Here I am at the end of November saying, “Huh?!? Where did all the time go?”
Last week I taught a workshop on How to Write a 10 Minute Play. As an experiment, every activity in the workshop lasted exactly ten minutes (and yes, I used my timer on my iPhone 5 to ensure exactly ten minutes). The students did a 10 minute warm-up, I gave a 10 minute intro,the 24 of them pitched their play ideas 10 times to 10 directors (60 seconds each), followed by a 10 minute writing session of their opening scene, 10 minutes to rehearse, 10 minutes of performances, and finally 10 minutes of debriefing after each activity. The point was to feel how short and how long 10 minutes can be. As expected some of these 10 minute segments were far too short, and others were painfully long.
It’s been almost 10 months since I retired. Since then I trekked through jungles and cloud forests, rappelled down waterfalls, and drank beer while sitting in hot springs in Costa Rica. I dog-sat three chihuahuas in San Francisco, made friends with tattooed ex-cons at the Delancy Street Project, and did a Thelma and Louise road trip around the rest of the state of California. Our textbook entitled Rattling the Stage, was published. I attended four days of intense workshops at Directors Lab North. I joined a company of transmedia story-tellers via The Mission Business and performed with them in an extended five month theatrical adventure including at the Toronto Fringe, Nuit Blanche and the Evergreen Brickworks. I was a caretaker-turned-chief-of-a-militia in an end-of-the world-apocalyptic-pandemic-with-interactive-audience-and-online-followers scenario. That was fun. I wrote a play. I met at a speed-dating match up with new playwrights in order to direct a show for the New Ideas Festival next March. I got my website (www.janetkish.ca) set up. I started this blog. I designed and now have my very own business cards and I guess my own freelance business as an independent artist. I am writing a curriculum support document for our book that will be finished by the next few week (hallelujah for that!) I got my NEXUS card and drove to Buffalo just to have lunch. I adjudicated a Canadian play festival and have agreed to adjudicate for Sears Drama Festival in early 2013. I started teaching master class workshops. I joined Eclat-Arts to be a guest artist next July. I began privately coaching young actors who plan to audition for post-secondary theatre schools. I’ve reconnected with many former students who are all grown up, long lost friends and relatives who I hadn’t seen in years. I’m taking pottery classes and went to a firing range with real live zombie hunters to learn how to shoot guns. Huzzah! I’ve applied for multiple opportunities to participate in theatre festivals and labs across North America and have begun to receive my “Thank you, but no thank you letters.” I went to a wedding of the daughter of a good friend of I’ve known since she was a baby and watched proudly as her mother and her father walked her down the aisle. Last week, I attended a memorial of another friend who died unexpectedly and far too young.
Whether we like it or not, first impressions have a great weight in how others will perceive us not only now but also in the future. When you as a theatre student first walk into a studio, classroom, workshop or rehearsal, your instructor, director, fellow company members and/or classmates will form opinions about you based on what you do and what you say.
Often, students try to impress others with their talent, skill and how often and to what extent they’ve performed before. Obviously, if you were accepted into theatre school, you’ve already proved that you have something. What your instructors are looking for now is not what you’ve learned or done in the past. They want to know what you have to give right now and for next two to four years. Are you there to learn? Can you learn? Are you open? Are you courageous? Are you confident? Are you truthful? Are you humble? Are you personable? Will you take risks? Are you an ensemble player?
What you do in the first month will determine much of your success in the next few years. These are the impressions you want to create:
You Know You Don’t Know Everything You Need to Know About Theatre: Regardless of how accomplished an actor you think you are and as much as you think you know – your knowledge is limited. You are studying theatre because you are there to learn not to show off. Your instructors are there to teach. Don’t brag. Don’t grandstand. Don’t argue with your instructor. Don’t show disinterest. And whatever you do, don’t read or send text messages in the middle of class. Come with an open mind, prepared to learn. Focus. Take notes. Ask questions. Show your professors your passion and your hunger.
You Know How to Listen: Listening is an art. It’s one of the most crucial skills you need to develop as a theatre student and an actor. Active listening requires that you hear, absorb and process. It shapes and defines what and how you perceive and communicate. You need to actively listen to your instructor, your director, your S.M., your fellow students and all of the company members, on stage and off. In rehearsal and performance, your character must also practice active listening. Yes, you as the actor may listen for cues, but more importantly, your character must be listening to what is being spoken because this is the first time (every time) your the character has heard the dialogue. No matter how talented you are, you can’t fake active listening.
You Give Respect: Constantin Stanislavsky wrote “Love the art in yourself, not yourself in the art.” You respect Theatre because you know it is an noble tradition and an ancient rite, far greater than we will ever be. In order to show that respect, you must be sincerely interested in the art and want to learn more about its history, theory and practice. You have already read many scripts, attended a number of good plays (and not simply pop culture films and/or flashy Mc’Musicals), you’ve read review and essays about theatre,and you think about it too. This respect is also demonstrated toward the other members of your community – playwrights, directors, technicians, theatre instructors, fellow students and last but not least for your audience. You are always punctual for classes and rehearsals and you’re prepared to work and to learn while you’re there.
You Are Gracious and Personable: Good manners and common courtesy are valued by everyone, and often a simple please and thank and pleasant tone will earn you many credits in the impressions department. Being gracious also means being generous. No-one wants to work with a self-absorbed and selfish actor. Be they type of artist that others want to work with. Theatre is not a vacuum; its lifeforce however, is created by the energy and chemistry BETWEEN characters. Focusing on your scene partners as opposed to yourself, and providing them with the energy and emotion they need, will not only enhance your own performance but also the entire production. You also know how to take notes and criticism with grace. You know those notes are being given to help you, so you listen, absorb, process and then do your best to apply them.
You Are a Risk-Taker: Some artists only do what they do well and stay well-within their comfort zone. Their work tends to be predictable, if not bland. Risk-takers, on the other hand have the artistic courage and confidence to constantly challenge themselves. They’re unafraid to try new techniques and methods – driving their work to deeper and more profound places. They explore and they experiment. They dive into the unattractive or underwritten roles with the same gusto and audacity as they do with the the principal roles. By diving into the swamp head first, these actors risk self-exposure, criticism and even failure. But when they fail, they get back up, shake off the muck and try something else. They continue to grow and develop and surprise us. Their courage usually brings about breathtaking results. Their work is fresh, original and filled with a vibrant life-force we call the “it factor”. Risk-takers have the courage to be truthful and open, to expose their hearts and share their fears. Risk-takers stand out because of their energy. They excite us; they are special and we never forget them.
You Are Mindful: According to Psychology Today “Mindfulness is the state of active, open attention on the present.” This is one of the most difficult skills to learn. It takes a great deal of time, discipline and training to learn how to be and stay in the moment. When on stage, the mind tends to race in a million different directions. Lesser actors think about their lines, cues, blocking, audience reactions and what they’re having for breakfast tomorrow. All that gunk needs to be removed from your mind when you perform. One way to get there is to be properly prepared and rehearsed, so you can let the technical aspects of acting go on auto-pilot, Then you can be truly in the moment and in character. This is not a skill most people have, and once they do, it needs to be nurtured and maintained. Many actors do yoga and mediation on regular basis so they can better reach a state of mindfulness. True mindfulness creates a character that is authentic, truthful, vibrant and magnetic. It is a skill to work toward.
You Are Flexible: There are some things we do better than others. Some are stronger with physical theatre than text, and the opposite is true for others. In theatre school you will be learning about all the facets of different acting styles from classical, modern and post-modern sources. You will most likely take classes in Shakespeare, clowning, dance, voice, method acting, improvisation, combat…… One instructor will ask you do something one way, and your next director will ask you to do something completely opposite. The theatre student who stands out is the one who can adapt and adjust accordingly to the different demands being made on her or him. Your directors and instructors are looking for artists who want to learn and want to grow. Be that person.