The whole difference between construction and creation is exactly this: that a thing constructed can only be loved after it is constructed; but a thing created is loved before it exists.
On day 1 we focused on identifying and gathering relevant information to spark our imagination. Now we are ready to start putting our imagination to use in making decisions about what we think that information we gathered means. Once we have these two steps down we are ready for the majority of the course material where we learn how to show the result of the decisions we make by what we do. This is the “how”. It isn’t until day 3 though so hang in there.
Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will. George Bernard Shaw
Creation starts in the mind. The detail put into gathering information for your imagination will determine the clarity of your decisions which will determine the authenticity of your creative artifact. In short, what you thought about will show in what you do. If you only think in the fuzziest and most vague of detail your performance will be vague, unclear, lack variety and nuance, and won’t read as authentic or professional. This doesn’t mean you have to have the whole final picture all at once. We can work on a project in pieces creating our final artifact section by section. There also isn’t just one way to go about the creative process. The point here is that the process determines the product so an artist should make it their business to spend the majority of their effort at developing an effective process. Our purposes in day 1 and 2 of this course are to help give you a starting point for this process and convince you of the necessity of investing in the process by which you create your art.
Some people can create on instinct and just go for it and have the result be wonderful. The only problem with that process is that it usually isn’t reliable and can only take one so far. It lacks the self refining process of a true artist.
If you are wanting to be a professional artist you need to create products that are reliably high in quality. Consequently, you must be deliberate about the process that you take to get a product. That process must start by creating a clear plan for what you intend to make, the freedom to explore and test the results of those plans, the ability to adjust your plans according to those results, getting your product critiqued, and refining your product through continuing this cyclical process until you have a finished product that someone values you enough to pay for. Welcome to the process of this course.
The Creative Artifact AKA Product
The creative artifact is the final consumable product that is created by an artist working through a process. Most people call this product “art”. To me, the real art the process artists use to create that artifact.
The artifact or product for a performing artist that is each performance that is seen by an audience. In live theater, the artifact is not a permanent object like a painting for people to look at as they choose. This means performing arts can keep going through this process almost endlessly for one particular project. in other words, for the audience watching a performance that is your finished product in their eyes, but for you, it can and should continue to evolve through this process night after night.
Process over Product
In “mindset: The New Psychology of Success” by Carol Dweck the difference between Growth mindset vs fixed mindset. Growth mindset “is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts.” The fixed mindset is “believing your qualities are carved in stone. The fixed mindset creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. If you have only a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character – well, then you’d better prove that you have a healthy dose of them. It simply wouldn’t do to look or feel deficient in these most basic characteristics.” With a growth mindset, “Although people may differ in every which way – in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments – everyone can change and grow through application and experience. Do people with this mindset believe that anyone can be anything, that anyone with proper motivation or education can become Einstein or Beethoven? No, but they believe that a person’s true potential is unknown (an unknowable); that it’s impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of passion, toil, and training.” Our goal is to focus on nurturing a growth mindset.
Prioritizing process over product is another way of thinking about cultivating a growth mindset as an artist. Young artists are so eager to create a product that they jump straight to creating a product without realizing that good products come from a good creative process. The details of each artist’s process can vary tremendously. Part of becoming an artist is figuring out what your process is. Once you define what your process is your unique product will take its shape. The process determines the product. I am suggesting a process you can go through. The hope is that most of it you will find useful. Over time though, you will add things to the process, change the order, alter things here and there so they best suit you. That is a good thing. This process is just meant to give you a solid starting place.
If you don’t enjoy the process then you should ask yourself if the product is worth the cost of the process. If you don’t enjoy the process then either you need to change to the process or the product you are making in hopes that it will require a different process. What do you need to do so that the real enjoyment comes from the process of what you are creating so that the final product is just the cherry on top?
Make decisions in pencil with a good eraser nearby. A commitment to amending is a crucial part of the creative process. Once amending your decisions is no longer an option for the creator the creative process is finished.
The key is to explore as many possibilities as possible. The temptation with this is is to either generate a bunch of ideas without making any decisions, wait to generate ideas until someone else makes decisions, or make a bunch of general ideas but not make it concrete. Instead, generate a list of ideas. Try each idea out as you practice. Then continue to go through the process until you find something that feels like it is the right fit. It will feel genuine, authentic, and true to what the music, text, and you are trying to create.
Don’t just settle for the first and most obvious choice. Generate as many options as time allows for. Even if you do end up going back to your first choice it will be informed and so much more rich for having spent the time exploring other options.
- A lot of talking without enough doing. Try to make it so with most ideas you are stopping and actually putting it into a concrete form to try it out. Draw a picture of what you mean, act out what you mean, try the idea on for size to see if that leads to prompt further exploration.
- Personal exploration without making things specific. The tendency of many young performers is to not make decisions that are specific enough. For example, if they are trying to decide on who they are they the list of options might be “A. Old man B. Middle-aged man C. Young Man D. Alien” Instead try to be as specific as you can be given your time and resource constraints. The above list might instead read, “A. An 82-year-old Man from Taiwan nicknamed the zipper man who just woke up from a coma and can’t remember what his real name is. B. A 45-year-old Mexican Man named Louis who loves grilled cheese sandwiches more than anything on earth. etc etc”
- Personal exploration without seeing the whole picture first. Take the time to gather information as discussed on Day 1. If you don’t know all the pre-existing material that has already been created and must be integrated into the final product you will just be wasting your time generating options that will definitely change once you are finally confronted with that information.
- Being too quick to dismiss and idea. “That idea won’t work” or “We don’t have the budget for that” or “That’s dumb, silly, stupid” etc are often words that mark the death of brilliant ideas. There is some reason you thought of them. Give them a chance by testing them out or at least by not throwing them out right away. Half the time what a young performer thinks is going to be dumb or silly is exactly what that moment needs.
- Not considering the limitations of the art form. For example, if you are singing a song where there are a lot of lyrics or extremely long phrases without much chance to breath and regroup and you choose to make it so your character is running around the stage…. you aren’t considering the limitations of the art form. A singer must be able to breathe and sufficient control of their breath for whatever phrase they are going to sing. If you are out of breath or breathing fast before you even start singing then it just won’t work.
- Holding yourself captive to expectations and perceived limitations. Instead of being worried about doing it “right” or how you think someone would want you to do it, explore the furthest reaches of what is possible. Permit yourself to do it wrong or to do too much. What is the performance YOU would want to watch? If you wouldn’t want to watch your performance then you need to keep pushing and digging until you would. Find a safe place to experiment and perform in front of a trusted group of people who can give you direct helpful feedback. Art is not about recreating what has been done before but about exploring what you and only you can create.
Individual : Visual Reference Word bank
How to do this exercise: Whether it is a Pinterest board, a collage, or folder you keep images in – start gathering images that remind you of your character and their world. It could just be a specific gesture someone is doing, the make-up on another person, an umbrella from another picture. The goal is to build visual references for your mind to use as you start making decisions about this world your character inhabits.
Individual: What is your “in”.
How to do this exercise: An “in” is your way to start connecting with the story or the creative process. It could be visual references, a movie, a painting, a song, a book, a memory. Whatever it is you have to an in immediate strong connection with it both as yourself and your character. Your goal is to search for this “in”.
Individual: Explore the Possibilities
How to do this exercise: Try performing one or two phrases of your song. Then without pause do those same phrases but don’t let yourself do it the same way twice. Continue this without time to stop and think for 10 turns. At the end of 10 turns decide which one felt most authentic to your characters. Continue the process as many times as time will allow or until you feel like you found the right fit for each phrase.
Individual or group: Re-define the prop
How to do this exercise: If you have watched who’s line is it anyway you know what this game is. Essentially the game is to choose any object and reinterpret that object as something else. You can’t repeat what that object is more than once. If you are playing in a group you can rotate through people reinterpreting the object while other people guess. This is an especially useful exercise when you are first introduced to a new prop your character uses. For pop or rock singers remember that your mic, mic stand, mic cord, instruments, and anything else you can touch with your hands is a prop.
Group: Re-write Disney
How to do this exercise: Choose a Disney song and create a scene where you change the entire context. You are not allowed to use the same who, what, where, when, or why of the original. This can be done with any song that the participants all are familiar with.
Group: 5 minute Scene
How to do this exercise: Give the group 5 minutes to create a scene of their choosing. Suggestion: Make who, what, where, when, why decisions quickly. Let each person decide what their character wants and what their obstacle to getting it is. The faster you can get to exploring how your characters would react as a group in the context you have created the more successful the scene. The longer you take to make decisions or talk without actually trying things out the worse it will be. Give yourself a rich context to react to.
Group: Complete show in an hour
How to do this exercise: Divide the group into smaller groups of 3-4 people. Each group has one hour to come up with the most compelling performance they can come up with. Performances must be a minimum of 5 minutes in length. Suggestion: Encourage performers to think outside the box and not limit themselves to what they think is expected. If they ask for more clarification encourage them to take the lack of clarity as permission to make their own decisions. This must be a performance that they would want to watch.
Links to other articles in this class segment:
Creating a Clear, specific, emotional WWWWW
WOTE in Boxes
Subtext with Lines
See & Feel at the Arrows
Action with the circles
Good Risk Taking
The difference between fully staged and concert version performances
How to help others give you useful feedback
What are your questions? What are you feeling skeptical about? Is there a situation you can think of when you don’t need to start with the story when performing?
Now let’s get down to making some decisions!
Dweck, Carol S. Mindset: the New Psychology of Success. Random House., 2016.
[…] and generating options of what that music could be by following the process outlined in Day 1 and Day 2 means you have already done a good deal of the work. The goal is now to experiment to get the […]