I distinctly remember struggling on the first day of a wonderful writing class in high school. Our teacher put three pieces of text up on the chalkboard. She asked us to respond to each. One was, in hindsight, a cliche although well written. One I don’t remember. The third was a very cool, written from the heart sentence by I believe a Hawaiian teen-ager full of sounds and a sort of description that was kind of weird – something that today I would definitely respond to.
When our teacher asked us to respond almost none of us could. I certainly couldn’t because I didn’t know what the right response/answer was. I was a student used to being in the top of the class because I had mastered the read it, learn it, memorize and spit it back skills that I needed to get A’s. (It wasn’t until I went to Duke that I threw caution to the wind breaking all the rules when I handed in fiction in my history class – only to receive higher accolades from my professor.)
I had no intuition and was afraid to even ask myself seriously which piece of text I liked, which sentence set something special off inside, which sentence interested ME.
Unfortunately, that’s what our schools teach to a large degree.
Now that I’ve been teaching acting for almost 25 years, I see that the same need to get it right that plagued my work in that writing class is the same approach to acting that gets in the way of my students’ best work.
Writing and painting and composing music and acting and creating a dance piece do demand skills – you cannot perform them well or perform anything worth seeing without skill – but they have to come from our own person-hood, if you will. If they are not connected to us, our intuition (dare I use the word “soul?”), then the work falls short and we are busy up in our head trying to get out of the wretched mess.
When I taught college drama I was directly asked “What do I have to do to get an A in your class?" As if I was teaching accounting.
So if you find yourself working very hard to get it right – well, that’s your problem. You’ve got to explore (with discipline and commitment). You have to listen and absorb and watch your fellow students. And you have to go out on a limb. You’ll get better.
You simply won’t get there if getting the right answer or doing it right is what is in the forefront of your mind.