Thursday, March 31, 2016

HARD EYES AND SIZE QUEENS: Artists At Work, PART I


(Editor's note: this entry was penned by the artist while she was at the Adelaide Fringe, pleasantly breaking even and playing to 50-ish folks on average a night. Now that the artist is at Melbourne Comedy Festival losing her metaphorical shirt [NOT REALLY MOM, I'M FINE, I HAVE PLENTY TO EAT], she is feeling much more sympathy, empathy, and plain ol' pathy around her subject matter. Still she fights nobly against the tide of dark and grabby feelings. These entries are part of that fight.)

I started theatre classes when I was around 6. I was painfully shy and nervous, and my parents thought it would help me. It did. In a world full of big dogs, loud boys and polynomial subtractions, theatre classes were my one great relief.

I feel very lucky that my first theatre classes were actually really good. They weren't Acting Classes for KIDS like some girls I know took, where they learned to belt like an Annie understudy and deliver monologues from Peter Pan. My classes had no songs or scripts, and my teachers were actors and clowns, so we did loads of improvisation, imagery work, physical exploration, the good shit. And occasionally my teacher would bring in a really cool performer friend to guest-teach, and that was exciting too. I remember finding out one guest teacher had been one of "The Top Free 7", which even as a little kid I understood to mean that she wanted to have her boobs out in public but the government wouldn't let her. And even then I thought that seemed odd. Odd to want to have your boobs out, sure, but odder not to be allowed.

And occasionally the guest teacher would be asked to "talk about the business of being an actor," and we would all sit obediently to listen. And suddenly a change would come over this guest teacher, who had been so open and playful in class. Suddenly now something hard came into his face and his voice, and he started to talk about head shots and agents and auditions, and suddenly it seemed like he was trying to prove something to us, like we had all gone from being good friends to being colleagues at some horrible office party. He didn't seem to so cool anymore.

So when I was little, I learned something big: the art of performing is beautiful and transcendental, and the business of performing turns people into insecure assholes.

I have avoided the world of tv/film and I still don't have head shots, and all of this can be traced back to those moments when those teachers that I admired suddenly got small right in front of my face. Something about the business of trying to make it as an actor transformed creative souls into name-dropping, piece-of-the-pie-snatching insects of need, and I wanted no part of that, then or ever.

But here I am now, in show business, sort of. The weird live-performing side of show business, at least, which is probably a dying thing, but in my spheres it's still trucking along packing 'em in where it can. And I have many performer friends, of course. And one thing I keep noticing is that our knee-jerk conversation topic is How Big Our Houses Are, or Which Big P (presenter/producer/promoter/person) We Want To Come To See Us.

The stuff that makes our eyes and faces go hard. The stuff that makes us stop looking into the faces of our friends, but instead, stare straight ahead of ourselves, like we're on a bad bicycle and have to focus every bit of concentration on just not falling down. The business turns us tiny and grabby: babies only not cute.

I get it! We all want to make money. We don't want to lose money. We attach a lot of meaning to whether we make or lose money.

Just the same, I've seen audiences of 250 go relatively unmoved, and I've seen audiences of 12 be totally transformed and united. And so have you. I've had great shows for 8 people, and I've learned things and tried things out and grown as a performer at those shows, so that while I didn't make money at them, I might've improved skill sets that could make me money later. You have to stay open to the possibility that even something that feels like shit could be of value. Doesn't all energy get used? If we think in terms of quantum physics, as we should at all times, does it make any difference in the universal scheme of things how fucking big our audience is?

It can be fought against, this mind-plague, this disease of numbers. I think more of us can do more to not just get together in groups and move our hard eyes around and talk depressing math. Let the Big P's talk about those things, or talk about those things when you're with Big P's, but then politely excuse yourself and go frolic around some trees.

If you're at a festival surrounded by artists, and you're worrying about numbers, talking about numbers, talking about Big P's, worrying about Big P's, consider frolicking around trees. You want to live an artist's life? One thing an artist does is everything she can not to get caught up in the stuff that hardens our hearts and builds fortresses of fear around our souls.

Jester, you're in this world to jingle your bells.
Being an artist is being a revolutionary. All the time. In small ways. However you can.

Keep your eyes open. Keep your soul soft. When you die, at the end of your Road, if you're lucky and if you do it right, somebody's holding your hand. That's it. Merry Xmas. Play for that.



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