Posted on 20 November 2014 | No responses
This is from a speech I gave for Halloween 2012. The site it was on has been taken down, so I thought I would reprint it here.
The Harry Potter series was launched the 30th of June 1997. It’s the story of an orphan who is introduced into a magical world of witches and wizards. In this world he was apparently born with a mission: to stop the evil of Lord Voldemort who seeks to be all powerful and immortal.
For five years I was a literary judge for a children’s and young adult book award. I read hundreds of fantasy books. The Harry Potter books were undoubtedly a step beyond the vast majority of books submitted for recognition.
Author JK Rowling indulges not only in the usual wish-fulfillment story with a dash of adventure, but explores human nature. In particular she examines the use and abuse of power from youthful bullying to parenting, teaching, bureaucracies, and magical manipulation; and the true measure of human character.
JK Rowling is no stranger to struggle. She was an unemployed single mother, just a whisker away from living on the streets, when she wrote the first Harry Potter book. She also worked previously at Amnesty International and has some chilling stories about the sort of inhumanity people around the world must cope with.
Her books do not go for cheap cliché values. They are rich in real world wisdom.
So what do the Harry Potter books teach us? Many things really and I will touch on a few of the lessons.
The value of friendship.
This is a standard trope in children’s books. Most of their plots only work when a team of children pool their skills and determination to win the day. We too frequently forget as adults that friendship continues to be of value throughout our lives.
Harry has two close friends: Ron and Hermione. Hermione is thoughtful and bookish. Ron is something of a doofus, but in the end his heart is always in the right place. Harry needs the support of Hermione’s clear thinking and the sense of normalcy and acceptance he finds from Ron and Ron’s family. Together they keep Harry grounded.
“Harry—you’re a great wizard, you know.”
“I’m not as good as you,” said Harry, very embarrassed, as she let him go.
“Me!” said Hermione. “Books! And cleverness! There are more important things—friendship and bravery…”
—J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
Harry also has a ring of close school mates such as Neville Longbottom, Luna Lovegood, Cedric Diggory, and Ginny Weasley.
At one point Dumbledore, the headmaster of the magic school of Hogwarts, tells his students this:
“Lord Voldemort’s gift for spreading discord and enmity is very great. We can fight it only by showing an equally strong bond of friendship and trust. Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open.”
—J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
In the world today we are facing some very big evils, only we don’t have a single face upon which to focus our hatred. Instead we must thoughtfully seek compassionate answers. We have allowed ourselves to accept a lifestyle that is damaging our planet and creating a greater divide between the rich and poor. We must look inside ourselves to change this.
And yet the answer is the same for us as it was for Harry and his classmates. We must not allow ourselves to become fearful and isolated. We must not allow ourselves to be divided by class, gender, age, ethnicity, or marketing group. Our current culture makes an idol of independence and competition. In this way we are left without the skills to combine efforts and change the world for the better. Well the way to fix that is in forming more and better friendships and thereby form caring communities.
Respect for all living things.
This is largely portrayed by the half-giant gameskeeper at Hogwarts, Rubeus Hagrid. It is noted in the text that “Hagrid had an unfortunate liking for large and monstrous creatures” but it goes further than that. In his Care for Magical Creatures class Hagrid introduces the students to smaller creatures such as Nifflers, Blast-ended Skrewts, Flobberworms, Bowtruckles, and Kneazles.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione on more than one occasion protect and rescue abused magical animals such as the dragon kept at the Gringotts Wizarding Bank.
Another ethical concern is the way house-elves are treated. They are self-aware humanoid creatures that are being used as slaves. Some house-elves claim they live to serve, but quite clearly not all of them do. Hermione recognises this unfairness within the magical culture. She alone does what she can to release these beings, while others including some of our heroes, are indifferent. The house-elf Dobby consciously sacrificing his own life for Harry’s finally begins to change some attitudes.
We should all ask ourselves who and what do we overlook at our convenience and other’s grief? Who and what should we be showing more care?
Much children’s and young adult fiction uses the trope of “the chosen one”. A people are being threatened by a malevolent being and only one special boy, whose coming is foretold, has the power to defeat this threat. The original Star Wars movie used this trope. After its success the concept of “The Hero’s Journey” was popularised.
Chosen-one stories are a form of wish-fulfillment. Usually the boy appears to be of no significance. He is often bullied. Then one day he discovers, either on his own or with the help of a mentor, that he is special and has access to super-normal powers. Many of us would like to believe we are special.
Of course not everyone identifies themselves with the chosen-one, but they still believe that the world moves on the backs of great leaders. They will claim that the formidable problems we are facing will only be changed when another Martin Luther King Jr or the like rises up. Where oh where are our next avatars of justice?
The Harry Potter books appear to be another in a long line of chosen-one stories, but immediately begin to subvert the trope.
First, Harry is repeatedly shown that he can’t face Lord Voldemort on his own. He needs the help of his friends and community.
Next, Harry has to come to grips with the fact that Lord Voldemort is not solely his problem. Lord Voldemort is of concern to the entire magical community and as such is everyone’s responsibility. When lives are at stake, you can’t just wait around. You can’t pin all your hopes on a single individual. What happens if that person fails or worse, dies?
Then, Harry is made aware that Lord Voldemort is not the whole problem. He is a powerful nexus to a much wider problem that is supporting his success. People’s fears and skewed values make them party to a thousand acts of every day cruelty: cruelty that is enacted in their bureaucracy, their media, their schools, and their justice system.
Finally, Harry discovers that the prophecy of a chosen-one did not necessarily apply to him. Another child equally fulfilled the prophecy. Lord Voldemort simply chose Harry as his most likely nemesis.
The Harry Potter books teach us that we are all equally responsible for the creation of a better future.
In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire we are introduced to the character of Cedric Diggory. Cedric belongs to a rival house to that of Harry Potter. They are on opposing sporting teams and end up competing with one another in an international wizarding competition.
At various points Cedric and Harry are both put into positions whereby they can take unfair advantage of one another, but don’t. Fair-play and respect are seen as higher values than simply winning. It is because of this they are put in a position to face Lord Voldemort together and are able to defeat him, but at the sad loss of Cedric.
Dumbledore says in memory of Cedric:
“Remember Cedric. Remember, if the time should come when you have to make a choice between what is right and what is easy, remember what happened to a boy who was good, and kind, and brave, because he strayed across the path of Lord Voldemort. Remember Cedric Diggory.”
—J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
That is the clearest example of ethical fortitude in the Harry Potter books. But JK Rowling does not keep things so clear. She creates many characters who fail in their judgements. Dumbledore himself played with thoughts of absolute power and was partially responsible for the accidental death of his sister when he was a young man. His regrets drove him on to become a kind, accepting person, and a protector of the vulnerable.
People are not usually born with ethical fortitude. They often find it as experience forges their characters and they see the logic in compassionate action. This is why forgiveness and mercy must have their place in our lives and our culture.
Judging people by their choices and actions
In the era of pulp fiction and B movies whole peoples were portrayed as evil and therefore expendable. Most notably at the time were stories about the “yellow peril” or Asian peoples, which you might find in Doc Savage, The Shadow, Buck Rogers and the like. With the advent of ethnic civil rights in the US, editors began to reject stories that portrayed obvious xenophobia. However, to this day we are still inundated with stories of metaphorical xenophobia. These are found largely in our youth media such as scifi and fantasy books, movies, comics, and computer games.
The audience is presented with an alien or fantastic race that are intelligent, self aware, and completely evil. Therefore it is considered acceptable to commit genocide.
However, the moment a race of beings is both intelligent and self-aware, their members are capable of independent thought and individual decisions. It would be injust to judge them as if they were a single being. The responsibility for the crimes of one can not fairly be extended to others.
As reasoning beings not all of their actions can possibly be evil, since they must have sufficient empathy and cooperation to manage the lengthy process of raising intelligent off-spring.
In the Harry Potter world even though the school residence of Slytherin is where more than one destructive wizard arose, not all Slytherins are evil. Regulus Black, Andromeda Tonks, Horace Slughorn are Slytherins who fought against Lord Voldemort. The houses of Griffindor, Hufflepuff, and Ravenclaw have all had their share of wizarding heroes, but have also produced baneful magic users such as Peter Pettigrew and Quirinus Quirrell.
Many characters in the Harry Potter series are not what you might expect one way or the other. JK Rowling has not created a world with easy distinctions. You are challenged to understand characters, to discover the truth behind who they are, and rely on the ultimate quality of their actions to speak of the quality of their hearts. These are skills we should all develop when measuring our relationships in the real world.
As Dumbledore observes: “You fail to recognize that it matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be.” Furthermore he says: “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are.”
We can all use a laugh now and again
After Harry wins the international wizarding competition he decides to give the attached winnings to Ron’s brothers Fred and George who are planning on opening a magical joke shop.
“Listen, if you [Fred and George] don’t take it [the gold], I’m throwing it down the drain. I don’t want it and I don’t need it. But I could do with a few laughs. We could all do with a few laughs. I’ve got a feeling we’re going to need them more than usual before long.”
—J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
All of the Harry Potter books include a twist of humour, even The Deathly Hallows. One of my favourite lines is Ron exclaiming, “What in the name of Merlin’s most baggy Y Fronts was that about?”
Humour in the Harry Potter world and in our own world is good for two things:
1) It gives us permission to be human, to live with awkwardness and to make mistakes. So long as we can laugh at ourselves and the absurdity of life we are less afraid of learning, growing, and getting on with things.
2) Humour is a fount of resilience. Yes, things can get difficult, but so long as we can still laugh, we can still engage with life. This is why the clown doctors and nurses are such a successful movement. If you can keep patients laughing, they find the strength to improve their quality of life.
In the final book of the Potter series Harry, Ron, and Hermione are hiding in the wilderness and their friends in the resistance have gone underground. To keep the wizarding world informed, a group of wizards including Ron’s brothers Fred and George, broadcast the pirate radio program Potterwatch. This show includes humorous banter. It cuts Lord Voldemort to size and dispels fearful rumours. People are made robust through insightful levity.
That’s powerful stuff.
Love is a word abused by popular culture. Certain people want access to its power without taking on its responsibility. However, just because it has been misrepresented does not mean we should shy away from speaking and acting out of love.
In the first chapter of the first book of the Harry Potter series Harry is described as “The Boy Who Lived”. He lived because when his mother and father were attacked by Lord Voldemort, his mother sacrificed her life to ensure Harry survived. Everyday parents are giving all they can to ensure the well-being and survival of their children. This is a love worth naming and honouring.
Throughout the book Harry has friends rescue him from death over and over again. These people cared about Harry personally. They were aware of his ups and downs and weaknesses, and stood by him in any case. We all need friends who will celebrate our achievements, tell us when we need to pull our socks up, and be there when we need comfort. This is a love worth naming and honouring.
Albus Dumbledore was a headmaster known to extend his hand in kindness to people who needed a chance to grow. He could see the potential for good and would nurture it and give it every chance to flourish in the lives of his teachers and students. We all want mentors and teachers like this in our own lives and lives of our children. This is a love worth naming and honouring.
Then there is the love of simple human goodwill. During one broadcast of Potterwatch we hear this conversation:
River: “And what would you say, Royal, to those listeners who reply that in these dangerous times, it should be ‘wizards first’?”
Royal: “I’d say that it’s one short step from ‘wizards first’ to ‘pure-bloods first’, and then to ‘Death Eaters’. We’re all human, aren’t we? Every human life is worth the same, and worth saving.”
—J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
This too is a love worth naming and honouring.
What does Harry Potter teach us? The books demonstrate the value in reaching for a nobility of spirit that comes from sympathy, bravery, kindness, and love and that we find these qualities within ourselves when we form bonds of friendship. Go forth and be great witches and wizards. Accio love!
Peace and kindness,
2012 October 28
Posted on 10 November 2014 | No responses
A famous dictum of fine art is: your process is your own. How you get at creating works that are uniquely and authentically your own is your personal choice, your personal responsibility, and nobody else’s business. All means are valid, though perhaps not all means are recommended or ethical. These are things we need to think about.
If you create your work by swimming in green jelly then playing the nose flute, that may be considered eccentric, but if the results are engaging then worrying about simple oddity is moot. On the other hand if you cause harm to a person, such as by using a toxic paint on a photographic subject’s body, then you need to stop and take a closer look at your tools and your motives.
When performing as a comedian or an actor you can choose to embody a character by observing the behaviour and traits of others and bringing these observations into your performance, you can search within yourself to find the places where you are this character, or you can take on cultural stereotypes and represent a shared worldview to your audience.
In comedy and improvisational theatre we frequently rely on stereotypes. Mario and Luigi are barely human in Super Mario Brothers. They are stereotypical working class Italians with a cheerful can-do attitude. The characters are endearing, but they aren’t going to tell us very much about Italians, the working class, or ourselves. This does not mean as creations they lack value. Life is rough, anything that brings a little genuine joy is important. However, stereotypes at their worst are damaging to whole segments of our populations.
What is of concern is when the vast majority of media, especially that which purports to be representing reality, is trading largely on stereotypes. Stereotypes are then mistakenly seen as “archetypes” or “The Truth”.
I would strongly suggest performers spend time learning how to create a character where you go beyond cultural symbols and draw instead from personal understanding. If nothing else, when you go back to using a stereotypical character, you can bring it to life with greater detail, pathos, and humanity.
The way to start is by letting go of your culture’s judgements of both yourself and others. You cannot see a person’s humanity if you cannot go beyond seeing them as an expectation. If you expect to see lazy poor people, then you will see lazy poor people. If you have no expectations, then you may see some poor people who are lazy, but you may see many more who are frozen in despair or desperately diligent. It will be a complex picture.
I know far too many actors who only want to play an idealised version of themselves. Those who want to play villains often bring more interest to their performance, but they may still be looking for an idealised self, because villains seem to have more freedom and more power. All of us every day attempt to wear a self we feel will be effective and will help to make us likeable to ourselves and others. All that we are, all that we can be, much of it remains just beneath the surface unexpressed.
As a child I learned to hide any good grades I received. When other children found out about a paper of mine receving an “A”, they would tear it from my hands, rip it up, push me to the ground, pull my hair, and call me names. I knew children who could do as well or better than myself in various subjects, but who carefully avoided standing out.
Dysfunctional families are notorious for putting on happy smiles when what lies beneath is turmoil and pain. The reality is that a family member revealing themselves could become subject to dangerous repercussions. In order to survive physically and emotionally members will present as hyper-normal and hyper-cheerful. “Nothing wrong here, look the other way.”
No one wants to be hurt. No one wants to be ostracised. We all want people in our lives who respect, care for, and validate us. Our culture tells us only certain sorts of people live the good life. So many of us act as characters in our own lives hoping to achieve it.
If you want to be a performer or creator of any note, you have to let go of that one character, at least for the space of a show. You have to recognise the validity of anger, fear, and love, whether or not you approve of how these things are expressed by your character. You have to find strength in vulnerability. You need to trust your audience and reveal yourself. You also have to have faith that goodness can be found in a wide diversity of people. Many folk put on a show of toughness and darkness in order to protect a fragile side.
Whether or not you can find it in yourself to believe you are a particular character, by respecting that character—you will find its humanity, express that humanity more truthfully, and give your audience something of real value. You will be respected as an actor and remembered, not superficially admired for a resemblance to a cardboard hero (or villain) and soon forgotten.
When I teach creative writing courses, I tell my students they need to see their characters as a basket full of puppies. One puppy may be a little slow, another may willfully widdle on things, still another may be over-eager to play ball. They are all different, and some of them are even naughty, but you love every one of them. Each one is special and each has a right to their existence. We can be so unforgiving of ourselves and others that it is hard to see people in this fashion, but it is an artistic necessity. The greatest artists hold at least a seed of compassion for all humanity in their hearts.
Peace and kindness,
Posted on 9 November 2014 | No responses
Our society only exists because we have pro-social emotions that bring us together. The arts help us to exercise those emotions, so that we become better members of our families and societies.
The arts help to give us resilience and stimulate our thinking. The arts can be a form of play that help us to build skills useful in other areas, such as peacefully arguing a case. The arts develop our ability to think creatively, innovate, and build a better future. I have a PhD. You get PhDs from doing original research. I know plenty of people who couldn’t manage that degree, because they were incable of imagining beyond the known.
The arts are not an optional extra nor are they a poor cousin to science. We would have no civilisation capable of supporting scientifc research if it weren’t for the arts. The arts need to be freely supported without always the requirement for commercialisation.
The below is an excellent article about Taylor Swift’s decision not to make her music available via Spotify.
“The bottom line is that artists’ rights are workers’ rights. You are not being progressive or radical by denying artists the right to control their own work. You are not helping the underprivileged by making it impossible for anyone who isn’t already rich and privileged to take up artistic careers.”
—Lincoln Michel, Taylor Swift and the Myth of the Mean Greedy Artist
Peace and kindness,
Posted on 6 November 2014 | No responses
It’s so easy to believe in sadness. It’s so easy to believe that’s all there is in the world and it’s all that’s important. Because sadness is real and what the world offers as happiness is fake.
So many people have fallen into cynicism and fatalism. They no longer believe in the possibility of close human relations, they no longer believe they have a future.
They act out of anger and frustration. They troll the internet in order to relieve themselves from these feelings. Fight or flight are both fear reactions. Fight just feels more powerful, since you are pushing back at the people who are pushing you. Remember that it is still fear. Some people cross over into physical violence.
Some choose to live lives of extreme experience: damaging themselves, each other, and the world. “You live only once!” In this manner they deepen the problems of the world. They may experience bursts of intense pleasure. But it has no meaning and therefore does not satisfy. They have to seek these bursts again and again and again, in order to not look at what frightens them.
What does it matter, if this is all going to go away tomorrow?
It will not go away tomorrow. You will have to live in tomorrow. How dark do you want that tomorrow to be? How light do you want it to be? Either way, it can’t be as it is now. You either participate in making it better or live with it getting worse.
In the 1830s American Indians living in the south of the US were forced to relocate. Some of these people fought and were killed by US military forces. Some of these people agreed to the genocide march of thousands of miles. My ancestors were among the few survivors of this event. If you were forced to make a choice: die fighting or face almost certain death in a long and torturous journey, which would you choose?
Would you choose to be inflicting death and suffering, just before your own death? Would you live your last moments in one final burst of extreme fear, anger and hatred? Or would you accept being forced to move, knowing that you may very well die on the journey, but at least you get to sing and hold hands with the people you love? Would you choose a few more moments of joy, kindness, and comfort in the midst of the suffering?
With climate change and over-population we are facing very similar decisions right now.
Our culture lies to us through its stories all the time, whether news stories or fictional stories. These stories reflect our culture’s values, not the truth. When our lives do not fit into these stories, it’s very easy to get disillusioned, as opposed to un-illusioned. Suffering is real, but it doesn’t always look and feel as it is portrayed on TV. Love is also real, but real love doesn’t look much like we see it in the movies. Failed romantic liasons are not the same as no love existing. Love is not about enflamed emotions and emotional enslavement. The real thing is much more like a patient friendship.
Do not overvalue the suffering and sadness. Recognise it. Work toward reducing it. Part of reducing it will be about finding honest and healthy expressions of joy, laughter, playfulness, kindness, caring, and the uplifting. Don’t let the big corporations sell you the fake versions, such that you become immune to all that is good in the world. We desperately need the resilience these things can give us. We need to remind ourselves of what we are working toward. We must hold that vision, create what we can of it now, and keep expanding on it. Peace is not simply the absence of war. It’s living a life free from fear and rich in meaning and connection.
Peace and kindness,
Posted on 3 November 2014 | No responses
We tend to think of government as solely those bodies that have been elected to make laws and manage public works on a national, state, or city level. This, I believe, has been a bad error in the way people have been considering the shape of society.
Any time an institution of any sort has the right to tell you how to behave, they are a form of government. Educational, religious, military, and corporate organisations all exercise forms of government over your life. The military to this day still have their own courts of law. In the middle ages the Catholic church held courts in numerous countries and meted out punishments. They also declared war.
People pushed for democratic governments, because they felt they were a fairer, more enlightened way to manage public life. Everyone has a greater chance of having their issues represented. How decisions are made is more likely to be transparent and open to debate. You aren’t buffeted around by and in danger from the inscrutable whims of an overlord.
However, we only have such guarantees from educational, religious, military, and corporate organisations in so far as our political government exerts its power. Separation of church and state, as in the United States, does not simply ensure religious diversity and freedom. It keeps from central power institutions that are non-representative and opaque to investigation. This is why we also have separation of military and state. We should also be insisting upon separation of business and state.
We are currently having our rights and our freedoms chipped away because we have not insisted on enough democracy.
Various progressive religions do use democratic systems to make decisions: Unitarian Universalists and Hicksite Quakers come to mind. Community credit cooperatives are making a resurgence. We need to start demanding that businesses are run on a cooperative model. You then no longer need an adversarial relationship between business administration and workers’s unions. Everyone gets an equal vote. Everyone looks out for the welfare of their company and those who are making it viable. A responsible military that does its job to the highest ethical standards would be more likely if democracy occurred in that organisation as well. Universities, who are the stone and mortar for the future, need to give their students who are building that future a say in their education.
Corporate power and its abuse is the greatest danger our generation is facing. The damage being done to lives and the well-being of this planet is incalculable. Politicans need to be given budgets for their campaigns and not be allowed to accept donations of any kind. Accepting large donations gives corporate donors undue influence. We need to ensure that politicians are paid a comfortable wage after serving as representatives, so they are not tempted to make laws in favour of a future employer.
Do not take democracy lightly. It is a high value and an important means to a healthier happier world. Cynicism concerning human behaviour is dividing us and handing power to those who will give you the illusion of safety from one another while putting you in danger of tyranny. The road ahead may be long and rocky, but you have to be committed to a vision of a better world in order to make it happen. You can create circumstances where people will become kinder and more reasonable.
Peace and kindness,
Posted on 31 October 2014 | 1 response
With cooking the quality of your ingredients will determine the quality of your resulting product. Similarly in (comic) theatre you must start with good material, good direction, and good performers in order to create a good performance. I sometimes complain how hard it is to get reasonable comedic performances from actors, but I find even just a good performance can be difficult to obtain. Some of the young people I audition are smart and should be doing better. I question the training they are being given.
Right now higher education is being seriously undermined. It has been turned into a business whose sole interest is selling vocational training to as many students as possible, offering as little as possible, at as high a rate as possible. Vocational schools of dubious quality are popping up everywhere. Many lecturers are not even being offered enough teaching time to make a living. Students are being sold their dreams and not a future. So, you can find plenty of places that will teach you acting, playing the electric guitar, film-making, computer game design: all the sexy stuff. None of them have much of an entry policy in order to ensure the students who are paying them money are dedicated to their art, rather than just the idea of fame.
Acting courses have their own unique problems. You have methodologies that have more to do with machismo and hazing, than skill and mature performance. You have cinematic sleaze and theatrical snobbery. When I spent some time with university theatrical courses, I found even at that level students were not encouraged to develop sufficient depth in their understanding of stories, storytelling, and character development. I saw the need as an English major to take theatre classes to help with my with playwriting. Theatre students really should have been taking literature courses to better understand their source material and how to represent it. Both English and theatre students could do with a few courses in philosophy and psychology.
As a writer I am told to develop through travel, journaling, and personal introspection. I am expected to engage with many different types of people without judgement: rich, poor, working class, artists, young, old, ill, and more. When I write I then bring my experience and my viewpoint to bear on the problem of creating a story with complex characters and intricate plotting. I don’t have to be poor to represent poverty, but I do have to carefully and compassionately observe.
In writing I do not put on a show of emoting in order to find emotion. As a director I do not want a show of emotion. I want a living human being who out of their character and circumstances will display some emotion, anything less is fake fireworks. When writing a novel a writer frequently evokes emotion from a single gesture, a word, or even what is being observed by the character, whether it’s a painting, a flower, or a blasted landscape. For any of that to work I have to believe this person is having this emotion.
Both beginning comedians and actors frequently feel like empty jars. The label on the jar says “strawberry jam”, but I can perfectly well see they haven’t put in the strawberries, sugar, and pectin. This is where people think method acting is the answer. Get direct experience of what the character is going through. Okay, so you at least have some pectin in the jar, but that’s not the same as personal understanding or engagement with human nature. Learning to be a mature person who cares about the well-being of others, the planet, and their art will get you so much further than waving your hands about in a show of theatrical heroics.
I have to admit I despair even more deeply when it comes to screenplay writing books. The film industry is so rich and so powerful that people take anything anyone in that industry has to say as HOLY TRUTH (cue heavenly choir). They largely provide a stereotypical view of the world and encourage a very narrow range of storytelling. Actors and comedians are also encouraged to perform in ways that have more to do with how people expect a certain character to behave and what they think emotions look like.
Listen, observe, care, consider how the world fits together and what you think about that, then practise-practise-practise your performing. Get in front of people on a regular basis in a wide diversity of circumstances, whether you are paid to do so or not. These are things that will make you an actor and a comedian worthy of note. In the meantime watch this space for education opportunities that might be of more value.
Peace and kindness,
Posted on 11 October 2014 | 1 response
We often have such unrealistic expectations of ourselves and of others. This will get in the way of meaningful relationships. As soon as a person wanders out of our direct experience they often turn into symbols. We forget their humanity and in our minds they become either super or sub-human. When we forget that humanity it becomes easy to make terrible decisions which bring suffering to these people’s lives. Ultimately it ensures we will continue to experience suffering in our own lives.
Here are a few thoughts to consider about being human.
• Everyone experiences suffering, and to each person that suffering is significant, because they have to live with it.
• It is a waste of time comparing suffering. There’s a game that goes, “My suffering is greater than your suffering, so I don’t have to care about you.” This just furthers sufferings.
• You cannot wait until your life is better to start caring about others. You will always be experiencing your own suffering while reaching out to help with others.
• Helping others is an excellent way to not get overly focused on your own suffering. However, you still need to recognise when it is time to attend to your own difficulties.
• Suffering should not be required of a person to show their loyalty, to justify their art, to demonstrate what a good person they are, etc. Some people tell inspiring stories of how they have overcome suffering or have turned their suffering into something of value. Never take that as an indication that you should seek suffering in your own life, just that if it happens then you can turn it around.
• We are all so fragile and we are all so strong.
• No one is free from fallibility and vulnerability. No one. Not presidents, kings, queens, heroes, superstars, your parents, your teachers, your friends, not even you. Nor can you escape fallibility or vulnerability.
• Infallibility or invulnerability are not to be admired. To do so is to deny humanity and to stop caring. How helpful is it to judge yourself or others as weak for simply being human.
• No one person can save the whole world, nor should they. You should not expect it of yourself, nor should you expect it of others. The world is the responsibility of each and every individual.
• Be slow to put people into the too hard basket. Sometimes some people are too difficult for you to deal with in an ongoing fashion. Make sure you are creating the sort of society where they can find help, even if you personally can’t offer it. Someday you might be the person who is put into the too hard basket.
• You are human, forgive yourself. Others are human, forgive them. Life will be an ongoing exercise in forgiveness.
• Find the strength and commitment to work through the troubles in your relationships. Everyone experiences ups and downs. Everyone makes mistakes. Let temporary occasions of anger be just a moment which challenges a friendship to grow.
• Let no mistake, tragedy, or loss be seen as defining of who you are or anyone else is. Nor let mistakes, tragedies or losses be seen as the end of the world. It’s very easy to get lost in such moments and it can be very hard to pick yourself up and move on. But it is possible. Give yourself the time and compassion to realise that possibility.
• Find places where upon occasion you can confess yourself. Be someone to whom people can confess themselves upon occasion. Help is being given when a person simply and solely listens.
• Treasure every moment of light you find in your life, no matter how big or how small. Offer even the smallest moments of light to others: smile, say “thank you”, offer a little help, offer a little friendship.
Peace and kindness,
Posted on 7 October 2014 | No responses
I must warn people who seek my reviews that 9:30pm is generally my cut off hour for whether or not I will see a show. This is because, to my utter dismay, I am a morning person. The sun comes up and my eyes snap open—no matter how early. When I see a show that starts later than 9:30pm, I can’t guarantee I will stay awake, and I have to get home safely by car or train afterwards which takes about an hour and a half.
So, it was with great dedication that I found the wherewithal to mostly see Anthony Jeannot’s Unaccept-a-bubble. Yes, I had to fight through a few yawns and felt badly for doing so. After all it was a GREAT show.
Jeannot has it in him to be the next Adam Hills. His relaxed and personable style is utterly engaging. His stories have a beautiful every day charm. His upbeat take on the strangenesses of life is exquisitely relateable. He was right to start and end with his stories about bubbles, because they gave his show a great big heart.
I would like to see him engage more with his audience. If he needs to, cut a little material in order to get friendly. He’s on the verge of adding this dimension to his show and I believe he is skilled enough and amiable enough to pull it off. Perhaps less about his girlfriend and more about his family would give him the space to chat about other people’s families.
I look forward to seeing Jeannot again at Melbourne Comedy Festival. In fact before that time I would like to see him at one of Melbourne’s storytelling lounges. He is a talent worth seeking out.
More about Anthony Jeannot:
Peace and kindness,
Posted on 7 October 2014 | No responses
I have never been one of the cool kids. I have never been the one people crowd around hoping for attention. I have a few fans and a few people who respect my work. But probably like many comedians, I know what it is like to be dropped or looked over for not being cool.
However, in the comedy community we know the race doesn’t always go to the prettiest such as the Paris Hiltons and Justin Biebers of the world. Nor does it even go to the people with the most training. It goes to those with a combination of luck, talent, and persistence. Josh Thomas will never be listed as one of the world’s most attractive men, but he is the lead in a show that has been successful both in Australia and in the US. Adam Hills is attractive, but he had no training and has hosted more than one successful talk show. Character actors are in much higher demand than pretty boys and girls.
As a professional writer, actor, artist, you want to hang out with a great diversity of people to inform your work, develop as a person, and to feed your soul. Distancing yourself from some people as “losers” is a surefire way to limit your career. Worse, it can give you a bad reputation. You never know who may gain or already have prominence and can give you a hand up.
Finally, for your own humanity and the health of your own heart, open up and show some genuine kindness and loyalty to the real people in your life—to the old ones as well as the young ones, the fat ones as well as the thin ones, the ones with the quirky faces, quirky personalities, the ones who find joy in unusual places. We all need to know what it is like to be accepted without being “on” all the time. We could all do with a little loving. Find your soul first and the rest will come.
Peace and kindness,
Posted on 1 October 2014 | 1 response
In jazz there is a concept known as “soul”. A piece of music has soul when it comes from a place of authenticity: where every note is deeply felt and speaks of a person’s inner truth. Such music may not have a lot of polish, in fact sometimes polish is eschewed as not honest enough. People are impressed by skill, and given the amount of time it takes to excel in any art, respect is certainly due. But skill without heart lacks humanity.
10 Things You Can’t Do on Stage is a production with soul. Friends Caitlin Yolland and Jaklene Vukasinovic have constructed a show around the thought that as far as creativity goes…rules are made to be broken. This they do in the most charming and heartfelt manner. They chat with each other, they chat with the audience, they do several improvisations that illustrate how each of the ten “don’ts” are not hard rules. Life is bigger, messier, and more wonderful than a set of rules could ever encompass.
Yolland plays the bubbly pixie dream girl to Vukasinovic’s more measured and good-natured comic straight. Their affection for one another is genuine and it creates a lovely sense of joy as they dive into their scenes. My favourite scene of the night is when Yolland fangirls God: asking for an autograph and getting a selfie with The Almighty. Vukasinovic’s droll delivery was outright roll on the floor hilarious.
Improvisation performances frequently refer to the audience to request ideas. In 10 Things the women go further than that, actually engaging in discussion over such issues as what topics are too sensitive to put on stage. The moment is rough, but completely honest. The audience comes away feeling expanded, and more invested in the two performers as human beings.
I have to admit that I get tired of shows where the performers haven’t invested very much of themselves. Cleverness is entertaining, but one dimensional. Sadly, this happens too often in comedy and it doesn’t have to. 10 Things You Can’t Do on Stage is a good example of how to do comedy and theatre right.
Peace and kindness,