Thursday, January 24, 2013
Why Talent Doesn't Matter
What's the definition of "talent"? What does that mean? Really. How do we judge that? How do we put it on a scale and measure it? How do we know if we have it or don't? How do we know if it's greater or less than the average bear's? And most importantly, why the Hell does it even matter to us?
In Strasberg at the Actor's Studio (which is a GREAT book!), Lee Strasberg defines talent as Sensitivity. I tend to agree with that definition. Stella Adler suggested that the actor's talent lies in their choices. And choices are driven by the actor's responses, which are governed by that actor's behavior and understanding, which is guided by the actor's general sensitivity to their surroundings on and off of the stage. So, let's agree that Talent = Sensitivity.
Let's say you're a really "Sensitive Actor". Does that mean your sensitivity works for you, rather than against you, onstage? Nope. But let's say that you have taken the time and energy to build a craft that allows you to focus and use your sensitivity to your benefit. Does that mean you audition well? Nope. But let's say you've struggled and learned how to present yourself as a business-person in an audition. Does that mean you get work as an actor? Maybe. If you're just right for the role, then yes. If not, then you will be some day. You just have to be patient and keep trying.
Are you noticing the common thread? In the scope of the equation, the size of your talent doesn't much matter. What matters is the time and energy you devote to what you do. What matters is your diligence. So, in reality, the more passionate you are about acting (or really anything), the more likely it is that you will be able to become successful at it - whatever that success means to you. That could be monetary satisfaction or artistic satisfaction...or both if you're really lucky.
The two things you really can't help are your level of Passion and your level of Luck. If you're not passionate, then don't waste your time. Really. It's not worth it. If you're not lucky and that destroys your passion, then you're no longer passionate. Either way, the only determining factor in you having a place in this business is YOU. The only thing that matters is how you feel about yourself. If you think there's a place for you in this business, you'll work hard. If not, you won't. And if you're just lazy, then you've got to make a decision to sh^* or get off the pot!
And really...when it comes down to it, when we're casting a play, we're much less interested in the talent that an actor expresses at an audition than any other factor. Talent is like Beauty. You can bet that most people are less interested in being in a relationship with a drop dead gorgeous psychopath than a good-natured cutie. Notice that I didn't suggest anyone goes barking up the ugly tree, so I'm not saying that Talent is 100% unimportant, but it just doesn't MATTER like we seem to think it does. What most people look for in an actor is hard-work, self-expression, timeliness, and competence. Those things in one person are extremely rare. And all of them are within your control.
We all know countless actors that wear their talent like a badges. Some show up to auditions, without having fully memorized and prepared their pieces. Some don't bother to read the plays their pieces come from. Some don't read the sides. Some audition for places like The Actors Studio with scenes they've been working on for a week or two. Some throw all their money away on workshops with agents when they haven't taken the time to develop relationships with casting directors. Many of us are waiting for magic to happen. And when a miracle doesn't present itself, we beat ourselves down. That's like chastising yourself for picking the losing numbers on a lottery ticket.
And the truth of the matter is that nobody is better than these thoughts - no matter how far along they are in their careers or their stardom. There is always more. And there is always someone to tell us why what we're doing is wrong. The only reason that it might seem like some of our heroes are invincible is because they don't let themselves wallow in their worries. They have a public face to put on, so they have to deal with their demons quickly and quietly. Or they just self-destruct. One of the two. I just self-destructed yesterday. And I'm putting myself back together, because I've got a play to direct and a theater company to run, and I don't have time to fall apart. Too many people are counting on me. So, I have no other option than to treat myself well.
I know that some of the big demons I deal with have to do with the fact that my identity is so tied up in my relationship to the theater. I'm an actor, a director and a playwright. So, when I feel like I'm not any good, my whole world goes out the window. And I have to remind myself that my opinion of myself is the only one that matters. And as long as I remain committed to growing and learning, rather than knowing, I will persevere.
We have a year-round company at The Seeing Place. We maintain an artistic home, where we read plays every week and hold workshops. I've found that having that kind of a family is of primary importance to dealing with this business. We have a place to grow together and to keep one another on point. And whether that comes as a company or a class or The Actors Studio, it's a necessity in a business like ours - especially in America. Otherwise, all we have is talent.
What demons do you battle? And how do you cope with them? We'd love to hear your thoughts and ideas. Please share. Our community depends on all of us.