Your True Self and Your Art

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Recently, my husband and I watched a documentary film
called Every Little Step. The film
follows the lives of a few dancers, dancers who are auditioning for a part in
the Broadway revival of A Chorus Line.
It also weaves in commentary and testimonials from the original show,
specifically exploring the late Michael Bennett’s creation of the musical. It
was fascinating to watch the casting process, witness the directors as they
chose dancers/ actors they felt were perfect for the roles. The process was
grueling and the directors had dancers return for many callbacks, some many months
after their original auditions.

Early on in the audition process, there was an actress who
the directors felt was perfect for one of the female roles.She was
the character, the directors said. She was the front runner going into the
final callback. But—and this is what was so interesting—during the final callback
she, as the directors said, “Didn’t bring it.” Something was missing.
Gone.She didn’t have the same spark,
the rawness, the attitude she had during that first audition. However, they
decided to give her a second chance; they gave her notes, guided her, and
recommended she “do what she did the first time.”

You see this actress backstage and she is a complete mess.
What did she do the first time? She can’t stop questioning herself, digging for
things. What was it? She has no idea. She cannot, for the life of her, locate
that original feeling. She speaks to the camera and explains that her life has
changed, she was going through things before—a break-up, an emotional roller
coaster, life was just so different. And now she was, well, changed.

This struck me. I couldn’t stop thinking about how much our
life affects our art. How our art can change quickly and drastically depending
on what we are going though, what we went through, where we are headed. It can
change slowly, too, developing as we are
developing. I think back to my own writing and see more play in my earlier
work, more fun, but at the same time there was a certain lack of depth and
feeling. It seems I was taking an easy route, settling sometimes, okay with a
pat ending. Now, after tackling some of life’s battles, after growing,
maturing, my work seems somewhat more serious, more straightforward. I want to
get down on the page the truth of the experience, the meat and guts of life. This
process feels even more risky than before. I feel myself working through more
fear, pushing through it. The prose may be less flashy and fun, but the heart
of it beats stronger. Sometimes I even try and write in my “old style” and it
feels alien, inauthentic.

It was so devastating to watch as this actress tried to get
back to that feeling, those feelings
from eight months prior. Not only could she not get it back, but she couldn’t
even remember it. It wasn’t even some hazy dream—it had completely vanished. There
was no locating that part of her life anymore. I’m sure it was there, somewhere,
buried under it all, but it simply wasn’t accessible. She did try. She got up
on that stage and gave it her all. Tried to force out an audition the directors
so wanted, but that she, in her heart, couldn’t produce.

Spoiler alert: She didn’t get the part. And she walked away
with her head held high and her heart hurting.

I guess my point is this: who we are and where we’ve been
inadvertently bleeds into our art, our writing. Who we are defines our writing.
And though our writing may change because we have changed and though it may no
longer attract an audience that once loved our “original stuff,” we must remain
as true to ourselves as possible. Because eventually, in theater and in
writing, the right role eventually comes along.

“The
way to find your true self is by recklessness and freedom.”

-Brenda
Ueland

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