When experiencing art, it’s easy for me to forget the process that created it. I don’t think about Paul Simon’s songwriting process because I’m too busy singing “You Can Call me Al” in my car. Never mind how Monet painted those water lilies, it’s a gorgeous iconic painting so who cares? And never have I once considered what it’s like when Quentin Tarantino directs a film because oh my gosh Django’s killing all his former slave masters how awesome!
I’m not particularly artistic myself so it’s hard not to assume all artists think differently than me. They have some gift that I do not. When a musician gets in the shower they must have melodies and lyrics miraculously pop into their heads. When I’m in the shower I usually just craft a grocery list. Visual artists doodle in their notebooks in grade school and eventually go on to buy canvases and brushes and make masterpieces. I have no eye for perspective and stopped doodling in my loose-leaf margins years ago. Directors have a complete artistic vision on the first day of shooting and can control their cast and crew, while I’m too embarrassed to watch any projects from my college film classes ever again.
At my latest rehearsal with ERA, I was reminded of the difficulty in being part of a play. In the absence of the Stage Manager I was asked to help run sound and follow the script for the evening. At first I was thrilled to be an honorary crew member, but I quickly found it incredibly difficult. I had to constantly glance back and forth between the laptop screen and script and anticipate upcoming sound cues in a production I had only seen performed three or so times. As soon as I would zone out for a split second, an actor would inevitably call “Line!” I lost my place and repeatedly missed cues, entirely ruining the rhythm of certain run-throughs.
But it wasn’t just me who was struggling. Actors were supposed to be off book but kept fumbling through lines. One actor read a longer monologue from a note card, and others missed steps in the dance sequence. I remembered that most everyone in the cast and crew had been at the rehearsal longer than me and the previous few nights as well. They probably all wanted to drive home, watch TV, and go to bed.
Don’t let the finished product fool you. Creating art is a messy and unglamorous process. It doesn’t happen in an afternoon or a single sitting. It is equal parts practice and insight, hard work and talent. It’s having the patience to sit in a theater exhausted from a long day at work, maintain mental focus, learn from your mistakes, and run the same scenes over and over again until everything is just right.