A Note from the Artistic Director

For those of you who don’t know, I was away this last month training with the SITI Company and Anne Bogart.  While I was there, my daily practice went something like this:

6:15 Wake up. Write down dreams.
7:00 Gym
8:15 Breakfast
9:00 Stretch for Suzuki
9:30 Class
12:45 Lunch
2:15 Class
5:45 Dinner
7:00 Rehearsal
10:30 Read/Research/Homework
12:00 Party

Weekends went much the same way. However, instead of class, it was an 8-hour rehearsal.

This was a particular kind of insanity.

Benjamin with Anne Bogart

And not one which is practical. However, what I saw the last few rehearsals, over the last few months with Heads Up and over the last few years at Akron, I think I am finally able to more completely articulate our illness.

I say “our” because I am just as guilty of falling into these traps as everyone else in this room.

One of my questions over the last month:  How do I—and the people I work with—define ourselves in relation to the work we do?  Not in the actor/director/designer sense, but on a larger scale.  Are you an artist or an entertainer?  These distinctions are not the only two and there might be considerable overlap, but these categories get directly to the heart of “why we do what we do.”

Entertainers are in this business to entertain.  They want to have fun, give fun and embody fun.  They want to create enjoyable experiences for the audience, possibly even moving them to tears or ecstasy.  In the end, the audience leaves with a warm heart and returns to their daily lives.

This is not the work of an artist.  Don’t misunderstand me, creating art can be fun.  It’s outcome is frequently enjoyable.  But this enjoyment is not our intention.  As artists, we want to create experiences that shake people—ourselves and our audience—to their core.  We want to challenge people, force them to think, get them to do something beyond their “daily life.”

To challenge an audience, you must first challenge yourself.  This means taking risks, pushing past your comfort zone and chasing after something.  All things I find lacking in last night’s rehearsal and in much of the work I’ve seen around the area.

Heads Up Productions—an organization you are all a part of, even if this is your first and last show with us—is interested in creating art.

What does that mean to you?  It means, for as long as your work with Heads Up, you are an artist.  It probably means many of your will grow to hate me in the coming weeks/months.  I will come across as the bad guy.  Which, to be honest, sucks because I want to be your friend.  But I’m going to push you.  When I don’t feel you are working up to your potential (and your potential is huge) I will probably be on your ass like white on rice.

I respect each of you too much as an artist to expect anything but the best from you.  You are the artist and the art simultaneously.  Which means you have the power to create and become the Mona Lisa, the statue of David or A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

I am here for you to push against me.

Benjamin doing a Suzuki squat

 

So what am I asking of you?

-Show up on time and prepared to work.  Memorized, knowing your blocking, knowing how to pronounce something, having done your research (but also being prepared to forget all of it, if needed.)

-Always be working on or towards something.  Tempt something.  If you’re comfortable, it’s too easy.  Put yourself in some sort of crisis.  This is more interesting for the audience to watch.  They’re interested in those moments.

-Chase something.  Don’t settle for “good enough.”  Yes you never are and never will be perfect.  Go after it anyway.

-If nothing else, clarify what you’re doing.  As a theatre artist you have time and space and your ability to make choices about them.  Don’t let anything be accidental.  If you’re hand is moving, let that be a choice you made.

-Have a profound reason for being on stage. If you don’t have one, don’t come onstage.

-Have an internal fiction. The audience may never know what it is, but if don’t have one, they’ll know.

-Commit to what you’re doing.  Even if you don’t like it or understand, if you commit, the audience can tell, and you might just discover something.  If not simply the joy of commitment.

Finally, during Suzuki training, it takes all of your energy to say a single line once.  Consider that for every moment onstage.  Your entrance, each action, each line, your exit.  How do you find it inside of yourself to give all your energy to every single moment you are onstage.  Not just in performance, but in rehearsal.  Because what else are you rehearsing, if not the amount of concentration, focus and energy it takes to perform?

-Benjamin Rexroad
Artistic Director

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Comments

  1. Alyssa Porter says:

    Ben,

    Though this post was not meant for me since I am not involved with your company, I just wanted to let you know that I found it inspiring and motivating. As an actress I call myself an artist but I couldn’t truly define what that meant until reading this post.

    Thank you for your wisdom! 🙂

    • 1.) Why don’t you come get involved?
      2.) Thank you!
      3.) It was meant for anybody that could use it.

      -Benjamin

      • Alyssa Porter says:

        I would love to! At the moment I am living too far away. I may be moving back into the area (Stow, Cuyahoga Falls, or Kent) in July though! 🙂 I will definitely keep in contact if I do.

  2. Natasha Gilbert says:

    So proud of you Ben 🙂

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