Be happy, part 1
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Be happy. Or at least, try very, very hard.
At some point in the rehearsal process there comes a time when you realize that this thing, which started as a few thoughts gathered in your brain, is actually going to manifest on a stage somewhere. Hopefully this realization comes sooner rather than later, because it is always a bit of a shock; and the earlier it happens, the more time you've got to take a deep breath and jump in. For me it always occurs about three weeks beforehand'there's still time, but not as much as I would like, and there always seems to be about a million things to do that will never all get done however much I've been rehearsing. Especially when the ultimate (and most alluring, and stupidest ever) goal is perfection'stupid because you can drive yourself crazy going after it, and the more desirable goal is to remain sane through all this. But because this show is basically your brainchild, you want it to be perfect; so you zealously pursue that despite the detrimental effects it could have on your mental health. Needless to say, it might also have an unfortunate effect on the stress levels'and, in my case, the ears'of those around you, especially when you have a very big voice and a habit of singing for hours at a time, very loudly, in a rather small space. Of course, when you've gotta hold your own up on the stage, the hours of practice are necessary. For the nerves, if nothing else.
But there comes a time when it is also necessary to relax and accept that where you are is where you are, especially come performance time. A couple months ago, for example, I gave an art song recital that I'd worked on since the October of last year. It went very well, but it would have gone even better if I had remembered that performing is supposed to be for joy. (Nerves most definitely get in the way of that perfection I'm always striving for). There is a very simple reason for the letting go: in this industry, the work never ends. Nor does it get easier (really). Of course some things do, but they are the easier things'the things you've worked on for so long that they've become habit. There are always harder and harder challenges put in front of you, and the work becomes more meticulous and time-consuming as you go. People at the Met probably have things that they wish had gone better, just as I always do after my performances. I didn't notice their "mistakes" because I was (am) still starry-eyed and shiny-faced because it's the Met, and these people are singing there, and I want to be up on that stage someday. But there's a lovely secret I'm beginning to learn about singing as well. The people who are singing where I want to sing, like I want to sing, were students once too. They might still be, for all I know; and I know they've worked very, very hard to get where they are. So it follows that if I work very, very hard, I'll have at least some of the success that they do.
So the only thing to do about the enormous task we all have in front of us is to be happy. Or at least, try very, very hard. It'll make all the work easier, and the performances much more fun, if you work with what you've got now and be satisfied with it (you worked hard enough for it, and why are you doing it if it isn't fun?) Given enough time, everything will be better, not just those things you wanted to improve. So, be happy'and work hard. Eventually the things that need fixing will become habits too; and then you'll be on to other things, and other other things. Art is never finished, only abandoned because you run out of time. Of course an awareness of things to work is really important, otherwise there's no way to improve. But panicking over them is useless. Constant improvement is a much more attainable goal than perfection. Guess what? If you make improvement the goal, perfection suddenly seems much closer than it was before.
All that said, don't wait until the realization I mentioned to do all this work. The performance is going to happen whether you are ready or not, and you need to be as ready as possible. Hard work is what we're expected to do in this industry (sorry to burst any bubbles). But it is just as important to enjoy the process.
So, enjoy the process.
Shawn Palmer, : Shawn Palmer, a Magna Cum Laude graduate from Connecticut College, is an actor, writer, and singer. While at school she was a frequent soloist with the Connecticut College Orchestra and understudied several roles with the Connecticut Lyric Opera. She also studied away at the British American Drama Academy during her junior year. Acting credits include Catherine (Proof) and Lucia (Mad Forest). In college she worked as a writing tutor, and her play Amontillado (based on Edgar Allan Poe's short... (more...)