Friday, January 20, 2012

You don't deserve anything.

Contributed by Guest Blogger of the Week, Sean Williams.

It's the end of my week here and I feel like I've given you the sweet nutty uncle of the indy theater world, but I haven't really given you the full grouchy old man, so let me do my part to end with the advice that every old person wants to give to every young person.

You don't deserve anything.

See, this is the toughest pill to swallow, but the most important one. No matter how hard you work, what you've done with your life, how steadfastly you follow the rules or how bravely you break them, you don't deserve the things you want.

As a theater practitioner, there's a spectrum from self-satisfied storyteller all the way to mercenary hack, and on the one end the artist is happy just to have told a story and to be heard, on the other the businessperson is only happy if the show sells out and the production runs in the black. But the fact is, you don't *deserve* an audience at all, let alone one that hears and understands your story.

You need to know this. You get together with eight of your friends, spend three or four years producing plays and build an ensemble theater of like-minded people with a clear vision. You go out and raise as much money as you can, you start a Kickstarter campaign, you apply for grants (see SEAN'S SECOND BLOG). You find a bold play that inspires all of you (see SEAN'S FIRST BLOG) and you begin the process of rallying around it and making it happen. You spend six months sending out press releases and keeping the story in the public eye (see SEAN'S THIRD BLOG) and the whole thing is thrumming along, with the community around you building excitement and energy.

And in rehearsal, you're discovering things about yourself. About your friends. This director you've worked with before, suddenly she just explodes, her vision and clarity is better on this project than anything else she's ever done. And you look at your community of actors, these friends that you've laughed with and been drunk with and gotten high with and woke up wearing the wrong shirts with - suddenly they're improving scenes that lead directly into what's written, their honesty is astonishing to you, and that feeling you have, that you're in the right place at the right time, is starting to coalesce into an assurance. You know; This is it.

You get into tech rehearsals, and the set  perfectly matches the play's themes, and all the blocking that you've been working through in rehearsal, it's now clear what it was all about. Your Alexander technique, your Viewpoints, the diary you kept in character, the time you spent practicing to be a cat, all of it is *informing* the play in a way that it simply never has before. And tech goes perfectly, the cue-to-cue is actually easy, somehow it's easy, and on two of the light cues, the cast actually catches their breath. And the sound cue, just before curtain, the sound cue matching the end of the show makes the whole cast and crew burst out laughing and you hear the playwright and the director, in unison, yell "FUCK YEAH!!!!"

Then stop right there. Because that feeling is all you actually deserve.

Y'see, the show will open. And more than likely, half the people you think *should* see the show just won't come. You'll have nights you have to paper the house. The local retirement home, the ones you ignored when they asked for comps, they're gonna fill up one whole performance. For free. And they'll sleep.

And the reviewers will come and, worse than hating it articulately, worse than hating it and being stupid, they'll be smart and they'll write very smart reviews that say, "It's pretty good, actually. Not a bad play." A shrug. Every night for two hours, you sweat through your costume, you remember your monologue, you articulate your fight choreography perfectly, and people watch it and go, "… cool! Yeah, that was really cool. How did you remember all those lines…?"

No matter how hard you worked, none of us actually *deserves* an audience and reviews and attention. Karma doesn't exist in Theater.

There is only one reason to do it. Because in the middle of that sea of shruggers and nappers, there's gonna be one person. Maybe she's a director who works with a different company, maybe he's an actor who has lost his way. Or even better, maybe he's a local Otolaryngologist who used to do theater back in school and just needed a reminder of how much he loves it. But there's someone out there who will take what you did, the two hours of what you did, as a part of the conversation of their lives. It will inform the way they look at the world. Your play will change the way they read the news the next day, the way they approach their next job, the way they treat the people they see at work in the morning.

We sat around the fires at the foot of Kilimanjaro, before the exodus, before our skin and eyes changed, and one of us stood up and sang a song and told a story, and almost everyone else sitting around the fire was thinking about food and sex, but one kid in the back heard the song and thought, "I want to sing. Maybe a *little bit different*, but I want to sing too." That kid grew up and sang to a group of bored and distracted people who were thinking about bison and banging, but there was a kid in the back of that group too. And a hundred thousand years later, the fires are now fresnels and the singer is now a company, but you need to know that the audience is still thinking mostly about dinner and genitals, and our legacy is to talk to the 5% of people for whom it will change their lives.

Obedience to that legacy is our responsibility, and we are owed nothing in return.

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