Monday, October 11, 2010

EARNING A NAME (part 2a)

Many moons ago, back in Hot Springs, Arkansas, I played John Proctor in a production of The Crucible for a fledgling theatre company.  I met my future wife in that production (she was a deliciously tempting Abagail Williams) and I got my first real taste of the do-or-die attitude one MUST have when staging a show.  We lost a couple of cast-members on the eve of the production, and were forced to double up at the last minute.  You see, the mother of two of our cast-members (who was also in our production) could no longer deal with the pressures of scheduled rehearsal times.  She needed to pull herself and her daughters out of rehearsals in the week leading up to opening for ... I don't recall.  But I'll never forget her yelling at our director:
"It's amateur theatre!"
This was her entire justification for skipping rehearsals and ultimately removing herself and her daughters from our production.
Let's take a look at that word, "amateur" (from Merriam-Webster):
am·a·teur noun  1: devotee, admirer;  2: one who engages in a pursuit, study, science, or sport as a pastime rather than as a profession; 3: one lacking in experience and competence in an art or science
Harsh, especially number three.  The definition is ameliorated a bit by the derivation:
French, from Latin amator lover, from amare to love
That's a little better.  Indeed, we had quite a bit of love for the undertaking, which is why some cast members doubled up on roles the night before, and why the director pulled a bonnet down over his head and played Betty Parris himself for the run of the show.  That's love.
When Lorne Michaels put together the original cast and writers for Saturday Night Live, he went looking for "enlightened amateurs."  Comedy was too important to leave to professionals; he wanted scrappy non-conformists who wouldn't be cowed by an attitude of "That's The Way We Always Do It."  There is an incredible freedom at hand when you do something for love, rather than career advancement.  And in a spooky sort of way best appreciated by the likes of Wayne Dyer, focusing on the "love" actually delivers up the career advancement.  Perhaps the path isn't a straight line, but straight lines are boring and ungodly (hat tip to Friedensreich Hundertwasser).
There is one other advantage to being an amateur:  Not knowing all the answers.  I almost feel that should be in scare quotes, because the danger is the assumption of being right rather than actually being right. 
I guess I come off as a pretty confident guy.  I write with seeming authority and no amount of qualifiers seem to convey that most of the time, I'm just making my best guess.  Sure, my guesses are based on research, much thought, and conversations with others who have unique viewpoints.  I play the Devil's advocate to myself and I'm paranoid over making a priori conclusions and feeding my confirmation bias.  But I'm still guessing.
There's a great quote from Robert A. Heinlein on this subject:
"The hardest part about gaining any new idea is sweeping out the false idea occupying that niche. As long as that niche is occupied, evidence and proof and logical demonstration get nowhere. But once the niche is emptied of the wrong idea that has been filling it — once you can honestly say, 'I don't know', then it becomes possible to get at the truth."
-- Robert A. Heinlein, The Cat Who Walks Through Walls
I think the default position for amateurs is "I don't know."  Further, "I don't know, and I want to find out."
To be fair, let's look at the other side of the verbal coin, the word "professional" (also from Merriam-Websters):
pro·fes·sion·al adj 1a : of, relating to, or characteristic of a profession b : engaged in one of the learned professions c (1) : characterized by or conforming to the technical or ethical standards of a profession (2) : exhibiting a courteous, conscientious, and generally businesslike manner in the workplace; 2a : participating for gain or livelihood in an activity or field of endeavor often engaged in by amateurs b : having a particular profession as a permanent career c : engaged in by persons receiving financial return ; 3: following a line of conduct as though it were a profession
In the arts I believe that one should express an amateur spirit and a professional attitude.  Keep your heart and mind open, but keep your feet firmly on the ground.  Put succinctly:
soyez realistes - demandez l'impossible

"Be realstic, demand the impossible."  Be the enlightened amateur.

No comments: