Over the past six months my life has taken a radical shift. I went from the intensive grinding gears of two large scale projects – one a gig for Shakespeare in Clark Park in which I worked as a director for hire as wells as The Ballad of Joe Hill a work created and produced by my own company Swim Pony – into a far more predictable series of teaching gigs – a new post as voice teacher for Pig Iron’s APT, a residency at Drexel, coaching a mostly non-actor set to coach med students interpersonal skills at UPenn’s school of Medicine and directing a production of Midsummer at Arcadia.
As I headed into the summer I felt a sense of relief and apprehension. Relief that my time into September was booked with work that I both believed in and had found a way to appropriately compensate myself for. I felt a sense of pride at having booked myself solid for the first time ever with 6 months of artistic work alone while still paying a mortgage and socking away from money for savings. I thought and felt, “Finally, we are approaching a place of stasis, a solid foundation upon which a life can be built.”
And as I left the month of September, reasonably compensated, well received by press and peers and patrons on my work over the past months, I still felt somehow just a little unsettled by I can’t say exactly what: a sense that I’d done well but… With a feeling that I’d created two works of which I was proud, one that I felt was the first appropriately resourced self produced piece I’d ever been in charge of but… That I’d made shows that I think showed my professional skill, that highlighted many aspects of my expertise, plays that made me proud as a professional creator, and yet…
Yet, still, something niggled at me. The audiences were a bit timid at one. The energy not quite right in another. The joy, the abandon, the feeling, the… what? the… love.
Yes. That’s it. The love was what I felt missing. That underneath the polish and skill and work was just a little bit less love than I went into all this seeking. Somewhere in this summer of incredibly hard work and tiring hours and beautiful images and incredible ideas I was missing a little bit of amore.
Look. The people with whom I created my last two professional projects are ones that I adore. They are my core creators, most of them, the people that I will work with in many cases for the rest of my life. But something about these last two shows left me a bit cold. Not through any fault of my co-creators, but perhaps because I myself allowed myself to be swept up in the accomplishment of professionality, of the implied self worth that doing a thing at a “meaningful” level of competence and expertise did I let myself hide a little of the messy and silly and sometimes uncertain and ridiculous person that I love myself to be in a process. I doubt these co-creators would admit it, but I bet deep down they felt it.
I could not have spoken this to myself then as I do now. But I think I knew it. We all wanted a bit more of that love in our work.
So it was at this juncture that I looked into that stretch of fall to winter months with no “professional” work in sight. Here I found myself in a sea of students of varying ages and skills sets and talent levels ahead of me. It was here, with a chip on the shoulder and a block of doubt in the stomach that I set off into the wilds of “amateur” theater. I went to auditions and first classes and training session with zero expectation of artistic fulfillment, looking instead to do a decent job, make some connections, steel myself against the antsy feeling being out of “real” rehearsals. I intended to let life be simple for a bit in order to plan my re-emergence back into the “real” theater scene soon enough.
So I went to my classes with their small number of students in order to get them on board with the weirdo piece I wanted to create. I went to rehearsals to direct play that I have loathed for a very long time expecting to wade through language I could care less about. I went to work to train folks on characters and skills I have repeated ad nauseum over the last few years. I went to these things expected a heavy heart and soul. I went there ready to be frustrated with amateurism and a lack of professional rigor.
I went there expecting these things. And I found that I was wrong. I found myself, suddenly realizing that I was happier than I have been in months, possibly years. That heaviness and weight of proving myself and my worth had been freed from myself and that for the first time in a long time I have re-found a kind of love. Yes amazingly, I find myself at the near end of this time more inspired, more buoyant than I have in perhaps years. I went expecting amateurs and what I found was love.
So often we define the amateur as the absence of talent skill or training. Back in late October I read an article by Todd London about innovation in which he points out that the word Amateur comes from the Latin root for “love.” When I read this, something dropped in me. An “Ah ha” kind of moment. A moment where I realized that the amateur is not solely, as is so commonly assumed, defined as one who does something at a “non-professional” level but one who does it for no other reason than a deep and abiding love. The amateur can have no other reason for doing the thing other than the pure and true love of it, for they have no other compensation to reward them. How often we degrade it, define ourselves in opposition to it, in order to prove our own worth. How often, I realized, I myself was working, creating and doing things in so many ways simply to prove that I was most certainly not an amateur but a professional, a person worthy of time attention and thought. Worthy to be seem by foundations to presenters to peers this need for professionalism had infected my spirits. It had stopped me from silliness. It is true that over the past several months I have created things and worked with those that on almost any level one would not call “professional.” But in exchange I have found something that might be worthier still: Love.
And after months away from it there are moments that I cherish
– The act of creating ritual, silly and ridiculous and childish
– The moment of discovery for the very first time in a scene or a word or a movement
– The undaunted display of failure, the expectation that one is at the beginning of a journey, and the sense that one is not worth less because they have not yet mastered the way how to do something
This thought, this core of the work as an exploit of love has lifted me. And now that I find myself nearing the end, I wonder how I take these with me back to the land of professional living. I wonder how I take the happiness and joy and love that I have lived with over these past months back to my work and my life and my collaborators.
And were this any other post here, I’d find some way to neatly wrap all this up into a perfect bow of professional conduct and meaning. But I don’t think I’ll do that just now. I’ll leave it ragged and happy and unfinished. And just be satisfied with that.