Safe theatre doesn't take chances. Safe theatre has lost its soul. It may be pretty, heck, it's probably even entertaining on some superficial level-- but it doesn't breathe, it doesn't dance, it doesn't plumb the depths of its depravity, it doesn't aspire to the heights of its virtue, it doesn't orgasm, it doesn't challenge, it doesn't do very much at all.
In short, I am of the opinion that safe theatre sucks.
Of course, safe theatre is too busy cheating-out and delivering the next line-reading to care what I think.
Unsafe theatre, however-- now that's something. Theatre that challenges. Theatre that is unbound. Theatre that pushes the envelope. Theatre that makes you think or feel... oh, yes, that's the kind of theatre I like.
So, to that end, here are some of the things I've learned to use as guidelines to keep me on the unsafe side of things (mind you, I'm not the world's best actress, far from it, but all of these ideas have served me well over the years and I feel pretty, uhm, safe recommending them):
- Be honest. Mean what you say and say what you mean. Never lie with enthusiasm. Never hide in safety.
- Focus. Know who you are and what you want and stay in the moment at all times. There is rarely time to live in the past or the future, delve into fantasy or go on autopilot. The present is just that-- a beautiful gift-- use it before it's gone.
- Make strong choices. Don't fret if you don't know the right choice. Make a choice. Make it big. Form opinions. Change them. Challenge them. Be decisive. Take initiative.
- Be acutely aware of everything-- your fellow actors, your surroundings, yourself.
- Take chances. The bigger the stakes, the sweeter the spoils. Sure, you might fall on your ass. But everyone will be watching you and wrapped up in your struggle.
- Listen. Really listen. What you hear as a character may be completely different from what you've read as an actor. What you heard yesterday may be different from what you hear today.
- Be vulnerable. Be really vulnerable. Allow yourself to feel, even if it hurts or scares you.
- Take everything you see, hear and feel and sense and run with it, as far and as hard as you can. If you are talented enough to let it all run away with you and still keep your head, do that.
- Prepare. Do your homework. Study. Watch. Learn. Get your hands dirty.
- Trust. It helps to surround yourself with talented, caring, focused people. They will catch you when you fall, and generally make your life more enjoyable anyway :) Be certain to trust yourself, as well.
- Always try to give better than you get.
- Don't worry about the payoff. In fact, don't worry about anything. And when the payoff does come, don't be upset if its not on your line. It's not a competition, it's a exercise in cooperation. Everybody contributes, even if someone else has the starring role or the best lines.
- Find the rhythm and get in tune with it. It's easier to adjust your own tempo to fit the larger flow than it is to change everything else to fit yours.
- Don't take yourself too seriously. You have the ability to provide yourself with an endless source of amusement ;) Besides, humility helps the learning process.
- Face your fears.
- Thinking is generally a good thing, but don't get so caught up in thinking that you forget to do, to act, to feel or to be.
- Remember to breathe. Breathing is no substitute for these other guidelines, but is important in and of itself, and proper breath technique can help create and define emotion.
- Keep a realistic sense of perspective. For instance, you are not the coolest thing since sliced bread. The costume designer's choice of fabric does not herald the end of civilization as we know it. And the worst that can happen onstage is not blanking on a line or jumping an act, it's falling into the orchestra pit and getting a piccolo up your arse. That kinda puts things into perspective, now, doesn't it.
- No matter how well you prepare, something somewhere along the line will probably screw up. It might be you. It might be a fellow actor. It could be a technical problem. It could be a busload of screaming monkeys. Don't let the unexpected faze you. Use it if you can, and go on. The show always goes on.
- Find your light and stay in it. If you're in darkness, you've gone too far in the wrong direction. Chances are good that if you've followed the other ideas above, the light will follow you.
- Don't Panic. No matter what happens. It will honestly only make things worse. Focus and breathe slowly and deeply if you get lost or Something Goes Terribly Wrong. You'll find your way again in no time.
I've been realizing this year just how much I'm wrapped up in my own self-protection. My own false sense of security. I say false, because really, I could die tomorrow. And there is nothing to fear from that or from anything that might come before.
Safe theatre is sad. But a safe life is sadder still.
A safe life doesn't take chances. A safe life has lost its soul. It may be pretty, heck, it's probably even entertaining on some superficial level-- but it doesn't breathe, it doesn't dance, it doesn't plumb the depths of its depravity, it doesn't aspire to the heights of its virtue, it doesn't orgasm, it doesn't challenge, it doesn't do very much at all.
And then I started looking at this list. Everything single thing I've mentioned here could be equally as well-applied to A Life Worth Really Living.
How many do I subscribe to? How many do I consistently practice? How often do I go on autopilot? How often do I self-protect? How often do I not listen?
I live a very safe life in a great many ways.
Mind you, I'm not talking about prudence-- saving your money, not smoking in bed, keeping your daughters away from crack-smoking rock stars, that sort of thing. I'm talking about a false sense of security, of trading security for freedom.**
Now, if my life is safe, how will my art, itself a reflection of life, ever break free from that?
And If my life is safe, what the hell am I doing worrying about my art? It's like an artist crying over not having just the right shade of cadmium blue when his house is on fire. Priorities.
I hereby ordain myself to live a life worth living. To take chances. To find and revel in my soul. To breathe, to dance, to plumb the depths of depravity, to aspire to the heights of virtue, to orgasm, to challenge, to fight against the banal, the insipid, and the safe and embrace the stimulating, the original and the challenging.
Holy schmoley. I'm tired just thinking about it.
A sure sign I've been seeking solace in safety too long.
* Unless you're a stage manager. In which case, safety first, please :)
** The man who trades freedom for security does not deserve, nor will he ever receive, either one. -- Benjamin Franklin
*** I'm wishing some very special people very happy birthdays, and belated birthdays. Hopefully, you all got my emails :)