Always moving forward

January 26, 2006

I’m in a state of transition right now, like all people are at many points in their lives. I’ve spent the greater part of the past year exploring, trying to figure out that next step in my life. Most of that time was focused on one of my many passions: theatre. I looked into the possibilities of lighting design, explored other positions being offered in Canada and the US, thought about graduate school for the academic side of theatre, and played with the idea of starting a theatre or theatre company. Many of these ideas have been floating around in my head ever since I entered University and discovered how powerful theatre really is.

My life was centered around the arts, but I ignored what else was happening inside of me. Until I started reading The Introvert Advantage, I never saw the inner-machinery of my mind and body. But that book allowed me to look at me from the outside and see the truth of my behaviour and personality. It’s a very eye-opening experience to look at yourself from a different perspective. You find how important the smaller things in your personality really are in the grand scheme of everything. For instance, when I’m working on a task, my mind is paying attention to what I’m doing, but also thinking about how that task could be improved, how the system of doing things in that environment could be improved, see the wasted time and energy spent on doing things, and so on. While working on the small item, my mind is thinking of the big picture. I took this to mean frustration with my job, wishing I could be the one in charge and fix things, or when I was in charge, thinking of the inadequacies of the people formerly in my position. This has all changed for me, however.

I wrote the other day about how the seeds of change have been planted inside, and now I want to really tackle what is exactly changing inside of me by looking at the above examples from my life.

There are a few certain truths that will not change any time soon for me: 1) the current form of theatre is useless; it can be much more powerful and meaningful with the complete destruction and rebuilding of its current form, and 2) if you can harness that power in theatre and use it, you could change a lot of things about the world. I have to admit that dream is a highly idealized way of thinking about theatre, but that’s what artists are. They’re idealists, not realists. I’m beginning to understand that I am both an idealist and a realist. That doesn’t fit very well into the world of theatre. You’re either the idealist wanting the world and not caring about the costs of getting there, constantly re-imagining how items can be used for the benefit of performance, and being satisfied with the emotional connection with the audience. Or you’re a realist, always concerned about bums in seats, looking after your budget, being conservative with productions to preserve both the artistic side and the financial. A show is rewarding for a realist if it makes money or doesn’t create a large deficit.

I’d want the world, but would get frustrated with the lack of funds, failing equipment, no audience members, and so on. I understand that the size of an audience shouldn’t matter, and I should accept that “this is the show” and not be concerned about “what ifs.” But it’s not who I am. I want to work hard to make sure the world is there on stage, push the boundaries of what it means to be a theatre artist, but be recognized for those achievements by the audience, community, and media. I don’t want my efforts to be lost forever, which is exactly the way current models of theatre are set up. Unless you’re working on Broadway or London’s West End, where performances can go on forever (Cats, Phantom of the Opera, Rent, etc), the life of a show ends on that final blackout. Actors leave and don’t care about that theatre anymore, technicians are just concerned about tearing the show down in a timely manner, ushers are glad they don’t have to come in to work for a while. It’s a real depressing situation for me. I want things to be remembered, not have the audience forget about the show they just saw a week later. For me, it’s all about having an impact on an audience.

To achieve this dream of having an impact on an audience, I’ve started to look towards not the arts, but business. Business has always felt wrong to me, but that all changed last month after reading David Rushkoff’s blog entry about “Business is Good .” I discussed this back then in my entry
but I missed a point in it. I read it today, thanks to another blog entry, Gumption’s reflection on the same Rushkoff entry. This is what inspired me to write all of this: “Making money should really just be a happy result of contributing to the world what you do best…”

So simple, yet so powerful at the same time. “Contributing to the world what you do best” didn’t mean making money for me. There were possibilities to make money in the arts, but that required a bit of luck (being noticed in New York City or the United States) and largely depended on your freedom to make choices. Having the option to move to a city like Toronto or Montreal to really pursue the arts is not something most artists have available. Without it, I think a lot of artists “settle” for their current situation and tell themselves that they are happy in their location, scrounging for money, and living the simple life. That quote made me think that I don’t want to be a settler, I want to live somewhat comfortably, while still giving the world my talents and skills. Working in theatre, I would only be contributing to a select few, while being looked over by the majority (directors don’t really care about who builds the set or hangs the lights, they just want it done right and on time).

To clear things up, exploring business is not meant to be a money grab for me. I’m a hypocrite, but I both love and hate money. I love it when I have it for the things I want, but I hate how we spend it so easily and quickly sometimes, and hate when I don’t have it. Other than the money factor, going into business really is about finding what I am made of and how I can offer that to as many people as possible while feeling good about my actions. A lot of things that I’m frustrated with in the arts, may actually turn out to be strengths in other areas. Wanting to have an impact with as many people as possible, providing a quality service or goods, remaining within the constraints of a budget and practicalities, while pushing the boundaries of business and the world, sounds much more reasonable in a business sense than an artistically. I could talk about how I may be wrong with this thinking, but it’s time to turn the corner and believe that this is the right choice until proven otherwise. I have absolutely nothing to lose with pursuing this.

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