Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Finish Your Work
Your work can be both complete, and have luster. Work, as in expend effort, to deliver a finished product.
A professor once told me, "You are a designer. You are concerned with the way things look." This mantra has become a constant reminder for me to look at what I’m creating and to make sure it's deliberate, intentional, without unfinished edges and, most importantly, without the disclaimer that I could have done better. It has made me aware of the need to assess what I can do for a particular project with its given resources, and to ensure that I'm not attempting to create something I will not be able to finish. I don't believe we should be creating designs that hint at a larger, more expensive and unattainable vision-rather, we should be creating with awareness and respect for our limitations, with the goal that what is presented to an audience is finished and without apology
(from The Right Chair). So too with acting. You are an actor. You are concerned with the way people do things.
Joe Bill, one of my instructors at Second City in Chicago, said:
How you do what you do is who you are. As an actor, do what you do like you mean it. As a character, have them do what they do as they would uniquely do it.
Handed the sides and given 5 minutes to look them over before the audition, or having the script for months before rehearsals start: do a finished version of the role. At least for auditions and jobs, turn in a final product.
That doesn't mean you must be perfect, by all means take risks and fail well, and class is a wonderful place for trying things that may not work. Things that, to put it bluntly, may suck. But our job is to do the best we can at that moment. Our job is to act. The gig is the final performance to the audience that sees it, so give them what they paid for.
Our resources may be more a matter of time, focus, energy and other typically less material things than a stage set design (unless of course one includes coaching, classes and other things that cost money), but they are still resources.
Like a film that never gets out of post, our work doesn't exist until it hits the lens and microphone or crosses the footlights. So put the best work you can out. Finished work. Don't just point at what you do, do it. Will your well studied and prepared version be better than the improvised, ad-hoc 3 second preparation version? Maybe. Maybe not. But doesn't matter if the production is losing the light in its last day and really needs this take to work in the next 5 minutes or the story won't get told. Do your best work.
Even if it is low budget, you are coming straight from an 8 hour shift at an exhausting non-acting job, you are wearing your own clothes for wardrobe or the script has only just been handed to you, do the best you can with what you have where you are. Make it a good finished product.
And yes, do try to avoid poorly resourced situations that compromise the work. Or your morals, or your health. Like a dressing room that is below freezing and gives you pneumonia; the unions have rules like minimum dressing room temperatures for a reason. And yes, I well know it's always easier, and so much nicer, to do our work with bountiful resources available. Shrimp cocktail being brought to you by craft services at 2am outside on a night shoot in the winter just because crafty is awesome and does it even though none of the cast or crew asked them to? Yes please and thank you. Enjoy those times. Do what you can with what you have where you are right now.
It is often more comfortable to have time to hone a scene's lines with a different dialect than your own. But actors have booked roles even after learning just moments before their audition that the character speaks with a (fill in the blank) accent. It is more pleasant to know your bills are getting paid while you work because you are getting triple-scale and not $100 a day, but actors have won Academy Awards for roles that paid them $100 a day. In an ideal world, resources would never be limited in unpleasant ways. We don't live in an always ideal world. But we can do great work anyway, without resorting to pointing toward what could have been if only we'd had __________.
And if you are producing your own work, then for everyone's sake, and especially your own, don't start a project you will not finish. It is better to quit before you start and put the time/money/energy/sanity elsewhere. And in your acting, remember: you are already a complete, whole, and finished person. We get refined, honed, expanded every moment of our lives, but the hard work of having the raw material of our work, being human, is done. You are enough. So have fun, and break a leg!
"Do what you can with what you have where you are right now."
This has been my motto for life for many years, now - people are always commenting how I adapt to changing circumstances and keep a positive attitude, and I think it's because this is such a core belief.
I love this post - thank you, David!