When I think of all those who participated – actors, students, industry, audience members, producers, directors, writers, tech, staff – and the energy and creativity that they brought forth, I also think about what motivates people to do what they do.
This past week we had our annual holiday show to benefit Toys for Tots. We’ve been putting on this show for more than 15 years, and it always seems to be one of the most enjoyable experiences for all participants. This year we had over 30 people involved, including 12 actors, 11 writers, 5 directors, 2 artistic directors, and staff and crew. With only a few weeks to put up the production, and so many creative people at play, it could be a recipe for disaster. Yet season after season this show is one of the highlights of the year, and I wondered why?
The show is a Toys for Tots benefit – started 16 years ago as a party with music and food by my colleague and friend, Chris Fletcher – and it’s changed and evolved each year. For several years it involved our own AWS writers, workshopping pieces for the actors in our classes. Then we invited outside writers, directors, and actors to join us as guests.
It’s grown. It involves the input and guidance of several more creative people than in a typical production, since we use many writers and directors to get the show off the ground. We normally have a very short window, limited rehearsal, and heavy time constraints, but it always seems to come together beautifully. Is it because it’s the holidays and people are celebrating? At first I thought that was the case, but it’s the busiest time of the year, and people are typically the least available, most pressured, and often under great stress. So why do these shows succeed?
This year it hit me: it’s because, for each participant, the show is not about them. Everyone who joins in this venture enters in the spirit of giving, celebrating, expressing our gratitude, talent, and donating to a cause that is bigger than us. We dedicate the show and donate our time, talent, and proceeds to Toys for Tots, so some underprivileged children can have a better holiday. It’s our chance to offer a small effort to make the world a slightly better place for just a few people. When approached in this spirit, it seems the participants are more cooperative and generous; they take more risks, and go for it, because it’s not about them. It’s about something else, something bigger.
What a lesson to learn! We take the focus off ourselves, if only momentarily, and give it to something greater. So many of the actors came up to me after the show and asked, “Did we do well at the box? Did we get a lot of donations?” rather than the typical “How was I?” that usually follows a performance. Yet the performances, especially this year, were exceptionally free, fresh, and powerful.
The actors weren’t just thinking about themselves, and isn’t that what acting is ultimately about? Giving – expressing our truths though characters to affect humanity, and stimulate thoughts, feelings, and emotions in an eager audience…
As we go into the holiday season and the new year ahead, I ponder on this and wonder how I can keep and inspire this same spirit of giving, serving, and freedom. Actors, I invite you to take a look at your purpose and ask the big questions? Why are you doing this work? Where are you coming from in your work? What is ultimately in it for you and for others? These are things upon which to contemplate and meditate as you close another year.