The best advice I was ever given was ‘if you’re in a new cast and no-one seems to be a wanker – then it’s probably you’.
As artists it’s your job is to make trouble. Stick the world under a microscope, shake stuff up… but to do that you have to listen as well as shout, you have to be humble, you have to quietly put a story together from as many perspectives as you have the time and the patience to give it, and then you have to tease out what’s important to YOU and what you want to say about it… oh, and you have to decide who you are talking to. A story about Brexit and Trump is going to resonate very differently with a class of 8 year olds, pensioners in a day care centre or people like you. Do you only want to talk to those who already agree with you? And if so what are you saying? If not, what are you saying? Why? Who cares? Literally? And why should they?
As artists you have to give yourself the best possible chance of expressing yourself in the way you want to, to those you want to listen. That’s the bottom line.
You need to be able to walk into the performing space and trust yourself to tell the story that you want to tell – to move, shout, whisper, sing, sign, mime – however you decide to tell the story, you want to know you can express chosen narrative, character, emotion, nuance, because – as the cliché goes – your body is your tool. Everything you do matters when all eyes are on you. The words ‘passionate about my art’ are thrown about, but the truly great actors are generally full of humility, they are fascinated by people (building relationships), endlessly picking over the bones of the world, dismantling it to see how it works and putting it back together in myriad ways.
We are drawn to people who care, we instinctively know when they are genuine, we know when they are interested in us, but all too often we have a pretty polarised view of the world because it’s easy to streamline our timelines into something that resembles us, what we agree with, and it’s all too easy now to lose the riches of difference.
Artists need the riches of difference and infinite energy to argue. But it’s also good to stop and reflect and sleep.
So, listen to the news (but question what you hear and see), follow people on social media who you don’t agree with (and don’t just shout them down, silently or otherwise without knowing why), read books and plays and poetry (yes, try some, even the pretentious stuff) that you wouldn’t normally choose (you never know…), strike up conversations with people who catch your eye when the opportunity comes (the times I’ve done this and never regretted it, no lie) and ask questions and REALLY LISTEN to the answers. And then ask more questions.
And DO NOT spend too much time with those who don’t ask questions in return.
Basically, avoid being high on disapproval and low on self reflection (I read that somewhere and liked it), decide what you want to say, who you want to listen and how you are going to make them care about it. And make sure your voice and your body can translate your vision.
And do not spend any more time than you have to around egotistical, power hungry wankers. Seek out the good ones. Be one of the good ones.