Friday, July 30, 2010

That Lovin' Feelin', or: 90% of Everything Is Crap

I think the more significant – and unique – sacrifice arts workers make is that we lose the capacity for full, innocent and glorious enjoyment of the very art that our passion for drove us to make our life’s work in the first place. What do I mean by this? Think about your earliest experiences with the arts, your first encounter with Matisse, or Chuck Close; your first time in the audience for Sondheim, or Verdi; that time you first saw Baryshnikov on stage, or Judith Jamison. Remember that childlike joy – even if you were not a child – that total immersion in the art where the whole world disappeared and you were unaware of time, of the person chewing gum next to you? Now tell, me when was the last time you felt that? Sure, you are still passionate about the art form or all art forms, you still go to museums, or opera, or theatre, but something has been lost. Admit it.
I was just lamenting this to a friend of mine. I had just seen a show that was disappointing for many, many reasons and I was saying how burnt out I was feeling. As someone who spends a lot of time in his day job helping artists realize their visions, and then in this “off” hours going to see and experience a lot of art, it is easy to become jaded. It can be hard to hold on to the optimism, idealism and excitement that art can bring. I think part of it is true in any profession – if you know about the “man behind the curtain” then some of the mystery evaporates. But as an arts worker, dedicated to the idea that the creative impulse is something unique and worth celebrating, that the experience of aesthetic arrest is a vital part of the human experience, then burn-out feels really devastating, like you’re losing the center around which everything is built.
Whether you’re a maker or administrator – or both – how do you deal with those moments when you lose that lovin’ feelin’?

There's actually two things going on in Culturebot's response, as opposed to the initial thing. They are:
  1. It's wearing to see a lot of mediocre work, and takes away some of the passion for going out to see theater constantly (this is particularly a critic's disease).
  2. Knowing how sausage is made can damage your appetite.
To tackle them one at a time:

Mediocre Work: 90% of everything is crap, has always been my belief. I don't think you can have genius without the 90% of stuff that comes out that is crap. For every beautiful thing on Youtube (I'm mostly thinking of Validation here) there's tons and tons of stuff which is mediocre. And that's the beauty of Youtube, is that it allows the 90% of crap to exist that is necessary for the 10% of its genius.

Now, the outside world doesn't have to see the 90% of crap. They have a screen of insiders to tell them how to avoid the 90% of crap. Whereas Time Out New York and the Village Voice have to see every crappy thing that might be worthwhile, the non-theater insider gets to go to StageGrade and hopefully bypass the crap.

On the other hand, critics and theatermakers will have to see the crap. And it will wear. I had that experience when I saw the mediocre play last weekend. But you know what? My heart was still renewed when I saw another play do everything right.

Proposed Solution: If you have a disheartening play experience, you should poke around with people you know to hear what play has gotten them excited recently. And then force yourself to go see it.

Knowing how the Sausage is Made: There really are times where I'm sitting in a play and all I can think of is how I would have done things differently/better. I'm trapped in a theatermaker mindset. It can ruin any show -- sometimes particularly a good one.

Proposed Solution: Go see something that isn't a play that you love! For instance, I really do like music. A lot. But I have absolutely no idea how it is made. So if I'm blocked on theater, maybe I should go see a jazz concert that's well recommended, or go see a visual art exhibition. And while I'm there, I should keep my theater brain stimulated. "How would I do that in my field?"

Lately, my writing brain has been fatigued. Between my thesis and my independent project, it has felt like it needed a rest. But the play I saw (the good one) got my thesis brain thinking. And you know what booted up my theatrical writing brain?


I don't know why. But it got me thinking again, it rebooted me in a way. It got me to wipe aside alot of the heady, critical things that are between me and writing things I enjoy.

Another thing I saw reminded me of an old class project I did once that I might want to revive and do properly:

Having no idea how to auto-tune, and very little background in music, makes me interested to see how to approach the same thing in my field, with my skills.

One last helpful solution, from my playbook:

Talk to People! If you're on a down-swing of creative/passionate energies, figure out who in your circle is on the upswing. Be generous with your time and listen to them. Sometimes buying in to someone else's project can help infect you with their passion, and then get you passionate about everything all over again. One of my cast-members is super excited about Peer Gynt, so until I get something of my own that's complete and ready for me to be passionate about, I'm willing to buy into her passion.

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