Why Didn’t Anyone Tell Me?

Among my myriad of other tasks, I am currently doing some assembly work on my syllabus for my intro to acting class.

This is a bizarre experience in a lot of ways because it makes me harken back to many disparate but not unrelated periods of my life: when I was a wide-eyed but arrogant college freshman taking my first semester of classes, when I was a wide-eyed but talented youth taking my first acting classes, when I was a wide-eyed but optimistic young actor pounding pavement and auditioning to land parts that would surely, one day, make me famous.

…Oh how far have I come.

I do have high hopes for the potential of this course (as well as a few realistic ones which are probably nearer the mark for the actual effect that I can have on students of varying degrees of seriousness over the course of one semester).  Mostly what this has made me do is spend time going back to basics, remembering what it’s like to be new at something (which, as a dear mentor once told me, is the key to success at any level; she called it “beginner’s mind”), and thinking very seriously about if I could only instill one thing upon an absolute beginner student of acting, what would that be?

I am reasonably sure that this is the oldest shot I have of me performing without digging through embarrassing summer-camp things... this is The Laramie Project, 2003

I am reasonably sure that this is the oldest shot I have of me performing without digging through embarrassing summer-camp albums… this is The Laramie Project, 2003

I’ve come up with some answers (which I will leave unsaid in this forum, at least until I test their efficacy in the classroom).  I’ve also come up with some things that I wish someone had told me when I was first starting out (which I am much more inclined to share since they may or may not make it into my classroom given the fact that most of my early experience was in conservatory-setting rather than the non-major-friendly theatre department which, as you may imagine, is a completely different beast).  As it turns out, those things are pretty applicable to things outside of acting and so are also pretty relevant to the general blogosphere…

Always have confidence.  Your confidence, more than most other things about you, will attract the auditioner’s eye.  Be very careful not to confuse confidence with arrogance, however; it’s a very fine line.  One is attractive; the other is repulsive.

Make eye contact, shake hands firmly, know where your business cards are, smile, and be polite no matter who you think you may be talking to or how rude that person may be to you.  These things will make them want to work with you and, if they want to work with you, a myriad of other sins can be overlooked.

Life is too short to work with people who make you miserable and the power of networking is strong.  If you yourself are someone who is well liked (and, if you follow the above rules, why wouldn’t you be?), you will always find somewhere to land.  It may not be where you thought you’d land, but I promise it will be better for your sanity.

Protect your physical well-being.  If a director asks you to perform something that you feel is unsafe, say something and stick to your guns.  Your health is not worth a job no matter how many lines you have (especially if they’re not paying you).

Burning bridges is always a bad idea.  You never know where you’ll end up and who will be there with you.  Save yourself the awkward situation down the road and learn to execute grace and class as expediently as possible.

Theatre is an extremely high-stress profession that involves late nights, emotional intensity, tough and frugal living, and the necessity to disconnect yourself from your own ego.  The sooner you understand how these things may effect you and how you deal with them the better off you will be in the long-run.  If you can’t do any one of these things, you may want to reconsider your life choices.

Just because you aren’t a full-time theatre professional doesn’t mean theatre can’t be a part of your life.

It’s okay to wind up somewhere you hadn’t planned on being.  It’s okay to decide that this isn’t the path for you.  It’s okay to start over for any number of reasons.  You aren’t letting anyone down (including yourself) and you haven’t lost anything by it.

The sooner you can be comfortable in your own skin with your own emotions, the better you will be onstage.  Acting isn’t a profession for the insecure.  You will be asked to be ugly, you will be told you are fat, you will be given unflattering things to wear.  If you aren’t completely comfortable doing this in front of large audiences of strangers multiple times a week, you won’t be able to do your job.

Good acting requires unending tenacity, insurmountable bravery, and unquellable curiosity.  Never give up, bounce back like rubber, always be willing to try things.

Not everything will work for you but that doesn’t mean that nothing will.

another early shot (you can tell because of how bloody high my parry is)... I want to say this is 2003/2004.

another early shot (you can tell because of how bloody high my parry is)… I want to say this is 2003/2004.

Strive for perfection, but realize that it is unattainable.  That doesn’t mean you should stop trying, just that you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself when you realize that you didn’t quite manage it.  A true artist is never satisfied.

There will always be someone better than you.  There will always be someone prettier than you.  The trick is to figure out what you bring to the table that no one else can (…and if that fails to remember that talent and beauty are subjective but ice cream is not).

And on that note, I think I’ll go back to figuring out how much reading to assign.

Follow the Yellow-Brick Road

Have you ever been working on something for so long and so hard that eventually the result simply feels like a dream?  Dreamt about something enough and, when it becomes a reality, you feel as though you’ve fallen asleep in class rather than brought the castle down from its cloud?

To make any claim other than I feel like I’ve been wandering the land of Oz for the past month and a half would be an outright lie.  I’m not in Kansas anymore and, while Jerry may not be Toto, he is rather fuzzy.

This week, two things happened which worked to either cement the Oz fantasy or prove to

of course, I'd need some stylish ruby slippers... though they aren't quite practical for lugging library books

me that yes, this is really happening, and I am exactly where I’ve pictured myself for so very long.

Thing number one: I wrote (or rather co-wrote) and submitted a course application to the experimental college at Tufts.  This included drafting my own syllabus.  I selected books.  I assigned readings.  I thought about pacing and assignments and grading!  I even went through and tried to pick my favorite edition of Shakespeare (it’s like picking a favorite child for me… I kind of collect Complete Works).  And at the end of it, there it was, my name at the top of the syllabus listed as “instructor”.

Well that’s a rush.

At this point in my life, syllabi have become more than pieces of paper; they are a way of life.  My first syllabus was gifted to me my Senior year of high school by my humanities instructor (a certain Susan Sabatino at the Professional Performing Arts School in New York City…. Yea, I went to the fame school.  Yea, it was kind of exactly like the movie.  Yea, I have some stories to tell…).  This is perhaps made more poignant by the fact that my partner in crime for this endeavor is an individual whom I roamed those hallowed halls with.  But I digress.

When Ms. Sab passed the syllabus out that first day of class, she said “this bit of paper is worth its weight in gold.  No, not gold, platinum.”

And thus my relationship with the syllabus began.  I don’t think one can possibly understand the impact that those little bits of paper can have on one’s life.  At first they seem odd; assignments?  Due dates?  A plan for the ENTIRE SEMESTER?  What is this?  Eventually, though, one begins to love the syllabus.  It dictates one’s schedule for the week, month, year.  It lovingly reminds one of course expectations in one’s hour of need.  It benevolently smiles down at one from on high with vital information about office hours, contact information, and due dates.  It holds the answers to the questions that govern one’s existence like “do I ever catch a break?” and “what week can I plan to sleep in a little bit?”

As one proceeds into one’s higher education, one lives by the syllabus and dies by the syllabus.  A lifeline.  A sword.  A shield.  Everything one needed to know about class but was too afraid to ask.  The gatekeeper.  The keymaster.

Those stone tablets sent from on high brought down by a holy messenger anointed by the Glorious one.

But oh look how those tables have turned.

In writing a syllabus, we were inscribing the tablets.  We were creating destiny.  We were being deified.

behold the glory

As I printed the applications (including these diagrams of the future), I couldn’t help but be elated.  This was, perhaps, real.  I had, perhaps, arrived.

…or maybe I was just with the Scarecrow on the Yellow Brick Road.

So my printer needs a vacation in the Bahamas for its service this past week (five copies of an application plus all sundry materials… each application ran about 20 pages… my poor baby).  But… it’s done.  And I am so very excited.

Thing number two:  I received my first ever review copy of a scholarly book of which I shall be writing a review sometime in the next few months which will (gods willing) be published!  Words cannot express my jubilation.  No, seriously, every time I try I wind up devolving into some high-pitched girly squealing of exhilaration and jumping around a little bit.

I don’t want to say too much about the book, or about the journal (you know, in case things don’t work out or something), but I will say this: Shakespeare (that’s kind of a duh for me).  The book (or books, rather, it will be a double review) are about Shakespeare.  They’re both new, interesting, and engaging scholarship.  One is probably more in line with my specific research interests than the other, but I am open, willing, and ready, to love both of them.  There is space in my heart (and on my bookshelves) for anything that doesn’t grind my man Will into the dust (Oxfordians, you have no power here, be gone before someone drops a house on you).