You have time. But what are you doing with it?

painter-by-fen-0650-for-webYou probably have something creative you like to do. Maybe it’s music, or painting, or acting. Maybe you like to draw, or do pottery, or make toys. Or perhaps your passion is sewing or writing or cooking. You’d like to spend time being an artist. Are you doing it?

The obstacle seems to be time. As in “I don’t have enough time to paint,” or “If I only had more time I’d audition for the next community theater play.” I suspect you have enough time. We all get the same number of hours in a day or a week, and yes, we all have different jobs and responsibilities. It’s not easy to change our schedules to “make time” for our creative, artistic selves, but it’s important to do it.

Here’s an exercise: For the next few days (two or three should be enough) write down all the things you do and how much time they take. When you’re done, find an hour in each of the days you’ve recorded that went to low-priority tasks or even wasted time that you can reclaim for your art time. The exact times don’t matter; the purpose of the exercise is to prove to yourself that you could find a hour a day to be creative if you really wanted to.

If you could find an hour a day, that’s seven hours a week. You could go to two or three rehearsals, play music in public a couple times a week, or dedicate 60 minutes every day to writing.

There, you’ve got the time! Now go do something creative!


Needs and actions (do something about it)

Candy jar by J. Yung (Some rights reserved - CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)Acting is doing. Onstage, I make choices that give my character something to do. What are his needs? What does he want? How will he get it? By doing something.

This isn’t any different than real life. Let’s say you want something. It can be big and abstract, like happiness or security; or it can be small and specific, like a candy bar. How do I get it? I could ask for it, using just the sound of my voice (dialogue) and maybe a little body language (physicality). “I want a candy bar,” I ask. If I’m successful, I can move on to the next thing on my list. But that’s not usually enough. Often we have to do something ourselves to get what we want. I may search my house for one. If I find some candy and it’s not mine (ooh! someone left one in the freezer and frozen candy bars are awesome!), I have to negotiate with its owner or maybe just steal it. If there isn’t any candy in the house, I may have to find some money and my car keys and go get one at the store. When I get there, I have dozens of choices: milk or dark chocolate, with nuts or without, caramel/nougat/crisped rice? Maybe I’ll change my mind and get some cookies instead. Or how about a beer? Faced with options, what I really want may change.

Our characters deserve the same chance to want things, to overcome obstacles to get them, to change their minds if new options are available. Don’t just say the words. Know what your character wants — all the time — and you’ll start to make the move from just someone reading lines to an actor doing things.

Actor or mimic?

Other actors before me have played the same roles, memorized and delivered the same words, yet the character I create will always be mine – my interpretation, my artistic decisions – because I’m different from them and it’s simply not possible for me to be the same character. If I try to copy someone else’s interpretation, it’s not acting… it’s mimicry. Would you rather be an actor or a mimic?

Life begins at audition

Photo by Swamibu. Some rights reserved (CC BY-NU 2.0).My life as an actor begins again every time I audition. It’s my rebirth. If I’m good enough, if I’m what the director wants, I get a chance to take a character off the black and white pages of a script and turn him into a real, flesh-and-blood human again, with all of the shades of gray that come with that transformation. Amazing.

Many, if not most, actors hate auditions. They’re terrifying, they’re humiliating, and they carry the very real possibility of rejection. We hate being rejected. Did they hate me because I’m too tall, too short, too skinny, too fat, or is it my voice, my eye color, my age? Or is the director just casting her friends (or lovers)? Maybe that guy got the part because he once did the director a favor or because he’s a major donor or is related to someone who might donate to the theater company. And maybe I need better headshots, a different resumé format.

Who knows? Not you. That’s not your problem, it’s the director’s. Most of the time, the director’s too busy to hate anyone, but he does have to find a cast and I wasn’t what he needed that day. I do know that I don’t get 100 percent of the roles I don’t audition for. If I do audition, though, at least I’ve got a shot. I don’t make a living as an actor – very few of us do – so when I go into an audition I have nothing to lose. If I get a part, great! If not, I’ve left with exactly what I came in with. Except I have one more audition experience under my belt, and even if I wasn’t cast, I may have left a positive impression anyway, which means next time….

It’s so much easier not to try. But not trying means not doing.

Today’s writing music: “Song For My Father” by Stanley Jordan, “These Foolish Things” by Chet Baker, “Ecos” by Strunz & Farah, “Desde Mi Giralda” by El Niño de Pura.

Happy New Year!

Hey! It's Twenty-Twelve!

Happy 2012! May this year be filled with great theater, films and art… and may you be someone who’s creating that art as well as enjoying it.

I’ve been wanting to write down my thoughts about theater and acting for some time, so this year I’m going to write a “thing-a-day” to impose some discipline and get myself going. The posts may be long (article length) or short (perhaps a quote I like or a random thought), but there will be one every day this year. I’ll also be linking to inspiring and thoughtful articles and blogs written by others who I enjoy reading. So by the end of 2012, I’ll have 366 things about theater on this blog. Which should be a good thing, I think. Hopefully, you’ll find a few of these “things” useful.

Let’s get started….

Lisa Sturtridge, theatre artist (1955-2011)

From the remarks I gave at the beginning of “A Celebration of the Art of Lisa Sturtridge” at St. Clair County Community College on Friday, October 28, 2011:

Our friend Lisa Sturtridge left us three weeks ago, but the “new normal” is taking a lot longer to get used to. I shared an office with Lisa for three years, but all of us shared the theatre, the classrooms, the hallways and the world with Lisa for much longer, 56 years in fact. When Lisa died on October 10th, she left behind hundreds of students she’d connected to over her years of teaching; many actors who understand that costuming and makeup is more than just clothes you put on and faces you paint on; many dozens of close friends and family all around the country, who shared one of her many passions: theatre (of course), photography, sports, 80’s hair bands, Broadway musicals, literature, and much more.

During our hours in our spacious luxury office suite, Lisa shared with me her many interests. I was never quite sure what music or talk program might be streaming over her internet connection. It was rarely the same thing twice… with the exception of listening to 97.1 The Ticket so she could mumble about the people who called in to the sports talk shows. She didn’t think much of them, but enjoyed listening to the hosts, another thing we agreed on.

I met Lisa in November of 2008, right after I was asked to direct my first show at SC4, “Christmas Belles,” after my predecessor, Rich Goteri, got an acting gig in L.A. and was unable to do that show. While I’d worked with volunteer costume people in community theatre, I didn’t know what to expect from Lisa as a professional costumer. I’m sure I’m not giving away any secrets when I tell you that artists, including theatre directors, often have very strong opinions about their work. I’m not any different, but I found Lisa to be an open-minded, enthusiastic collaborator whose primary concern was the overall quality of the production. To that end, she was vital to letting me know how things worked at SC4, and considering we only had four weeks to put the whole show together, I literally could not have done Christmas Belles without her.

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to continue to direct shows at SC4, and regardless of the style and timeframe of the play, Lisa was always ready to discuss and work together to create a visual sense for each character. She was particularly excited about the play we just completed, Sam Shepard’s Fool For Love. She had done the costume design for the production but was unable to finish the collection of costume items before her death. The cast and I pulled together items from their own wardrobes – plus a whirlwind dress shopping excursion at Macy’s – and I think Lisa would have been pleased with how close to her original vision we ended up with on stage. The hallmark of good teaching is when your students can do things on their own, and clearly Lisa taught us – and I include myself in that list of students – taught us well.

Lisa Sturtridge did a lot of things in her life. She was a Sanilac County kid who went on to Michigan State to get a bachelor’s degree in technical theatre, with a concentration in lighting design; later she completed her master’s in costume design and dramatic literature at Emerson College in Boston. She worked with summer stock theatre companies for many summers during these years around the U.S. Incidentally, the music we played at the start, “Good Times Roll,” is by a band Lisa not only liked, but she also knew personally. When she was in Boston, she worked for a time at the Barnes & Noble store on Harvard Square, where students and professors from Harvard and MIT, along with many other poets, musicians, actors and artists would hang out. Among the people Lisa met working there were Benjamin Orr of The Cars and Tom Scholz of the band Boston. Another musical guilty pleasure of Lisa’s was 80’s hair bands. She surprised me one day by not only telling me that the musical Rock Of Ages was one of her favorites, but by then putting the album on and singing along heartily.

Her interest in photography brought her back to school at SC4 a decade ago, and she worked with Ralph Polovich as both a student and a darkroom assistant until the opportunity came along to use her costuming skills again beginning in 2004. She also began teaching Introduction to Theatre and Fundamentals of Stage Makeup. Over the past seven-plus years, Lisa touched many students’ lives as a teacher, a mentor and a friend. Because she hadn’t always had the easiest life herself, Lisa was particularly sensitive to students who had special life needs: economic challenges, academic or psychological difficulties, those who found themselves homeless or otherwise in need. Several times in the three years I knew Lisa, I saw her go out of her way to work with a student – and they didn’t have to be in one of her classes, either – and help them with proofreading a paper, borrowing a coat, or connecting with a social service agency. Students were her reason for being, and she was never happier than when she was just talking and sharing with a student in her office or in the costume shop.

It’s strange to think that Lisa won’t be walking through the door to our office again. While we didn’t agree on everything… and when you get tossed, more or less randomly, into an office to spend dozens of hours every week together, who does? Lisa and I shared a passion for the power of the art of theatre. All other minor differences were dwarfed by that common belief. Lisa was a colleague, a collaborator, an artist, and ultimately, my friend. I will miss her.

We all have different beliefs, and we take different comfort from them. Today’s event isn’t really a memorial service, as such, yet the mere act of holding this celebration of Lisa’s art is a reminder that when we affect someone, when we make their life better, when we make them laugh, or cry, or learn, or grow, we live in that person’s memory. Lisa affected so many people, and because of that, she will never be forgotten and lives on forever.

To close our program, I’d like to ask all of you to participate again. Lisa was a very affectionate person. She gave and received hugs enthusiastically. So now, I’d like to invite any of you that were affected by Lisa, who learned from Lisa, who counted Lisa as a friend, to join me on stage. Let’s hug each other one more time in the memory of our friend, Lisa Sturtridge.