For Mother’s Day, my guys got me a year long subscription to Master Class, a group of lessons/ talks from successful people on almost any subject you can imagine.
Being a person who constantly wants to learn something new, I have toyed with the idea of going back to school- again. I applied and was accepted to law school a few years ago but then my mom died and all of the wind just went out of my sails. I have thought of getting my MFA, but the thought of commuting even further than I did last time for school makes me weary.
I hope to do some seminars and other advanced learning someday, but for now these small lessons online are very interesting.
For my first master class, I listened to Steve Martin talk about comedy for several hours. I have no plan to be a stand up comic which was his major focus, but I did find a lot of what he said encouraging and enlightening. It made me feel that some of the things I do and ways that I feel are not totally off the mark.
Although I have no plan to do stand up, the idea of what is funny and how to go about being funny, is very useful as a director and an actor. Martin’s instruction to make notes about everything, notice everything and use everything, fit in with my ideas (which I have expressed before in this blog) that going out and observing the world, living life and experiencing things around you to the fullest is some of the best training an actor can ask for.
He also said that those that succeed think about their craft all of the time. He used hosting the Oscars as an example. He was asked to host in October and said that although the ceremony was in March, he thought about it immediately and nonstop for those 6 months. He made notes about ideas and jokes and anything that hit him as possibly useful for that event.
When I have gotten asked to be a part of a production, I start my process immediately. If directing, I try to get a cast assembled ASAP so I can do all of my work with certain people in mind. When I daydream about an idea for the show, I want to envision the actual people who will be in those roles. If I am given a role in a show, I immediately begin research and start working on ideas to try. I have always thought I was too intense, too driven, but Martin made me feel that it was not only alright to be so focused, it was preferable.
He suggested that we not be so afraid to define our tastes. What we like, what we find funny or entertaining is valid. If we stay true to what we want, then our audience knows what to expect from us and will come to share our “tastes”, our selections. People are learning what I tend to direct and what my sense of humor is like and they come to see that. That doesn’t mean I won’t try other things sometimes, but it means that I can trust what I like and do that.
There are directors in town that I always want to see their work and those I tend to shy away from. I know who will have a cluttered stage and who will do a show with the minimum of props, focusing more on the actors. I know who will be lavish with costumes and who will try something unusual. I have learned who I want to share an evening with and when I need to stay home.
Steve Martin discussed the importance of every moment on stage. Everything matters! Again, I felt validated when I take so much time to be sure there aren’t big lags between scenes, that the music between scenes has meaning, that whatever the audience does have to see between the scenes doesn’t destroy the illusion we have created, the world the characters are living in. Every moment matters.
Most learning happens on stage- we can talk about it, read about it, write about it all day, but actually doing it is when we will learn the most. And you have to be willing to fail miserably. Martin quoted the end of his autobiography saying, “Being alone onstage is the ego’s last stand.”
Putting yourself out there, standing onstage, leaves you feeling vulnerable. It is not the place for an ego that won’t let you fail, that won’t allow you to look silly, to take chances. He mentions that most comedians are actually introverts and they stand on stage alone because it feels dangerous, it is exciting and it pulls them out of themselves.
I know I, and most of the people I admire in the local theatre world, are introverts. We struggle to put ourselves out there. When I see someone I know who tends to shrink or hide in real life, suddenly blossom as they perform, it makes me happy.
This makes me think of one friend I have who is so quiet and understated in his day to day life. He is probably one of the funniest people I know, although he doesn’t try to put on about how funny he is all of the time. He just is. He is also a gifted musician. I got to see him perform one song with a fairly famous band in front of several thousand people at the BJCC concert hall once.
When he came out and began to perform, I was not sure who I was seeing although I knew exactly who it was. The joy and charisma that came off the stage was not only surprising, it made me about as happy as I have ever been. I knew I was looking at a joyful soul who was expressing a part of himself that I had never seen before and it was exhilarating!
People who have to tell you how great they are, usually aren’t. If you are talented, if you have that joy when you perform, words are not needed- it shows! People who have to constantly tell me what all they have done and how great they are seem suspect to me. I constantly hear people say that theatre is their life. Really?? If theatre is your life, show me! Be on time, know your lines, try new things, put yourself out there, be generous with the other people working on the production, spend hours doing research and rehearsing at home. That shows me it is your life, saying it to me over and over means nothing. Being deeply invested and spending every spare moment getting better shows me what theatre really means to you.
Finding that joy and sharing it with an audience is a feeling like no other, if that is what you are meant to do. Martin shares ways to find that part of yourself, to realize that being conventional is not really a good thing, and to feel free to unapologetically be who you are.
I am excited to take other master classes from the likes of Ron Howard and Annie Leibovitz, but I really feel even more of a pull to get back in a theatre now and try some new ideas. I mostly feel encouraged to trust myself more, to know that my ideas and approaches are not only valid, but shared by someone who has been very successful in several different areas of entertainment.
Sometimes, it only takes a spark from someone who can cut through the noise to help you relight the passion that is inside of you. Now all I need is for life to give me that opportunity again. In the meantime I will try to continue to learn and grow.