Friday, August 04, 2017

How Do You Put Your Pants On?

I wrote the post below in the summer of 2015 while I was doing a stint as Assistant Director at The Guthrie. I post it today as I consider the question of timing and competency from a slightly different perspective.

Today I signed the papers to clear the way for the sale of my property in Robbinsdale, MN, next Friday. The Monday after I will be purchasing The Forst Inn in Tisch Mills, WI. It feels a bit crazy, and vaguely irresponsible, but is fairly consistent with my personal history in regard to risk/reward calculations.

The past decade has been a more or less continuous experiment in calculated risk taking. My willingness to give things a try led me to pursue work in the Educational Development office at Roseville Area Schools, to abandon that work in pursuit of a more focused journey in theatre graduate school, to follow that work across Wisconsin to Manitowoc, and now to toss all my chips into the pot and try and create a community of artists in a unique home.

Still and all, the notion of taking on a 10,000sf property with a leaky roof and infrastructure that's been left somewhat distressed for a period of time when my own personal financial resources are modest definitely resonates as a doubling down of this journey. It could be a great thing. It could be the plot of a screwball comedy. It'll probably be something in between. It feels like something that people with deeper pockets should do.

In any event, vis-a-vis the following post, I oddly don't feel like a fraud. I actually feel like I'm the right person in the right place doing the right thing. The Universe seems to agree, for the moment. Powers beyond my ken brought me here and fate, as they say, is inexorable.

With that preamble, here are some thoughts from July, 2015.


The state of being wherein the artist, or really anyone who is supposed to have skills or knowledge in any realm, feels themself to be a fraud is ubiquitous.  At every stage of the journey from non-participation to mastery there are opportunities to look about oneself and contemplate the innumerable ways in which we might possibly be inadequate to the moment.

Recently I've been intrigued by the legitimacy of the idea that there are 10,000 hours on the road to mastery.  Logging those hours is no small task.  Along that road, no one is immune from the thought, "Do I belong here?"

Five weeks of this summer are being spent observing the process of staging a lovely comedy at The Guthrie. While Broadway may be the pinnacle of the profession for theatre folk in the US, a regional theatre like The Guthrie is about as good as it gets out here in the hinterland. The resources are extraordinary. The professionalism and preparation of everyone involved is inspiring. Still, the core process is pretty much the same as it's been wherever I've done this work: high schools, community theatres, college, smaller professional companies...what works is what works is what works. Maybe that's not a surprise. I mean, it's not a surprise. Of course, it is true that at this level everyone is very good at what they do. That's a difference of sorts. The roster is deep, as it were. And full. There are no open spots on the roster.

But good God what a fantasy of resources. There are tables full of people watching rehearsal just waiting for an opportunity to be useful. The director and actors are continually engaged in processing the text; there is a stage manager, assistant stage manager and stage management intern who are poised to note every element of blocking and technical need. I am there as the assistant director and there is also a directing intern...neither of us having a specific task but should the director have any need whatsoever we are poised to provide it. The dramaturg sat in frequently in early rehearsals and has been available though less present recently. The dialect coach sometimes sits in and has individual sessions with the actors. A fight choreographer was in rehearsal for a time and will return to assist with the handful of stage slaps and pratfalls. A photographer comes by periodically to snap publicity photos. Folks from props, costumes and set shops bring by rehearsal items as well as final elements for approval on an ongoing basis. A sound designer sends in sample clips and accompaniment tracks whenever they are needed. The rehearsal room is large and bright and stocked with coffee, water and comfy chairs for everyone. All of these people are highly experienced and well trained. They are deeply familiar with the behaviors that make someone successful in their select roles.

It is, as you might imagine, fun to watch.

And, also, predictably, folks who clearly have the skills and experience to be doing what they are doing have moments when they wonder, "Do I belong here?"

That doesn't make it irrational to ask the question. After all, examples of people who are not prepared or capable of fulfilling their assigned tasks are also ubiquitous. Sometimes people aspire to things they really don't have the skill sets to fulfill...whether through a lack of training or the requisite proclivities. It's another aspect of the roster being a bit thin. Sometimes you've got someone to stand by the base but they're not likely to actually catch the ball.

Maybe it's good to be asking the question.  It's a kind of self-regulation to prevent...something?  As long as it doesn't lead to debilitating fear or, more painfully, to a kind of insecure defensiveness that expresses itself as arrogance and narcissism. It all goes back to the mastery question. True mastery seems to lead to a very comfortable kind of competence that simply exists without needing to announce itself.

Meanwhile, in this room everyone is delightfully human. We all put our pants on one leg at a time.

1 comment:

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