The title of this post may have you thinking "what the hell...?" -- but I promise you, this isn't about morbid or emo thought patterns for the jaded. This is about conducting ourselves as professionals, especially in a field like acting, where emotion is the stock and trade. This is about getting the job done (and getting it done well) in spite of ego, how we feel about the parts we're playing, whether the job will pay the rent, or how much or little talent the person opposite us has.
Nobody in the audience cares how we feel about these things. Nobody in the audience cares about actors one way or the other -- except for how well we show ourselves in the parts that we're playing. They expect us to be nothing less than the person we are committing ourselves to portray. For them, not us.
In an article I read recently, Allen Barton (actor, director, teacher, and owner/CEO of the Beverly Hills Playhouse acting school) breaks this concept down by doing what is unthinkable for many actors or creative types: he compares acting to *gasp* ...a regular job. In this case, a plumber. While this may seem horrifying to some, I assure you, it makes absolute sense. Here's a quote:
"You've got a leaky faucet. You call the plumber. The plumber comes over and he either fixes the faucet or he doesn't. You generally don't give a crap how the plumber may feel about his own work, you may or may not be aware of the full range of his 'talent' as a plumber, or whether he thinks this plumbing career will really pan out for him. All you want is for him to fix the faucet. He may have been engaged in suicidal thoughts the entire time, but if he mentions them he becomes really annoying. If he shows up when he said he would, stops the leak, and charges a reasonable fee -- you're all set."
This resonated with me -- and it applies to any and all career paths, jobs, or tasks that require you to be accountable for your performance. Have you ever had a moment where you showed up late for something -- anything -- and, while you were busily trying to explain the horrific circumstances that lead to your lateness, you realized that the person you were explaining yourself to not only didn't care, but was trying to glare you into either silence or a short "sorry, it won't happen again?" Have you ever been the person on the other end, the one having to listen to those excuses -- reasonable or not? I'm going to go out on a limb and say that you have -- that we all have. The fact is, all that really matters to any of us, in the end, is that the job we are expecting gets done.
Allen Barton visits this concept in detail, encasing it in the three points of his school's approach to actor training: Acting, Attitude, and Administration. It's well worth the read, and I recommend it, but the main takeaway here is this: no matter the situation, if we are to be successful, we need to be able to remove ourselves from how we're feeling, personally, and just get the damned job done.
This isn't to say that we should be emotionally bankrupt, of course. As actors, we need to be able to effectively manipulate our emotions -- to play them like an instrument. We need to be both the interpretive pianist, and the piano itself.
Profound, no? Well, while I'd like to take credit for that one, it is actually me paraphrasing Barton -- who is paraphrasing the late Milton Katselas, founder of the Beverly Hills Playhouse; and from all accounts, one hell of an acting teacher.
Feelings Don't Matter [Allen Barton's Blog]
Wed, November 9, 2011
by Terry Fox Theatre filed under