Wednesday, September 05, 2012

The Four Truths Of Being An Artist

My life always seems to circle back through the theatre. Countless times, when I’ve felt confused, unsure of a direction or in need of perspective, a play or a conversation with a thoughtful member of the theatre community has come along to light the way.

It’s what the purpose of theatre has always been. And it works.

It’s what good writing, good movies, good television, music, painting and sculpture are all about as well.

Trust me, if fewer people devoted their time to reality television and focussed instead on the same stories told through the eyes of an artist, the world would be a much more contented place.

For the longest time, I tried to stay out of the current dispute at Toronto’s Factory Theatre. But then I realized I was one of those people of the theatre too and might be able to offer some light of my own.

That contribution earned me heaps of disdain and more than a few insults. But it also brought me back into contact with thoughtful theatre people who’ve been out of my life for a long time.

And it introduced me to dozens I may never meet, newcomers to the profession eager to be part of the work of the theatre and bring their own unique wisdom to the rest of us.

Yesterday, the Factory (while commencing mediation with its former Artistic Director) announced the appointment of a pair of interim Artistic Directors with a long history at that theatre. They also introduced two new playwrights in residence and a cadre of young writers who may shape its future.

I’m sure these announcements will be met with disdain and insults from some quarters. But I’m just as certain that others will look at these new faces and see the reflection of our society that theatres need to mirror to remain relevant.

Life goes on. Nothing is more certain than change.

And the hard truth of being an artist is that our lives are too short, our careers even shorter and change is ever present.

For me, that has always been a singular truth. But yesterday, Brendan Healy, a thoughtful theatre person and Artistic Director of Toronto’s Buddies in Bad Times Theatre company laid out four truths of being an artist.

Of all the thoughtful insights ever given me, these might be the most essential.

Like all good professionals, I don’t imitate, I steal. And so I have stolen Brendan’s words to share with you.

Take them to heart. They will make your time in any creative industry that much more rewarding and far easier to bear in times of crisis or change.

Four thoughts for my future self

by Brendan Healy on Tuesday, September 4, 2012 at 9:09am

1. I am not the theatre company and the theatre company is not me.

At its essence, a theatre company is a collection of ideas. It is this collection of ideas that draws people to the theatre. Not me. It is this collection of ideas that people wish to serve. Not me. I have had the immense privilege of being deeply intimate with these ideas for a moment in time. But these ideas exist outside of me, have existed before me and will continue without me.

2. The theatre company owes me nothing.

My job has required me to be completely devoted to the ideas that have created the theatre company and to push these ideas forward. Furthermore, my job has required me to be held personally and publicly accountable to how these ideas are managed. I have been paid to do this. These requirements are not extraordinary.

3. I will lose everything.

If there is one thing that cancer has taught me it is this: everything in this world is temporary. The process of living is ultimately a process of letting go: youth, health, relevance, people, status, power, etc. Life will always force me to let go. This will be painful. But, I believe that grace lies on the other side of that process. This belief is what will get me through.

4. My work exists inside the people that I have shared it with.

In the end, all that will be left of my work at the theatre company will be contained within people: the people I collaborated with, the people who came to see the work, the people who helped fulfill a vision, the people who inspired me, the people who I inspired. Whatever legacy I will eventually leave will be contained within them and not inside a show, not inside a building, not in a review, not in an award. It is these people that make this all worthwhile. I must cherish them.

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