So, I spend the better part of an hour last night on the phone with the student I talked about yesterday, who had gone on to pursue an education and a career in theatre and the arts. He had been just been 'let go' from a directorial job in an unnamed Midwestern city, and needed to talk about it. As we were talking, he told me that I was the major reason he decided to pursue this career, and now he had been fired from a major assignment. I didn't exactly panic, but I did momentarily have that thought of "Oh my God, I've helped propel this young man into a world of madness…" Of course, ultimately, he made the decision of pursuit not I, but I did wonder what exactly it was that took him there. Of course we reminisced about those theatre adventures so many years ago, and he said several things that struck me. The first, he said, was that I was the first person who took his dream seriously, and that I told him he had talent and his instincts were very good. (motivation) Then, I suppose, it was the collective makings of theatre adventures, all difficult, but ultimately fulfilling. (experience) Now, I'm talking about this because it's both heady and disturbing at the same time. As a teacher, I know that there are certain moments that are as powerful as anything life has to offer, and if the circumstances are right, that moment, those words spoken, that action taken, can change the trajectory of a life forever. It doesn't mean that your circumstances in life will always be met with the same addition of words and actions. Although I was invigorated by his words, in my present condition especially, I wondered if my advice was sound and were my own instincts good in assessing this young man's dream? I don't know. More questions. Obviously, he had the desire before he ever walked through the doors, and I remember him as very talented if not a little stubborn and cocky, not a bad combination for an actor. He did have the ingredients to possibly go the distance, but for any of us in the profession of entertainment, talent is never enough. Bette Davis said to survive and be successful in show business was more about ambition than talent. She obviously had both. There is, of course, timing, location, history, economics, likeability, genetics, and all these things that are somewhat essential for a successful career. I recently watched a documentary on Joan Baez, who happened to be living in Cambridge at the exact time that the folk movement in the late fifties was getting started. For so many reasons, she was there to electrify her audience with her talent, of course, but more importantly, she found her fate and calling at the perfect moment, at that pre-tipping point. She was the right age, had the right look, and amazing parental support, etc. This is not to take away from the also very important aspect of her ambition and discipline, but she was and is, an amazing success story in so many ways. Who can say what it is that constitutes these variables lining up so finely? Watching my World War II documentaries by Ken Burns, so many of the interviews by these elderly veterans are keyed in on the 'why did I live' component, when my brother did not? It seems a simple allegory, but its really not, two men running up a hill, one is shot and is killed and the other lives to return and live out his life, the other is buried. I don't know why this happens, but I do know its part of living life on life's terms, that a purpose driven life is never what you expect it to be. Life's energy, no matter how great it exists in any person, is never enough in itself for a successful life. But it's also why there is comfort in the relative term of success. Living a life of purpose, or fulfilling a dream will never be what you expected it to be, I reiterate. I'll also add, that even if you know and understand these things, you could chase the elusiveness of the perfect vortex for the whole of your life, much like a dog chases its tale. How seemingly sad it sometimes feels, to answer your calling but never find your flock. Each time you arrive at the designated place, they have left hours ago, or maybe days, or maybe…years.
He distinctly remembered when I told him that all of directing is a dispersing of energy. A good director has to immediately read people as they come into rehearsal and take the energy they are bringing in and to rearrange it, and multiply it. Yes, I said, that is correct, especially if your actors have not given up their day jobs. Theatre is an interesting art form I might add here, because no matter the discipline, no matter the repetition, you are never going to have the same performance twice. A painting when it is finished will be exactly the same when you see it next time. You might see it differently, but the physical properties of the painting will remain the same. In theatre, the physical properties of the same play on the same canvas will never be the same, its impossible. It is magical, however, for this very reason. But yes, "you read the energy and you rearrange it." You watch behavior, you listen, you change things physically in your performers, and, you find the opening for encouragement. If a director can do this, then each rehearsal will be a transformational experience, and you will gain the trust of your performers. The dispersing of this energy will give the play its movement, its style, its form, and ultimately, its power. Great performers know the value of opening themselves up to this rearrangement of energy, others will simply resist it. Sounds simple, doesn't it?
He also told me that one day he came in early for workshop and I was in the theatre playing my guitar. I was alone in the theatre, playing songs that I had written, and he said, that as the other actors showed up for class, I didn't stop playing, but continued as they sat in the seats of the theatre. He said that he has never forgotten that moment, because, he said, I was teaching that a great performance can come at any moment. The truth is I don't remember the exact moment he was talking about. I did often prepare for teaching a workshop with a half hour session singing with the guitar, but had no idea it was having that impact. It did, however, strike me last night as he said this was that I was having some impact that I had no idea I was having, rearranging my own energy. This is what performers become addicted to. And if you experience enough of it, nothing you can find in your life can compare to it, and therefore nothing can take you away from it. And if you do it consistently enough, it will create a pattern in your brain that will cause you to pursue it until you cannot even stand, or live. In my own experience, I see and understand people who do it occasionally, who do not succumb to its addictive nature, but I also see people who choose not to pursue it because of the great fear it can also induce. For most performers, security is something that only comes to a small percentage of them, and I do mean a very small percentage.
Listen, I can only change my circumstances, or rearrange my energy right now in very small ways, but I do work on those small things every day, even when I'm low. I write because when I'm not performing or getting ready to perform, I know that it can give me the magical feeling of performance sitting at a kitchen table at my brother's house, without gas money to even get down the street. There are two sayings in this business, "You are only as good as the last thing you did, and, what have you done for me lately…" They are clichés, and are somewhat the same, but are so for a reason. As we age, the energy level of life's force begins to dissipate, and so we are met with the reality of a more complicated rearranging, but its still possible, but not without support, and not without creating a collective energy that is not relegated to having to be a singular force of nature. I really think that trying to be a force of nature without sufficient variables to accompany my actions caused some damage to my mind and body, and this is what I'm looking at, this is what I'm pondering. I realize that no one is going to swoop in on a white thoroughbred racehorse and carry me off to a house of retreat to let me heal. Physician, heal thyself. I also know, however, that a message will come, a phone call will sound, a letter will arrive, that will take me back to the stage, and until then, I survive any way I can. What have I done for you lately? Sometimes, in these low moments, it seems that I have done nothing but take from you. I cannot explain the angst I often feel because I can find no movement in the rudder of my ship. I cannot explain to you the angst I feel when I have asked you to supply me with oil and sustenance for my journey. How often I've said, "just a little bit longer, I'm close, I know I am…" Close to what? Being able to support myself? Being able to have those things that have eluded me? I can assure you, the things that elude me are not the things that elude you. That is not meant to be critical of your aspirations, or that mine are of a higher mind than yours. I just know that there is such a great pressure, and at times, shame. "Just a little while longer, I will not fail you, I will not fail the aspirations that you also have for me, just a little while longer..."
To my student. I've always said that this life is not an easy one, but it is one that will educate you about life in a way that cannot be obtained by another. It will flatten your dreams, kick your ass, and create all kinds of confusion. But, after the confusion is processed, after the obligation has been met, even though you may spend your days in a furnished room waiting, your day will come, your day will come. And you will lose, perhaps, the magic of a thousand of these days, but what you do will not be in vain…for in it, you will find purpose, even when others will not see it, you will, and that may be enough… it may be enough…to get you through the hard times.