My thoughts today wandered to the nature of professionalism in the arts. It goes along with my belief that artwork is work, and that it would be easier without survival jobs. However, just like any other job it requires dedication and a degree of professionalism in order to work at its fullest.
It’s a complaint of mine that actors are the laziest artists. Yes, many of us go through years and years of training, and we work tirelessly on shows. I know that our craft is difficult, more difficult than it seems, but sometimes I worry that we, ourselves, are not taking it as seriously as we should. Not that our work isn’t good, but I think sometimes our attitudes toward our work could be improved in the smallest ways. Audiences and theatre-goers expect us to be superhuman. Directors expect their actors to be superhuman, and actors expect their directors to be infallible leaders. The problem with these expectations is simply that we’re human.
I claim that actors are the laziest artists simply because I don’t think we take enough time to practice the fundamentals of our craft on our own time. Instrumentalists practice and practice at home before they take their work to the ensemble. They toil away in practice rooms and in their own homes to get their part correct before presenting it at rehearsal. I’ve watched, over my ‘professional’ career, several actors just stroll in to rehearsal clearly having not done their homework. I mean that lines are still being missed, intentions are not clear, choices were not explored, etc. This could stem from many different things; I know because I too meet these stumbling blocks in rehearsals. However, there’s usually a few tell-tale signs to point out that the artist did nothing between rehearsals to prepare.
In an orchestra, you’re typically surrounded by many others who play your instrument. You’d think that this may hide your lack of preparation, but if you make a mistake, the whole section can sound incorrect, and in turn, the whole orchestra is held responsible. Back in orchestra classes, there was the dreaded ‘down the line’. This occurred when a section could not play the line of music properly, and the conductor/teacher was unable to tell where the fault lay. He or she would take a moment and have each instrumentalist play the passage all on their own, usually revealing the culprits. Their embarrassment usually (hopefully) spurred them into practicing on their own, and returning with the line much closer to perfect than before.
Actors are going “down the line” constantly. There is rarely anyone else to support an individual actor. I understand that we artists work survival jobs and have families and social lives that eat up much of our time. However, I don’t think we take enough time to really practice not only our craft, but our current projects.
Back in college, when I was still an aspiring violinist, I would practice for several hours a day. I set aside time to practice, even between classes and work. Practice usually lasted around 2-3 hours a day, with time devoted to basic techniques, scales, arpeggios and etudes. The rest of the time was devoted to drilling the difficult passages in the pieces, and then I would run the piece on my own to a metronome, then run the piece without the metronome to work on expression and phrasing.
In my acting life, it’s not as often as I’m preaching, of course. I try to set aside time in my day for basic acting exercises, running my audition monologues, running my lines, walking through my blocking in my head, stepping through choreography, etc.
In terms of working on a production, if I’m given a script in advance, I try my hardest to come in off-book and completely memorized by first rehearsal. If that’s not the case, then I work to get the lines down before I even bring them to rehearsal. I understand that one might have a stressful job and life outside rehearsal. I understand that one might have a lot of lines to memorize with limited space in the brain.
But you know what? We chose to accept the roles we do. I understand both the joy that comes from being offered a role, and the pressure from our profession to take those roles. When we accept our jobs, we accept the work that it entails. If we can’t accept the work, and continually make excuses as to why our job isn’t done, then we need to re-evaluate ourselves. We need to remind ourselves why we’re doing what we’re do. Why did we choose the arts? Are you okay with putting yourself through the hours and hours of torment, hard-work and drama that no one else sees, just for some stage time in front of an audience? Do you have something you want to say with your work? With your art? With your whole being?
I believe that artwork is work. I believe in paying artists. It gets difficult for me to fully believe in my own mantra when I see actors who won’t put in the work between rehearsals and between performances. I’d love to say that getting rid of survival jobs would help aide that professionalism towards the craft, but I’m not so sure, because of how ingrained in our patterns it is.
So today’s blog post is a sermon. I haven’t always followed it myself, but I intend to redouble my efforts to do so.