It’s a little early in the season for graduation speeches, but if I were asked to give an address to young people on their special day (I haven’t been), the title would be: “Consistency: The Key to Success.”
We currently live in a short attention span society. Even theatre has succumbed to this trend: look at the number of new 90-minute plays and musicals cropping up these days. People want to be in and out in one act while hopefully still being transported for $100+ a seat.
I’m not disparaging this – I’m just stating the facts. And here’s another: in this fast-paced, sometimes processed world, being a consistent artist has become a Herculean feat. It’s not impossible, but it does take a tremendous amount of discipline. I question whether or not we are uniformly encouraging and teaching these skills to young people.
There’s nothing particularly sexy about being consistent. If a performer receives praise, it is usually not for their consistency. And the benefits of being consistent are not exactly tangible. They do, however, help an artist find longevity. And don’t we all want long, prosperous careers?
So, how can we be consistent in our work as a creative or performing artist (or both)? For me, the simple answer is: show up.
As regular readers of this blog know, I teach private voice lessons. The biggest issue I see facing clients is not an unhealthy belt/mix (that takes second place) but an inability to show up in their practice. They may do great work in their lesson or coaching, but if they’re not reinforcing these newly found technical and dramatic techniques in their private work, it becomes very difficult to build a solid foundation on which they can grow.
The reasons for this lack of consistency include: a grueling work schedule, personal challenges, roommates or neighbors who don’t like hearing them practice, etc… These are all completely legitimate reasons. These are also constants in most any performing artist’s life. We can each find plenty of reasons not to do something, but can we also find reasons to do the work in spite of these roadblocks?
The best reason I can find to do this work is: myself. I am worth it. I am worthy of it. And I hunger for it.
I often encourage clients to set aside as little as 15 minutes 3 days a week for practice to begin with so they develop the habit of showing up. Then, over time they can expand that time to 30-40 minutes 5 days a week. It’s all about baby steps.
For some, the scheduling may be the easy part – it’s jumping the mental hurdle to do the actual work that’s a challenge. And this is really where claiming our self worth comes in. If we don’t think we’re good enough or will get better, why do the work? And let’s face it: our industry is pretty good at creating a nihilistic landscape regardless of whether you’re a writer or performer. It’s easy to join Fraulein Schneider from Cabaret in saying, “Who cares? So what?”
Just in case it sounds like I’m preaching from the mountaintop, I will freely admit I also wrestle with consistency. In the process of working on HAIR at Wagner College, I have maintained 5 days a week at the gym (OK, only 4 last week…), but not without significant internal struggle. Part of me says, “David, you’re in your 40’s – Do you really think you’re going to completely eradicate that little ring of fat around your waist? Face reality! You need rest and your bed is so comfortable. Go to the gym tomorrow.” But I try to go anyway because it helps ground my day.
Similarly, I try to mediate 10-15 minutes a day to “tame the crazy.” There are days I decide to skip it to the detriment of my happiness. Today for instance: I went to the gym but haven’t yet meditated. I can literally feel the magma of anxiety bubbling underneath the surface, which is usually calmed by those 15 minutes of silent reflection. When will I learn?
The result of consistently showing up: true satisfaction and knowing you’re actually moving forward. And isn’t that what we want, even (and especially) if we’re only doing it for ourselves?
As I finished writing this, I entered Wagner College’s Main Hall for rehearsal. We open this week and are currently in dress rehearsals. Most every evening, I enter this building and hear the most beautiful music coming from Dr. Lauri Young’s office. In addition to being a professor in the musical theatre department at Wagner and the resident musical director, Lauri has an active career as a classical pianist. She is a woman of many skills and talents. And yet, as a person on the other side of her door, I never perceive her resting on that. She’s always pushing herself to be better. And that makes me want to push myself, too.
I admire Lauri more than I can say. Her dedication is as humbling as her playing is breathtaking. May we all practice such devotion to our craft.
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