Sunday, December 09, 2012
Feeds You or Feeds You Artistically
The creative person basically has two kinds of jobs: One is the sexy, creative kind. Second is the kind that pays the bills
This is Hugh MacLeod's sex and cash theory. Some things are things that are the reason you are an actor, some are what you do to "keep the lights on." Tempting to accept this breakdown of acting you do for the money, and acting you do for joy. This one for them and one for me view is seductive. This is the idea behind some actors doing a tent-pole big blockbuster and then doing a smaller art-house film. Or the fabled moment when the studio head said to an actor:
"If you want to do movie A, then I'm gonna need you to do movie B for us. No movie B for us, no movie A for you."
This dichotomy can go further. An actor may be seen doing mainstream commercial films, and then does something that is almost transparently awards fodder. Makes sense sometimes: too much looking like a sell-out and the actor's legitimacy as an artist erodes in the audience's minds and hearts. An actor can only appear so commercial before looking less like an artist. They risk drifting from "actor I go to see act" to "actor I go to see try to sell me something" or even more on to "actor who is product spokesperson who only tells me things because they are paid to." Just because I can on a Sunday afternoon, let's go even further on this binary.
Motivation is something both we and every character have and have in common. We and our characters want things. Much of acting training focuses on your character's wants. Sometimes it is expanded or refined as what your character wants the other characters to do, or give, and sometimes what your character wants to have happen, where they want to be, literally or metaphorically (ex: Chekhov's Three Sisters want to go to Moscow, Hamlet wants to set things right but not hastily do anything himself).
As people outside of work we also have motivations, objectives, goals. If we don't get what we want (like happiness, fulfillment, food) our characters not only won't get what they want, but never exist. We are the foundation our roles are built on. Starve us, starve or outright kill our characters. Even in moments of great peace and contentment, where no hedonistic or even loftier want crosses our minds and hearts, eventually we will need to eat again, to sleep. It is not permanently possible to be without want, to be without hunger.
So to act, or even live, we need to eat. Both literally and figuratively. If we are hungry for food, our work will suffer. If we are hungry long enough, for food or other essentials, we cease to exist. If we are exceedingly hungry for less edible things, like contentment, material comfort, stability, human connection, we will not do our best work, but even more vital, our lives, the only ones we get to live, will suffer. They may even end early from stress or depression. Or simply be half lived.
If we work a non-acting day job it is not merely to pay the rent/mortgage and cell phone bill. We do it so we are not in panic, worry and anxiety throughout our days and nights. We do it because rightly or wrongly money is the universal scorecard often used to gauge success and value. We do it because we may only feel comfortable in a home of a certain quality or location. Marketing and ads are often built on this: part of who we tell ourselves we are is based on what we have materially and what we have in the bank.
Our characters do this too. Willy Lowman in "Death of a Salesman" is all but entirely defined by his struggle between who his income has said he is and who he may be in every non-financial sense. Every role we play is someone who has their own view of what money they have now, could have, and want to have. And in life we each have our own beliefs. One actor may feel on the financial edge if their net worth is less than $100,000, another only worries if they don't know where money for next month's bills is coming from. Some people are uncomfortable if they have less than $20,000 in the bank, some only get antsy once they have more than $20,000 dollars debt. For both, the transactional need to have money to buy food is not all that concerns them. Satisfied or not, we hunger, as all humans do, for more than food.
A role may compensate you in a few different ways, but the key in an emotional sense may be how it feeds your material life and how it feeds your immaterial life, how it feeds you and how it feeds you artistically. No shame in taking a role for the money, and there is nothing wrong in taking a role for the joy. Landlords, banks and grocers do not take joy as payment. That concrete reality, that artistic satisfaction alone may not feed you, may be a good thing. Needing to fund your life may keep you more balanced, healthier, and from purely having your head in the clouds. Sustaining oneself physically as well as spiritually, emotionally, artistically, is healthier than being lopsided either way. But even if it weren't, even if it would be better if the concrete world had no sway with us, if it would be nicer feeling if finances and business realities and such didn't affect us, that does not seem to be the way the universe is configured.
Just as focusing too much on the finances of our work would not be good, focusing too much on the artistic to the exclusion of the practical is not good. Balance what feeds you and what feeds you artistically. Let hunger to do great work and to live a great life both get attention. And reading my own words, I'm off to lunch. Feed yourself well.
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