Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Good Student, Bad Student

I'm going to let you in on a little secret... most people who make their livings as performers weren't the best students growing up.

Now I'm going to let you in on an even "littler" secret... I was not one of those performers.

I've always been a very good student.  ("littler" usage aside)  Growing up, I wanted to learn; I wanted to make my parents proud, and I believe I finished my educational years accomplishing both.

That being said, there are a few other things I picked up along the good student path that haven't served me quite as well in show business.  The most incriminating, I believe, is the "good student" label I worked so hard to get in the first place.

You see, in an educational system where "good students" get A's and "bad students" get F's, the one thing "bad students" have going for them is they aren't afraid of being called "bad" to begin with.  I, on the other hand, considered "bad" a deadly virus and went to great lengths to make sure I never caught it.

This might sound foreign to a few of my fellow artistic types.  Traditionally, we're known to complain about the existence of societal norms and labels.  "Why worry about grades at all?" we wonder.  "Soon enough we'll be wealthy actors, and when do actors ever need to know about quadratic equations?"  (Answer: Laura Dern in October Sky.)

Still, I see our point.  The problem in caring too much about how test scores, professors, or anyone for that matter shape the way we feel about ourselves, is that when it comes time to enter the real world, they're never enough.  And believe me, they shouldn't be!  There is no way to produce a subjective thing like art for a living and expect that everyone will always love it, so it only makes sense that success can't and shouldn't be defined by those terms.  Simply put: you're not always going to get an "A," and that's ok.

So I guess a near perfect report card isn't as important as I had previously considered.  If true power is derived from the way we feel about ourselves, and if the most successful artists answer to little other than their own dreams, then maybe the good student, bad student labels and subsequent behavior we've assigned to them aren't entirely accurate.


Maybe what I'm actually talking about here is respect.  There is no risk in disappointing someone you don't respect.  I was teased plenty when I was a kid, but it didn't bother me.  Why?  Because I didn't respect the ones that were doing the teasing.  On the other hand, there is a lot of risk in disappointing the people you respect the most: parents, teachers, a paying audience...yourself?

As I see it, performers, and humans in general, require a special blend of respect for their audience, mixed with enough self confidence to keep them from crying themselves to sleep if their audience doesn't laugh or clap when they're supposed to.

So how on earth do we teach respect worthy of disappointment AND self confidence worthy of success?

I don't know.

But here's what I've learned: you need both!  You can have one or the other and get a couple A's, but I promise the label won't last.  The sooner you get both respect and confidence, the "gooder" off you'll be.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Tony Night: the Holy of Holies

Let me take you back to a time before WiFi, before Amazon, before YouTube, before pretty much every saving grace that currently satisfies the needs of theatre nerds everywhere...

It was 1994.

It was the year I discovered the conduit through which I could travel beyond my small town realities and bask in the light of my Broadway musical dreams...

It was the Tony Awards.

Now I had no idea what the Tony Awards were, but I casually found it, tuned in and ended up nearly wetting myself.  There, on my downstairs television, was actual live footage of that year's Best Musical nominee Beauty and the Beast.  I was floored.  Up until that point, the Broadway production of Beauty and the Beast was something that only existed on the Original Cast Album that my parents bought for me at the Disney Store two hours away.

You can understand my frustration, then, when that evening the Best Musical award went to Stephen Sondheim's Passion, a show I was highly unimpressed with because of the two nudey-patooties they showed singing in a bed.  As far as my pre pubescent self was concerned, they were using sex to buy a Tony Award, and I wasn't falling for it!  (Cut to a decade later when I wrote an entire college paper at BYU dedicated to loving that show, but I digress...)

The only other things I remember from that first Tonys viewing were a redhead from the revival of Damn Yankees belting out "Shoeless Joe from Hannibal MO," and the look on my father's face when I correctly predicted that Diana Rigg would win for portraying the title role in Medea.  Said the young JSP: "Come on Dad.  I mean, it's Medea."

Thus began the creation of my most important Sunday of the year besides Easter.  And even then, Tony Night is basically a religious experience, so I never felt bad.

Every year I instructed my family not to interrupt me during the Tonys because I had to record it on the VCR with controller in hand to avoid commercial breaks.  This was essential to the Tony viewing process since I'd be re-watching the broadcast countless times before the following year.

This continued even when I was serving as an LDS missionary.  My mom stepped in and vicariously watched the show for me in 2001 and 2002 since I was not able to watch them myself.  She not only recorded them, but took copious notes on their proceedings and sent them to me in far away west Texas.

And now today I still watch the Tony Awards.  I admit it's a little different, and that's ok.  I have opinions now.  I've worked with some of the people nominated or performing, and I get more excited for them than I do for myself.  In general, I don't care nearly as much about awards anymore, but I do love celebrating Theatre.  Tony Night continues to be one of the only opportunities America gets to view one of the great traditions that we have as a nation: Musical Theatre... also known as the best two words in the English language. (That's right Julian Marsh, I'm talking to you.)

So from a true theatre nerd to all those out there that might feel the same, Happy Tony Night!  

May you forever keep it holy.  :)