As I’m planning to self-publish my novel this coming spring, I’ve been thinking a lot about my journey. For those of you who’ve read my bio., it’s been one that’s taken me many places. I’ve had success in some areas, and in others, it’s eluded me. But then again success is not a straight line.
Years back, I took a number of master classes in Vancouver, B.C., with acting teacher, Carol Rosenfeld from H.B.Studio in New York. To say I was in awe of her talent is an understatement. She put me through my paces, demanding more (not less) when I wanted to give up, and for that, I’ve forever grateful.
In one of her scene study classes, she drew a line on a blackboard, that went straight ahead for a bit, stood still for awhile—as she made tight vertical strokes one after the other—and then backwards for a bit before going forwards again. As she said, sometimes as you progress as an actor, there is forward movement, sometimes you stand still going nowhere, and there are also times when you go backwards. It’s part of the journey.
How many times have we heard stories of people who’ve failed at something they’ve tried, only to pick themselves up, learn from their mistakes and go on to become successful in their fields? It’s an old story.
This idea applies to writing as well. How many times have I stared at my pages and felt immobilized as to how to fix something. I had to keep going into my story, struggle with what my characters were trying to say, and if I stayed with it and didn’t give up, I was rewarded with a germ of an idea, a sentence I savored, or some surprise my character hadn’t revealed before. That’s what’s delicious about writing, when you’re in the zone.
Now, the marvelous Carol Rosenfeld has published her book, Acting and Living in Discovery, in which she’s recorded her pearls of wisdom, gleaned from decades of teaching and directing actors and being one herself.
I recall how much she talked about specificity. How we needed to know our characters inside and out in order to inhabit them. Same with writing. How can you tell a story when the people in it are cardboard figures, no depth, no feeling, no expression? She wanted us to know what the characters we were playing had for breakfast, how they lived day in and day out, what were their dreams, what were their fears? Isn’t that what we do with the characters we write, the ones we put on the page? We have to know them inside and out to make them breathe, to come alive.
Carol taught that once you’ve done your homework, as an actor (or a writer), you can play. The magic can take place. Your work can become organic. It’s a place where you don’t have to think so much about your craft, rather you just do, you trust yourself in the part or in the story.
I am so indebted to Carol, for she gave me so much. Not only the tools for acting—which I continue to build upon, as the learning never stops—but also at a deeper level, a greater understanding of myself. When we immerse ourselves in our art, whether it’s while we are pursuing our goal of writing that next great novel, or inhabiting a great literary character on stage or one written for film, the good stuff only comes when we reveal ourselves. And to do that, it takes courage to let go and find those gems that define the uniqueness in all of us. Then, it truly can become art.
And while we’re exercising our minds and our hearts through acting or writing or whatever we pursue, it helps to keep in mind that success is not a straight line.
- A Life Lesson From Robert Frost
- Counting My Blessings