Monday, September 21, 2009

I'm Learning!

(WARNING: This is a long post.)

Okay, so we are all taught to be polite, right? Well, I do try, and most of the time I succeed, but sometimes you just gotta do (or say) what IS. Most people know me to be honest, but usually tactful, but honesty a recurrent theme for me right now. As artists, we are at our best when we are completely open and honest, however, that usually doesn't play too well in society. The answer to "Do these jeans make my butt look fat?" may be "Yes" but the vast majority of us will think twice before stating it, if we tell the truth at all. We go along to get along, and those who don't are considered rebels, rabble-rousers (okay, 'trouble-makers'), or weirdos.

This morning I had a commercial audition with three other women. Our characters were based on the "Sex and The City" characters. We all read over the sides, assuming that we would be assigned a character. The casting assistant told us we could choose amongst ourselves who would be which character. We all paused, then I spoke first, telling the other three women that I wanted to be the "Mandy" character (who was based on Sarah Jessica Parker's character in the show). RADIO SILENCE. (Cue crickets.) One of the other women said she had wanted that character too. PAUSE. But that she would take a different character. Now, during that pause I was questioning whether or not I should just let her have the "Mandy" character. I decided that I felt most comfortable with that character. It had nothing to do with the fact it was based on SJP - I just thought the lines of that character fit me well enough that I could sink right in, and add my own flair without doing too much thinking about it. So I said nothing. PAUSE. The next woman said "I think we ALL wanted that part." PAUSE Social niceties may have dictated that I said "Oh, go ahead and take it, and I'll do something else." but in reality, I was thinking "Bump that. You should have spoken up." There was more back and forth between the other women, but they all chose their parts and I think we ALL did well. Honestly.

Even as I type, I feel like it sounds "ugly," but why? I didn't step on anybody to get anything. I just expressed how I felt and held my ground. I've been thinking about this all day, and the other ways that "honesty" comes up in my life.

I am trained in the Meisner Technique (and currently taking a refresher course), which defines acting as "The ability to live truthfully under the given imaginary circumstances." The scene is the given imaginary circumstance, and the actors job is to translate it emotionally so that s/he can react to the circumstance as if it were real. In doing this work, the actor learns to instinctually recognize the truth of a situation, and react to it instead of responding from a more socially correct place. "Do these jeans make my butt look fat?" If they do, then "Heck yes, they do!" Comes the answer without any thoughts of whether or not it is polite. Got me?

Doing this work spurs a LOT of introspection because once you are able to instinctually read other peoples' behavior, there's NO WAY you can ignore your own. If I say I really want to get in the best shape possible, I need to stop eating donuts. If I'm not willing to stop eating donuts, I need to stop saying "I really want to get in the best shape possible" because it's clear that I don't. Barring some insurmountable obstacle (of which there are very few) we do what it takes to get what we want, and if we don't, we need to shut up about it and move on to something we really do want. Do it or don't - no guilt required.

Being back in class is making me revisit a lot of things that I learned and have put into practice, as well as some things that I learned and DON'T practice. I have always considered myself a student of life - always questioning, learning, exploring. What I NOW realize is that I have managed to become a teacher as well. As the eldest of 7 daughters, I have always been in the position of being "the responsible one," or even "the bossy one." As I learn, grow, and get 'better,' I just feel compelled to share my lessons with other people so we can all get better together. Those lessons aren't always welcome (even if they are true) , so I'm in the process of learning to share with those who actually want what I have to give.

Lately (as a result of my blog and my Twitter account, I think) I get LOTS of questions from other actors, and it feels wonderful to be able to share as much as I can. That instead of JUST being a student, I have absorbed and put enough into practice that my knowledge of my craft and my business are second nature to me. For so long I just had questions, questions, and more questions. Now I know that there will always be more questions, but I also know that I have a lot of answers as well. Not only can I get things done for myself, but I can tell others how to make things happen. And as I type I feel like it sounds "ugly." Society tells us it's not nice to toot our own horn, but not speaking the truth of this situation has become like a pebble in my shoe. I have to own it because it's true. If we admit the truth of who we are (or who we are becoming), then we can harness our power.



Minou said...

And you are a wonderful teacher - at least for me:-) I will write you soon on FB.
Just wanted to say something about the audition. I think you did the right thing. Honestly, every actress would have done that, too. It's been your intuition and you spoke out first. So, what is the problem? The question is, would you have accepted playing another role if one of the other actresses had spoken first? The answer would definitely be - yes. So, don't worry, keep strong and keep on focused on your goals. :-)
Bisou, Minou

Deborah Olliff said...

That was so great to hear Nicole! As a tweeted to you earlier, I relate to being the one that never wants to upset anyone or rock the boat. It is hard sometimes though because as you said, you don't want to be the one that won't bend. Sometimes you just need to stand up for your own beliefs though.

I have always had a hard time saying no but I am learning. Thanks.

I sent a link to my daughter Karin. I hope she reads it. She is going through some rough times and I think your words could help her too.

Nicole J. Butler said...

Minou - Thanks for that. Your question is great - Yes! If one of the other actresses had chosen, I would have respected that and kept moving forward. I appreciate your helping me to re-focus. Onward, and upward!

Deb - Aww - thanks for forwarding a link to your daughter. That's exactly it - I don't want to be seen as the inflexible one, or more specifically, the stereotypical "angry black woman." Again, I need to re-focus.

Let's keep on learning! We are all works in progress... :o)

christine said...

so inspiring and so beautiful to read.

I really had to take a few steps back and re-think about the things I've done and things i wish I could have done or change.

Thank you for your wisdom. I will be in touch with you and your blog :)

I feel so much better reading this! we are all learning