Friday, November 30, 2012
Innovators understand that their job is to fail, repeatedly, until they don't.
- Seth Godin
Actors who aren't innovating are probably (dare I say it) boring. Steve McQueen once said an actor is only as good as the extent to which they risk being bad. Being "bad" (whatever that would mean) is probably our version of "failure" as much as anything else could be (failure and success can only really be words with meaning if they are linked to specific goals; ex: speaking unclearly is a success for a character that is drunk or something like that, but a failure for one who is intended to be well spoken or understood).
It might be worth finding times/places to fail, and get better at taking the risks that can fail. I'm talking about the times between action and cut, between curtain up and curtain down. Still be on time and prepared. Class is a great place to take a risk that might not pan out. No job to lose or audience to disappoint. I started classes at the Second City Conservatory in Chicago with that plan: each week I planned to do something in class that would probably not work, try something that would fall flat. Not sure if I succeeded in sticking to this plan the whole way through, but I imagine my classmates witnessed more than a few not-ready-for-primetime moments from me ;-). It may have helped stretch me to plan to do something "bad" at least once a class.
Stretching as a performer isn't just a good way to broaden your skill-set and confidence, stretching can be its own reward just by feeling good, and getting you more in touch with your instrument, and what your comfort is in your body, mind and heart while doing different things. Mastery, and the feelings it can bring with it, can feel very good indeed.
One of the key parts of job satisfaction, often more prized than even the pay, is a feeling of overcoming challenges, surmounting an obstacle and attaining a not-easy-to-attain goal: a feeling of mastery and ability. As actors we work for ourselves, so it's up to us to provide some of that sort of challenge/satisfaction for ourselves. Sometimes that means mentioning to the stage manager, even long after a show's opening, that you're going to try something with a specific line tonight to keep it fresh and find something new-ish. Or with the director's consent, do the last take trying to mess it up, a "can we do one just so I can 'f' with it" take. Don't broadside everyone else in the project while fighting robotic consistency, but remember: actors are the squishy and intended to be risky while cameras are rolling, or the curtain is up. It has been said that good on camera work is accidental behavior captured on film. Without blowing up the character and script with metaphorical high explosives, let the character breathe.
Taking risks means you may fail. Not taking risks means you will fail. If you haven't done anything lately in your acting that didn't really work, then find a way to explore, to experiment, and fail. Then make your worst "failures" (while the cameras are rolling or the curtain is up) still pretty darn good and you'll be the actor producers and the audience know will consistently deliver without stagnation or rote boringness no matter what.
Now, the next challenge becomes getting better at knowing if what you are doing, both while acting and in life, is good or feels good, which I will write a post on soon. Until then: try failing, and break a (pretend) leg.
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