Gimme five

Jul 22, 2011   //   by Kate Powers   //   Coaching Tips, Director's Notebook

Once upon a time, when I was a little baby director, an artistic director asked me to name five playwrights whose work I particularly admired.  Because I wasn’t prepared, and probably also because I was a little baby director, my mind went blanker than Peter Brook’s empty space and I stammered, “Uhhhh …. well …. Shakespeare is always good.”  He dismissed me like the idiot I appeared to be and I have never been able to capture that man’s attention again.  But you can believe I went home and gave some consideration to the question he posed.  And I am never without an answer to that question now.  You shouldn’t be, either.

That artistic director was asking me to tell him about my aesthetic, about what kind of theatre I want to make.  And I didn’t have an answer to that question as he posed it.  In retrospect, I didn’t have an answer to any version of the question; wide-eyed and hopeful, I just wanted to work.  I recommend being clear-eyed yet hopeful.

People are going to pigeon-hole you in this business.  They are busy and pigeon-holing, however frustrating it may be, is a time-saver.  Producers, artistic directors, casting directors and agents, to name a few of our hard-working colleagues, are overextended.  If they can come up with a short-hand way to think about you, that saves them time and energy that they can ill afford to spare.  Think this is unfair?  Then choose to have the tools to pigeon hole yourself.  If you don’t like that phrase, fair enough.

Choose to have the tools to brand yourself.

If people are going to come up with a reduced or short-hand way to think about you, control the discourse and teach them the short-hand that actually represents you.

Have an answer to the questions:  Who are five playwrights that speak to you, director?  What are five roles that you want to play right now, actor?  Who are your influences, designer?

Write your own tag line.

If Nike can just do it, so can you.  One actor friend describes himself as “6’4 of awkward grace.”  We know he’s tall, and the unexpected marriage of “awkward” to “grace” suggests to me that he has some poise as well as some comic timing in that lanky frame.  And it’s catchy.  A casting director can get that stuck in her head just as easily as whatever she was thinking: even easier, actually, because the actor has saved her the effort of encapsulating him.

Think about the work that speaks to you, that you really want to do.  What is it about that style, that genre, that composer?  What is it that you do that no one else does?  What is it essential that we understand about you as an artist?  What do you want to be when you grow up?  Make a list of your attributes, of what you think is special about you.  Then ask your friends and your colleagues for a few adjectives with which they might describe you.  Compare the lists.  See what words, phrases or ideas recur.  This will help you find your way to your tagline, and possibly to a personal mission statement as well, which can help to keep you focused on which opportunities you want to pursue.

Once you find that 4-6 word phrase that encapsulates your essential self as a performer, director, playwright or designer, put it on your business cards, on your resume, on your website, use it as a sign-off when you send that email or that follow-up postcard.

You are sending the follow-up postcards, aren’t you?  But that’s for another post.

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Follow your bliss: it will lead you to the black pit of despair.
– Jeff Watkins, The Shakespeare Tavern

You lie, in faith, for you are called plain Kate,
And bonny Kate, and sometimes Kate the curst;
But Kate, the prettiest Kate in Christendom,
Kate of Kate Hall, my super-dainty Kate,
For dainties are all Kates, and therefore, Kate,
Take this of me, Kate of my consolation…
--The Taming of the Shrew, Act II, scene i