The Patient Artist

patience-jug-water-drop-I heard a lot of fantastic, intelligent and illuminating things at yesterday’s “If I Knew Then…Directors” panel which I had the good fortune to moderate.   I learned how Scott Edmiston approaches a script for the first time, how Benny Sato Ambush is attempting to say less in rehearsal so that what he DOES say matters, I learned how Carmel O’Reilly needs to know everything about the mechanics of the play and how David Gammons sees the text as a poem to interpret rather than a set of instructions.

Amazing stuff.  When asked what these artists have learned and what they would say to their younger selves, the message that kept coming up was one thing in particular: Patience.  I have been turning this idea over and over in my mind since leaving the panel and realize that I’m in a daily struggle with this particular virtue and it’s what brings me the largest amount of frustration and keeps me in my own way.

Over twelve years of directing, I have grown to appreciate the process over the product and it seems that this needs to be my approach to my long view of a theater career.  The “process” of being without work, of my life outside of the rehearsal room, the relationships I create with others are all contributing to my life and point of view.  This can be easy to forget as a results-oriented person who is used to thinking that prepping for two shows while directing a third is really the only “proof” that I’m working.   The point was made yesterday that as a young artist we should take every job that comes our way, create our own opportunities and keep practicing and I think that’s very true.  However, what I saw from these established directors yesterday was an ease and a gratitude in what they do, even when it’s rigorous and challenging work and even if that means they only take on one play a year.  They have found their voice and know what they want to say and what work will help them say it best.

This did not happen overnight.   This came from directing plays that they hated and saying yes for the money.  This came from casting the extremely talented, pain-in-the-neck actor over the decent but collegial actor.  This came from almost being sued by a playwright for “ruining” the play.  Ultimately this is the result of making mistakes and using that to clarify who you are as an artist.   Funnily enough, I left the panel last night feeling far freer to fail than I have in a long time.   Becoming an artist will always be an individual and personal journey and my path won’t look like yours.  This is not about complacency and waiting for work.   I will stay hungry and ambitious but I ask for patience, and I ask for it from myself.

About jjstagesource

Jeremy Johnson is the Member Services Mananger at StageSource and has been since graduating Emerson College in 2000. He has also worked as a freelance director throughout New England at companies including Gloucester Stage, Foothills Theatre, Stoneham Theatre, The Theater Offensive, Mill 6 and Boston Directors' Lab. He's worked backstage at "Blue Man Group" and onstage at "Shear Madness". His production of "Speech & Debate" at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston won the 2009 Elliot Norton Award for Best Production for a Mid-Size Company. He has also taught at The Cambridge School of Weston, Beaver Country Day School, Gann Academy, The Winsor School and Walnut Hill School for the Arts.
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1 Response to The Patient Artist

  1. Lucy says:

    Jeremy, I feel the same way! As an “emerging” director I think a lot about patience, about paying my dues, and about what it means to feel like I’m moving forward even when I’m not constantly in the rehearsal room. The directors yesterday made me feel like I am doing the right thing by taking time to figure out life outside of the rehearsal room as well as what kind of theatre I love and why I love it. They made me feel like it is OK to be in a state of flux at this point and to not know everything — to risk failure — because that’s what gets directors to interesting projects and eventually to meaningful careers.

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