What a dangerous question for the performer to ask the audience member. Or for the writer to ask the reader. Or the artist to ask the recipient.
Do you really want to know? Are you looking for constructive feedback to make your work better?
Or are you just looking for approval?
A friend of mine–brutally honest, sometimes to a fault–would get invited to see his friends productions. (In his defense, he’s equally effusive in his praise as he is damning with his criticism.) He has trouble hiding his opinions, but does his best. But if anyone asks him, “So, what’d you think?” after a show, he’ll tell them. He’ll tell them the truth or more accurately, his truth. Often the friends would get frustrated and upset hearing his truth.
Finally he started advising them ahead of time, “I’ll come see your play. I’ll support you. But please don’t ask me what I think afterwards. Unless you really want to know. Cool?”
David Schwartz in his book, The Magic Of Thinking Big, writes, “The size of your success is determined by the size of your belief. Think little goals and expect little achievements. Think big goals and win big success…Big ideas and big plans are often easier—certainly no more difficult—than small ideas and small plans.”
This is certainly sound advice. If thoughts control your actions and you can think anything you want, then you might as well think big. right? Especially when you consider that the level of effort required to accomplish anything, big or small, is roughly the same. Why not go for broke?
But big is not enough.
You need the SMALL too. The on-the-surface boring, daily, repetitive actions; you need the process, to accomplish anything. As Aristotle advised, “We are what we repeatedly do.”
So, get fired up with big dreams and thoughts. Let that motivate you and everyone around you. But then also be prepared to take tons of small, daily actions. And to do those to the best of your ability.
Big and SMALL. Working together. Now you’re talking.
Some acting advice from the great Quentin Tarantino…
INT. MEN'S ROOM - L.A. TRAIN STATION - NIGHT
Freddy and Holdaway at one of their many rendezvous.
Holdaway wears an extra large Lakers sweatshirt. Freddy
sits on one of the sinks, wearing his high school jacket,
looking at pieces of paper stapled together.
It's a scene. Memorize it.
A undercover cop has got to be
Marlon Brando. To do this job you
got to be a great actor. You got
to be naturalistic. You got to be
naturalistic as hell. If you
ain't a great actor you're a bad
actor, and bad acting is bull shit
in this job.
(referring to the
But what is this?
It's a amusing anecdote about a
Something funny that happened to
you while you were doing a job.
I gotta memorize all this shit?
It's like a joke. You remember
what's important, and the rest you
make your own. The only way to
make it your own is to keep sayin
it, and sayin it, and sayin it,
and sayin it, and sayin it.
I can do that.
The things you gotta remember are
the details. It's the details
that sell your story. Now this
story takes place in this men's
room. So you gotta know the
details about this men's room.
You gotta know they got a blower
instead of a towel to dry your
hands. You gotta know the stalls
ain't got no doors. You gotta
know whether they got liquid or
powdered soap, whether they got
hot water or not, 'cause if you do
your job when you tell your story,
everybody should believe it. And
if you tell your story to somebody
who's actually taken a piss in
this men's room, and you get one
detail they remember right,
they'll swear by you.
“You keep going until you get it right, then you keep going until you can’t get it wrong.” -Monica Aldama
If you haven’t heard of Monica Aldama, be sure to check out the terrific Netflix doc, Cheer.
Monica heads Navarro College’s competitive cheer squad. She is fierce and her desire for excellence burns bright. She’s largely responsible for transforming a small, unknown, Texas junior college into a perennial champion. A true underdog story.
Her quote reinforces why we rehearse a play. Often for a long period of time.
Yes, it might sound great at the first table read. Everyone feels confident and amazing! Often you’ll hear, “we could put this up right now.”
And that might be true.
But can you be amazing on opening night with the pressure of all your friends, loved ones, respected colleagues and critics in the house?
Can you be amazing in Week 3 of the run when the house is half full and you didn’t get a good night sleep the night before?
Can you be amazing when your emotional reservoir runs dry? When adrenaline is nowhere to be found? When you’re just not “feelin’ it”?
Can you be amazing when someone drops a line or another “happy accident” happens on stage?
Can you be amazing when the audience is checked out?
Yes, you can.
Because you rehearsed. Because you worked your butt off. Because you kept going until you couldn’t get it wrong.
I recently had the following exchange with a writer friend of mine.
Writer: “I could never do what you do. I could never act. Definitely not on stage.”
Me: “Why not? I actually think you’d make a pretty good actor.”
Writer: “Nah. The whole time I’d be out there on stage, I’d be thinking how awful I was. This voice would be like, ‘You suck. That’s stupid. What are you even doing?’…It’d be paralyzing.”
Me: “Right. I understand.”
And I do. Understand.
Because that voice never goes away. It’s omnipresent and can be oppressive if not held in check. It’s what Michael Singer termed “the annoying roommate who won’t ever shut up” in his brilliant book, The Untethered Soul.
Maybe the reason to act then, to get up on stage, is all in the attempt. The attempt to be fully present. The attempt to be so committed to the story, your character, the given circumstances, and most importantly, what you desperately need and want from the other person, that for those two hours…