Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Show Up Again

This post originally appeared at Creatavita in 2013 as part of the You Need To Know This series.

And we're back with another post in the series, You Need To Know This.  Today's topic has been chosen by Maja Lisa FritzHuspen.  

 I love this gal, Maja Lisa.  Like me, she's a native of the Upper Midwest, so she knows how to work.  Unlike many Midwesterners, she takes risks, usually in her fearless approach to having a career as a singer.  She's been richly rewarded for this risky behavior over the past few years, having sung leads with many Philadelphia-area opera companies, as well as some nice gigs in the New York area. Maja Lisa's parallel career is teaching voice.  She has a thriving studio in Glenside, PA, is on the faculty at Muhlenberg College, and has also taught in Guatemala (jealous) and the Adirondacks.  

On to the post.  Maja Lisa has chosen:

Show Up

I have learned one thing. As Woody says, ‘Showing up is 80 percent of life.’ Sometimes it’s easier to hide home in bed.  I’ve done both.
Marshall Brickman

I made the statement years ago which is often quoted that 80 percent of life is showing up. People used to always say to me that they wanted to write a play, they wanted to write a movie, they wanted to write a novel, and the couple of people that did it were 80 percent of the way to having something happen...so once you do it, if you actually write your film script, or write your novel, you are more than half way towards something good happening.
Woody Allen

You know, I love this Woody Allen quote so much I originally tried to name this blog after it. But I couldn't make it work, so I moved on.

Showing up is definitely one of the main reasons I have had any success as an artist. My desire and ability to show up has always come from an unusual state of innocence. After all these years, there is a part of me that still cannot believe that people pay me to be an artist. This innocence is why it is so hard for me to understand why people don't show up. Don't you love this as much as I do? Don't you feel blessed, fortunate, even privileged? Why wouldn't you be knocking down the door? Heck, why wouldn't you be, gasp, early?

More on that later. Let's start with the practical side of showing up. This is the “rehearsal's at 7:00, so I'm going to be there, ready to go, at 6:45” part of showing up. This attitude says to the person or people who are waiting for you that you care, that you want to be there, that that this project is of value, and that the time of every single person involved is of value. Not showing up in this practical sense is the fast track to failure. Look, producing art of any value or merit is time-consuming and expensive. Always has been and always will be. We can't afford to start rehearsal 30 minutes late because you couldn't anticipate that there would be rush-hour traffic, just like there is every day of the week. There's a very good chance that we can find someone who is just as skillful and talented as you who will show up on time.

And don't think that this attitude is only for those getting started in the business. As many of you know, I recently had the opportunity to perform Miss Lynch in Walnut St. Theatre's production of Grease. At an Equity theatre like Walnut St., every performer must be in the theatre 30 minutes before the curtain goes up. It's called half hour. Because I was understudying, I showed up an hour and a half before curtain; I prefer to be in the theatre early, taking care of any issues that might have arisen since the last performance and focusing my energy. Since the rest of the cast was three months into the run, I was pretty certain I would be the first person in the theatre. Boy, was I wrong. Every night I walked in, there were at least four other performers already there. They were eating and talking, general hanging around stuff for the most part, but they had shown up. And that attitude is a big part of why those people are working at a theatre like Walnut St..

I can think of at least one other Show Up example. This one has stuck with me since early in my operatic career.  I think it was probably the first time the light bulb went on in my head, and I recognized the importance of showing up. 

 I was rehearsing Purcell's The Fairy Queen with Pennsylvania Opera Theater's (or TPOT, as we affectionately referred to the long-gone, Barbara Silverstein-run company that gave so many Philadelphia-area opera artists their first chances).  One member of the cast was an extremely vocally-talented guy who didn't show up for rehearsal and never called (this was before texting and email; yes, I'm that old). And he didn't do it once or twice, he did it three times. Those of us in the room, waiting for him to appear so rehearsal could start, could feel how much the conductor and the director wanted this guy in the production.  To this day, I think they went out of their way trying to give him a break, and I applaud them for that gracious behavior.  But he never showed up. He was replaced and no, he did NOT become famous later.

So let's figure out what we can do about this. Because I don't like to throw out mandates without offering some type of solution.

If you are the person who is always late, grab yourself a drink and an easy chair (preferably outside in some sunshine) and ask yourself why. What's the truth behind this dashing in, spewing “I'm sorry, I'm sorry”, pulling your music out of your bag and throwing your coat on a chair? Maybe it is as simple as being bad at time management (one of my favorite non-artistic topics). Maybe you are not being realistic about what you can accomplish in a day. Maybe you honestly don't believe your talents merit being where you are in life, so you are subconsciously making yourself tardy. Well, that's yucky. Maybe you think it is a sign of power, which is even yuckier. That might be true, but it is still rude, disrespectful and yucky. 

So, let's talk about practical ways to show up. Here are some ideas for you:

- Adapt.  If you live in a major metropolitan area or have a complicated life, there's a good chance that everything takes longer than you expect.  Get over it.

- Allow more time for commutes and projects.  I have a colleague who schedules an extra hour in addition to his estimated commute time when traveling during rush hour.  This might seem crazy, but he's been delayed enough times to know he has to do this to be on time.  If he does arrive early, he finds a coffee shop and uses the extra time to catch up on work or, believe it or not, he just sits and enjoys himself. What a concept. 

I do something similar. I often take our local commuter train into the city. Sadly, our local transit system is notorious for delays. So instead of taking the train that will get me there right on time, I take the one before. It works like this: “I need to be in the theatre at 7:30. The 6:22 will get me there at 7:03, BUT if it is late I'm screwed. I'll take the 5:55 and arrive at 6:27."

See? That way, the train can be delayed and I won't be late.  Plus, I have the opportunity to catch my breath before I head into whatever appointment is awaiting me.

-Going somewhere new and important, for an audition or meeting with a potential client? Well, you can certainly take a look at Google Maps ahead of time. That's simple. 

And this one might strike you as crazy, but why not even try going there a few days before? I know, I know, who's got that kind of time?  But come on, if this is an important event, knowing exactly where you are going might put you in a better frame of mind, so that you walk in confident instead of frazzled.  

Okay, that's the practical, Midwestern-based side of showing up. But let's not forget the other way of showing up that is alluded to in my second paragraph and in Woody's quote. That's showing up for yourself. Don't we all have ideas and dreams that are tough to work with?  Don't we all have aspects of our creative careers that challenge us over and over again?  And don't we all, at times, ignore those?

Show up for yourself.  Act on those dreams, work through the tough times with those creative ideas. Sit with that script, that one line of dialogue, that song that doesn't make sense. Do the work for you, not for the paycheck or the adoration. Walk into the dark tunnel of your art and drop your flashlight. Get lost, get scared and find that art deep inside of yourself. Yes.  Show up for yourself.

This type of showing up is much more challenging than the practical, get-out-of-the-house, allow-time-for-traffic type of showing up. This type of showing up requires us to be disciplined, patient and persistent (see my previous post on this topic here). It also requires us to have a level of confidence and to indulge our creative selves in risky behavior of the best variety. In other words, we've got to take a chance.  

We might not get cast in that production for which we're going to audition. Your mother might be right, your novel might not be any good.  It's true, that opera you've been composing in your head for the past three years might be terrible.  But I still say show up for yourself, for those around you and for the world. Do the work and see where it leads. Maybe this one isn't any good, but, maybe the next one is. You've got to get the first one out to get to the second one, and to the third one and to the fourth one, and so on.

That's it.  Time for me to show up.