We sometimes distinguish between professional and amateur on the basis of money: the professional is paid, while the amateur 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 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.”
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. Take yourself and the power of your art seriously. You will make a difference.” Stanislavski was telling his students that they must be of service.
It takes guts to be a professional actor. In all, more than anything else, your continued growth as an artist will require courage. The key to creative courage, I believe, is this commitment to serving a larger purpose. The writer and teacher, Robert Benedetti, states, “You must be committed on three levels of service 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. Finally, a commitment to the world you serve through your work. It is in this commitment to serving something bigger and more important than yourself that you will find the courage to create and to go on creating throughout your life.”
Creativity 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. Actors are 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.