My girlfriend and her mother were sitting shotgun and drivers’ seat, respectively. The nighttime roads of the greater DC area were snaking by in their usual blur of grey and green, peppered with yield signs and do not enters and other signage rendered obsolete in the wake of DC’s vehicular bureaucracy. I sat in the back, leaning forward, occasionally weighing in on the topic at hand. You must understand, discussion with Mary and Joan is much like being a kernel in a popcorn bag, for the quips and the quotes pop up with such rapidity that to be a good kernel in the batch, one needs keep up.
We were discussing Mary’s latest vocal masterclass, which had been lovely for many reasons, chief among them one of the lessons taught by the visiting instructor. The man’s name was James, the most accurate description for whom would be Donald Sutherland as impersonated by Richard Dreyfuss. The lesson in question was how to handle stage fright, that wonderful surge of adrenaline that comes with the fight-or flight instinct just before doing any sort of major public address. The long and short of his lesson was ‘you’re getting a chance to do what you love.’ Off I went like a gong, the phrase echoing in my skull and down along my spine into my bones.
This of course dragged me into the rabbit hole that is my internal conversation. You know that conversation; weighing the benefits and the consequences, lifting yourself up or weighing yourself and finding something wanting. This time, the conversation was slower and deeper, resting in the comfortable foyer of my chest and stomach. What had hit me was that all these people in Mary’s masterclass were doing what they loved, and that I should also be doing such a thing. There was something warm and real in the phrase, in the very idea, of doing something because you love to do it.
Machiavelli once asked which was better, to be feared or to be loved. My internal question is, why should I pursue something? Out of fear, or out of love? For me, as I’m sure for many people, this is a constant struggle. We love to do thing ‘X,’ but we’re afraid that we’re not very good at it. Or we love to do thing ‘Y,” but we’re afraid it won’t pay the bills. In essence, these are the same fears weighed against the things we love. Will I be good at it? Will it cover my expenses? What won’t I be able to do once I follow this path? Will people like me when I do what I love?
This last question was the fear that James had been addressing at the master class. ‘Will people like me?’ As performers, we’re constantly searching for approval. For professional performers, it means that we can pay the bills that month. For others, it’s more self-affirming.
For the last three years, I have let fear of poverty drive my big decisions. I think that’s a reasonable fear, fairly rational, considering the world at large. So, I taught, then I went back to school for my MBA. To be fair, I don’t want to be poor. But I haven’t been doing theatre. Sure, I’ve been doing theatre, but it hasn’t been my profession.
I don’t want to spend my life behind a desk. If a third of your life is spent doing something you don’t believe just to pay the bills, I think you’ve been hoodwinked. And I can feel myself working in that direction, towards hoodwinking myself out of my passion just to assuage my fears.
But then fear drives me back to what I love: I think that at some point, I become scared that I won’t get to do the thing that I love, which is why I consistently return to theatre.
So there we were, DC whipping by in all its archaic confusion that passes for interstate infrastructure. The three of us finally settle out of the car and into a restaurant, where my introspection moved to discussion. The ladies and myself discussed Avalanche, and the idea of a theatre company, and my involvement in it, and college, and many things. Discussions, like life, go in many directions.
What struck me was why I was doing this. Why Avalanche, why DC, why now?
I am getting a chance to do what I love.
Granted, I’ve been acting and writing and producing and recording and fighting and learning for three years now, but I’ve been more of mercenary, trying to find a home in many disparate locations. And mostly, I’ve been doing side projects. Treating theatre as a hobby.
Avalanche gives me a place where I can do what I love.
I love to do theatre. I don’t love acting, or writing, or directing, or building, separately. Well, I do, but doing any one isn’t enough. It feels too pigeon-holed. Part of my conscience still bangs against the walls, wanting to be expressed. I’m terribly unfocused, which is to say, there is no dominant interest of mine when it comes to theatre.
Part of me wants to be on that stage, earning the adoration or fear of all two people in the audience.
Part of me wants to be the director who works tirelessly with his cast and crew to collaboratively create great art.
Part of me wants to be that person who says ‘yes, we got you the funding you need.’
Part of me wants to sit down and build a set.
These parts all fuel my internal discussion, which I like to think makes me a more complete person. But then, it’s probably just me reaffirming my neuroses.
“Sacrificing yourself on the altar of art,” was how James referred to this aspect of theatre. Just laying oneself emotionally bare so that the audience could, for a moment, release some of their own emotional tension from their daily lives.
I think that all art requires sacrifice. At the very least, all art takes time, and time, unlike money, is something you can’t get more of. You can’t work for hours to get a longer life. Sure, there are many various remedies and behaviors that purportedly lengthen your life, but you can’t turn back the clock. So any time you use on choosing to do anything is a sacrifice. That’s reality.
Just look at that word. ‘Reality.’ Coming from ‘real,’ the ‘real world,’ one ‘reality.’ What is ‘real?’ It looks like re-all, doing everything over and over again. Reality. The same thing again and again, over and over. I would very much like that same repeating thing to be something that I love.
I think that the danger of time, the natural sacrifice of every daily choice, is what moved me so much about the idea of ‘getting to do what you love.’ I could avoid poverty, I could work a desk job, I could make a ton of money (well, maybe). I could be traditionally ‘successful.’ But I might look back on a life lived that way and see that I never really got to do what I loved. And I don’t want to have that kind of catharsis. I don’t want to realize too late that I always had something I loved and I let it go by so I could be ‘successful.’ That, for me, is too great a sacrifice.
So that is where fear and love meet; to love something so much that my greatest fear is not doing that thing. Not just eventually, but at any instant, at missing the chance to be a part of that thing that I love, that’s where my fear and my adoration intertwine. Theatre. At any moment, at every moment, to have a life fully lived and performed and built and directed. To not miss an instant of doing what I love.
That was my Avalanche moment for this weekend, found in the middle of my girlfriend’s master class.