If you have taken a class with me you have heard me say “KEEP A JOURNAL!”
Instead of being your worst critic, become your best friend and teacher!!!
Whether in my classes or not, all artists should keep a journal. Not a file of notes on your phone/tablet, the ancient art of using paper and pen does far more to connect our thoughts than any technology. I love composition books. As my mentor, Roberta Gasbarre, would say, the pages don’t fall out. (Of course pretty much all of what is found below comes from working with Roberta paraphrased through my eloquent babbles).
But why should we keep a journal and how can we use it to make ourselves better performers?
- Observe and Record Life
- Process our own Successes and Failures
- Create our own text book for performing
Observe and Record Life
For anyone that has taken my classes, what is your homework everyday?
LIVE! OBSERVE! RECORD!
The artist job is to interpret life. We portray relationships, activities, emotions, concept and more. It does not matter if we are painters, dancers, actors, comics or writers. In order for us to portray life, we need to live.
OK this is akin to when I tell an artist BREATHE, right? “Duh, I’m breathing right now. If not I would be dead.” Says every ignorant class clown. Another time…
An artist opens his or her eyes. While others simply live, we observe life. We take stock in how we live and watch others deal and react to their surrounding worlds.
We observe someone sitting alone. Are they alone by choice? Are they happy to finally get alone time or sad they perhaps too much time alone? How old? What are they wearing? Why are they sitting in this place? What is it about this place that defines this character? (Sorry, you are all characters to me for potential artistic R&D. But please, do not stop living in my presence).
We observe a couple walking down the street. Are they equally into the moment or is one more into themselves or the surroundings? How long do you think they have been a couple? Are they married or just dating? Kids yet? Happy?
We observe another group of friends. Who is the dominate figure? Anyone in the group less into the moment?
Ask your self these questions and more. Write the questions and the answers in your journal.
You wake up from a dream. Funny? Scary? Bizarre? Record it in your journal.
We meet a new person. This person smiles at us. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN? Fear goes to battle with ego. “Of course I’m good enough, but I’ll probably ruin it.” We drive ourselves crazy. We just started to fall in love.
I have a job interview. Did not know I sweated that much in winter. “HI!” Wow that was way too loud. “WHAT>? I got the job?” How did that happen.
We are surrounded by potential inspiration everyday. Record what you see and experience in your journal. The good the bad the ugly. It may never mean a thing. But it might. Next you go to write some stand-up comedy, a sketch, short story, novel, etc you have a book of ideas. When I teach stand-up comedy I tell students to start by brainstorming 10 things you might want to talk about. Guarantee if you kept a journal, you could not only whip out this list of 10 in seconds, you could probably skip the whole process.
In Improv we do not take time to go look at our Journal before a scene. However, when we keep a journal, we are constantly discovering potentially amazing WHOs WHEREs and WHATs for our scenes.
A professional writer (including comics writing their own material) we cannot afford to sit around and wait for inspiration. We constantly look for things to write about.
Process our own Successes and Failures
We artists are creatures of habit, thought and emotion. What we create is very subjective. What we like is far different from another’s preferences.
As a result we often mistake subjective artistic choices with objective criticism of our growth as artists.
Every one progresses at their own pace. An acting teacher will ask, “Everyone Understand?” We all nod “Great, let’s move on.”
But true understanding will not come till you apply technique and knowledge over and over again. Someday 10 years later you will think – or scream as I did (a bit embarrassing but I recovered) – “OH, THAT’s WHAT SHE MEANT!” Someday you will move past technique because no you internalize concept and focus on the moment.
There are thousands of reasons why you may or may not succeed in any given moment as an artist. Too often we simply celebrate success. More often we too deeply lament failure. I tell you know no success is as perfect as it feels, and no failure is truly a failure.
Outwardly I celebrate successes. It’s fun. But I recognize things that we not perfect and places where things could have gone horribly wrong. If we ignore these tiny bumps we survived, we ignore great learning opportunity.
Live theater is a living growing beast. When we live in a place of ego we miss so many wonder chances to grow personally and expand the audience’s experience. And while acting like a TV game show host in every role may be fun to some, you never truly get to dig deep into a character. If you have not experienced this transformation you can not possibly understand or appreciate where I am going here. However, if you trust me, let go, dig a little deeper… the rewards are AMAZING!
Conversely, we too often (more often than not) let perceived failures destroy us. Even when others are saying “GOOD JOB!” We are thinking “Sure you have to say that, Mom.”
Lets say right now, the only way to fail as an artist is to give up. And even giving up is not a failure if you journal-ed for years during classes, rehearsals and performances and then came to an educated decision “THIS IS NOT FOR ME!” I can respect that. But more often we QUIT because we simply give up. We destroy ourselves. Who needs enemies and critics? We do just fine on our own, right?
But if you journal, you have a place to vent. Before you go making life changing moves, vent a bit in the journal. Say how you feel. Again GOOD BAD UGLY! Then process why things did not work.
As an actor, you can see what you want to portray in a character. Why are you not accomplishing it? Am I focused in the moment or worrying about what the audience is thinking – JUDGING (we are so neurotic, right)? Am I thinking as the character (Inner monologue/Subtext 1st person)? Did I do enough research into the play? Am I still barely memorized and unable to dig deeper at this point? Do I need more classes/coaching in acting, singing, dance to truly succeed in this role?
When a joke bombs, WHY? Is it the material? Is how I presented it? Do I need to change pacing, phrasing or simply find nearest trash can for this page of notes? Sometimes changing one word can turn a dud into a great joke.
This is all so very different from “I SUCK!” But if you think and feel that PUT IT IN THE JOURNAL!!! Get those ugly thoughts OUT of your head. And then move on to more constructive reasoning.
Instead of being your worst critic, become your best friend and teacher!!!
Create our own Text Book for Performing
Trust me when I tell you there is no book you can read and then go out and become a great actor. ACTING Books are great ways to make some cash for the author and book seller. By no means am I saying “DON’T READ.” Read these books. Read all of them because anyone book is most likely not going to speak to you on a deeper level. Too many actors read one book and think “OH THAT’s HOW TO ACT!”
However better than any book on acting is the one you are going to create for yourself. becoming an artist of any kind is a process. Your teachers and directors will say a lot of things. Some of these things are directly related to technique or performing. More will be images to try and inspire you to a place because we want you to become engrossed in the moment on a deeper level, not just regurgitating lines from a script.
Put all of these things into a journal. Add your own discoveries. Combined with all of the above, you will write your own acting text book.
Take this to any editor and be thrown to the curb. It will make no sense to anyone else most likely. It will probably look like that commercial for a tablet/laptop (forget the actual brand/product) where a woman says “It makes Sense to me” and we see a screen of random drawings and notes.
For you it will make sense. You will collect these journals.
JOURNAL-ING in 2016
For my acting students PLEASE keep a traditional journal. For artists I recommend you do.
These days I personally process a lot in my head. Maybe too much but I am constantly taking the lessons learned from years of keeping a journal and applying to my everyday life. I do still journal every time I have an audition or rehearsal process. On way to the read through I pick up a composition book and start taking notes. Keeps the script more legible. In addition to character notes from director and own discovery, I will even try to write the entire script as part of my getting off book process. For smaller auditions 1-line TV roles etc, I can usually find enough room on the side for some notes. But larger roles definitely require a journal so I treat every audition like its opening night.
But for my observations I trust social media. Twitter is my preferred goto. Mostly because so many friends begged I stop using Facebook for twitter type thoughts and spamming their feed.
If I see something interesting, I take a photo. YEAH Instagram.
If I get a thought, I tweet.
If that thought requires more than 140 characters, open up facebook.
If that thought has educational value, I write a blog on this site or another forum to which I contribute.
All of the above ends me up at another thing I like to say.
ALWAYS BE CREATING
If you are not performing 8 shows/week, or working 9-5 on a sit-com, or regularly booking work of some kind, you are most likely a full time something else – student, bartender/waiter, Temp, shoe salesperson, tour guide, parent….
You need to be creating moments where you get to think like an artist.
- TAKE a class
- GO Audition
- LEARN a new song, monologue
- TWEET a funny Joke
- RECORD a video being silly, singing, etc
- WRITE in a journal
WRITE IN YOUR JOURNAL EVERY DAY
We are creatures of habit. Make this a habit. We increase our growth as artists exponentially we take just 5-10 minutes every day to do any of the above.