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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Shame, Humiliation and the Drive of Performance

One of the books that has always had an impact on me was "A Director Prepares" by Anne Bogart.  It's a very personal journey and a singular view of an artist.  As a testament to it's strength and potency, you don't have to have the mindset of a director to enjoy it.  Any one of any theatrical persuasion would be able to get something out of it.

The part that always had the biggest impact on me was the chapter on "Embarrassment".  What was especially decisive about reading that was just the title in of itself.  I had finally found the word that I had felt since the very first play I had ever done.

"The Beggar's Opera" by John Gay required that I stand behind prison while a woman seduced the guard for the key.  While doing so, I thought (being completely new to acting) that I should slip on the bars and fall a little to show that I was involved in the scene and being lured away by her feminine ways as well.  In doing this, I would stomp my foot a little to catch myself.  

Now, the director was not one that I would describe of as "good" or "competent".  But she did give the only note to me that was worthwhile in the two years that I worked with her: Tim, don't do that, you're stealing focus. And I remember thinking to myself that this must be it.  It was over.  I wouldn't make it in theatre and there was no sense in working any further.  I figured that the right thing to do was to finish out the show and then never audition for another show ever again.  

Then, when the last show came, someone said "Good job, Tim! You were funny!" and I forgot about all the shame that I had with that simple and basic note (one that I've given to lots of actors along the way... when I'm directing of course).

I was embarrassed to get that note but the note was absolutely correct and necessary and shame was the best way of making sure that I never did it again.  Humiliation seems to be stronger force than we think of in a normal day to day manner.  We as people hate to be embarrassed.  We hesitate to answer a question in class lest we be wrong.  We hate to pick a restaurant for an indecisive group because what if we pick something that not everyone likes?  Shame keeps us in check.  It's the reason why we might not reach our full potential.  It's part of the reason why I don't think that I've reached mine.

But I'm still brought back to theatre, to create and to perform.  Embarrassment doesn't bring me back.  The payoff does, when it's done well.  Shame is a filter; it pushes those away that don't really want to do it.  Shame is the price that you pay to get the applause and the accolades.  But, most importantly, it's what you suffer through to get to the point where they can understand you, to where they can feel what it is that you feel.  Connection is the goal and the prize.

Last night, I saw three bands.  Two were excellent, one was not that great.  The weakest of the acts was a singer/songwriter who wasn't connected to what it was that he was doing.  He didn't have the same amount of emotional investment as the other acts.  He didn't risk himself, he didn't chance the embarrassment.  There was nothing at stake for him, so there wasn't anything interesting for us as an audience.

The other acts were strange and eclectic and bizarre; Very strange stuff.  But they loved their music and they had committed to the performance and the pay off was tremendous.

We should do things that scare us.  We should do things that are daring and we should damn the torpedoes as we do so.

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