The quotation below is from Seth Godin’s fabulous book The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly? and it illustrates the way our preconceptions about “the way theater is done” (those things I’ve asked you to temporarily forget) can be an obstacle to sharing our gifts:
Someone Else’s Dreams: A True Story
Sarah loves to perform musical theater. She loves the energy of being onstage, the flow of being in the moment, the frisson of feeling the rest of the troupe in sync as she moves. And yet . . . And yet Sarah spends 98 percent of her time trying to be picked. She goes to casting calls, sends out head shots, follows every lead. And then she deals with the heartbreak of rejection, of being hassled or seeing her skills disrespected. All so she can be in front of the right audience. Which audience is the right one? The audience of critics and theatergoers and the rest of the authorities. After all, that’s what musical theater is. Its pinnacle is at City Center and on Broadway, and if she’s lucky, Ben Brantley from the Times will be there and Baryshnikov will be in the audience and the reviewers will like her show and she might even get mentioned. All so she can do it again.
This is her agent’s dream and the casting agency’s dream and the director’s dream and the theater owner’s dream and the producer’s dream. It’s a dream that gives money to those who want to put on the next show and gives power to the professionals who can give the nod and, yes, pick someone. But wait. Sarah’s joy is in the dance. It’s in the moment. Her joy is in creating flow. Strip away all the cruft and what we see is that virtually none of the demeaning work she does to be picked is necessary. What if she performs for the “wrong” audience? What if she follows Banksy’s lead and takes her art to the street? What if she performs in classrooms or prisons or for some (sorry to use air quotes here) “lesser” audience? Who decided that a performance in alternative venues for alternative audiences wasn’t legitimate dance, couldn’t be real art, didn’t create as much joy, wasn’t as real? Who decided that Sarah couldn’t be an impresario and pick herself?Seth Godin, The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly?
I was struck recently by a couple tweets in my Twitter feed reminding me about the buzz of attending a play at a high school, and the sheer amount of unalloyed joy flowing from the stage, and the strength of the connection between the stage and the friends and family in the audience. Rarely is the production great in and of itself, of course, but the sheer enthusiasm emanating from the stage more than makes up for the lack of slickness. It was so powerful that I would sometimes, when I was feeling particularly frustrated or defeated about my career, seek out an area high school performance just to remember why I got involved in the first place. And I would always leave recharged.
Think back to when you fell in love with the theater. Maybe it started with some magical performance you attended, or a production you participated in. Remember what it felt like to do theater simply for the love of doing it, before you were taught to think about careers and resumes and portfolios and all the other things that make up the life of a professional. Before people told you what you needed to do to “make a living” at doing this. And before you were told that theater was only valuable if you were performing in the “right” place to the “right” people.
When you just did it because it made you feel something you wanted to feel as often as possible.
Neither Seth Godin nor I are suggesting that there is something “wrong” with loving life in NYC enough that you want to create a life and a career there. That love of place is beautiful, and should not be denied. A problem arises when the belief that a particular place is all that is important hampers your opportunity to share your gifts.
The answer to Godin’s questions–“Who decided that a performance in alternative venues for alternative audiences wasn’t legitimate dance, couldn’t be real art, didn’t create as much joy, wasn’t as real? Who decided that Sarah couldn’t be an impresario and pick herself?”–is that a story has grown up to support the world created by the Theatrical Syndicate, a story that is now taught in schools and universities and broadcast by TV and movies and biographies. It’s a powerful story, but there are others that can be just as thrilling.
I’ll share one tomorrow.
<– forget everything (for now)