The Performer’s Craft; Artist or Student?
I run a Drama school and I am a vocal coach. Of course I believe in the virtues of studying. Of course I believe the old adage that we never stop learning. However I also believe that there comes a time when a ‘student’ should become an ‘artist’. The two are not mutually exclusive. Not at all. And yet I feel that too many performers get stuck in ‘student’ mode, waiting for approval and permission by someone else. It is a safe place. It means one does not have to take full responsibility. If you are not fully responsible for yourself as a performer then there is always someone else to blame, someone else to ask, some more book to read or workshop to take. I say read the books, take the workshops, have the lessons. But unshackle yourself from your student chains and take charge of you. Make decisions. Have opinions. Decide what kind of performer you are, decide what you want to act, sing, communicate, dance, and make it happen. Stop asking for approval from others. If you have already trained and worked hard on your craft, then start making decisions and committing to your own artistic expression.
There are various types of teachers. I have always felt it is important to teach my students and then to set them free. I do not make them feel that I have magical powers they cannot do without. I teach them so well that eventually, once we have done the work, they do not really need me anymore. That is not until they have a vocal challenge they have not encountered before, or a new show to get ready for. Then I see them again for a few lessons until they are ready, and off they go, into the glowing distance, empowered and ready to do what they are good at doing.
I have sat in on many West End audition panels. The ones you hire are not virtuous students who do and say all the right things. The ones you hire make choices. They give you a sense that you are safe in their hands when you watch them. The power is theirs. They do not seek your approval for a choice they have made. They are willing to work. Giving them a note is not received as a reprimand. It is seen as an alternative idea, something to try out and play with and see if it works. This makes their work exciting and fresh.
If you are a performer ask yourself what you would perform if you were given one hour on the Palladium stage, one hour at the Crazy Coq’s and one hour in a smoky pub. If you don’t know the answer, then think about it. And if you have just left Drama school, then feel empowered to be creative, be bold, and think about what you would perform which people would want to give you money to see.