“Somebody has said that what an actor has to do is be clear, and in order to be clear as an actor, you have to be clear to yourself. I don’t think it’s possible to be a good actor without some very distinct center. I think a good actor has got to be, in a way, almost like a priest. That there is a purity of spirit involved which makes it possible for ideas to be conveyed through that person to the audience, that the actor becomes a kind of conductor or a medium, or a way of transferring something abstract and indefinable to an audience.”— Christopher Walken
When I was in college I thought the weirder you were, the more creative you’d be.
And the more creative you were, the better art you’d make. Oh, how I wish it were that easy!
If only I simply needed to be weird, out there, and different in order to make good art.
To be honest, I wouldn’t have to do much work, I already feel that way, and I imagine you do, too. However, eccentricity is not necessarily the mark of a true artist. In fact, it can often mean the exact opposite. Being eccentric isn’t nearly enough to make good work and is too often a distraction for the professional creator as the word quite literally means being “off center.”
Artists are rebels and so they should be.
We exist to offer a different point of view. We are prophets who often go against the mainstream. But sometimes artists get so carried away with their rebellion they begin to wage war with their own center of gravity. They lose this “purity of spirit” in exchange for mere difference. Again, rarely is it mere eccentricity or fringe living that makes for a good piece of art, or a good life, for that matter.
I remember one of the last shows I did before taking my sabbatical. I was the youngest person in the cast surrounded by a truckload of incredible older actors all in their 50′s and 60′s. Between shows and rehearsals, we’d chat about different parts of the business and their lives. I’d always be asking for advice. They were amazing actors and I wanted to be just like them. But after about five weeks together I noticed an unsettling trend. All but two of the ten actors were divorced and in every case the divorces were directly related to their lives as actors.
One actor in particular, when asked to reveal a little more of his story, began to tell me that as a young artist he simply didn’t believe the rules applied to him. For him to have the freedom to create, he needed to be different, which meant doing whatever he pleased, whenever he felt like it. I heard story after story of sadness and ruin all in the name of art.
These men had spent their lives being so eccentric and living on the fringe for the sake of their craft that they lost bits of their souls, and in some cases, their entire families along the way.
I’m all for fringe exploration. I’m all for rebellion. I’m all for slashing through the empire. But not if it costs me my center.
I’m very protective of this place because I know what it feels like to try and make from a place that is in pieces. In fact, much of my art up until the last five years was created from a broken center.
My actor friends are good artists, but I imagine the great artists they could be if they were to create from a center that was distinct and whole.
Thanks only to grace, my center is now becoming as such and it is from this place where I now create. I must know it well and I must not hide from it, even if being eccentric makes me appear more artistic or on the edge.
When we live off-center, we run the risk of jamming the conductor that is meant to be clear, whole, and ready to reveal to our audience what has been revealed to us. As artists we must work to find our center and keep it both holy and wholly.
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