God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. – the Serenity Prayer, Reinhold Niebuhr
My surprisingly slim copy of A practical handbook for the actor popped through the letterbox today – which I ordered after reading about David Mamet and his technique of Practical Aesthetics.
I’m probably going to write about the technique another day but today I want to focus on the first chapter – the job of the actor.
Now, I’m not an actor and never will be – but it feels like there is a lot to learn from the profession.
You’ve probably heard the quip that goes something like – the hardest thing to achieve is sincerity. Once you can fake that, you’ve got it made.
And an actor has to make you believe that she is really feeling the way she appears – because a good performance makes you believe that it’s real.
Now, if you’re a salesperson, you might think that what this means is that it’s all about the appearance – after all, that’s what you see.
It’s the outer thing that’s on show.
But what the writers in the handbook remind you is that what creates the appearance on the outside is what happens on the inside.
The actor has skills, knowledge – a craft that he develops and hones over time.
And you can only do that by focusing on the things that are in your control.
Say you were to list them out for your profession, what would you have?
Well, you’d probably have tools and materials – paper, a computer, machinery.
And you’d have to spend time practising using those tools.
To get better, you need feedback – you need to reflect on what you’re doing and try and see what’s going well and what’s not.
And where it isn’t going well you need to dig into books and find teachers – learn how to do it better.
All these things are under your control and you can do something about them.
What you can’t do is control how people react.
I saw a news article today about a Chinese artist who makes little sculptures using insect parts.
Grim? Cool? Pointless?
You may have a view.
Sometimes you just can’t avoid bad luck – you might have a good thing but be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
That’s often a fate that inventors have suffered – being too ahead of their time.
There are two more things on my list that may surprise you.
I think you should treat success and failure just the same.
They are emergent outcomes from the things that are in your control.
If you are successful, remember that you could have been lucky.
If you fail, remember that you might have been unlucky.
And get back to work because that is the only truth.
And I think you should pay very little attention to critics and their ratings.
Especially if those critics don’t actually do anything themselves.
You should probably be open to feedback on the lines of, “I didn’t like what you made and I wouldn’t pay for it.”
Okay, but is that person the kind of person you made this thing for?
There is very little point talking to people who think you’re wrong.
Find people who think you’re right and sell to them.
Or find people on the fence and talk to them – see if you can get them over to your side.
Leave the haters alone.
You cannot satisfy everyone. Don’t try.
One thing to note is that I put practising down before reflecting and learning.
Starting with learning is much less useful than you might think.
When you try and do something with little or no knowledge, then you have a beginner’s mind and you can see how things go wrong.
For example, I’ve was thinking about setting up an overhead camera to record videos of work in progress.
I looked at a few examples of what was out there – and was put off by the cost of the specialist tripods you needed and the materials required for a DIY project.
So I mused about it for a while, obsessing a little.
And now I have one built from a Pringles can filled with play sand, some kindling wood, brown wrapping tape and an old cooking scale weight as a counterbalance, some French magnets and a couple of weird bent metal things.
It’s not perfect – but it’s free, built from junk and it does something useful.
You know what – I’m going to show you what it helped me do – just wait while I upload my very first video – a Hello World attempt.
Now, things can only get better if I keep practising, reflecting and learning.