So glad you asked me how to spend August creatively. Believe me, if it were up to this culture, you'd be spending your time spending your money to satisfy the artificial needs they want desperately to hook you on through images of hot young people having irresistible "fun.
You've seen these images; hell, you've grown up with them. On TV, in all manner of publications, on the big screen, the computer screen, you’ve been bombarded with them:
Hotties wearing hot clothes, riding in hot cars, drinking stuff that makes you look cool (even though you're hot) wearing make-up and jewelry that other famous, hot people wear, reading cool magazines that tell you who and what's hot (and what to buy so you, too, can be hot) while watching music videos of other hot, cool, glamorous people on all kinds of i-pods and i-phones that make you want to buy their music. You get the picture.
This is why the graffiti I saw, which appears above as the title of this, has stuck with me over the years, and why its first word is "consume." But you're not a consumer, Adam, you're an artist and, therefore, by definition, a creator. Remember the old saying: "Those who can't create must either own or destroy." Your job is to enrich your soul, not the wallets of those who profit from our addiction to the new and the hot, and our fear of being not. The richer your soul, the richer the work that emanates from it, and the richer the contribution you’ll make to your audience.
So, to you, and all the actors who strive to retain their creativity in the midst of a culture which is, to quote the old hymn, "rich in things and poor in soul," I say, unhook yourself from the addiction machine and remember your ancient and noble calling: "to hold the mirror up to Nature," which, for us, is often human Nature. This constant bludgeoning of our sensibilities to see humans as hot or not damages our artist and leads us astray, towards the material and ephemeral, and away from the eternal, which is our proper food.
Rather than focusing on hot bodies and faces, we ought to feed on the beauty of that which is from forever: old couples holding hands after a lifetime together; the great care and delicacy with which the elderly hold onto one another as they cross the street; a mother with her baby; children playing; toddlers chasing pigeons; someone playing with their dog. This is our raw material, human beings being human. If we took off our earphones for one minute our ears would catch, if only for an instant, the cry of a gull, connecting us to Chekhov's Nina and reminding us that Manhattan's still, despite everything, an island.
And hang out with giants, not pygmies. Go to museums and see the work of those who've struggled with the same great task that we are charged with. See how sculptors and painters have striven over the centuries to capture the life of the human spirit. You're not alone, Adam. There's a wonderful exercise for actors wherein they choose a portrait that chooses them somehow, and they strive to become it, not just in outer form, but in creating the inner life that pours off the canvas. What a great way to escape one’s self-portraiture and the hot/not hot thing.
As for "Reproduce," I'll leave that one alone.
But "Obey," oh, yeah, let's go there for a second. Do you remember the story of "The Emperor's New Clothes?" And how nobody had the guts to tell the Emperor that he'd been scammed, and that the wonderful, expensive clothes he'd bought didn't exist? And how he'd paraded himself in his underwear in front of the whole town, just to show off his clothes, and all the grownups were too scared to tell him the truth? Except for one little child, who shouted out, as loudly as he could: "But he doesn't have any clothes on!"
We artists are that child. Or at least we should be. We should be sharp as tacks, and perceptive as hell, and not easily duped into anything. We should see beneath the surface of things and reveal the truth, not just display ourselves (which is another danger of the hot/not hot thing.) If we don't unhook ourselves from the consume machine, we'll be impotent, perceiving only new/hot, not truth. Don't just see the pretty face, look inside those eyes and see what's there. Watch the behavior. Remember what Kazan said: "Behavior is psychology made visible." Be acute observers of human nature, not leering oglers of sexy surfaces. The more acute your perception of humanity, the more acutely you'll perceive the humanity of your characters. The culture wants you unobservant, passive, sedated and distracted. Don't fall for it. Your calling requires it of you. You must be hip to the idea of your material and what your character stands for in relation to that idea. But you'll be blind, deaf and dumb to ideas if you allow yourselves to be manipulated downwards from the realm of ideas to the world of objects and people as things.
Read Tennessee Williams' wonderful poem, "The Dangerous Painters," which says that they put the masterpieces behind heavy gilt frames and red velvet ropes in museums because, if they were seen where they were painted, in the artists' studios, raw and immediate and accessible, they'd evoke the goat-like cry of "brother." But that's your job, to evoke that cry.
Remember what the Russians say: "Theatre can change people's minds."
Have a great August, Adam.