Passionate education

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A theatre friend of mine recently asked the question, “Is it reasonable to compare performing with a Community Theatre, for a student, to sports or band activities?” My initial reaction was, “Of course!” And yes, it is certainly reasonable to compare the two. That lead me to read numerous journals and articles written on the positives and negatives of extracurricular activities for our children. And I realized what I was doing was looking for information that would support my argument that theatre is better. And I don’t want to be ‘that guy’ that disses sports.

I was a sports kid. Yep, even though I’m a professional actor I played a lot of sports in my childhood. Even when I wasn’t playing little league baseball, I was involved in ‘sandlot’ kick ball, football, and basketball. I was never very good any of them but I enjoyed spending time with other kids. In my organized sports activities I loved being part of ‘the team’. I will admit there were times I felt bad because I wasn’t as good as the other kids but I realize now I probably could have been better if I enjoyed it more. I find as an adult I tend to put more time into learning things I’m interested in. If I loved sports, like so many wonderful children do, I know I’d have put more time into getting better. But I didn’t, and that’s okay!

Did I learn anything from sports? Well, being part of a team was wonderful. I felt included and it definitely helped me improve my interpersonal communication skills. But I always felt like an outsider there. And it’s because I think deep down I never really wanted to be there. I was doing it because my parents felt it was good for me. They wanted be to follow in the footsteps of my siblings who played sports and were good at it. But it just wasn’t me. When I hit college I started playing volleyball and had a blast. Finally a sport I enjoyed and didn’t feel like I couldn’t do adequately. I worked hard at improving my skills and felt a sense of pride at my accomplishments. But I know now it was because I enjoyed it so much! That reinforces my belief if you want to learn something you will. And I did. It also didn’t hurt that most of my team mates were actors and singers like me. There was no pressure to fit in or play any kind of needless social game. And even though we liked to win our matches, it wasn’t necessarily the reason we played. We played because we enjoyed it. We played because it was fun. It was also quite a great workout! I realized as I re-read what I wrote I haven’t really answered the question of whether or not I learned anything from sports. I did learn things from sports. I learned how to work as a team. I learned how some people are athletically gifted and others are not. I learned it’s okay not to be good at some things. And unfortunately, I learned how too much competitiveness can be a very bad thing. I watched parents, mine included, get so emotionally involved with winning that they shouted, jeered and ridiculed other players and coaches. I learned in life, there are winners and there are losers. Now, I’m not saying this is true for all parents and their children, I’m just noting my experience. There are incredible parents and coaches out there and do sports because of the joy it brings to the kids. They are taught, just because your team loses, doesn’t mean you are a loser. If your team wins doesn’t give you latitude to boast about your accomplishments to demean the other team. They are taught to be better individually both on and off the field. And as a teaching tool, there’s where having your kids involved in sports really shines. And it’s also where having your kids involved in theatre really shines too.

Competition can be so detrimental to society. Yes, it can be a driving force for advancement in many walks of life but it can also breed so much negativity. As a professional actor I compete for roles every day of my life. And even in school, children compete for roles in productions. Some get in, others do not. But what I really like about theatre is the number of areas children can get involved. Like sports, some children have innate skills that make it easier for them to excel. Other children must work at it to get better. But unlike children’s sports, theatre offers many other options. Perhaps a children really wants to be involved in theatre but doesn’t sing. Well then, they may be able to dance well. If they don’t dance well perhaps they have the natural ability to act. If a child wants to be involved in theatre but doesn’t act, sing or dance well they can be involved in the technical side. They can learn, costuming, set building, lighting, sound, and if they have incredible organizational capabilities they may be able to stage manage or even co-direct a show. That way they can do what they love, and be involved in putting together a great show. That is the one thing I love about getting children involved in theatre. Everyone can be included and work toward a common goal because in theatre no one is more important than the other. Without the “whole” there is no end result.

I have friends who loved both sports and theatre. Even in school some of them attacked both with equal fervor. I was always impressed with that passion. I love watching sports but I never really had the passion for it. I did my first play when I was in first grade and it was such a wonderful experience. But my performing in my first 14 or so years was playing my guitar and singing with my family’s bands and in church. It wasn’t until I finally gave up sports that I started really working toward something I love; theatre.

For the past week or so I’ve had the privilege of working with a young boy who was in our ensemble of my current production “Footloose”. I was behind the theatre one night and I met his mother and she said, “Oh, you’re Paul? He talks about you all the time and says you’re real nice.” Now, realize that this boy has done eight performances of this show and it’s quite a commitment for a child. She went on to say, “He can’t wait to come sing and dance every night! He really loves it”. I left the theatre feeling blessed to have been even a small part of his experience. I know there are stories like that in sports too. That just wasn’t my experience.

I know kids can learn a lot from both sports and theatre but we have to be careful not to pressure them in either direction. Perhaps children won’t like either. And in my experience, if they don’t really like it, if that really isn’t what their passion is, then they won’t work very hard at getting better. Now, if someone is better than you and that inspires you to work hard and improve yourself than that’s a good thing. But with competition, children have to be taught that winning or losing doesn’t define them. So is it fair to compare children in sports and children in theatre? Well, I guess we’d have to ask the children themselves. In my experience there are positives and negatives of both. But I really think it depends on where the child’s passion lies.

Why perform?

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A particular attitude or way of regarding something is known as perspective. It’s also referred to as point of view. I’m famous for doling out the advice, “when we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change”, and when I take my own advice it’s beautiful. But it isn’t always easy. As an actor I’ve had the privilege to be able to perform in front of very large audiences. It’s a question many audience members have asked me over the years; “what’s the largest amount of people you’ve ever performed for?” And I have a few stock answers I usually give. What I should say is, “the size of the audience has nothing to do with it.”

I think some people measure the success of a particular performer by the number of years they’ve been doing it, what theatre’s they’ve worked at, who they’ve worked with, even what roles and shows they’ve done. They as an audience want to be able to impress friends and neighbors by telling them they saw an actor last  night who once performed on Broadway or was in a movie with Tom Hanks! As an actor I get caught up in that too. And when asked about our ‘biggest audiences’ my ego want to give them an answer they’d be proud of. I have to stop doing that.

I do not act because of an audience, big or small. Yes it’s true I love acting in front of a receptive audience who pay attention and are moved by what I’m doing, but it can’t be the only reason. And my level of enthusiasm for performing should not and cannot be ruled by the number of audience members attending.  It is all a matter of perspective.

This acting career more or less chose me. The fact that I make a living doing it is such a privilege. I’m making a concerted choice to change the way I look at things. I’m going to look at audience size from the the theatre’s perspective. I want the different venues to succeed so therefore I want them to sell more tickets. But that in no way will effect how I perform. I strive to give the same performance whether there are 30 people in the audience or 300. And if someone asks me what the biggest audience I’ve ever performed for I’m going to respond, “I try not to think of those things because they don’t have any bearing on what I do.” Yes, I love the symbiotic relationship of actor and audience. It’s why I do what I do. But the truth is, all it takes is one audience member to make that relationship happen. I’m going to meditate on that for awhile. 🙂

No Response Needed

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I read a blog yesterday that dealt with the feeling of rejection one feels after submitting an application/resume for a new job and never receiving a response. That feeling can be even worse when we actually interview for a position and we don’t hear anything back. “What did I do wrong”, are the words our subconscious repeats. That feeling can go from self doubt all the way to “Well, they’re all a bunch of jerks at that company anyway! It’s great that I didn’t get the job!” But those are only conditioned responses our ego uses to mask the feeling of rejection. The blog I’m referring to tried to put a positive spin on being rejected. But I’m going to try to go further by saying even the word ‘rejection’ should be abolished.

I don’t interview for jobs any longer but I do submit headshots and resumes in the hopes of securing auditions for upcoming shows. And to say I’ve received only a few responses would be an understatement. Occasionally a thoughtful casting agent or artistic producer will write back thanking me for my submission but for the most part I send in my information and never hear a word. But does that mean I’m being rejected? Not necessarily. I like to say I’m a working actor. And yes, there is definitely a little bravado attached to that monicker. I think I should change that to simply, actor. “Working” says, “Unlike a lot of performers out there people are actually hiring me.” Even reading that puts a sour taste in my mouth. And if I’m soured by it I can only imagine what folks think when I say it. Because the truth is we are ALL working actors. Because most of the actors work isn’t on the stage it’s trying to find our next job!  And yes, it is a lot of work. But that is what we signed up for! But how do we handle it when of all work seems to go unnoticed? I for one try to never think it goes unnoticed. I fight that part of my subconscious that wants me to pine, fret, worry, analyze, and get angry because I’ve never received a response. And boy, sometimes it is difficult. It’s easier when you HAVE a job and you don’t get a response, but when you’re looking for a job and receive no responses that’s when our egos want us to suffer and question. But that is when we should be the most assured of our self-worth. The truth is there are many, many reasons why we may have not received a response. And as the blog-writer accurately pointed out, if we never heard from anyone, chances are others didn’t. We are most likely in the majority and not in the minority. That’s a great way to look at it. That’s not to say we don’t continue to strive for excellence in our attempts to land our next gig, it’s just to say that if it doesn’t work out, there will be other opportunities. I know it isn’t easy, but rejection is kind of a fallacy. It simply means that for what ever reason the people who are hiring aren’t interested. But the next people might be. Yes we all want to get positive responses to all our submissions, and we will get some. But we should never ‘need’ a response to validate our choice of profession. I submitted quite a few headshots and resumes over the past couple of weeks and whether I hear anything or not, I’m still thinking, “When the right persons gets my information, I’ll get a response.” 🙂

Try It You’ll Like It

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You auditioned for the 3rd time and you are finally cast.  You pack, you travel to the theatre and are greeted by the staff and fellow actors.  After a nervous nights’ sleep  you arrive at the rehearsal and do a read-through.  This is really happening.  You spend hours rehearsing and even your nights are filled with learning your lines, blocking and choreography.

You walk into rehearsal on the 6th day and hear,  “I’m sorry, but the theatre is closing.  You all have to go home.”  What??!!

What do you say to something like that?  Once again, a landmark theatre, The Wayside in Virginia is closing its doors.  And that’s sort of the way it all happened.  Something very similar happened to me once, a few yeas ago.

After spending three seasons with a rep company,  I returned to work after the Christmas break to be told, we can’t afford to pay you any longer so you’ll have to leave.  A few years later, that theatre too closed it’s doors.

What is happening here?

“It’s the economy!”, some people say.  “It’s because arts funding is getting cut!”, others shout.  “It’s the electronic age!”, still others pontificate.  And in all probability, some of that may be true.  But is it the whole story?

I remember doing a report, many years ago, that calculated the amount of revenue a theatre I was working for would increase, if every single adult in a 3 county region would purchase just ONE ticket to an upcoming show.  And I’m talking about one show in an entire season.  It was unbelievable!  The theatre could have survived on that alone!  So it begs the question, why don’t we do it?  That’s the million dollar question isn’t it?

People plan for major purchases, save for vacations, and are o.k. with spending money on lunch and dinner.  But when it comes to going to see a play or musical there seems to be a tendency to say, “It’s so expensive.”  Well, it can be.  But I know from years of marketing people WILL spend money on things they want and are interested in.  So is that it?

I don’t have any statistics to prove what I’m about to say, but I feel in my bones it’s true to a point.  The younger generation, in general, does not have as much interest in live theatre as the older generation.  Everything is quicker.  Instant gratification is key.  Attention spans are getting shorter and shorter.  But what is it about live theatre that doesn’t interest the 20-something generation?  Are we too boring?  Is there too much thought involved?  Is sitting in a theatre for 2 1/2 hours too much to ask?  Are the stories outdated?  Wish I knew.

I do know that there are a lot extremely talented people both on and off stage that make their livings creating and performing astounding live theatre across this great nation of ours.  And I know in my heart that will never stop.  Even though fewer, and fewer people seem to support live theatre by attending performances, we will still be there doing what it is we were put on this planet to do.  Perform.

To all the young people out there…if you haven’t seen a live play or musical.  Give it a shot.  You might really enjoy it.  To all the folks of my generation and older, go see a live show, there really is nothing like it.  I’ve had the distinct honor of working with some of the finest actors and singers I’ve ever seen or  heard.  And yes, that out trumps many of the known actors we see on television and movies.  I’m telling all of you, one of the best actors you never heard of is probably a few miles away at that local, professional theatre in your city or town just waiting to blow you away.  No, they’re not plastered all over magazines, the Today show or TMZ but they’re there, giving all they have 5 or 6 days a week.  And they’re really good!

Maybe that’s how it all starts.  Just go.  Buy ONE ticket.  Experience live, professional theatre.  If you like music, go see a musical.  If you like drama, go see a drama.  If you like to laugh, go see a comedy.  They’re there.  And if we all turn off Netflix, our T’V’s, and our computers for just 3 hours, and attend a live play or musical, they perhaps theatre’s won’t have to close their doors any more.