The Contrast

The Contrast
Lift Big, Sing Big, Look Great Doing It.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Negativity and Performing

Today I was really inspired to write. I recently hit a wall, having done nothing but write for the past month (something like two posts a day), I was starting to just blab (which I'm excellent at.) But, today an old college friend of mine who is in New York (like so many of my friends trying to find their place in the business they've given their hearts to) posted this blog post.

She also wrote this to clarify some things:

"Thank you to all of you who have responded so enthusiastically to the essay I wrote today. It’s been a little overwhelming, but touching nonetheless, to see it shared so many times. That being said, I want to clarify a few things:

1) I really DO love musical theatre. I will always love musical theatre. I still want to do musical theatre when it’s right for me. So I am certainly not condemning the genre or the people who work within it, but I think all of us (including myself) can use a refresher course in positive constructive criticism in this internet age where everyone and anyone can be a critic. I believe criticism is a necessary tool to help an artist grow when it is offered in a way that is constructive and provides positive feedback and tips on how to improve on “problem areas.” Positive energy is far, FAR more powerful than negative energy. Always.

2) I have other personal reasons beyond the one mentioned for pursuing artistic goals outside of musical theatre. We’re all more than one thing, and I am more than just someone who does musical theatre, so I’m taking time to pursue those things because I feel it’s time to do that right now. I didn’t leave only because of what’s in my essay and some awful things people I don’t even know said or wrote on the internet. As an artist, we frequently go where the wind takes us. My wind is taking me elsewhere for right now.

3) Lots of wonderful, terrifically nice and supportive people DO work in musical theatre from the top down, and having met mostly those kinds of people, I can say they are the ones who keep my love for musical theatre alive. It is overall a fabulous industry in which to work, and I still see it that way despite some of the behavior that has been displayed. I am so proud of all of those I know who are treading the boards of the Great White Way and beyond and doing it with humility, grace, and a great respect for the art.

Again, thank you for all the discussion, enthusiasm, and appropriately enough, constructive criticism of what I wrote. Keep spreading the love and joy to those around you, because we need more of that in the world!"

In this post she talked about how, due to the intense demands and economic decline of the industry, the unnecessary negativity and intimidation in the musical theater world has caused her to leave the business (for now) and pursue other venues to express her artistic talents. I've always known her to be a passionate, expressive performer with a die hard endurance for the scars and wounds of the business (Attending OCU will do that to a person), so I know this decision doesn't come lightly. I've known a lot of people who have left, found other passions, or simply given up. Singing and performing as your livelihood is an ugly journey for many. While reading her post, I couldn't stop nodding my head in agreement about her sentiments of being displeased with the amount of venom dripping from the mouths of people in their pursuits to succeed.

Let's get this straight. You gain NOTHING from being negative about other peoples performances. NOTHING. No one is going to give you a lead by pointing out the flaws in other people, that's not part of the audition process. The most you could gain is a cheap laugh at the expense of someone else. The worst thing, and something that she touches on in her article, is this bonding that occurs through the bitchiness. It's something that I'm very guilty of. I'll fully admit it, I'm not a good person 100% of the time, and when I'm feeling negative about my abilities, they sometimes manifest in my opinions of others. You're entitled to your opinion. Let your opinion guide your artistic choices, let it affect the way you portray your characters, you sing your lines, and interact with others. However, beginning at a point of negativity is a slippery slope that will only lead you to a pit of depressing babble between bitter minded people. Unless you're being paid for your opinion, it's probably best to not completely throw a person under a bus.

(Side Note: Strangely enough, the people that I've come to know to have the most positive opinions about other singers is those who have the power to give jobs: Artistic and General Directors.)

It's much more difficult being the person that finds the charm, the positivity in someone's performance. You have an endless supply of sources to pull from to show how poorly someone is performing, but to find the good, the inner greatness is something that takes active practice. The number one thing I hate about singing and performing is the fact that it breeds a type of venomous negativity in a person. It's the hours of picking away at your flaws, throwing those self conscious views upon others, and discovering you have absolutely no chance of ever being perfect and demonizing others for their imperfections.

Celebrate the Imperfect

One of my absolutely favorite performances I've ever heard is this rendition of "Being Alive" by Raul Esparza in the latest revival of Stephen Sondheim's company. It has perfection through its imperfections. Its flaws are what make it so human, so touching. He sings out of tune, has an uneven vibrato, and at one point he is screaming. But, God dammit, it is so damn moving that I can hardly breathe. Half of it is the brilliance of the words and the music, its simplicity and repetition, but the thing that stands out is the ugliness and desperation of being alone, wanting something, someone. Having lived ugly moments like this, you can't just sing the notes with perfect rythym with an even tempered mind. You gotta perform it how you would live it. Enjoy this clip, I demand you to.

Advice for the Like Minded Negative Types.

Now, I will say this: If you're going to have loud opinions and be negative, don't go after the people that are going for the same parts, are at the same level in their careers, or even slightly lower or higher. It's okay to have a big opinion about a high level public figure. You think they're going to lose any sleep about a percentage of people disliking their performance that were going to hate it regardless of how well he or she performed? I hope not, because that's a huge part of their business: tolerating senseless hatred and ignorance. But, if you're sinking to the level of being overly petty about people you work with, about the people who are in the same audition room as you, or worse, the people that will be in your level of business soon, you've got to reevaluate who and where you are in your life. You're not doing yourself any favors, and you will potentially make many an audition scenario horribly uncomfortable.

This is something I struggled with immensely last year. I was in a deep pit of depression that was reflected in my weight, my performing, and my singing. I wasn't living up to my own standards, and thus no one could live up to them. The minute I let go of all of that earthly bull shit and started ignoring what others did and turned that diagnostic laser beam on myself and found positive ways to get to my goals was when I started to find happiness again. I've actually been able to go see shows and enjoy performances that I know I would have belittled for days on end. I much prefer enjoying things than finding stuff to criticize.

I can't promise that I won't be negative sometimes. I don't think that's who I am. I can't pretend to be positive all of the time, I think I would end up coming off as unauthentic. I honestly believe that the negativity that dominated my life has inspired some wonderful performing moments for me, so I'm not going to let that go. However, what I can do is look at the things that I do see in a negative light and find the silver lining. That's a practice that I can commit to, and one I will continue to re commit myself to throughout my life.

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