrays at least one other character, so he has to present at least two distinct characters to the audience, sometimes in the same speech. The transitions are nearly instantaneous and problematic to say the least, and adding depth to the second-level character is a further difficulty.

When this actor made the jump, those problems disappeared. He was alternately Marley and Actor 2 and Marley. Each distinct, with different postures, accents, attitudes. Although he stayed close to what had been rehearsed, he modified his blocking as necessary to achieve his objective in the scene. And he adapted his tone and approach to counter whatever the actor playing Scrooge invented as a response.

Suddenly we were not watching the actor that we knew; we were instead watching a persona named Actor 2 and a ghost named Marley alternate in the same body. The level of concentration, characterization, and intensity rivaled that of any seasoned professional at the top of his/her game. The whole room was completely silent. We (the stage manager, assistant stage manager, assistant director, and I) had seen that scene perhaps 10 to 12 times before, but we were all watching as though it were the first time. And we watched the first time—three times. Such is the power of the present moment. It was theatre as it is supposed to be. It was powerful enough that the stage manager cried, I discovered later.

The actor, since he was fully in the moment, remembered very little of what happened. As we talked after the rehearsal and he came back to himself, he began to remember more. My hope is that he will recall most of it over time, but that is not important. What is important is that he made the jump and discovered the value of flow and the immense boost to creativity that you can get only by working in the moment.

I could wish no more for any artist, be he/she sculptor, painter, photographer, dancer, writer.

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

Job Insecurity and Creativity

Sunday, 22. September 2013 23:47

Earlier this month, British playwright Simon Stephens, speaking at a conference on new writing, said that because of their job insecurity, actors are being “stifled” by fear of unemployment. Specifically he said, “They would have one eye on the director, to make sure they don’t offend them, one eye on the writer, to make sure they seduce and tantalise them so they maybe might want to write something for them, and one eye on the artistic director to let them know they are not a difficult person to have around the theatre….That can be really stifling and can stifle bravery in acting performance.”

Lyn Gardner, writing in The Guardian, takes issue and suggests that job insecurity is what is driving “brave and creative performances.” Gardner never explains her reasons for this suggestion, but goes on to explain that the condition is not unique to actors and finally state that “while the freelance way of life does not suit anyone, uncertainty can be a genuine spur to creativity, rather than stifling risk.”

While I cannot completely agree that freelancing suits no one or that uncertainty spurs creativity, I must agree with Gardner that job insecurity is a fact of life for the professional performer. She goes on to say job insecurity is a fact not just for actors, but for any freelance professional, including playwrights, directors, journalists and accountants.  I have to agree with that as well, and would note that anyone who goes into any of the arts endures the same employment insecurity, and perhaps worse than some theatre professionals. In theatre, opera, and dance, at least, some professionals are members of repertory companies and ensemble companies, which offer employment security for at least a season. (Although very few of those professionals would presume that it is a certainty that there will be a contract waiting for them next season.)

Other types of artists have no such havens. They produce work, show it, sometimes sell it and then move on to the next project. Some, who have representation, have fewer interruptions, but still work from project to project, knowing that there are no guarantees, there are no assured sales—unless they accept commissions, and even then the commission may evaporate before the piece is finished and the sale finalized.

This is the nature of the arts business. Anyone who has entertained a career in any of the arts, should have, before embarking on such a journey, become aware that employment security was not part of the deal. That insecurity cannot be ruled out as an influencer; there are always those who will take the safe road, who will produce what they think the audience wants in the hopes of achieving some sort of stability much the way that Stephens details.

But then there are the others, the ones who want to make the best art they can and know that in order to do that, risks must be taken—whether it imperils security or not. If you go to art shows or the theatre or the ballet or the opera, you know who those people are; their work shows it. They are the ones in front of whose work you linger, the ones you come back to for a second or third look; they are the ones whose performances you want to sit through again and discuss afterward and think about after you have gone home.

The question is: which kind of artist are you?

Category:Audience, Creativity, Theatre | Comments (1) | Author:

Artistic Benchmarks: What Are They Really Good For?

Sunday, 7. July 2013 23:01

Last week, I got into a discussion with the manager of a frame shop about nude photography. It soon became apparent that this man considered nude photography the holy grail of image-making. He may be right. Nude photography is definitely a photographic benchmark. The artistic nude is a difficult assignment, some would say the most difficult type of portrait to pull off. Others, particularly those who work in other photographic specializations, might differ. However, few would argue that while the nude might not be the benchmark, it is certainly one of the big ones.

In the world of theatre, for male actors there are a number of benchmark roles, the title characters in Shakespeare’s tragedies and histories for example. There may be others, but most actors are pretty sure that if they can master the complexity of a Shakespearean tragic hero, they have achieved a recognized level of competence. There may be other roles, but few are as challenging in as many different ways as these very well-known members of royalty.

If both photography and theatre have benchmark activities, I wondered about other arts as well. This week I was out with a couple and asked what they would consider to be the test of ability in their respective disciplines that would be challenging enough to be attempted by only a few and mastered by even fewer. (She is a painter and he is a light tenor; both are professionals.) Without hesitation, she answered, “Nudes,” then went on to say that many artists consider nudes to be “so difficult they won’t even attempt them.” He named a couple of pieces, and explained that for each vocal range and each subdivision within the range (and they are quite numerous) the benchmarks would be different.

A cousin of mine who is equally phenomenal on piano or organ, named several “milestone” pieces for each instrument, some of which were difficult and respected for different reasons.

That’s the thing about benchmarks. There is rarely only one within a discipline. There may be several, one or more for each branch within a discipline. But most artists within that branch would probably agree on the two or three or however many there might be. It’s always material that demands great respect.

Still, artists in all disciplines hunger to perform the difficult pieces, make images of difficult subject matter, attempt the techniques that are the most challenging around. Is it because artists are competitive, even though they may be competing against themselves? Are they driven by the need to join the handful of predecessors who have mastered the nearly-impossible? Why would they waste their time to perform that which is so demanding, rather than that which might bring them income? Why bother?

Luis Galindo, currently performing the title role in Macbeth speaks very eloquently to this issue in a recent article for KCET’s “Artbound.” He talks about the issues that come with preparing for such a role, about his doubts and fears. Ultimately, for him, the work comes to be about artistic growth: “. . . the press will opine, and our fans will cheer or not. Through all of this, one thing is certain: I will have grown in every way as an actor because of this opportunity. An opportunity to mine the caves of darkness for the good stuff.”

In preparing for a benchmark performance, or photograph, or painting, or song, we have to bring our best game, we have to confront our self-doubt, we have to dig deep; more importantly, we have to grow. Otherwise, we will never achieve. And even if we fail, we will have benefited from the exploration and development that preparation for such a project entails.

Once again, it’s all about process.

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

Having a Workable Objective is Not Enough

Monday, 15. April 2013 0:32

Most actors use a tool called “objectives.” This tool can also called “goals” or “intentions” or several other names. Basically they all mean the same thing: what the character wants. The rationale is that if the actor knows what the character wants and actively seeks to attain that goal, he/she will be consistent and believable. Regardless of the school of acting to which the actor adheres, the notion of objectives as motivators is basic. So imagine my surprise when a few nights I saw a new play acted by experienced professionals and the lead seemed to be less than expert in using objectives. The friend who was with me said that the actor had no objective. I was of a different opinion; I thought that the actor had different objectives for each of the two acts and that she did not sufficiently establish the priorities of the character in the first act so the end of the play had far less impact than it might have done.

These are significant problems. Multiple, inconsistent, or missing objectives cause confusion since audience members cannot properly discern motivation and may have to conclude that the character has some sort of personality disorder that, for some reason, is not referenced by the script. Objectives that fail to establish the priorities of the character fail to support the overall movement of the play’s plot and theme, to say nothing of the character arc.

Now the actors among you may be saying that it’s not the actor’s job to establish things, particularly thematic things. The actor’s job is to create a character and, in a realistic play, make that character believable and consistent. If an actor, however, fails to create a unified character or creates a character that is with odds with obvious intention of the script, that actor may want to consider the direction he/she is taking the character.

The problem with objectives is that there is no one “right” objective. Some objectives are more right than others, but there is no single correct one. This is an area of interpretation. The only requirement is that the actor select an objective that can motivate him/her from the beginning to the end of the play, with a number of sub-objectives in between. All valid objectives are, of course, based on the script.

So it is possible for the actor to arrive at an objective that will, in fact, motivate the actions of the character throughout the play, but still not be the best objective possible. The best objective possible is one that will motivate the character, but which will also support the plot and theme and prepare the way for the character-related action as well as take into account the director’s interpretation of the show. Arriving at a proper objective is a complicated business that some actors struggle with and other embrace.

So it would seem that responsibility for developing the best possible objective falls squarely on the actor; it does. However, any director, even one directing seasoned professionals, should notice any problems and correct the actor’s course. The director must insure that all the actors are creating unified characters and are on the same page as the director with regard to the show’s meaning, atmosphere, and action. Without such consideration, we are likely to witness a directionless and fragmented performance.

It is that same with any collaborative, interpretive art. Each member of the team must be sure that he/she is consistent in terms of his/her contribution to the project and that he/she is moving in exactly the same direction as all the other artists involved in the project. Anything less is inappropriate, insufficient, and likely to cause the project to be far less than it might have been.

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

Creative Shortcuts: There are None

Monday, 25. February 2013 1:11

Occasionally a student who wants to become an actor without putting in the work that is necessary will show up in one of my classes. Contrary to the Hollywood myth machine, acting is not easy. In addition to having to take risks—often in front of hundreds of people, actors are required make their characters complex, interesting, unique, and spontaneous using only themselves. It’s complicated, difficult work, and, as in any art, the artist has to have to have a number of skills, many of which can be gained only through certain experiences. Unfortunately, some fledgling actors decide that having those experiences will take too long, and it will be easier to rely on the shortcuts they have used before.

Those shortcuts include paraphrasing, generating emotions out of air, forcing words at other actors for no particular reason, relying on charm rather than skill, among others. The results, of course, are weak, stiff, and lame at worst and simplistic and shallow at best.  Regrettably, due to the avalanche of compliments from friends and family, many do not understand that their work is substandard.

Having had limited exposure to the world and having had success at lower levels of performance with very little effort, they think that artistry just “comes naturally.” Why then would learning and work be necessary? And so their reliance on shortcuts continues—until they attempt to work at a higher level and encounter rejection. And while this tendency to shortcut has no real relationship to the individual’s level of talent, it often seems the result of having enough raw talent to have had some prior success.

This attempt to shortcut is not exclusive to actors or limited to students. It occurs in almost every area of art and involves all sorts of artists. These are the guys who are in love with the idea of being an artist, not necessarily with making art. So the details of manipulating tools and equipment, the nuances of technique become less important than the style with which one carries it off. This is probably found more in acting and music because of the lure of movie stardom and the concert stage.  But there are visual and plastic artists who have as much fame and money as rock stars. So the appeal is certainly understandable.

For students and non-students alike, the sad news is that there are no shortcuts. Creativity just doesn’t work that way. In fact, if you Google “creative shortcut,” you find—nothing, except links to keyboard shortcuts in programs used for creative work.  Creativity is slow, and sometimes painful. And while it does not rely completely on having certain skills acquired by experiencing certain things, as well as a thorough knowledge of tools and technique in the area of interest, having those things certainly aids the creator in realizing his/her vision, and allows that artist to create work that is complex, interesting, and unique.

Without the tools, techniques, and the skills to use them, artists are only imaginers, without a means of properly expressing their vision. There are tools that allow the artist to speed work more efficiently, to work faster, but these are not really creative shortcuts; they are, rather, improved techniques and more sophisticated technology, both of which allow the artist not to shortcut the work, but to do the same work with less time and effort.

Because of the enormous demands made on our time and energy, we are always looking for ways to streamline our workflow, to make our creation more efficient without making it less effective. Sometimes we are tempted, like those mentioned above, to seek out shortcuts. Unfortunately, anything that qualifies as a real shortcut will undercut the quality of our work, so in attempting to save a little time or effort we will sabotage our own art. It’s just not worth it.

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Do Better Work by Staying in the Moment

Sunday, 16. December 2012 23:47

Yoga instructors encourage their students to stay in the present moment during their practice. Actors work constantly to stay in the moment; most know that without the ability to live in the “eternal present,” their work will suffer. Dancers deal with the ongoing present in much the same way. Other artists sometimes experience “being in the moment” when they get into “flow.” The rest of the world simply disappears while the artist’s entire being is engaged in creation.

The post, “Art as Salvation–Creating ‘in Flow’” explored the characteristics of flow provided by the originator of the term, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, but they bear repeating:

  1. intense and focused concentration on the present moment
  2. merging of action and awareness
  3. a loss of reflective self-consciousness
  4. a sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity
  5. a distortion of temporal experience, one’s subjective experience of time is altered
  6. experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding, also referred to as autotelic experience

It is easy to see the benefits of such a practice, whether it is on a yoga mat or on a stage or at an easel or at a computer. You will be more creative; the work will be easier; and you are more likely to produce good work. That should be enough, but there are other benefits as well. If you are living in the present, the past and the future cease to exist. While this is a necessity for actors, it is not the standard state of being for most of us. But just think of being free from anxiety and worry, two conditions that are not only crippling to creativity, but also interfere with simply living.

It works quite logically: if you are existing fully in the present moment, you have no awareness of either the future or the past. Without referencing the past, there can be no worry; you cannot be concerned over what happened yesterday if you are fully concentrating on today. Likewise, your anxiety about what is going to happen tomorrow disappears if you are so involved in now that you do not really register the future.

Of course, there are times when we need to reference both the past and the future, but there is no advantage to dwelling in either place, and much benefit in returning to the present as soon as possible. When we are not distracted by what we think will happen or what has happened, we get to enjoy where we are and what we are doing much more fully. Because we are not distracted by mental static, we become those who are fully and completely engaged in the conversation, the sale, the intimate moment, the creation of art.

Many who create drift into flow naturally—when they are creating—and so for a time live in the present. But it never occurs to them to employ it the rest of the time. It stays contextualized as part of the creative process—and it is a very important part, but it could be very useful to be able to generalize this skill to life. The good news is that this ability can be learned. Once learned, it can then be applied to any situation, not just creativity. Mostly it takes identifying the factors required to stay in the present moment and then putting them into practice. And then, as with any skill, practice, and practice, and practice. Constant “flow” is not the goal, but rather existing in fully in the moment.

And that can be both beneficial and exhilarating. Yoga instructors often advise their students to “take yoga off the mat.” A variant of this advice for artists would be “take the first element of flow out of the studio.” (Some of the other elements may follow, but that’s just a bonus). Your world and your work will be better.

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

The Artist’s Ego

Monday, 15. October 2012 0:35

Scratch an artist and, in a great number of cases, you will find self-doubt and insecurity. This is far different from the image of the artist that circulates in the media, that of an arrogant, conceited, individual who is sure that his/her vision of the world is the only correct one. As Jon Pareles has said in the New York Times, “Artists are… stubborn egomaniacs who are mysteriously – and sometimes correctly – certain that the world needs to know all about the figments of their imaginations and who gear their lives to getting those figments into circulation.

In theatre we spend a good deal of time encouraging egotistical behavior. It is necessary to an actor’s survival.  First comes the audition, where actors have to adopt the attitude, “you can’t possibly do this show without me.” And then, once cast, their job is, in part, to say to the audience, “look at me; look at me.” This done correctly we call presence, and we applaud those who have it.

At the same time we try moderate overweening egotism on the part of any theatre artist. No actor or director or designer works alone. Theatre is a collaborative effort, and nothing is more off-putting than the performer who “believes his own press,” who is sure that he/she is superior to those with whom he/she works. This behavior is particularly repugnant in actors (or any other artists) who think they know more than they actually do and want to trumpet their superiority to the world.

What can be said of actors can be said equally of any artist, collaborative or not. Many less-secure artists have been advised by friends and colleagues to “put it out there” in order to make their work better-known and achieve sales. At the same time we all know artists who are certain that they are the most creative person to walk the planet and whose work is far superior to anything that has come before or will come in the future, and who will tell you so at any opportunity.

There is no doubt that to make art and show it to an audience requires ego. You have to have that “look at what I made” mentality. Unfortunately, this often leads to “what I made is the finest thing that was ever made and I am the finest maker who ever was.” Sometimes this is a case of self-confidence gone out of control. Other times it’s an attempt to conceal a deep-seated insecurity and anxiety. Regardless of the causes, such an attitude can diminish the audience’s respect not only for the artist but for his/her work.

The working artist needs need self-confidence tempered with a healthy dash of humility. This is not just about how we are perceived; it’s about an approach that keeps us focused on our work instead of on ourselves. We must overcome our insecurities in order to create and display our work with confidence and, at the same time, remember that too much pride can get in the way of creating the very work of which we are so proud. We must remember that both ends of the ego spectrum are about ourselves and not about our art, and take steps to avoid those extremes. As Ram Dass has said, “the Ego is an exquisite instrument. Enjoy it, use it – just don’t get lost in it.”

Category:Creativity, Theatre | Comments (2) | Author:

Stop Agonizing Over Artistic Choices

Sunday, 9. September 2012 22:49

While many of us worry, belabor, and delay in making choices, Malcolm Gladwell in Blink, encourages us to trust “rapid cognition,” the ability to make judgments about people and situations in two seconds. It is what most of us call instinct or intuition. Gladwell does not care for the word intuition, because he considers intuition an emotional response. Instead, he makes the case that what we are doing when we meet someone for the first time, or respond to an item for sale is taking in information and making rational decisions very, very quickly.

Gladwell may well be right. Many artistic choices are made very rapidly. I constantly tell actors that although they often are given a full minute or more to do an audition, most directors have made up their minds in the first fifteen seconds. Occasionally, an actor will do something later in an audition that will arouse the interest of the auditor, but those occasions are rare. What most directors will have decided in that short amount of time is whether they think they will want to use this person in the current production. They may well make the final decision during callbacks, but the initial cut is made very quickly.

Whether casting a show or selecting a piece of art, once the initial decision or set of decisions is made, most of us waste a good deal of time doing one of three things: (1) pretending that we have not decided anything at all and going through our conscious decision-making processes to arrive at the same conclusion we have already made, (2) trying to justify the decision by finding “acceptable” reasons, or (3) trying to articulate to ourselves why we have made the decision we have made. It only complicates matters when we have to articulate the reasons for our decisions to others.

For example, casting a show is a very complicated business that involves not only how good a particular actor seems to be—considering all the things that cause an actor to be “good,” but how that actor will fit with other actors auditioning for the same show to create the best possible ensemble for the best possible show, given the current circumstances. If the director can trust his/her initial decisions, rather than engaging in any of the three activities mentioned, life is far less difficult.

Because I work in educational theatre, I have to give actors critiques on their auditions. In advising an actor what he/she could have done to have improved his/her chances of getting a role in this production—and, by extension, improve chances for getting a role in the next production, I am sometimes forced to address those things that I considered when making casting decisions.  It is a difficult thing because so much of that decision-making is out of consciousness. I find that I almost have to relive the audition to slow everything down and discover what I was thinking so I can then verbalize it.

Some decisions do not seem to come so quickly: some set designers fret over where to put the chair; some costumers or fashion designers can’t decide whether the outfit needs a belt or not; some painters have difficulty picking the right shade of blue for the piece on the easel.  Just recently, for instance, I was having difficulty in deciding which photographic image to include in an upcoming show. I could see merits in both and was switching back and forth, unable to come to a conclusion. Deciding to discuss it with a friend, I realized, once I started verbalizing the reasons for my thinking, that there were a number considerations involved in the choice and that my initial choice had taken those into account and been the correct one all along. Had I trusted my original choice, I could have saved a great deal of time and angst.

Gladwell says that he wants people to take rapid cognition seriously and that doing so would change our lives. Perhaps it would. Some of us already do this—some of the time. But other times we get lost in self-doubt and second-guessing our processes.   Perhaps we could do better work and even be more productive if we stopped agonizing over every artistic choice and allowed ourselves to trust in our own quick decision-making abilities.

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