When I went back to college ten years ago, it was to make myself qualified to do what I had already been doing for 48 years. I had not only been in shows for that long, but had taken classes at 3 different universities. Somehow I still didn’t really feel qualified to do what I wanted to do- community theatre- so I decided to get a degree in theatre to feel worthy.
I am about to embark on a very different theatre journey. Putting together a socially distanced play in a short time frame has already been different in how I approach blocking, the set design and how to handle the actors during rehearsal. It has also made me look at how much I learn every time I approach a new project.
There are those people in the world who already think they know everything. Whatever subject you throw out for discussion, they already know all of the answers and have the “right” opinions. Those kind of people used to drive me crazy. Now I just feel sorry for them.
Are there experts in this world on certain subjects? Absolutely! Although they are often the first to admit they don’t know it all, even in their area of expertise. They don’t claim to know everything about everything and rarely claim to know even a fraction about their own field of study. They are smart enough to realize that there is always so much more we can discover and learn.
I’ve had to deal with lots of “armchair quarterbacks” lately. People who know it all and are quick to tell you what to do, how to do it and where you are failing. I admit- I fail everyday! Big time! EVERY DAY!!
I have to say though, that it gets to me when people who pretty obviously know less than I do on a subject, tell me what I should do. And it also gets to me when I am working to learn and do my best and they jump in, unsolicited I might add, to step all over what I am doing so diligently and methodically.
SORRY! I have gotten off on a tangent! This is not where I was going, although I do feel sorry for people who don’t realize that it is hard to learn something new and make interesting discoveries about things (including yourself) when you don’t listen to anyone else because you think you already know it all. One of my issues is probably that I listen to others TOO much, even when I feel pretty sure I am headed in the right direction.
When we were kids, most of us heard that we could become anything we wanted in life. “Anyone can grow up to be president!” many heard. (I mostly heard what I couldn’t do, but that is a story for another time, probably for my next therapy session!)
I saw a story yesterday on Game Day about a guy who, as a third grader, would go out during play time and run around the play ground in very specific laps. He would stop occasionally to do some push ups or to do squats. As the other kids played catch together or played on the swings and monkey bars, he would run and work out alone.
After a few days of this, the teacher called him over, fussed at him and told him to sit with her as punishment. He told her he was working out because someday he wanted to play football. He told her that he had heard that you had to work out and be in good shape if you ever wanted to play in the NFL.
The teacher laughed at him and told him he could never play football, he was too small, much smaller than the other kids. She told him he needed to forget that idea and just play like the other children. He did quit working out during recess, but continued at home. He knew that she was wrong, that he could be whatever he wanted if he worked hard enough.
Today, he plays in the NFL.
What most of us usually heard as kids should be true- we can grow up to be whatever we want to be and should not be stopped because of our race, gender, religion or zip code. We should all have equal opportunity to become what we want to in life.
In that sentence is the tricky little word that now seems to be the forgotten part of that message. That word is “become”.
That NFL player couldn’t just one day decide to join the NFL- he had to work for it. He had to make himself ready to “become” what he dreamed of being. He started in THIRD GRADE making himself qualified.
For a couple of years, I worked with a group of kids in an after school program trying to teach them a little about acting. There were a few who seemed to have some aptitude and who showed a little interest. Most of them had no interest whatsoever!
Eventually, I saw that the couple of kids who had a tiny bit of interest, weren’t interested in acting, they were interested in being famous. When I tried to talked to them about what it took to get to the point of being a recognized actor, they actually laughed at me. Even after I showed them that one of their favorite actors from their very favorite TV show had multiple acting degrees from ivy league universities, they still thought that they didn’t need to learn or do anything except dream of being famous!
They could not see that work, preparation, and a real passion for what they were doing was what would lead to a real career in acting. I have to say, I eventually gave up, when I realized they would never believe me and had absolutely no desire to do any real work.
I don’t feel like I was just born ready to act. I did plays but didn’t feel qualified. I took a dozen or more classes, yet still didn’t feel qualified. I had to work to become qualified at what I felt that I wanted to do. While no one could have stopped me, (and some people tried) I had to put in the work. Just having a desire to act was not all it took.
I felt the need to study, to go through what I had to do to get the diploma and prove to myself I had a moderate amount of knowledge to begin to work in the field I loved. I continued to learn and that set me on the road to becoming qualified.
If someone has a compassionate heart and is not squeamish, they aren’t automatically a doctor. If they have a head for contracts and forms, a love of fairness and the law, and get accepted into law school, they aren’t automatically a lawyer (I did all of that and yet somehow I am not defending anyone in court- but I have played a lawyer on stage!!) To become a doctor or lawyer, people take their personalities and talents through lots of schooling and internships in order to become qualified doctors and lawyers.
I have a friend who decided to go back to school to study social work. She had a degree in something else, but thought social work was her calling for her second act in life. Before she could go to graduate school to study social work, she had to do undergrad work to qualify herself for the change in course. After a few classes to bring her up to speed, she enrolled in grad school and is on her way to becoming qualified.
Lately, people seem alright electing people who are not qualified. They remember hearing that “anyone can be president” and it gives them comfort that if anyone can do it, maybe that means they could, too! But they forget the “becoming” part. It shouldn’t just be the getting elected part, (although that is on us that we don’t make sure candidates know what they will be doing!) but the learning they need to do to qualify themselves. Yes, anyone of any background can become whatever they want, they just have to want it badly enough and for long enough to become qualified to do the job.
Not paying any attention to the workings of government for your whole life, including not even bothering to vote, does not qualify you to run for office. When an issue abruptly lands in your front yard and you have a vested interest, that does not automatically make you qualified. Being in government means caring about everyone’s interest, not just your own. If you didn’t care enough before to even vote, I have to question your motives now. Not being engaged through the myriad of processes involved in running a city, state or country until you find one issue you suddenly care about, doesn’t get it in my book.
If the person running doesn’t have the good sense to know that they are not qualified, that they have not taken the path to understand what it is they are asking us to trust them to do, then it is our job to be the barrier that stops them. It is our job as voters to question them, research them and then not vote for them if they have not taken the steps to become qualified.
The middle school kids I tried to teach acting to thought that you just put yourself on YouTube and suddenly you are famous. Unfortunately, they have seen exactly that happen and they think that is the norm. (They never really wanted to be actors, just famous!)
We have also seen people who have no clue what running a government entails get elected and some people think that is fine. (I worry every day about both the kids who want to just be famous for nothing in particular and the people who want to be in charge with no clue as to what they are in charge of. I did think that at least doctors, lawyers and other professionals wouldn’t come down to that, but lately even medical experts get pushed aside when they try to share their expertise!! People are listening to the unqualified instead. Scary!)
It is our duty to do our job to become intelligent voters and vote for people who not only have the talent and the passion and the drive, but have gone through the steps to earn our trust and support.
The play I am about to direct will be another journey, another learning experience. The current pandemic will make it a more difficult and interesting odyssey for those of us who are going to take it. I will listen to people much smarter than I am so as to stay safe and do what I can to assure everyone involved walks out healthy and fulfilled. In the process, I hope to share a story that is not only the funniest script I have ever read, but makes the point that we need to be equipped to do our jobs, that we need to be real, authentic and qualified. That whether we learn from experience, schooling, or hopefully a combination of both, we need to be ready to face the challenges that a profession will present us.
I feel like with all of the now 58 years of theatre experience, the BFA in musical theatre and the hands on practice and classes to qualify me to direct, I am having to once again learn and train to handle this new challenge of directing during a pandemic.
Keeping people distanced, (except for two couples in the cast who can be close to each other) wearing masks and staying after the cast leaves every night to Lysol the chairs and wipe down the props with Clorox wipes, are all new parts of my directing routine. I have to be honest, I have not succeeded 100% of the time. OK, OK, I probably haven’t succeeded 50% of the time!! But I am getting better and it is becoming more routine and easier to remember the new normal.
Hopefully, these will be lessons I will learn and some day be able to forget (kind of like the chemistry I took in college!) Hopefully this will be a time that we look back on someday and say, “Remember when we did that play where we had to stand at least 6 feet apart through the whole show and Marietta actually assigned us seats that we had to stay in when we weren’t on stage like we were three year olds!!” And we will laugh!!
For today, I have to get this right. For now, I have to hope that what I am learning is to be able to be creative with whatever parameters I am handed and make it work. For now I have to know that I have people who are trusting me to lead and take care of them. It weighs on me, but it makes me proud that we are all willing to try.
It takes me one step closer to hopefully becoming qualified enough to one day say that I can direct good theatre and actually believe it.