Why I read autobiographies…

I’ve been reading a lot of autobiographies in the past few years: Steve Martin, Neil Young, Patti Smith, Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, Fred Astaire… the list goes on.

Why, you might ask?

Because I’m an artist living in a small town with no one to talk to about my craft, my art, my life.

It’s been said that if you associate with people who have what you want it allows you to copy at an unconscious level how to be that kind of person. It creates new neural pathways in the brain. And it’s called unconscious competence.

That’s in part why I am compelled to read autobios and bios: to copy from the masters. To learn what they accomplished and thereby suffer less and prosper more.

For example, Mozart was said to have died from Consumption. From that I learn that too much creative drive overwhelms the body. Everyone needs to relax and play and look at the stars once in awhile. James Hillman, in “The Soul’s Calling”, writes that the Daemon—the creative power of the soul in our bodies—doesn’t care what we want or how we act… it only wants to fulfill it’s impulses; to complete it’s drives. Therefore, if we’re not careful, we’ll be out on stage without a proverbial net.

What’s a poor, lonely actor to do? Take care of oneself.

Recently, I’ve been booked in a hundred seat proscenium stage to do a solo-performance that I’ve been doing in smaller, more intimate settings and I’m felling like this is all wrong for the play, for the audience, and for me.

What to do? Tickets are being sold, posters have been put up, and I’m trying to respect the needs of the theatre and the needs of the other elements involved: moi!

So here’s my plan: I talk to the artistic director and let her know what this play’s about and how I see it working at it’s best. Then I see if I can build a small raised platform and get close to the audience, i.e. off-stage and intimate. Baring that, I give it my all and focus on the people in the back row and chalk it up to bad planning and move on!

In an ideal world, I’d be as close to the front row as my breath could be smelled and the play would sing!

But this is the real world and I’m not about to do what Kenneth Branaugh did in grade school to get a day off… according to Hillman… throw myself down the stairs to try and break a leg—a dramatic plot indeed! —to try and get the producers to see the error of their ways.

Nope. I’m going to show up and see what happens.

Why? Because making a mistake is just as good at teaching me what’s working as being great! And I’m willing to be just good. As Steve Martin wrote—and I’m editing a bit for the sake of coherency— “It’s easy to be great. Every entertainer has a night when everything is clicking. These nights are accidental and statistical: like lucky cards in poker, you can count on them occurring over time. What’s hard is to be good, consistently good, night after night, no matter what the abominable circumstances.”

Wish me luck! I’ll let you know how it goes…


2 thoughts on “Why I read autobiographies…

  1. Hi There, I feel your pain. I too live in a relatively small town ( it has that type mentality anyway) and I moved from a big city due to family commitments. The change has not done my career any good what so ever. I’m not completely removed from city auditions but I may as well be. So, as I move further into my forties I too am working to write a one man show and bring my talents to the world.
    If you have any pointers, they’d be greatly appreciated.

    • Martin,
      There are a lot of actors doing one-person shows, many of which are available on YouTube to study. I’ve learned a great deal from all of them. And there are several wonderful books out now about the one-person show tradition in theatre. I say break a leg! And Bravo!
      Early in my career I decided never to sit around waiting for a phone call but instead be pro-active and surround myself with as many creative folks as I could no matter where I was living. Thus, I created a theatre company, teach in schools, write and generally produce work wherever and whenever I can. I wish you all the best. Let me know if I can be of any further help.

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