Sunday, July 20, 2014

An Artist On Hold


I spent the past week fully immersed in the world of tap dance. I was offered a job as an assistant registrar for the New York City Tap Festival several months ago and agreed to take the position out of a unique combination of love and financial necessity. I entered the week expecting to enjoy myself. I also expected not to have time to go through my usual actor motions: submitting for auditions, waiting on line for open calls, etc. This would be a week where I would work in the presence of art to finance my life, but I would place myself as an artist on hold—or so I thought.

The week itself was a roller coaster ride. Some days I found myself buried in administrative problems; on others, I was without much work at all, albeit responsible for making sure things were running smoothly. While I am an avid tap dancer myself, my duties as assistant registrar left me unable to take any classes, leaving most of my days at the dance festival devoid of any dancing! I was, however, able to see each evening’s show, and I was especially struck by one performance.

As a part of Thursday’s show, Tap & Song, tapper Kazu Kumagai offered a piece to Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are a-Changin’. I was floored. I had anticipated to be wowed by his technical precision, but I found his piece amazing and inspiring for a totally unexpected reason. Armed with little more than his feet, two musicians and Dylan’s powerful lyrics, Kumagai told a story. He walked onstage and began to speak with his feet, and He seemed to have an incredibly clear idea of what he was saying and I, from the back of the balcony, was able to hear him.

I was reminded how very simple storytelling can be. In an age where there is so much pressure to provide spectacle (and production costs seem to be forever on the rise), it is refreshing to see art that strives just to communicate an idea. It seemed as though Kumagai knew the truth of what he was saying and then said it, and with only that, it reached out and touched me as a member of the audience.

In the middle of a work-week where I expected to find little that would inspire me as an actor, I saw an element of storytelling illuminated that will change the choices I make in my own artistic career. The experience also reminded me that all art, not just theatre, can influence our lives and our work as actors.

Most importantly, I was reminded that, even amidst the freelancing/temping/money-finding aspects of this career, growth as an actor will never cease. An artist on hold is impossible.