What's inspiring you?
When I was in university I took a directing course in which for our final project, we had to direct twenty minutes of any piece we chose. Up until this assignment, we had always had guidelines regarding the pieces we directed; safe, dependable guidelines. Though twenty minutes doesn’t sound like much, and the freedom to direct whatever we wanted sounds wonderful, it terrified me. My experience with straight plays was limited, at that time, to what I had studied in university. I had no idea what play to choose and felt a lot of pressure to pick something perfect, so I went to my professor for advice.
I entered her office tentatively, after she invited me in. Her office was small, but the shelves surrounding her desk were filled with theatre texts and plays. It was my first time there; only my desperation to do a good job on a final project, and fear that I was doomed to fail, would have pushed me hard enough to ask for help.
“I don’t know what play to choose for my final project,” I explained.
“Well,” she asked, “what kind of plays do you like to see?”
No one had ever asked me that question before, and it caught me off guard. What kind of plays did I like to see? At this point in my life, I saw as many as I could, which wasn’t much. Growing up in a small town had limited my theatrical experiences to the occasional musical. I did see a handful of shows in the West End on a trip to England, and then there was the student productions I caught while at university. I enjoyed every experience as a theatre goer because I loved the idea of the theatre: the lights, the music, the immediacy of the show. Until this moment in my professor’s office, I had never thought about which of the plays I had truly enjoyed.
“The kind of play you like to see, is the kind you should be working on,” she told me. It was the best thing I took away from her class.
What kinds of shows inspire you? Make you want to go back twice? Make you want to sit quietly in your seat once the house lights have come up, because what you just experienced touched you in some way. Make you feel something so strongly that they elicit laughter or tears? We all have our own taste, and artistic sensibility; we may share our tastes with others, but not all others, and that’s okay.
It’s common in our industry to forget to honour our artist. Actors can get wrapped up in trying to give directors, and casting directors what they want, rather than trusting their gut impulses. Writers, directors, producers, and actors can find themselves doing work they don’t personally find very interesting because they think what they’re doing will earn them recognition, or more money. We all need to make a living after all.
But what if it’s possible to do both? To work on shows that you would find inspiring while also making a living? The history of entertainment are filled with artists who forged their own path, who risked creating and being apart of the work that excited them. They found the people who had tastes like them, and work hard, tirelessly hard, to share their vision with the world. They failed sometimes, and would then try again, because they believed in their vision.
It’s not easy being an artist, and sometimes you have to work on projects that don’t spark your soul. When that is the case, keep an eye out for the things around you that do inspire you. Not just theatre, not just movies and television, but in life. What moves you to tears? What makes you laugh? What stops your breath with wonder? These things are what you carry inside you, that you can then mould and give back to the world. You can still find yourself and your artistry within work that doesn’t initially inspire you. You will then have more to give to the work that does.