by Tom Frey
Ovation Team Member Tom Frey visits the OC Blog again for our Investment Series! Today, he shares his thoughts on why the intangible "personal cost" of investment in professional skills is worth every (sometimes exhausting) moment.
In the theatre sometimes we talk about “investment” in a role. This is not the sort of investment on which one expects a tangible return (although maybe we should more often) but refers more to “commitment,” “dedication,” or, “zeal.” To see an actor fully invest in, or completely commit to, the demands of a role, to give themselves over to a story that they feel needs telling with ardor and honest resolution is often to witness a remarkable performance. That’s the intangible return, both for the actor and the audience.
Without great technique and skills however, a performance of that sort can come at a cost.
Here’s a story: I did a play last year starring a well-known performer, who, by his own admission had never done a play before. I mention that he is well known to say that he didn’t really need to do a play, but felt so drawn to the story that he felt he needed to tell it. I mention that he had never done a play before because, well… he had never done a play before. I can’t imagine the courage (or temerity) required to agree to star in a play when you’ve never done one. It would be like me agreeing to sing in an opera. Not that anyone is asking.
Rehearsals were tough for him. He was being asked to do things that made no sense, things that were outside his comfort zone. Here was a person with a full career in another discipline being asked to do something completely foreign.
What I found remarkable about this man, and ultimately his performance and our professional relationship, was that even though he was new to the techniques of this kind of storytelling, he embraced what the director gave him, tolerated what the rest of the cast threw at him, and seemed never to lose sight of why he wanted to tell this story in the first place. There were nights I watched him throw himself into the role with the panache of a much more experienced actor. Never mind that there were pieces of technique all over the floor, he could pick those up later if he wanted. He was really living it, really feeling it, and from what I could tell, really believed what he was doing.
It was exhausting. Thrilling, but exhausting. In the theatre, if you’re going to do it, you’ve got to be able to do it eight times a week. You need a solid technique, because performance comes at a cost. As Dame Judi Dench said when asked if she felt what the character felt every night: “Oh no, I’d be dead.”
The professional skills we teach are based in theatrical techniques in large part, and the point of them is the same as in the theatre: While nothing replaces enthusiasm, a good skill set can help you effectively channel it. That skill set is worth it.
To quote (and then bowdlerize) Blake: “Exuberance is Beauty.” Then perhaps in our setting: “Exuberance is Beauty, and Good Technique helps us be more Reliably Beautiful.”