I do not want to get angry.
I’ve seen it happen before to those that work in this field. I watch the mentors of my early 20’s and notice that while they execute their work with skill and depth they increasingly carry around this place of anger.
Some days, when I feel tired and when it seems like it is such an absurd thing I am doing I start to get angry too. I can feel it rising from below and make its way up and through me. The anger comes in tiny commented sarcasms or critiques of the work of others. It is a critical voice, one that knows so much and in all that knowledge requires ever increasingly exacting standards. It looks at the works of my past, works that I loved when I made them, and only sees the flaws.
I wonder some days if this is inevitable, if the skill we possess is always just a bit behind what we are able to critique and examine. I think about how hard, how very hard, it is to make something and how easy, how incredibly easy, it is to dismiss or undercut or find fault. I think about the work it takes to shield ourselves from all those critical voices in our professional field. I wonder about the use of such voices in the pursuit of making something new.
My own mind counters with a thought: But without those critical voices how do we get better? If no one tells us what we’re doing wrong how do we refine and strive for more?
I think about this thought that my mind has offered me. I look at it like an object on a shelf and in response I think, “But who decides what’s ‘wrong?’ And what exactly is it I’m getting better at?”
I put this second thought on the shelf next to the first and stare at them side by side.
My earliest theatrical experiences were in “community” theater. As a shy teenager plays gave me a structured system to experience lives beyond my own and to examine a theme or idea not just by thinking about it but by physically embodying it day after day. Theater was the way I practiced a kind of empathic weightlifting. The stretch of pretending to be other people made me learn more about myself. I know it made me a braver and more compassionate person.
My friends and I did want to make something “good.” There was a sense of striving in these projects. We hoped our work would be seen as “well done.” But I can look back at those plays and see, of course, that in almost any objective sense of professional theater excellence they were silly and small. Back then there was so much farther to go.
This is not to say that I want to make sloppy things. I like rigor. But I wonder if hard work is different than polished work. For though I know I will not likely find again the love I once had for Godspell or The Music Man, I do think it is useful to remember what is beautiful about such “community” theater. It allows us a system to join. It brings us together in shared purpose. It is a vehicle for vulnerability in our early learning before we have mastered something.
Most of the theater makers I know did not begin by aiming for “professional.” They began from community. They found love in a space of sharing.
So I wonder about a collective industry adoption of virtuosity and excellence as a sign of our professional status. I wonder if excellence, while understandably desirable, may lead us away from the thing that actually feeds us in being artists. I wonder if virtuosity of craft might slowly build up armor around our bodies and keep us impervious to the vulnerability that keeps us growing and open.
I wonder about other yardsticks with which to measure success:
I know some part of me fears that these seem too genuine, too fuzzy, too amateur. I worry that without Excellence I will be laughed at or pitied.
But I also wonder if maybe this is the feeling of that vulnerability I seem to have lost. And I know for sure that the pursuit of Excellence seems to keep making me angry. So perhaps it’s time to try something new.
The whole idea of making some “excellent” art is a trap. Because there is no such thing – and this is perhaps why you feel angry. We who have been steeped in education about making art have, for the most part, been told the object of our instruction was to learn to make “good” art. We are swept into a career in which the landscape of our colleagues’ work lies on a continuum between “good” and “bad”. And you’re right – focusing on, and trying to define excellence leads us away from something much or essential: the reason we are an artist.
Line up 10 works of art – in any category. Bring in 10 artist friends you admire. Ask them to select the excellent art. At best, you will have good discussion. At worst, divisions will be driven between you. But you will not agree, and you are all right, and all wrong.
Foundations stoke this fantasy of good and bad art by implying that they only support “good” art. Periodicals do the same by passing judgment in print which divides art into this binary falsehood. Our entire culture is obsessed with dualism, pretending to separate the sea of experience into either/ors. But water cannot be separated, and all our distinctions resting on “good and bad” are illusions WE have created and have little to do with the objects and experiences they pass judgment on.
At best, naming something excellent is an act of encouragement, support and identity: you’re doing well, keep doing it, it’s the kind of thing I like to do! At worst, it’s simply a way to make ourselves feel smart, powerful, superior. At worst, it’s a way to turn creativity into a competition in which there are winners and losers, and we – the passer of judgment – get to define the rules. “Artistic excellence” is ultimately and essentially a subjective concept, and as such it only says something meaningful about the person using it, and little about the thing being experienced.
I have had to abandon any pursuit of artistic excellence, and instead ask the question what do I want to do, and who do I want to do it with? It has helped me to see my work primarily as an act of service to an audience, and all my efforts are bent towards enriching, providing and delighting them. And it has helped to have a mission – a big unreasonable audacious mission – which is eternal and exists whether or not I succeed or fail, and regardless of who comes and goes to work with me. Mine is to transform people’s lives through performance creativity. Simple. Aspirational. Exciting. Impossible to measure, but easy to reach for.
I think your experience is community theater is sooooooo important, and that there are lessons there to be cherished. That was the beginning. It was about love, community, spectacle, fun, and finally, meaning. I used to turn my nose up at community theater – no longer. Amateur: one who does it for love.
Maybe it’s not a career. Maybe it’s a vocation – something we are called to.
Perhaps predictably, I love this post. And the bxlloyd comments.
I did not mean to be “Anonymous!”
Por los poderes de la tierra, por la presencia del fuego, por la inspiración del aire, por las virtudes del agua, invoco y conjuro a Pomba Gira María Padilha, por la fuerza de los corazones sagrados y de las lágrimas derramadas por amor, para que se dirija a _ donde está trayendo a su espíritu ante mi_ , amarrándolo definitivamente al mío.
Que su espíritu se bañe en la esencia de mi amor y me devuelva el amor en cuádruple.
Que _ jamás quiera a otra persona y que su cuerpo solo a mi _ me pertenezca. Que _ no beba, no coma, no hable, no escuhe, no cante a no ser en mi presencia. Que mis grilletes lo apresen para siempre, por los poderes de esta oración.
Minhas pombas gira use su poder y aleje a _ de cualquier mujer con que él esté en este momento; y si estuviera que llame mi nombre.
Quiero amarrar al espíritu y cuerpo de _ ; porque lo quiero amarrado y enamorado de mi _ quiero que _ quede dependiente de mi amor, quiero verlo loco por mi _ , deseándome como si yo fuese la última persona de la faz de la tierra.
Quiero su corazón prendido a mi eternamente, que en nombre de la gran Reina María Padilha florezca este sentimiento dentro de _ dejándole preso a mi _ , 24 horas por día.
OH Pomba gira Reina María Padilha has de traer a _ , para mi_ , pues yo a él deseo, y lo quiero deprisa. Por tus poderes ocultos, que_ comience a amarme a mi_ a partir de este exacto instante y que el piense sólo en mi_ , como si yo fuese la única persona del mundo.
Que_ venga corriendo hacia mi, lleno de esperanzas y deseo, que_ no tenga sosiego hasta que venga a buscarme, y vuelva a mi _.
Reina María Padilha yo te imploro par que me traigas a _ . Que_ me ame mucho, venga manso y como yo deseo.
Yo le agradezco a la gran Rainha María Padilha. Y prometo siempre llevar su nombre conmigo.
OH! Poderosa Pomba Gira Siete Exus, quiero de vuelta mi amado_ que me entristece con su desprecio, que_ olvide y deje de una vez y por todas todos los amores y a los que nos quieran apartar.
Que_ sea desanimado y frío con todas las otras mujeres, que cualquier otra mujer que este con_ se estrese con él, pelee con él y salga inmediatamente de la vida de él y le tome enojo, odio, aversión y rabia de él y no se retracte de nada. Y que _ tome enojo, odio, aversión y rabia decualquier otra mujer que ande con el ahora y que ellos terminen esa relación urgentemente.
Que él venga a mi_ , pida mi amor y mi perdón.
OH! Linda Poderosa Pomba Gira Siete Exus, que en ese momento_ quede sólo pensando en mi y pensando cómo va a hacer para HACERME FELIZ.
Necesito reina, de una señal, una llamada telefónica, cualquier contacto para yo saber si_ piensa en mi y que me quiere, y me quite de esa oscuridad. Que _ hable conmigo, que sienta que me echa de menos.
Usted es fuerte y poderosa, traiga a _ a mis pies, para no salir, y que venga corriendo, que deje todo y a todos Y que sólo peinse en mi_.
Linda Poderosa Pomba Gira Siete Exus que con su grande y fuerte poder quite todas las barreras que están impidiendo que _ ME AME LOCAMENTE y desee unirse ami_.
Quiero a mi amado, amándome y admirándome siempre. Que él no sienta mas deseos sexuales ppor ninguna otra persona.
Que sus deseos sean sólo para mi_ , que sus pensamientos, gentilezas y bondades sean sólo para mi_ .
Que _ quiera de verdad que yo_ me quede con él. Pero además, quiero que usted. Linda Poderosa Pomba Gira Siete Exus, aleje de _ toda y cualquier otra mujer. Y que podamos ser felices juntos.
Que él me llame por teléfono, desde ya y en todo momento. Que sienta nostalgia por mi persona, y que sufra lejos de mi_ .
Quiero que él me busque hoy y ahora.
Quiero oír la voz de él, pidiendo verme para quedarse conmigo y volviendo a mi_ para siempre, diciendo que me ama y que me quiere solo a mi Gracias por el favor concedido.