In the light of several recent events in my life, I’ve realized that generosity is a concept that is so important to our lives as theatre artists, or as artists in general.
I’ll start with my most recent production. I had a very minor role in Kafka on the Shore over with Spooky Action Theatre. We artists know the pain, torment, trials and tribulations that are required to put on a show. It requires a tremendous amount of work, self-sacrifice and time. After all, rehearsal in french is ‘répétition’, and if you’re a performing artist, that makes perfect sense to you. We toil away at learning our lines, remembering our blocking, practicing with our props and scene partners, and it just gets downright messy and tiring sometimes.
However, when we’re working with a truly generous cast, we notice that the process becomes that much easier. When the other actors on stage are giving you everything they have, it usually inspires you to put out more in turn. That transfer of energy grows and grows until magical things happen during rehearsal, and we do our best to take that to the stage. When I say ‘generous’ actor, I’m referring to those actors who are in their scenes with the full intention of giving you everything they have in order to make you look good. You match their energy, their language (both verbal and physical) with an intensity of your own, and your scenes feel electric. You can ponder all you want on how that energy transfers to the audience, but having been an audience member myself, you can tell when actors are enjoying their scene, regardless of its content. Watching two actors who are giving themselves without any thought to ‘looking good’ but rather making their partner ‘look good’ is so much more entrancing and captivating than watching a selfish actor whose self image is more important. That generosity of spirit, time and energy is what makes live theatre that much more enjoyable, and that selfsame generosity is an absolute necessity in bridging the gap between a ‘watchable’ scene and an ‘enjoyable’ one. It can be very hard to do, of course, but from the moment we start acting classes, or start acting professionally, we’re taught that it’s “always about your scene partner”. That holds true, and the more generous you are, the more you get back in return.
On a more different scale, the actors in Kafka on the Shore were not only generous with their time and talents, but also with gifts! Almost everyone in the cast brought in food for people to share, and during the run many of us brought little gifts for one another. I received beanie baby cats, cards with anime characters that represented one of my characters, magic tea, pineapples, chopsticks, scented candles, a piece of abstract art of my character (aptly titled “Dog Deconstructed”), among many others. Such generosity of spirits really helped bring good cheer and merriment to our dressing room. That sort of continuous sharing makes it very easy to work with a group of people, especially when you have to do the same show over and over for a month. Sure, we were catty and snippy, sometimes punchy. Sometimes we stepped on each others’ beliefs or made fun of each other in ways that might not have been great, but I think the gifts were a way to show that we genuinely cared for one another as a cast, and that despite our backgrounds we wanted each and every one of us to succeed. I think a lot of that transferred over to the stage, and even though we weren’t in scenes with each other, we were always quietly rooting for the success of our comrades. I honestly think that that sort of selfless giving is very hard to find out there in the world, so I’m glad that I continually find it again and again in theatre.
Another aspect of generosity comes in the financial sense. Having just successfully run a Kickstarter Campaign for our season (yay!), I cannot help but be amazed at the sheer generosity of people willing to support our art. Both Elizabeth Hansen and I are amazed when someone donates $5, especially considering how expensive life is. I’m utterly flabbergasted when people donate money in the hundreds, because, that’s a lot of money! I saw donations for $500 and above and I was floored at the sight. Not because that kind of generosity is unprecedented, but rather because we were getting any money at all for theatre of all things. Theatre is so often mocked and criticized in public media, lampshaded or parodied in cartoons and the like, that I’m surprised anyone who is not a theatre artist has any sort of positive view of theatre at all! These donations not only went towards theatre, but our theatre! It came with little messages like: “It’s because we believe in you.” or “I love your work!” which just filled me with so much love and respect for our donors. So much of theatre relies on donations, because we’re not businesses. Hell, even the bigger theatres with their bigger profits still rely on donations because theatre is expensive. I’m quite proud to say that we’re practicing our own form of generosity by ensuring that our artists are paid for their time. It’s essential to our practice. It’s not much now, but the principle is so important. The artists are generous with their time, skills, talents, thoughts, ideas, etc, that it only makes sense that we compensate them for that. When we made profit off of Despertar, I paid my artists and stage manager an additional $100 just to help cover their travel expenses. I want to continue to foster the practice of this ideal, sliding the scale upwards as we grow as a company. My ultimate goal is to be able to pay actors a livable wage over the course of the show. This is, of course, a far-reaching dream, but it’s one to which I’ll continue to adhere to the best of my ability.
We’ve been holding auditions for Apotheosis, and the last form of generosity I wanted to share is really the sharing of self. I know I touched on it earlier with my musings on the Kafka on the Shore cast, but this is slightly different.
I asked for people to bring in a piece up to five minutes long that they considered ‘emotionally moving’, which is a tall order. What people brought tended to be deeply personal in some way shape or form. Regardless of the piece they selected, they imbued as much of their own psyche into their work that I couldn’t help but smile at the risks people were taking. I know that when you perform, you can hide yourself a bit under the text, movement or whatever. But here, in an audition room with two strange faces and a video camera staring them down, I’m still quite pleased with the willingness they possessed to share that part of themselves with us while we sat and watched them. We were judging them and what they had to give, but they still put it out there selflessly and beautifully.
Art is a culture of generosity. I believe in karma, but I never seek to reap its rewards; they come to me in whatever form they will. I think art functions the same way. We put ourselves out there, we give without thought of receiving, we create without thought of reward. Some say that our reward is that we get to make art. Some say that the reward is that you get more work in the field you love. They may all be right. Who knows? Art does not require our generosity, but look at what it does for us in turn. Let’s continue to be generous, giving, and kind, and I’m sure that our art will flourish.