By Christian Leadley
Imagine if you will, that you’re beginning a new project. The specifics of it aren’t important at the moment, all you need to imagine is that this project is something you are dying to sink your teeth into; Nobody else is doing anything else like it, you’ve never had this opportunity before, it’s your dream role—whatever the case may be. The point is, you’re STOKED. You come in for the first day of rehearsal, meet all your cast mates, and find out they’re just as excited as you are. Great!
But as the days wear on, novelty wears off, and mental and physical fatigue begin to set in, you begin to doubt the reasons why you ever started this project in the first place. You mind begins to wander to other things you’ve been worrying about: What am i doing here? What’s this choreography? Why isn’t the director just telling me what to do? Why is that guy staring at me all the time? What are my friends going to say when they come see this? I wonder if Chipotle will still be open when rehearsal is over?….You don’t push yourself to the same levels as you did when you first started and you find yourself wavering in and out of the moment. You want to do your best work, but the reality is you’re feeling under-enthused and uninspired. Try as you might, you’ve hit a wall.
Having been involved in a project myself recently, I can empathize. But after the performances were over and I looked back at the experience to see what i could learn from it, I realized that there were certain specific things that had made it what I would consider a success when it could have just as easily fallen apart, given all of the factors working against it.
Like an athlete that prepares days, weeks, or months in advance for an event by training their body in a specific way, eating specific foods, and mentally steeling themselves for the competition, so also must an artist prepare their instruments. Nothing allows mental alertness to waiver faster than wondering, “why didn’t i know about this?”. If you have the time to prepare your body, do so. Eat right, train and exercise frequently: Opportunities come unexpectedly and at a moment’s notice. The body you wish you had, used to have, or could have with a few weeks of hard work will not serve you in the moment.
Equally important is mental preparation. Do your research and know what you’re getting yourself into. Know the material you were provided with ahead of time as best you can. Go above and beyond and do research on the history of the show, the history of the company, or even information on your soon-to-be collaborators. Foreknowledge is a steady foundation for confidence, and you’d be surprised what you can dig up on the internet and social media.
When I came into rehearsal for my aforementioned project, it was immediately evident who had prepared and who hadn’t. Some people just shined brighter and had an ease about them that some other cast members seem to lack. Obviously there is an awkward phase where everyone will still be getting a feel for the newness of the experience, but you can do your best to minimize that or even eliminate it with thorough preparation. Homework isn't just for school anymore!
We all know that nobody likes a Negative Nancy, but did you know that negativity alone can reduce your performance by as much as 22% when compared with people who have a generally happy and positive outlook? It’s true! I looked it up on the internet. So it must be true.
But beyond that, it just makes sense, doesn’t it? People that keep the atmosphere light and turn their energy outward rather than shrinking down and clamming up are generally more inviting and easy to work with. Now imagine that every person strove to keep that attitude in the rehearsal room. How much easier would it be to speak up about a new ideas or voice any concerns you have if you knew that your thoughts would be met with acceptance and positivity rather than judgement and silence? Feel free to assign whatever percentage value to that, but I strongly believe that that single adjustment in attitude can make or break a project.
In a similar vein, often times in rehearsal we are asked to do things that are uncomfortable. Things that seem frightening or silly and embarrassing. They break from the norm we are used to. This is especially the case when collectively devising pieces, because the very nature of Devising is an environment of open possibility and “yes, and”. However, as much as it is your natural human instinct to close off from others and protect your ego from fear and embarrassment, what serves the piece and your artistry best is relentless openness and willingness to try new things.
Think like a child. Children remain open to all possibilities because they look at the world with new and unbiased eyes. They have a seemingly unending flow of ideas because they do not judge their own ideas as “good” or “bad”, they simply have and then share them. And similarly, they accept with an open and unprejudiced mind the ideas of others.
Picasso famously said: "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”
4. Embrace your constraints/Know your limits
We often think of imagination and artistic expression as benefiting from total freedom. After all, what’s more liberating that the knowledge that nothing is standing in the way of your limitless creativity? However with absolute freedom also comes an absence of milestones and a lack of frame of reference. Successful artists learn to look just as much at conventions, formal requirements, and time constraints for inspiration as they do from within themselves or from the “mysterious beyond”. Songs have verses and choruses; symphonies have four movements; poets rely on forms, such as haikus and sonnets; Journalists have deadlines.
In the case of my own recent project, we had 10 days to pull everything together and be ready for opening night. With that constraint in mind, everyone remained focused and kept the intensity high, knowing that time was precious and not to be wasted. We pushed ourselves beyond what i believed possible solely because we had no other choice but to work within our given strictures.
Of equal importance, we made cuts when necessary and made what we had accomplished work for us. If you have the ability to, why put up something long and drawn out that looks mediocre when you can show something concise and brilliant? When you take the stage, you have the opportunity to show anything. Why not choose to put forward your best work?
5. Seek out collective intelligence/Share the effort
Finally, use the people around you as a resource. Taking the pressure off yourself frees you to be more expressive to the group and expend less of your energy thinking about what you’re going to do and more of it actually doing something about your ideas.
Often times we spend a lot of time and energy worrying about ourselves; How prepared we are, what state our body is in, what we’re thinking at the moment. However, a lot of that effort is wasted energy if we would just learn to rely on others and their strengths as much as we do in our own. Look around and use the people around you as resources. Ask questions, remain open, and stay inquisitive. Your cast mates are just as interested in having this project succeed as you are, so ask for help if you are feeling lost or uninspired. Sometimes the person next to you needs to talk just as much as you do and having a shared experience to empathize with can be the difference between the will to go on or the decision to give up.