A friend of mine recently texted me this thought:
...we get what we need wherever we are, and then when we look back it makes sense somehow... Today at work a guy asked me what I had studied in college, and then said he didn't see how that fit with what I'm doing now. But to me it feels like everything has led me here, in a way. Or like there were stones I picked up at every random place...and now I have a pile of stepping stones that got me here. And I'm as good at my job as I am only because of that particular set of stones...
We'd been talking about me directing a staged reading of a play from Bill Cook, a Columbus playwright. My B.A. is in directing, but it always surprises me when I think of myself as a director. It wasn't until a couple years after my B.A. that I started tipping into defining myself more as a playwright. (Side note: I'd accidentally typed "okaywright" because my fingers were on the wrong keys. It somehow seemed important to say that...) Anyway, we had spoken the night after my first rehearsals, and I was telling her that I was feeling like my work at my day job had made me a better director.
My day job is at a retail store that sells electronics bearing a certain piece of fruit. In my work, I help people learn how to use these devices and software. The way we teach is the same way that I was taught to direct: never give an answer, give room for failure, always ask questions. The goal is to create an open channel for discovery.
There is a strange passage I'd read during my studies about the director/actor relationship that made me question how to lead an actor to a discovery. This comes from Charles Marowitz's Directing the Action: Acting and Directing in the Contemporary Theatre:
That is why slyness and taciturnity are sometimes the director's most effective tools. You can bring a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink-- whereas you can, by ingenious methods, so engender the craving in the horse that he not only finds his own way to the water but with such an irrepressible thirst that nothing will prevent him from slaking it. Although the deviousness that we associate with child psychology is anathema to many actors, the act of play production is akin to child's play, and much of this kind of psychology applies.
This is not to get into a lot about directing process or the arguments that Marowitz brings up, but to tell you that something that you're doing in your life , right now, that has nothing at all to do with your art directly, in fact, has a tremendous effect on your art indirectly. And maybe we all know this. But we don't always remember it. Yes, my day job has nothing to do with my art as a director or as a playwright, but I've mined ideas and character traits and such from my experiences and crafted plays from them. And now, I've used my skills honed for almost 7 years (JEEZ, 7 years?!) to become a better director. I don't, as Marowitz does, see my work with actors as utilizing some sort of child psychology. It could be said that the method by which I teach at my day job is a kind of child psychology. But we think of child psychology as some sort of manipulation. And it's not. It's teaching logic and understanding. I use it with my son who is almost 3 years old (JEEZ, 3 years old?!). I remember helping him puzzle out how to put his train tracks together in new configurations, leading him to the understanding of how they link together without saying, "Put the peg in the hole" or simply doing it for him. He has to go through the process, and it's that process that we work together in as theatre people. I don't pretend to have all the answers as the director of a play or as a playwright. When I ask a question of an actor, I'm inviting them into the process. I'm trusting their craft, their ideas. I'm giving them space to enter themselves into the process. I'm not asking in order to get them to an answer that I already know. That's manipulation. I want them to come to an understanding that will shape their characters and the characters that interact with them. And these are simple questions: "What happened before this scene?" "Where is this happening?" "When was the last time you saw him?" "Is this your first time doing this?" I'm asking because I'm curious. And my day job helped me be better at finding better questions and better ways to ask them.
How are the things in your life that are unrelated to theatre helping you become a better theatre artist? Think about it. Really think about it.
Until next time, be excellent to each other.