Recently I was listening to a sound bite discussion of writer/director Felix Solis. In this discussion he spoke about how within the artistic world, there is no set structure for what creates true art. What struck me the most was when he talked about the concept of “collecting references”. What he meant by this this is that if you choose to be an actor, you must have references for what you create. If I play a character that chooses to kill someone, an act I know I would never do, I must have a reference for that motivation, for that act. How do you collect references? By living your life. If you live your life with courage and curiosity, then your life on film and on the stage will become that much more true.
Simply living your life is important. I find that a major reason the greatest actors can be so compelling and alive in a fictional environment, the reason they passionately defend something they believe in on stage is because, likely, they have had to do so in their own lives. This made me think about all the times I hid from conflict or opportunities because I was afraid I wouldn’t be good enough to rise to the occasion. I thought about all the times I did something only half-way; all the times I didn’t live in the moment because I chose to distract myself. I know it is human nature to want to avoid pain and hurt, but if we keep ourselves from it, we deny ourselves a part of life itself. This isn’t to encourage creating chaos or conflict, but it is encouragement to seek out the challenges and difficulties in your life. Challenge yourself every single day, even in small ways. Push the boundaries of what you think you are capable of and I promise you will discover something beautiful. Write a poem or short story. Read a classic playwright whose language may be difficult for you to grasp. Sketch a picture of what inspires you. Start to learn a new language or acting technique. Take a class in something that completely scares you to do. You will only improve if you WORK for it, not WAIT for it.
Recently I completed a project on social action about gun-violence. For this project, I decided to sit out in the open at Union Square with names written on my upper body. These names were places that had been affected by mass shootings: Paris, Virginia Tech, San Bernardino, etc. Anyone passing by was invited to write the name of someone they knew that had died from gun-violence. Of the people that came by, one person wrote on me. From just this one woman that engaged with something I created, I felt like I had accomplished what I set out to do: reaching out to share in the grief at so many lives lost. I was terrified to be out there only in my message. Without the courage to do it, helped along with encouragement from my amazing girlfriend, I would have denied myself the experience of exploring a part of artistic creation I didn’t know I was capable of.
Don't Become Satisfied
The moment you become satisfied with where you are, you will stop challenging yourself and your art will suffer. This is different than acknowledging you have done a good job. It is just as damaging to not know when you have done something well than when you know need improvement. Know thyself. Know what you love and fear more than anything. Know what inspires you. Know who loves you and supports your career and surround yourself with those people.
Love the Process, Not the Result
The more you become involved in the moment to moment creation of the character’s life, the more the end result will take care of itself. I’ve heard from people that know him that Al Pacino would rather rehearse a play forever than actually perform it. Such a seasoned actor knows how much everything is always a work in progress. All we can do is have courage and keep pushing limits of our ability to fully express a human life on the stage.
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