[Note: On June 29 over 150 theater artists from all over New England convened at the ART for the StageSource Theater Conference: Reframing Success. Actor Jessica Chance was there, and sent this blog post in response.]
By Jessica Chance
As with any career, we artists spend time networking, interviewing, auditioning and trying to prepare and put ourselves in line with the right opportunities. Society tells us that upward mobility, that rise to the top, that place in life where we’re content, comfortable, well-known, financially satisfied, and ultimately, successful, is something we must strive for.
Maybe. It all depends on what your definition of success is.
The reality is that although the above seems so wonderful and predictable, rarely does a career, especially if you’re an artist, unfold in such a linear fashion. We have the passion. We know we have the talent, and we’ve carved a niche for ourselves in the theatre community, so that no matter how conventional and routine one aspect of our lives may feel, we have our creative home. Our little slice of normal. We go there, and each time attempt to leave our mark, despite insecurities, personal narratives. I’ll blame use of the word narrative on keynote speaker Stever Robbins, who spoke at this year’s StageSource conference, themed “Reframing Success.” In sharing his own story as a coach and entrepreneur, Robbins, with lifesaving humor, provided a real framework for how we can speak to ourselves without damaging the artistic process and not learning from each and every experience. We know this, but; it’s amazing what the mind can do.
Whether it’s the budget for a production, not getting a part, feeling overwhelmed, or not knowing how the next day’s schedule will be juggled, it’s how we view the situation at hand that determines whether or not it helps us grow, or if it will be perceived as defeat. We’re humans after all and we creative folk in particular have a tendency to be a tad ah…dramatic. We need to let it work for, and not against us.
The Message in the Music
When we consider the ways we can grow and feel more accomplished in our crafts, it’s impossible not see art as an instrument for social justice. I attended the session Arts and Activism, where our conversation had much to do with this simple fact: we enjoy and feel so moved by incredible theatre and it’s important to reflect on why. Perhaps something was revealed to us about ourselves, or we were hit personally by a character’s journey. Let’s look at the actual study of theatre, which has been proven to enhance critical thinking, help develop stronger communication and leadership skills, and to increase the ability to multi-task, manage projects, and meet tight deadlines. Despite technological sophistication, these skills are imperative if we want to groom future leaders. Yes, the arts are entertaining. They help us escape real life at times. But right under our noses, great theatre is happening and does so much to educate us about different cultures and our own communities. “Create the Vote”,* presented by Matthew Wilson of MassCreative and Malia Lazu of the Future Boston Alliance, is an initiative to include arts and culture in the next mayoral discussion.
In this meeting of the minds, so much information was shared that tied the arts to:
- Mental Health Awareness
- Youth and Violence
- Employee and Organizational Development
- Environmental Awareness
It was gratifying to witness people from different backgrounds seeking ways to use theatre as a platform to reach at risk populations and support diverse causes.
It’s pretty flattering to be looked upon as fearless. After completing a performance, there’s nothing like having an audience member ask, “How do you guys memorize all of those lines?” Sometimes you anticipate the question and internally roll your eyes. It’s still pretty darn meaningful when you can tell they’ve been moved by your performance. Actors out there, admit: it’s awesome. Don’t try to be all humble about it. But that doesn’t change the fact that we’re far from fearless. In fact, some of the shyest, most introverted people go into the performing arts. Ask actors like Robert DeNiro, because we love watching his interviews, right? This isn’t a broad brush statement, but to say we don’t have our own epic, strange, neurotic anxieties would be a really hilarious lie. Compound that with the idea of creating our own pieces, our own monologues, our own shows! Local actors Margaret Ann Brady, Obehi Janice, and JJ King, in Creating Your Own Art, did a great job humanizing the process. As actors who have in fact, created their own art, they discussed the commitment to and enjoyment of the process; it’s imperative to embrace what you’ve got. If you’re not excited about your work, who will be? A highlight of the session was the importance of having outside eyes, and trusted colleagues to help develop your work. No one ever succeeds alone.
Just a final note about how we can support each other. It was wonderful to move away from standard panels and have more info sharing circles. When attending conferences, unless presenting, we have a little mental basket we keep empty, so that when we go home, it’s nice and full with everyone’s wisdom. It may never occur to us that we’ve got our own tidbits and anecdotes to pass on, especially for the younger, less experienced in the crowd who are at the starting point of their careers, eyes wide open, hungry. The more we can provide our own insights the more we are held accountable to practice what we preach. I’d say that’s pretty successful too.
Jessica Chance is a local actor and writer in the Boston area and has worked with Boston Playwright’s Theatre, the Huntington Theatre Company, and Company One among many others. Jessica is also engaged in theatre for community development and social issues and enjoys devoting a part of her time as a career counselor for folks still trying to figure out what they want to be when they grow up.
* StageSource will be sending out information about the #CreateTheVote campaign. The kick off event is tonight, July 10, at the BCA Cyclorama. More information to come!
If you are interesting in blogging your own response to the conference, please email jhennrikus at stagesource.org.