See The Action. See The Motivation. [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“It’s discouraging to think how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit.” ~ Noel Coward

Lately, I’ve been rereading books on playwriting. Put them on the stove, boil them down and you will have a fine reduction of action and motivation. The actions a character takes. The reason a character takes them. A playwright’s tool box is filled with words but a playwright’s creation is a sequence of motivated actions.

Tom McK told me that plays are about one moment. A moment of choice. A moment of revelation. A moment of truth. A moment of reckoning. All of the actions of the play lead to the moment. And the world will never be the same.

I began rereading my dusty old playwriting books because of the impeachment trial. I feel as if I am witness to an ancient Greek drama. Power falls. Courage fails. Morals collapse. Act One: the temple is sacked. The actions and motivations for the assault could not be more clear. Naked sedition. Act Two: the trial. The ideals of the temple are gutted. Blind justice is made a mockery as nearly half of the jurists fail in their courage, choosing personal gain over public good. They defend sedition. They kneel to it. Their actions and motivations could not be more clear.

Like every Hallmark movie, the end of this play was known before the actors took the stage. We watched the play to confirm what we already knew.

Doug had a saying: health was a measure of the distance between who-you-say-you-are and who-you-know-yourself-to-be. The shorter the distance, the healthier the person. By Doug’s account, the actions and motivations of the 43 jurors who protected sedition could not be more clear. Despite what they say. Despite what they proclaim. The distance between who-they-say-they-are and who-they-know-themselves-to-be is vast. They are unhealthy. Shiny suits that are rotten to their core.

The climax of the play. The one moment. The realization. Just as in a horror movie, the recognition that the person in the passenger seat is the murderer. All of the actions of the play lead to this one moment, this single recognition: their defense of sedition is not aberrant to this jury’s character. It is their norm. Their fall from grace, their collapse of principle, happened long before their vote to acquit.

Action. Motivation. Expressed through character.

“Character,” Tom McK taught, “is how you do what you do.” This is who they are. It is a matter of character. Their actions and motivations could not be more clear. And the world will never be the same.

read Kerri’s blog post about WORDS & DEEDS

Walk With Your Ally

another painting in the Yoga series

the latest painting in the Yoga series

David is among my chief muses. He was the first person I met in my spontaneous-no-plan-move-to-Seattle over 15 years ago. We sat next to each other at a conference and he asked me if I wanted to be in a play. When I said yes he said, “Great. Can you be at rehearsal tonight?” Like me, he is a painter as well as a theatre artist. He steps through life with his eyes firmly focused on the possibilities. He reminds me that obstacles are nothing more than interesting process steps. When I wander through museums or galleries David goes with me whether he is there or not. When I see a play that inspires me, I wish that he might see it, too, so we might talk about it.

Recently, he sent this quote: “My intention has been, often, to say what I had to say in a way that would exemplify it; that would, conceivably, permit the listener to experience what I had to say rather than just hear about it.” – John Cage, Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artists.

When I was in college studying acting I had a professor who would say, “You will always know a good play from a bad play because a bad play wants to tell you what happens. A good play wants to include you in what happens.” He also used this rule to define good acting from bad acting. His shorthand phrase was, “Show me, don’t tell me.” It is the artistic equivalent of, “Give a man a fish and he will have a meal; teach a man to fish and he will eat forever.” Art, regardless of the form it takes, is meant to teach people to fish.

Art is not a “thing,” it is a relationship. It is a dynamic orientation to life. It is an experience (not a possession). My interpretation of my professor’s rule goes something like this: a good play/performance/painting includes; a bad play/performance/painting excludes. Vital art reaches for others. Empty art rejects or attempts to elevate itself above others.

The best artists I know have learned to get out of their own way. They have essentially, let go of all investment in self-importance. They serve the art and, so, are not terribly invested in whether a critic or a friend likes or dislikes their work. They have grown beyond attempting to control the perceptions of others (control is an act of exclusion); they are attempting to reach the soul of the matter, touch the soul of the other.

finally finished: May You Be

finally finished: May You Be

It is also true that great artists are constantly learning. And, since growth is always in the direction of the unknown, it is terribly important to have allies to walk with you. Stepping into the unknown is best done in the company of others, those special few wanderers who you can turn to and say, “Whoa! Did you just see that?” David, who is always there with me, laughs in response to my awe, and says, “Tell me! What did you see?”