Happy new year, everyone! (I learned at church on Sunday that this sentiment is good for two weeks so that I can repeat it to all of you.) As I look forward to 2023, there's a sense of expectancy, joy, hope, and even a little bit of fear thrown in for a year that's good for all of us. I know I have all of those emotions and feelings for 2023. I'm looking forward to the endless list of possibilities as an actor and human being - performing in an Equity show in the Washington, DC, region, getting to live and work in NYC for an acting opportunity again, catching up with friends and acquaintances when I'm not busy rehearsing and acting, reading books, and - here's the best part - getting back to writing these blogs for you! It's a shame that this week's blog post is a downer. Especially if it involves a phrase I hear one time too many. And what is that phrase, you ask? "SHUT UP AND DO YOUR JOB!!!!!!!!!!" Oy vey. I'm not a fan of this phrase, and it's harder to hear when you're in the arts. Or if you're in sports. Or if you're a writer. Or if you're in any profession, you're expected to do your job and not do anything else. Anything else that encompasses being a human being. It is being human means having feelings, observations, experiences, and opinions about what's happening in the world. And you know what? All of us are human beings. Yes, I mean ALL OF US. Just because some people have more money, prestige, or status than others doesn't mean they're excluded from being human beings. None of us are excluded from being human beings. It's a shame that people have forgotten this essential and crucial detail these past few years due to social media and more inside knowledge of an individual's life, even the parts that cause the most division. And whenever someone does speak up for a cause or issue they feel strongly about, the individuals who often forget regularly (either on purpose or by mistake, sometimes repeatedly) say this phrase. They expect the actors, singers, writers, musicians, directors, producers, photographers, and more in the world to do the job they're expected to do, which is getting their money's worth in the songs, films, TV shows, and live theatre performances they get to attend. In other words, they expect those individuals to focus on their profession and not the world around them. These people believe that the most successful artists and more are not smart enough or even worthy to care about what's going on in their lives, even though it impacts their lives alongside their own. In other words, these people are closed-minded, often driven by fear, ignorance, selfishness, and even hatred. Somehow I think closed-minded individuals and I don't get along very well. And I think it might be the same with you as well. The absolute worst place to find them is on social media, or you can also include bars, dance clubs, town halls, sporting events, or just about anywhere where various people can get together. It can be a recipe for disaster if you try to engage with closed-minded individuals, let alone a trip to the emergency room or the nearest psychiatrist's office. But here's the million-dollar question: What is the job of the most successful actor, director, writer, artist, musician, producer, and more? Well... I have a good idea of our job, and I'm going to stem some inspiration from one of my favorite actresses, Viola Davis.
This week's post came from a somewhat unexpected conversation with a good friend in the theatre community. He and his partner were up in NYC for their annual holiday outing to see the latest Broadway shows, and I was surprised to find both of them at Funny Girl one night. I asked him why he would see Funny Girl, especially with all the news surrounding the star, Lea Michele. His answer was simple enough: she should've been cast as Fanny Brice from the beginning, and Lea was an exceptional performer. I replied to his comment that I didn't deny her talent, but who she was offstage and how she treated others when she was not performing made me stay away from seeing Funny Girl. I added that it was my opinion. What my friend said next left me feeling unsettled: "I ignore what happens backstage. I only come for the performance, and that's all that matters." Even after apologizing profusely to him, I was still troubled and even slightly upset. I never imagined someone I know and care about to have an attitude of the same individuals who only want the performers to do their job and leave their opinions and offstage lives away from the public eye. It wasn't intentional, but it made me think about this week's blog post. If the only job of someone with so much wealth and power is entertaining and catering to our every whim, then that's not a very good job. Think about it: If our only job is to act, sing, write, direct, take pictures, draw, paint, or whatever our calling is to please others and satisfy their desires for what they paid for, then we're not doing our job. We please others by giving them what they want, and I don't think that's what the arts, journalism, literature, cooking, and more are all about. I know that's not what I'm called to do as an actor and a writer. We shouldn't have to resort to pleasing anybody at all in our respective professions. Take it from Viola Davis:
We're not here on this earth to please others. That's not fun at all. Take it from someone who knows. We won't recognize ourselves if all we're called to do is to please others. We're constantly changing our outfits and hairstyles, putting off weight, decorating and redecorating our houses, buying the latest smartphones, and purchasing the newest car model. More to tell others how great we are. I beg you not to do that because you will feel worse off than the next person. And while you're at it, don't ask those with excellent and challenging careers in the arts and entertainment industries to please you just because they're human beings and want to share their voices, use their platform for good, and transform the world into what it could be. It's not about asking them to do everything for you so you can be pleased and get your way. That's bullying. That's also being unreasonable and closed-minded. That's also being a jerk. (Trust me, you don't want to be labeled those things so that you can tell your favorite performers and artists to "shut up and do your job.") Here's another vital thing to remember: Not every performer and artist is your cup of tea. If we all liked the same individuals, the same music, the same movies, the same TV shows, the same books and magazines, and more, we'd be robots. And I can tell you that's not fun, either. Somehow, if someone out there irritates your demons, as Denzel Washington puts it, you shouldn't tell them right off to "shut up and do your job" if you don't like them. That's disrespectful, and once again, you are a jerk for only thinking about yourself and not accepting that all of us are human beings and deserving of sharing our thoughts and platforms with others who take the time to listen and understand each other. I know this is harsh, but it's also a fact. For far too long, especially during the pandemic, there have been people out there who only care about themselves and refuse to take the time to listen, understand, appreciate, and respect one another for who they are and how their spirit can make an impact in your life, no matter how small it is. It's a damn shame when I see the most selfish and ungrateful people not seeing that this is a universal problem that impacts ALL OF US and how much we have to change if we make this earth a better place for our children and children's children. And it starts by seeing people as human beings, flaws and all. But more importantly, when human beings call you out on your selfishness, ignorance, and closed-minded opinions, you take the time to hold yourself accountable and try to change to be a better person. And that means seeing the most talented and super-wealthy individuals as human beings capable of speaking up for causes they believe in and speaking out against the world's injustices because they matter to them just as much as it does to the ordinary people the world. No one is excluded from the horrors of gun violence, diseases, terrorist attacks, wars, natural disasters, political gridlock, loss of employment, homelessness, prices going up exponentially everywhere you go, civil rights being taken away, homicides, suicides, sexism, racism, ageism, discrimination, wealth inequality, and more. So what makes you think that famous individuals and those with status don't know those things or that they've never experienced them before, during, and after they became well-known? It's okay to respectfully disagree with their views and observations (no one is on the same path as you are), but to deny talented artists and performers the right to be human beings just because they're using their voices for something OTHER than their chosen profession is a slap in the face to who they are and what they want to represent beyond their acting, singing, writing, directing, photography, painting, composing, and more. You're denying them the chance to do their jobs, which aren't just acting, singing, writing, directing, photography, painting, composing, and more. The most significant part of being an actor and writer is to remind others about their humanity and how much alike we are, even if we're so different from the characters we see, get to know, and even love. Viola Davis takes it a step further with this pearl of wisdom:
The next time you hear someone say, "shut up and do your job!" chances are you're already doing it. Especially if you're an actor and an artist. Do you want to know why some people say that phrase so often? I think it's because some people only see actors and artists as playthings, something that can satisfy them for only a moment and not make a lasting impact. And if that toy isn't pleasing to them or giving them joy, they throw it away or throw tantrums when the object isn't working the way they want it to work. Even if it means viewing people as playthings, not caring that they're human and have lives outside their livelihoods and jobs, or especially not caring that they have feelings. And the sad thing about this? It's all because we actors and artists are doing the essential part of our jobs, putting the truth into the world. Sometimes the truth looks different for all of us, but it has something in common when we see it displayed onstage, on the film screen, or on TV. The truth has a way of shaking us to our core. The truth can open our eyes, minds, and heart. The truth has a way of irritating the most dormant of demons within us. And sometimes, for some people, that truth is too much for them to handle, and they believe they are above hearing and seeing the truth that is performed by actors and artists, no matter what the medium is. So what does one do when the stark truth comes out into the open? They AVOID it at all costs, like the plague (poor choice of words). And how do they avoid the truth? By believing in the truth that THEY want to believe, even if it's not one that helps them grow and develop. You only see and do things that make them feel good, even if it means belittling or harming others without consequences. By only viewing people as objects, and if they're not pleasing to the senses or saying and doing things they don't like, they make their displeasure known by pushing others around or throwing it away. But does the truth only matter to actors and artists doing their job in their respective fields? Well, not necessarily. Sometimes putting the truth out there regarding how you treat others AWAY from the theatre, film, and television lots makes just as much of a difference as the truth you share with others on stage and camera. Don't forget: Actors and artists are people outside of their careers. They have families, obligations, and hobbies that don't just encompass the arts. The fans often forget this and only see them for the performances they give, and they often blow out of the water. And here's another thing that fans forget: They forget that apart from being on stage or camera, the offstage character of the actors and artists matters as much as how great their performances are. You can have the best voice, the most incredible acting skills, brilliant directing, excellent writing, or beautiful costume designs. Still, if you don't treat your fans or other people with an ounce of kindness, understanding, patience, and compassion away from your craft, it's all for naught. I firmly believe that a person's character matters as much as their onstage performance. Sometimes, when you discover the truth about an actor or artist's behavior away from the bright lights, costumes, and performance spaces, and not in a good way, it can be a tough pill to swallow. Especially if you look up to that person for their actions and how they inspire you. It may not matter to my friend who ignores how a person is backstage or away from their career, but it should matter to him and all of you who have similar beliefs. Because at the end of the day, we're all people and must do our best to be good people. How we treat others has a way of coming back to us a hundredfold, and if we're not being kind to others... Well, let's say karma's a b****. In all honesty, it doesn't pay to be a diva. Sorry, Patti LuPone. Sorry, Lea Michele. Sorry, Mariah Carey. Sorry, Barbra Streisand. Sorry, Madonna. Sorry, Beyonce. Sorry, Aretha Franklin. Sorry, not sorry.
I never said the truth would be easy to hear or see, but it needs to be told the same. (This week's blog has been on my mind and heart for much of January, and I had a great time writing this one for you. But again, even though there's so much truth that can be interpreted and debated, it's still my observations and reflections on a topic I see regularly. You are welcome to disagree with me on any of these points. Still, I won't tolerate you not treating me like a human being or saying anything offensive, disrespectful, or degrading to me or each other. If you do so, I will block you.)
It's a new year - 2023. It's time to start over with a clean slate. Page 1. Only 364 more pages to write. (Or if you're reading this on a Friday, there are only 352 more pages to write.) Shouldn't one of those resolutions prioritize treating people as people, whether we agree with each other or not? Especially actors and artists? We're not just here for your entertainment and pleasure; we're not playthings you throw away when you're growing bored or if the truth hurts. Sometimes, the truth that we put out there in our respective crafts has to terrorize our inner demons from within to help us see how much we need to change to help transform our society and the world into what it could be, which is a bright future for the next generation beyond our existence. Come to think of it... People who work in customer service aren't playthings for your enjoyment. People who work in healthcare aren't playthings for your enjoyment. People who are athletes aren't playthings for your enjoyment. People who work in law aren't playthings for your enjoyment. People who work in retail aren't playthings for your enjoyment. People who work in the government aren't playthings for your enjoyment (even though some politicians can be pretty immature for their age!). And so forth. All of us are people, and no one deserves to be treated like playthings for one's enjoyment. Especially if pain, shame, humiliation, abuse, hatred, and division are involved. Just stop it. No one deserves to be mistreated and disregarded like worn-out toys because the truth is too much for them to handle. That means you must work on yourself and how you deal with hearing or seeing the truth portrayed on the stage, screen, and television. And more importantly, you need to look past your selfishness and look within your heart to understand that change needs to happen for you to be the person you were meant to become. One that's not a diva, or even someone so ignorant and judgmental they don't regard actors and artists as human beings. Can I let you in on a secret? I encountered a diva early in my career in a local theatre show Brigadoon. This performer was immensely talented and beautiful, but she was pretty demanding when it came to the show itself. One memory that stands out to me the most is when it was the closing weekend, and we were all sharing our gifts. I got everyone cards that featured the tartan plaid shades of the respective clans in the show, and everyone thoroughly enjoyed the present and the thoughtfulness I put into making these gifts. I left the card for the demanding performer, and right before curtain, I asked her if she would open up her gift from me. She said, "I'll open it later." Like I was a plaything and wasn't necessary to her. I don't know if the performer ever opened up my gift. But I felt at that moment sadness and a little shame. And that's why I don't mess with divas. (I haven't shared that story in over five years, so forgive me if I'm a little emotional.) If I ever reencounter one, I'll keep my distance as far away from them as possible. Because after that experience of one performer not taking the time to show gratitude for the little way I was showing kindness and joy to be with some incredible people, I'm not sure if I can handle another heartbreaking experience like that where I was treated like a plaything and not a human being. You can have all of the beauty, powerful voice, musicality, excellent writing, and brilliant direction in the world. Still, if you're not willing to take the time to be helpful to others, know that it takes a village to put a show together, and realize that it's not about you, then you're not worth anyone's time which values offstage character just as much as an onstage character. Least of all, me. An actor and artist's job is to put the truth out into the world, not be playthings for your enjoyment. The truth doesn't just apply to what you see onstage, on screen, or television. It applies to wherever we go because life is beyond what we see in the arts. The arts reflect what life is now and what the world could be. Yes, the truth may irritate your demons, but maybe it's for the best if it means you are the individual you were meant to be. Shouldn't one of the universal truths be treating people as people and not playthings? Especially those in the arts? And another thing: It doesn't just apply to their work onstage or on the screen. Their lives outside their livelihoods and how they treat others make just as much of a difference. Take it from someone who knows that all too well. I hope 2023 is a good year for you. We could all use a good year for once. And that's the truth.