This is a guest post from TJ Dawe, a Vancouver based writer/performer/director who’s toured solo shows at more than eighty comedy and theatre festivals in the last decade and a bit. He’s got six published plays, a humour book, and his directing credits include The One Man Star Wars Trilogy, which played Off-Broadway in New York for five months. He also blogs, tweets, podcasts, and has stuff on youtube.
Want to be a working artist? All right. Are you talented? Good. Get to work.
.Malcolm Gladwell’s bestseller Outliers describes the ten thousand hours theory: to achieve mastery in any field you’ll need to put in ten thousand hours of work. To start.
But isn’t talent something you have or you don’t? Wasn’t Mozart composing masterpieces at age four? In This is Your Brain on Music author Daniel J Levitin points out that if Mozart started practicing at age two and worked thirty-two hours a week (under the watchful eye of his father, considered Europe’s greatest music teacher at the time) he’d have put in ten thousand hours by the time he was eight. John Hayes of Carnegie Mellon studied the programs of leading symphonies and found Mozart’s early works are rarely performed or recorded. His great compositions came well after he’d put in his ten thousand hours.
The documentary Hello Actors Studio has interview clips about how Anne Bancroft could rehearse any scene a director chose for a given day. She’d worked on them all on her own. Extensively. Robert Deniro did the same thing. Marlon Brando rode the subway eight hours a day, people watching, studying human behaviour.
Imdb’s trivia page for The Dark Knight says Heath Ledger hid away in a motel room for six weeks, developing the Joker’s voice, laugh and every little tic.
In the documentary Scratch, Jazzy Jay describes how he’d deejay for six or seven hours at a gig, pack up his gear, go home, set up there, and play for another six or seven hours. Night after night.
In the 70s Jerry Seinfeld performed for eighteen month periods without a single night off. Unpaid. He worked the same five minute set four, five times a night at different clubs totalling about two hundred times, preparing for his first Tonight Show appearance in 1981 (he tells these stories in the interview CD Seinfeld on Comedy). In the 80s he did his stand-up act 300 nights a year, according to the book Comedy at the Edge.
.We’re raised on stories of overnight success. We want to be the best from day one, just by showing up. We want to have fame and fortune drop into our lap. We see the finished products of great artists’ successes. We don’t see them slogging it out for years and years. But they do. They know the truth about being an artist.
Talent isn’t enough. It’s necessary, but that’s just the beginning. Get to work.
Thanks to TJ for taking the time to send this over. This information can make the difference between success and failure on a huge scale. Facebook it, Share it and let’s keep working. See you on stage!