This week’s post is going to be geared a little more towards artists who perform live. I think though it is a good thought to keep in mind for everyone though. The thought is: Play With Your Eyes open. First, a little backstory, and this backstory is going to sound horribly pretentious and name-droppy but it’s where I got the idea from.
In 2007, through a strange series of events, I lucked into a spot opening for “Weird Al” Yankovic on his Straight Outta Lynwood tour. I found out about the gig the DAY before the gig was to happen, so I was instantly whipped up in a state of nervous energy that could have been harnessed to power the state of Rhode Island. The main thing that had me whipped up was that this would be, without a doubt, the largest crowd I would have performed in front of to date. About 5,000 people. That’s a lot.
In my flurry of getting ready to drive to Northern California, where the gig was at, I spent some time promoting the gig on social media, which back then, was MySpace. I sent out an MySpace Message blast to all my friend who lived in the radius near the gig, I even sent one to Tom. But while looking through my list of friends I came across the page for Steven Page, then lead singer of Barenaked Ladies.
I know he didn’t live anywhere in the vicinity of the show but a thought flashed in my mind. If anyone could give me a little advice about performing in front of that many people, he could, so I sent him a MySpace message. I never really expected a response back, I mean, he’s a busy rock ’n’ roll star but later that day I got a simple reply back that said, and I’m paraphrasing here:
Congratulations. Just take a deep breath before you start and play with your eyes open. Enjoy it. And say hi to Al for me.
At the time I didn’t quite get what he meant by ‘play with your eyes open’ but I thought it was incredibly cool that he wrote back.
Flash forward to the stage at the Konokti Harbor Amphitheater in Northern California. I had just finished my first song, Living @ Home, and the audience loved it. And when I say finished I mean, raced through my first song at about double the tempo I normally play it. My hands were shaking, my pulse racing and my heart felt like it was going to explode out of my chest. Then, like Obi-Wan Kenobi, Steven’s words flashed through my mind. “…Take a deep breath. Play with your eyes open. Enjoy it.”
So, I took a deep breath and it seemed as if time slowed down. I was in control. I could do this without panic. Without rushing. And most importantly, my eyes were open and I was actually aware of what was going on. I could actually ENJOY the amazing experience I was in the middle of. The rest of the set was better than the first song and ending with ‘Debbie’ brought the house down.
After all this time, I still remember Steve’s words, especially if I’m in some big, high pressure performing situation. I remember to take a deep breath and just enjoy it. I’m getting to do what I love, in front of people. It doesn’t get much better than that. This is especially true when I get to perform with The Jim Henson Company’s Puppet Up!.
In late 2013, I performed with them in Toronto and there was one moment where I had a puppet on my hand in front of a packed house of people. The scene I was in was getting big laughs and, because I was playing with my eyes open, I just got a big, uncontrollable, smile on my face. Not because I was breaking because of the scene. It was because my ‘eyes were open’ and I was instantly aware of how much fun it is to get to do that. It’s a moment I have not forgotten.
So if you are about to step on stage and perform, no matter how big the crowd, stop right before you do. Take a deep breath and when you step out there, play with your eyes open. Enjoy it. Don’t get so focused on the set, your playing, or acting or your material that you completely forget to experience the fun you’re having.
Even though is more applies to artists who perform, I think it could be applicable to other areas of artistic disciplines as well. If you are painter, right before your gallery showing opens (no matter how big or small) take a deep breath. Enjoy it. If you’re a writer and it is the night before your book goes on sale, take a deep breath. Enjoy it.
Most of us create art because we love to do so. No point in doing it if you can’t take a deep breath and play with your eyes open.
How do you deal with high pressure artistic situations? Do you have any techniques that get your through? Let me know in the comments below.
When reading about artists and creativity, I find you often hear mention of famous writers hanging out together. J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, Truman Capote and Harper Lee, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Louisa May Alcott, just to name a few. In Hollywood, we hear about actors and directors who enjoy handing out with each other. Just look at the fun J.J. Abrams and Zack Snyder are having poking fun at each other while directing the new Star Wars and Superman/Batman films. If you follow Weird Al Yankovic on Twitter you will see pictures of him hanging out with Seth Green or Thomas Lennon. For a few years now I’ve listened to the Nerd Poker Podcast which features a bunch of comedians hanging out playing Dungeons & Dragons, something they had done for over a decade before starting the podcast. These are just a few examples, I’m sure a much longer list can be made.
So, why is it that famous creative types seem to gravitate to each other? Is it because they are part of the famous elite and only hang out with other famous people? While that could be the case in a few cases, I think it is more likely because creative people gravitate towards each other and they especially gravitate to other creative people they find inspiring. I certainly know that this is true with me.
When we were in the heyday of Dr. Floyd, it was creatively inspiring to hang out with the shows co-creator, Doug. A simple meal or hour spent playing Nintendo 64 or other some such hangout would undoubtedly inspire future episodes of the show or funny lines to throw in here and there. Currently hanging out with puppeteer and puppet builder Russ Walko will inspire funny ideas for projects. I also find that hanging out with Patrick Bristow, Chris Sheets, Alison Mork, Brian Clark, Vanessa Whitney, Kevin Bertnson or any of the other fantastically funny founding members of Improvitorium with inspire creativity and fun.
I think that, as an artist, it is important to create for yourself a nest of creatives you can hang out with and who will inspire your own creativity. Creative friends you can laugh with, bounce ideas off of and receive input from with no expectation of credit or ownership. Build this nest with care so that you have people you truly be your creative self with when you are with them. These are people who aren’t competing with you, they are people who are there to support you and you, in turn, support them.
And because of the marvelous age we live in, they don’t necessarily have to be people who live close to you. I have several people who I would consider are in my ‘creative nest’ that live on the East Coast and we use all the wonders of technology to keep in touch. Author Mur Lafferty lives in North Carolina and we communicate via text and Twitter often. Singer/Songwriter Carla Ulbrich lives in New Jersey and we often chat via email or text. Musician John B. DeHaas lives in Florida and we talk almost daily via the Voxer app. With technologies like these, not to mention Skype or Google Hangouts, it is quite possible to have a creative nest that spans the entire globe!
Be thankful for the support and inspiration your creative nest gives you. And if you don’t have one, begin building it today! It will only make you a better artist.
Do you have a creative nest? If so how long have you had one and how did it help you? Let me know in the comments below! Have a great week!
Mistakes. As an artist, you constantly strive to make your art as perfect as can be. We want what we produce and release into the world to be free from any flaw or error. This is a very noble cause and one you should strive for. If you aren’t happy with something, do not release it just for the sake of releasing it. Keep working on it until you get it to where you are happy with it. NOTE: You may never be happy with it, but we’ll talk about that at another time.
Striving for perfection is a great goal but you have to understand that, if you are like me, a piece of art you put out will never be 100% perfect. Striving for perfection is fine but if you keep striving for it you may never release your art. Working on one piece of art for the rest of your life chasing a certain Ideal may be fine for some but not for me. Did you know that Michaelangelo’s statue of David isn’t perfect. A flaw in the marble prevented Him from sculpting one of the muscles in Davids back. Instead of spending years trying to find a way to work around the flaw or get a new piece of marble and start over, he finished it, put it out in the world and then got busy working on something else.
When I listen to early episodes of Dr. Floyd I cringe and wish I could go back in and edit out mistakes. Tighten up the dialogue and pacing. But, as IV said on here before, the goal was to just keep making more episodes and in the course of producing over 150 episodes I learned how to tighten up the dialogue and pacing. And that’s why the later shows are cleaner. I made mistakes early on, learned form them, and used them to make the stuff I was creating better.
Mistakes you make while creating are, more likely than not, be extremely frustrating. That’s fine. The key is to learn what to take away from making that mistake and how the lessons learned there can help you improve your art.
You should never be so obsessed with never making mistakes that you don’t allow yourself to make them. Why would you want to make mistakes? Because sometimes those mistakes can make you look at your art differently and lead you to creating something even better than what you had originally started out to create. Mistakes sometimes open doors that give you a new view of how to present something. Or a way to change something to make it even better than you thought of before. I cannot tell you how many times a fumble in dialogue while reading a line has lead to a new and even better line for the project. That’s not always the case but sometimes it is and if I was obsessed with getting every line down as exact as it is on the script I would never have stumbled upon something better.
The other note I want to make about mistakes is that you can’t be so afraid of making them that you don’t pursue the art that your heart is leading you towards. If you want to sculpt (or paint, or write, or…whatever) and you are afraid to get going because you’ll make mistakes, you’ll never begin. Learn now, mistakes are going to be made and you’re going to learn from them and become better because of them.
We are humans. We are going to make mistakes. That’s perfectly fine. Be open to them. See if there’s something you can learn from the mistake to improve the piece you are working on or the next piece. See if there’s something about the mistake that makes the current piece even better than it was before. See if the mistake leads you to something new that you didn’t even think of before.
Do you have an example of a mistake that blossomed into something better than what you had planned when you started out? If so, tell me about it in the comments below.
Even though we all love creating, there are times when we can get burnt out. When this happens take a break. Nothing will recharge your batteries faster than taking a little time off.
You need to be careful though, you don’t want to take a break, get so busy with ‘real life’ responsibilities that you never return to your art. But taking a few days away from your current project with a set date to return is not a bad idea to help with burnout.
Another thing I like to do to help avoid burnout is have a couple projects going at once. I have a couple different longer stories that I’m working on and I will work on one for a few weeks, then take a break and work on another for a few weeks, and then come back to the first one. I find that this helps keep the stories fresh. Also I find that spending time away from a certain project will give me time to generate new ideas that I can bring with me when I return to it.
I’m not speaking of taking a break when real life intervenes. Unfortunately, that happens a lot more than we would probably like. What I’m talking about here is actually setting aside a periods where you say, “I’m bonn stop working on this for a bit and then come back to it.” You make a conscience choice to take a break.
Taking a break may tell you a little about your project as well. If you take a break from what you’re working on and find you don’t have a real desire to return to it, that may mean that the project isn’t speaking to your true creative self. Don’t spend your time working on a project that isn’t 100% what you want to be working on. That’s not saying scrap a project completely if you find you don’t want to go back to it after taking a break. Just set focus your energy on projects you do want to work on. The unfinished project may actually come in useful.
A year or so ago, I was approached by a producer to come up with some scripts for short interstitials that would, hopefully, wind up on television. I got really excited about the project and wrote out ten scripts over the course of two days. They were short scripts, about a minute long each, so it wasn’t like some big Herculean effort or anything. I was excited about the possibilities this project presented. Then, though, the producer got really busy with other projects and so this one fell by the wayside, as did my passion to create for it. I really liked writing the scripts in this style but I stopped because I knew the project wasn’t going to continue, at least nit then.
A few months later, I got the idea for the Uncle Interloper Pieces and Bits segments. As I was writing out the scripts for them, I realized that a lot of the scripts I had written for the other project would work perfectly for this one. Boom! I suddenly had 10 more scripts to add to the few I had completed already. Sure, they needed some tweaking to find this project, but all that work before was now coming in handy. So, if you take a break from a project, don’t trash it! You may be able to cannibalize it for something else.
People say things work in cycles. I think this can be applied to creative people as well, especially those who, like me, practice in several disciplines. It has been a good year or two since I’ve really sat down and tried to write a comedy music song for my act Throwing Toasters. In the meantime, I’ve been busy with puppet fun, improv and other pursuits. But I can feel the urge to write songs again bubbling in the back of my brain. I’ve been jotting down song ideas left and right. Soon, after taking a bit of a break from comedy songwriting, it’ll be time to pick up the guitar again and get going. When you are truly creative, your brain won’t let you take a break for too long!
We’ve spoken on here before about how creative work is hard work. Just like any nine to five job, you’ll need to take a break every now and then. Do it. Use it to recharge your batteries, invigorate your creative mind and return to your creating with a renewed passion!
Do you take breaks in your creative work? Do you fin them helpful in inspiring you to create more? Let us know in the comments below. Have a great week!