Archive for the ‘The Fun Part of Being Smart’ Category

My Inner Critic, My Friend

This piece was originally published in July, 2014, and recent conversations with friends prompted me to post it again.

Clearing out stacks of old boxes recently, I re-discovered my old theatrical reviews. The crumbling newspaper clippings instantly transported me back to the ’70s and 80’s, those 25 years I worked as a professional actress.

Ann Sachs, Frank Langella. DRACULA 1978. © Martha Swope

Ann Sachs and Frank Langella in DRACULA on Broadway in 1978. © Martha Swope

Re-reading the notices, I marveled that every production was still with me. But something was missing: I had no memory of the good reviews. One flattering phrase after another felt as if I was reading love letters I’d never seen before! Yet I knew that for at least one fleeting moment once-upon-a-time, I had treasured every word. 

The bad reviews? (Those from… how shall I say, the “Outer Critics”?) felt as if they’d been on CNN this morning!

Partial amnesia regarding reviews is one of many occupational hazards of being a performer. Most actors, especially early in their careers, tend to believe the good OR the bad, but not both. With me, unfortunately, the bad always came out ahead. I’ve been hard on myself for as long as I can remember, and the negative reviews sounded as familiar as the ones I had always drafted for myself.

Many years ago, when the whole routine had become rather depressing, my dear husband suggested that I create my own system to evaluate my work. He said “It’ll give you feedback you can trust.”

So… before and during rehearsals for my next job, I kept track of everything I was worried about:

1. Belief that I was miscast
2. Working with a new dialect
3. Tension with the director
4. Physical costume challenges
5. Too much or too little chemistry with my leading man

The list went on and on, and as I tried to invent ways of becoming comfortable with my crazy-making stuff, my “Inner Critic” introduced herself to me. Note: I tend to refer to her in the third person, as if she is real.

S-l-o-w-l-y, she and I began to build benchmarks based on habits and pitfalls I had supposedly learned to manage: 

1. Ease (or lack thereof) getting off book
2. Number of crying jags (joyful)
3. Number of crying jags (furious)
4. Sore throats, rashes, headaches, mystery pains
5. Degree of neurosis during tech rehearsals

Truth be told, my Inner Critic IS real, and over the years she has become a trusted part of myself. 

In the mid-1990s I was thinking about shifting the focus of my work… doing something other than performing.  Almost everyone I knew was shocked that I might “walk away” from my career; many tried to talk me out of it. My Inner Critic was with me, however,  and we weighed the points of my colleagues, friends and family. Ultimately we took a leap into the unknown side-by-side. That was when I knew that she was a friend for life.

So… as I was recently rifling through those boxes, reading my old reviews and was catapulted back into believing the bad ones, I wondered where the hell she was!?

But not for long. As expected, she made her entrance just in time to set me straight.
 
She’s on my shoulder now. And I’m deeply grateful she is here.

_______________________________________________________

Critic* \’krɪ-tɪk\ noun 
1   a: one who expresses a reasoned opinion on any matter especially involving a judgment of its value, truth, righteousness, beauty, or technique
      b: one who engages often professionally in the analysis, evaluation or appreciation of works of art or artistic performances  
2  one given to harsh or captious judgments
*From Merriam-Webster® An Encyclopedia Britannica Company 

Words. Words. Words: 10 Beloved Quotations

I began collecting quotations during my high school days. These words are not all related to the theatre, but they’re all theatrical!  

1. “All the world’s a stage, and most of us are desperately under-rehearsed.”  

Sean O’Casey  (March 30, 1880 – September 18, 1964) 

Sean O'Casey

 

2. “I got my start by giving myself a start.” Madame C.J. Walker

 Born Sarah Breedlove  (December 23, 1867 – May 25, 1919)

Madame C.J. Walker

Madame C.J. Walker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. “The word theatre comes from the Greeks. It means the seeing place.”

Stella Adler (February 10, 1901 – December 21, 1992)

Stella Adler

Stella Adler

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. “A whisper can be stronger, as an atom is stronger, than a whole mountain.” 

Louise Nevelson (September 23, 1899 – April 17, 1988)

Louise Nevelson

Louise Nevelson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. “If you give an audience a chance they will do half your acting for you.” 

Katharine Hepburn (May 12, 1907 – June 29, 2003)

Katharine Hepburn

Katharine Hepburn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6. “The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.” 

Dorothy Parker (August 22, 1893 – June 7, 1967)

Dorothy Parker

Dorothy Parker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7. “Theatergoing is a communal act, movie going a solitary one.” 

Robert Brustein (Born April 21, 1927)

Robert Brustein

Robert Brustein

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8. “Those that don’t got it, can’t show it. Those that got it, can’t hide it.”

Zora Neale Hurston (January 7, 1891 – January 28, 1960)

Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9. “The theater is so endlessly fascinating because it’s so accidental. It’s so much like life.” 

Arthur Miller (October 17, 1915 – February 10, 2005)

Arthur Miller

Arthur Miller

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10.We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” 

George Bernard Shaw (July 26, 1856 – November 2, 1950) 

George Bernard Shaw

George Bernard Shaw

 

 

 

 
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo Credits:
O’Casey: The Irish News; Adler: John Chiasson-Liaison/Getty Images; Bernhardt: Paul Nadar; Nevelson: Pedro E. Guerrero; Hepburn: Hooked On Houses; Brustein: Berkshire Fine Arts; Hurston: The Poetry Foundation; Miller: Associated Press; Shaw: Magazin Gracija. 

Theatrical Intelligence: What Does It Mean And Why Does It Matter?

Summary

A dear friend asked me recently, while looking oh-so-confused:  “What IS Theatrical Intelligence, anyway?”

I was mortified. 

I thought to myself, I’d better write A SUMMARY to explain what it means and why it matters.

So here goes:

Theatrical Intelligence is a system that identifies and captures your unique area of talent in order to bring it into your work and your workplace. It’s based on the theatrical production model, which is built on the foundation of all theatre: COLLABORATION.

Why does this matter? 

51% of Americans describe themselves as not engaged or actively disengaged at work1. This is disturbing!

I’m convinced that we all come into the world with multiple intelligences2., and as we morph into grownups, somehow it disappears. Theatrical Intelligence is a system that can bring it back to life; it re-defines the way we engage in our work and in our workplace. I call it “the fun part of being smart”.

The system consists of EIGHT ROLES, SIX PRINCIPLES and EIGHT PHASES.

A. THE EIGHT ROLES are the professionals required for a commercial, theatrical production. ONE (or more) role probably describes you:
1. PLAYWRIGHT
2. PRODUCER
3. ACTOR
4. DIRECTOR
5. DESIGNER
6. MANAGER
7. TECHNICIAN
8. CRITIC
 
B. THE SIX PRINCIPLES are shared by every person working on the production:
 
1. EVERYONE SHARES THE SAME GOAL 
The success of the show is top priority for every stakeholder. 
2. EVERYONE SHARES AN EQUIVALENT RISK 
If the show is a bust, if tickets don’t sell, the show closes and payroll stops.
3. COLLABORATION RULES!
Everyone knows what everyone else does, and respects it.
4. THE WORK MATTERS
The show has some personal meaning to every professional working on it. 
5. FAILURE IS YOUR FRIEND
It’s the quickest way to learn.      
6. SUCCESS REQUIRES THE COURAGE TO STEP INTO THE UNKNOWN
Entering unexplored territory leads to defining tomorrow’s standard.  
 
C. THE EIGHT PHASES One (or more) role “takes the lead” in each of the phases, supported by other roles as required. The remaining roles fade into the background, active if necessary, according to the phase of production. 
 
1. CREATION  
Leader: PLAYWRIGHT 
Support (if the work is commissioned): Producer
2. DEVELOPMENT 
Leader: PLAYWRIGHT 
Support: Actor/Director
3. PRE-PRODUCTION
Leader: PRODUCER 
Support: Director/Designer/Manager/Technician
4. REHEARSAL
Leaders: DIRECTOR/ACTOR
Support: Producer/ Playwright/Manager
5. PRODUCTION* 
Leaders: MANAGER/TECHNICIAN
Support: Producer/Director/Designer
6. TECHNICAL REHEARSALS/PREVIEWS* 
Leaders: DIRECTOR/DESIGNER
Support: Manager/Technician
7. OPENING 
Leader: CRITIC
Support: Playwright/Director/Actor/Designer 
8. RUN OF PLAY
Leader: PRODUCER
Support: Critic/Playwright/Director/Actor/Designer/Manager/Technician
 
*5 and *6 are concurrent phases

It’s a great gift to have spent almost 50 years in the theatre industry. It has given me the opportunity to observe the impact of theatre on a wide range of non-theatre folks. It’s fascinating and fun. I’ve led Theatrical Intelligence workshops that have opened new perspectives and exciting possibilities to many who begin in that 73%, and then happily join the 27-percenters.

So I’m continuing to define (and refine) the concept. Please let me know if you’re intrigued by this, or if you have any questions. And thanks in advance for helping me spread the word about Theatrical Intelligence… it really is the fun part of being smart!

 

1. Gallup Inc., State of the American Workplace: Copyright © 2017 
2. Multiple Intelligences: Harvard Professor Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences differentiates it into specific  “modalities”, rather than seeing intelligence as dominated by a single general ability. Gardner introduced the theory in his 1983 book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences.
 

The Actor Is What We See, But Only 1/8 Of What Is There

Two earlier versions of this post were published in 2010 and 2012. Several colleagues asked me to re-post it, so here it is.

When I work with individuals or groups on ways Theatrical Intelligence can make a difference in their lives, my goal is to stimulate an exploration into their creative core.

The term Theatrical Intelligence evokes responses such as: “Yes! It’ll help me when I have to give a presentation” to “Not my kind of thing – don’t like being in the spotlight” or “No way. Acting? Yuck!” There is an assumption that Theatrical Intelligence = Actor.

What we see

In a theatrical production model, the Actor is what we see, but only 1/8 of what is there. She/he wouldn’t be on the stage if it weren’t for the Writer, Producer, Director, Designer, Manager, Technician and Critic. The talent and skill contained in each of these roles is interdependent, and without them, the Actor wouldn’t be seen at all!

What's Really There

What’s Really There

Creative collaboration requires that each person within a group takes on his/her most comfortable role, and everyone contributes to the creative potential of the collective. It is built on the premise that all collaborators’ talents and skills complement one another. In other words if I don’t have a particular strength, one of my cohorts will.

Recently I worked with a young woman who told me “I don’t have one creative bone in my body. It’s just the way I’ve always been and I’m fine with it.” She was politely annoyed that I didn’t accept her “non-creativity”. What became abundantly clear during a quick writing exercise, is that she was a born technician (the only one who could get the electronic hook-up to work); and a gifted manager (she organised a group photo while keeping large egos satisfied, and everyone ended up grateful that she was there).

When I pointed out her strengths in those roles, she explained “But that’s the easy stuff!” which gave us our biggest laugh of the day. Everyone admitted their techno-ignorance, impatience with managing differing personalities; the combination of her geeky-gift and people-management-savvy was something they longed for in their employees.

The talented young Technician/Manager took all this in, and with just the hint of a grin, said: “Well, maybe I have a couple of creative bones…” 

Understanding her Theatrical Intelligence that day, she fully experienced “the fun part of being smart”. Yes, it was easy. And the smartness was all her own.

What’s “the easy stuff” for you? How much do you use it every day? Are you giving it the respect it deserves? 

 

A Life In The Arts

 
What does it mean to spend one’s life in the arts? Whether you’re a painter, a poet, a composer or a choreographer, your day-to-day reality begs comparison with others. A dozen world-class artists provide a sampler of experience: 
 

“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”

Maya-AngelouMaya Angelou (Born 1928)

 

“Every child is an artist.  The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

PicassoPablo Picasso (1881–1973)

“Art is the only way to run away without leaving home.”

Twyla TharpTwyla Tharp (Born 1941)

 

“Art, in itself, is an attempt to bring order out of chaos.”

SondheimStephen Sondheim (Born 1930)

 

“If you surrender to the wind, you can ride it.”

MorrisonToni Morrison (Born 1931)

 

“The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious – the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science.”

EinsteinAlbert Einstein (1879-1955)

 

“Life beats down and crushes the soul, and art reminds you that you have one.”

AdlerStella Adler (1901-1992)

 

“There is no such thing in anyone’s life as an unimportant day.” 

Alexander WoollcottAlexander Woollcott (1887-1943)

 

“Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.”

Henri Cartier-BressonHenri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004)

 

“You know, when I first went into the movies Lionel Barrymore played my grandfather. Later he played my father and finally he played my husband. If he had lived I’m sure I would have played his mother. That’s the way it is in Hollywood. The men get younger and the women get older.” 

Lillian Gish-1983Lillian Gish (1893–1993)

 

“The good die young, but not always. The wicked prevail but not consistently. I am confused by life, and I feel safe within the confines of the theatre”

Helen HayesHelen Hayes (1900-1993)

 

“The artist’s job is not to succumb to despair but to find an antidote for the emptiness of existence.”

Woody Allen CUWoody Allen (Born 1935)

 

Photo Credits: Adler: Irene Gilbert; Allen: Terry Richardson; Angelou: Brian Lanker/Little Brown; Cartier-Bresson: Jane Bown; Einstein: Yousef Karsh; Gish: Getty Images; Hayes: Richard Avedon; Morrison: Princeton University; Picasso: Arnold Newman/Howard Greenberg Gallery; Tharp: Chester Higgins/The New York Times; Wilder: Gisele Freund; Woollcott: The New York Times Photo Archives
 

When You’re Feeling Creatively Stuck…

An earlier version of this post was published as “What Role Were You Born to Play?” in June 2009.

Behind the stage door, great wisdom lives...

When you’re feeling creatively stuck, it’s time to identify those inborn talents of your youth – the ones that went into hiding as you morphed into an adult – and rediscover your Theatrical Intelligence. 

Try this:

Think back to your childhood. Remember the neighborhood where you grew up? 

Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and inhale the smell of that long ago place. If the neighborhood isn’t quite clear for some reason, or if you moved around a lot, breathe in a moment or two of shared secrets with your closest friend…

As you’re breathing, ask yourself: Was there a time when you and your friends decided to put together an event of some kind?  A gymnastics demonstration? A neighborhood circus with performances by your pets? Maybe a swimming show with a lemonade stand? Whatever it was, your part in this event made you really proud.

Write down what you remember. I’m willing to bet that your actions resemble one or more of The 8 Roles of Theatrical Intelligence, listed below:

1.    The WRITER: You had an idea and wrote it down. You understood the concept: tell the audience, tell them again, and tell them that you told them; with humor, drama and clarity.

2.    The ACTOR: You performed. You lived moment-to-moment. You understood that timing is everything, and that theatre isn’t larger than life – it is AS LARGE as life!

3.    The DIRECTOR: You “saw” the ideas as if they already existed, then staged it to please the audience. Your friends placed their trust in you because you gave them positive feedback about their strengths, and you made them feel good about themselves.

4.    The PRODUCER: You thought up the whole event, assigned your buddies the tasks that matched their strengths, sold the idea to everyone in the neighborhood and got them to pay for tickets. You invited everyone you saw, and one restaurant owner was so enthusiastic he threw an after-show party at your request.

5.   The DESIGNER: You envisioned the environment for the event. You drew it with vivid strokes and it took on a life of its own. You told your friends what to build, what to wear and why they had to wear it in spite of their objections (and they thanked you for it afterwards!)

6.    The STAGE MANAGER: You knew that your best buddy’s vision could be built. You crafted the schedule as to what had to be done by when, so your friends would have a chance to practice. You arranged parking places for bikes, strollers, cars, and managed the traffic and access to rest rooms.

7.   The TECHNICIAN: You made calculations from your friend’s drawings, found the right person to donate materials and stayed up all night building the set. You finished on time, and with no budget. When people got nervous and asked “What’s happening?” you replied “Workin’ on it!”

8.    The CRITIC: You recognized problems from the get-go, and knew that if the project had been approached from a different perspective it would have worked better. But heck, it was fun, and set the precedent for the next time. You wrote a flattering article for the Neighborhood News, in which you had instigated the “Kids’ Column”.

Do any of these roles sound familiar?

As kids, chances are that we played at least two roles with complete abandon. And as we morphed into grown-ups, many of us ended up playing a role that didn’t quite fit.

  1. What was the role (or roles) that you played?
  2. Are you currently playing one of them in your daily life?
  3. If not, when did it (or they) go underground?
  4. What was it about the event that made it so unforgettable?
  5. Can you imagine experiencing it again?

The goal of Theatrical Intelligence is to IDENTIFY the roles that gave you such joy and freedom as a child, TAP INTO that creative pulse you’ve been craving, and USE IT in your daily life.

Once you’ve experienced that pulse, it will keep on beating. Hold it close to you. Unexpected opportunity awaits.

 

A Theatrically Intelligent Holiday to You!

“Remember the Ladies…” and Their Words of Wisdom

On each of the past 52 weekends, I’ve posted one short quote on Twitter. It’s been a sort of ritual I intend to continue. Sometimes abbreviated due to the 140 character limit, these little gems give me an inspirational boost.

I was struck (though not surprised) as I reviewed these words of wisdom today, that most of my favorites come from women. So in the words of the great Abigail Adams, let’s “remember the ladies”!

ADAMS 

Abigail Adams, writing to John Adams in 1776:

”…in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors.”

 
 
 
 

“Those that don’t got it, can’t show it. Those that got it, can’t hide it.” 
Zora Neale Hurston

“There is a special place in hell for women who do not help other women.” 
Madeline Albright

“I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.” Virginia Woolf
 

 “Inspiration usually comes during work, rather than before it.” Madeleine l’Engle 
 

TWAIN


 

And an honorable MEN-tion:

“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” Mark Twain

 

“Date Specific” Performance Piece: Happy Halloween!

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Performance Pieces Everywhere You Look!

Performance Pieces Everywhere You Look!