Monday, December 14, 2009

You old softy.

There was a time, when I was critical of everything. I call it my, "Wayne-You-Are-Such-An-Asshole" period. Nothing was ever good enough -- at least as far as the performing arts was concerned. This includes films. Unless I was in it, everything pretty much sucked.

There were certain things that were ALWAYS good no matter how bad they were. Laurence Olivier could do no wrong. Al Pacino was a frigging genius. Helen Hayes was the ne plus ultra. Even in films undeserving of their massive talents, they seemed to make things better. Or at least, acceptable.


But then it happened. Or rather, then THEY happened. Larry did Inchon, Al did Scarface and the venerable Ms. Hayes appeared on an episode of Love Boat.

I was crushed. And so began my downward spiral into disillusion. Then then I started my own theatre company. The world changed. For the better, I might ad. For someone whose entire adult life had been in the theatre I was a jaded, myopic, knucklehead. A good ego is useful at times, especially as a defense mechanism for criticism, but when it starts to cloud your artistic judgment you need to pair it down a little. Maybe a lot. Either that or cease to grow as a person and an artist and continue to waste time inventing another million ways to keep Hubris from finally catching up with you -- and crushing you further.

Arizona TheatreWorks was an exercise in total collaboration with an assortment of talent and a cornucopia of characters. From the most untalented neophytes to seasoned professionals. From passionate college actors to callous old thespians. Of course, I wasn't aware of this exercise at the time. It only began to unfold itself to me as productions were frantically mounted, budgets continually ran over and time passed ever so quickly.

What the people of Arizona TheatreWorks taught me was that we really are in this together. "This" for me was the theatre and the shows we put up. "This" may also be anything you do socially or societally. Anything you do or experience or partake of with other humans. Work, shopping for groceries, going to a sporting event. To paraphrase David Mamet's character of Robert in A Life in the Theatre, "It's all a part of your LIFE." Thank you to everyone that worked at AzTW. Even those who are no longer my friends. (Only a few.) Even those who came in and disrupted things and made life very difficult. (They won't know who they are.) Especially those who came there and gave of themselves completely. (They WILL know who they are.)

Almost overnight (granted it took about ten years), I started seeing movies and plays and dance and...well, life, in a different light. The harsh judgmental criticism faded. Not intentionally, but purely organically. As if by some sort of theatrical magic. I became more appreciative of all the work that goes into the performing arts. All the money. All the risk. I started to truly understand that our life in the arts is not a smooth one. Even the Oliviers and Pacinos have rough patches where they call their own work into question. Even THEY may have to pay the bills once in awhile. And where B- and C-listers like me may have to take on a "real" job (like waiting tables or carpentry...or going to work for Capitol Records), people like them have to take on work that clearly is not worthy of them. Fine. Lesson learned. Thank you, Universe.

I've also come to understand that there are certain actors that do things very well. Always have been, of course. In previous posts I've railed about the Celebrity vs Actor paradigm. I now add the Movie Star element to the equation as a totally separate but equal kid of "actor." (Note the small "a")

A Movie Star is someone who commands your attention even though they may be doing nothing more than playing themselves on screen. John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly for example. They are distinct from the pure Celebrity because what they do, they do very well. And they are different from the Actor because they are limited in the range of emotion and depth of character they bring to the screen or stage. However, you have to watch them.

These days you'll very regularly find me sitting happily in a dark movie theatre watching things I NEVER would have dreamed of watching in my earlier days. I love Movie Stars and I enjoy Actors. I tolerate Celebrities as long as my students understand the difference. I loved Iron Man, Can't wait for Avatar, gonna be first in line for Sherlock Holmes on Xmas day. I will watch Hugh Grant (Movie Star) in anything and can't wait for Jennifer Lopez to make another romantic comedy. (That's right you heard me, Jennifer Lopez. Watch Shall We Dance or Maid in Manhattan. Charming in a classic screwball comedy way.)

Having said all that, I still find it hard to give Adam Sandler the same latitude I give Ben Stiller. Hey, evolution didn't happen over night.

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