BECOMING THE PROFESSIONAL ARTIST
How does one stoke the fires of one’s creativity and keep growing as an artist? An actor must have a game plan with peers and teachers to help achieve his goals.
Being in an academic environment at a school, one usually feels a strong sense of support from the faculty and fellow students. This structure allows for us to struggle and fail with little to no repercussions. The real world doesn’t work this way. There is little tolerance for learning on the job. An actor needs a support system in place outside of school where one is allowed to fail and struggle and grow with benevolent and nurturing support without ridicule and public scrutiny. The actor must create a network of fellow artists and teachers.
It’s nearly impossible to clearly judge and evaluate your own growth realistically. Even Tiger Woods and Roger Federer need a coach. Actors need trusted peers and private teachers who truly care about and the craft of acting. A good teacher will help teach you the tools needed to be freed-up to explore creative possibilities and the gentle self-reflection to determine and judge the progress of your own development.
The key to the actor’s longevity and steady development in his career is discipline. The word, discipline comes from the Latin disciplina, meaning: teaching, learning. An actor must be a disciple to his work. Discipline also means to bring something under control – to create order. The writer, teacher, Robert Benedetti, states,
“In the best sense, discipline is one’s acceptance of responsibility for one’s own growth through systematic effort, not to please someone else, not to earn a grade, or a good review, or a job, but because you choose to become all that you can be as an artist. Discipline is rooted in your respect for yourself and for your work. Poor discipline is really a way of saying, “I’m not worth it,” or “what I do doesn’t matter.” Discipline will come naturally if you can acknowledge your own value and the importance and seriousness of your work.”
An actor must set long-term goals and structure his day-to-day schedule to meet those goals – this means planned practice. The professional world demands results. Actors don’t have time learn on the job. As the great film composer Alfred Newman said, “They don’t want it good, they want it Tuesday.” So, an actor’s lowest common denominator is to be good. The actor must be in top form – must be prepared physically, mentally and emotionally – free to respond to what is required and asked of him at a moments notice. One approach or technique is not enough. Your work will become hackneyed and uninteresting if you do not continue to challenge and educate yourself as an artist and a human being.
It takes guts to be professional actor. In all, more than anything else, your continued growth as an artist will require courage.
Creativity always produces anxiety because it is a confrontation with the unknown. Creativity involves bringing a new form into being, whether that form is original to us or an interpretation of something conceived by another, we have to get ourselves out-of-the-way of it. Actors are required to be the ambassadors of the human spirit. This is mastery and it requires the ability to open up the soul, to surrender our habitual way of experiencing the world to make room for new perceptions and forms. Benedetti states, “This produces anxiety, though once you are really good at it, creative anxiety turns into ecstasy — ex-stasis, “standing outside” ourselves. Hence the “divine madness.” Hence the need for creative courage. Absolute confidence in our technique and our understanding of our material can help, but they won‘t do the whole job. I know of only one sure source of the courage to create, and that is the SPIRIT OF SERVICE. This spirit is essential to being a truly professional artist.
Consider what defines a professional. We sometimes distinguish between professional and amateur on the basis of money: the professional is paid, while the amateur (from the root amat) works only for love. But “professional” means much more than the fact that someone gives you money for what you do.
The root of the word comes from an old French verb, profes, that meant “to make a solemn vow,” as in joining a religious order. Because the work of professionals directly affects the lives of others, we make them profess an ethic, to take a vow to use their special powers only for the benefit of those they serve. We as professional artists must accept that our work can and should affect others as much as do doctors or lawyers or clergy, and that we must take the same vow of ethical concern and personal responsibility to use our creative power to do good, or at least, to “first, do no harm.”
The key to creative courage, I believe, is this commitment to a larger purpose. You must be committed on three levels simultaneously and equally: First to yourself, to your own talent and skill, to becoming all that you can be in your art. Second, to the work itself, to seeking out work that you believe in and that engages your deepest moral and esthetic energies, and by refusing to lend your talent to anything in which you cannot take great pride. And, finally, commitment to the world, that you serve, through your work. It is in this commitment to something bigger and more important than yourself that you will find the courage to create and to go on creating throughout your life.”
Constantin Stanislavski spoke to the graduating class of the Moscow Art Theatre Studio. He told them this:
Yes, you must be excited about your profession. You must love it devotedly and passionately, but not for itself, not for its laurels, not for the pleasure and delight it brings to you as artists. You must love your chosen profession because it gives you the opportunity to communicate [experiences] and ideas that are important and necessary to your audience, because it gives you the opportunity, through [your art], to educate your audience and to make them better, finer, wiser, and more useful members of society.
Know that you and your art are needed. Know that your community, your country, your world needs you, perhaps now, when the museums and the libraries are burning, more than ever. Take yourself and the power of your art seriously. You WILL make a difference.
Copyright © 2016 Jeffrey Meek Studio. All rights reserved.