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How to Make Art When All the Other Stuff Threatens to Get in the Way

Question of the week: how am I supposed to make art when everything else keeps taking over my brain space? How do you keep the integrity of the story when you spend six hours thinking about whether or not you need to paint the bar a different color? Here’s what I have gleaned in the last few weeks, a few bullet points of baby wisdom, a couple of thoughts presented in convenient listicle form.

  1. Know the text. If you know the text inside and out, making choices about the art of it all becomes easier. The less you have to search desperately for answers, clutch at straws, the more the process will flow. The better you know the text, the easier it is to know when things are sticking out, when things don’t make sense, when something isn’t quite right. The sooner you can notice these intricate details, the less crammed you’ll feel when you get down to the part of the process when the nitty gritty takes over.
  2. Find time for silence. It’s really important for me to have time to clear my head. I find that this can only happen when I’m alone, distracted by nothing, no other people or sounds pulling my attention. Then I can sit and think with clarity, get through the thing that might have been taking up a lot of brain space. I also think it’s vital to be alone to recharge before getting into the room. I need to have time to clear the day away from me, especially when it’s been a day of dealing with minuscule details of production, so I can go into the room with eyes only on the art of the thing.
  3. Come in from the streetcar. My stage manager/all-around assistant Lydia taught me something the other day which her grandmother used to say- in order to see something clearly you have to come in from the streetcar. Go out of the room, get off the streetcar, walk into the room as though you were arriving for the first time, and I promise you’ll be able to see the thing with new eyes. When you find you can’t shake all the other ideas about the thing from your brain, come in from the streetcar.
  4. Bring snacks. You can’t make art when you’re hungry.
  5. Stick to your own rules. People work best when the rules are clear and followed. If your breaks are ten minutes, break for ten minutes and ten minutes only. If you’re starting your run at 2:45, start at 2:45. The sooner you make everyone in the room adhere to the rules, the less time you’ll spend trying to get everyone to adhere to the rules. That’s the last thing you want to be worried about when six things start happening at once. And this applies to you, too. If you set a rule for yourself, follow it. Do as you expect the rest of your team to do.
  6. Remember that the tedious stuff is part of the art, too. Yes, spending 6 hours contemplating the color of the bar is ridiculous. But wondering whether a white or black bar fits better with the personality of the character and communicates the thing you want to communicate is not unreasonable. The thing that feel like the minutia of the project all add up to create the project.

There will come a point in the process when you spend more time figuring out how to build that arch you need for your set than thinking about the overarching themes of the play. Know that this time will come, and be prepared for it. And then, make sure you don’t spend too much time there. Don’t get lost in the seductive feeling of making 6 definitive decisions in a day. Do what you need, then get back to the play. Always, always, always, look back to the play.

The play is, after all, the thing.



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