Scene4 Magazine — Nathan Thomas
Nathan Thomas
An Artist’s Apology

"Oh, you artists are so exotic." 

"I know you start your shows at all different times, I just can't say when it is." 

"Do you really need a rehearsal the night before you open?"

[Asked the Monday night before opening:] "I see you're opening a show this week.  Have you started rehearsals yet?"  or "Have you got a cast?"

"You artists just get so emotional."

Uhhhmmmmm. . . .maybe.  Maybe you're just not thinking, and that frustrates me – as it would anyone dealing with someone who just doesn't think.

My mother was a school teacher, opening the world of books to hundreds of Brittanies and Tiffanies and Lukes and Logans.   She went to a teacher conference, and I picked her up at the airport to bring her home. As sometimes happens in a conference, a speaker gives a talk and then asks the folks in the room to split up in groups, discuss the topic, and report back to the room at large.  My mother was in a small group with an art teacher. "She kept crying," my mother said. She then asked me, "Do you think artists are just more emotional?"

More emotional than what?  I found it as an impossible question 20 years ago as I do today.  What is the normal quotient of emotion in a human being? Was the woman in my mom's group going through a divorce?  Dealing with the illness of a family member?  Some on-going personal tragedy that didn't prevent participation in a conference, but weighed on her heart and mind?  And if she did, what did that have to do with her being an artist?

Being a show person, I've always been taken aback and how I'm treated by people if they find out (or know) I'm a show person.  Like all stereo-types, the show person stereo-type is all the more puzzling when you encounter it in the well-meaning, but ignorant boob.

"Have you started rehearsals yet?" or "Do you have a cast yet?" Sometimes I get asked this a day or two before opening.  I realize that these questions are born of ignorance.  I want to make the snarky reply, "Why no.  I was figuring that we'd just draw names from a hat on the night of performance and ask people to come up and perform the complexities of human relationships found in Romeo and Juliet or The Seagull sight unseen.  They do it on "Glee" all the time.  Would you like me to make sure I call out your name?"

I would smile most pleasantly while I ask.

The most puzzling question from an administrator was the very nice person who honestly asked if we needed to have a rehearsal the night before we open a show.  She was trying to help.  Without much actual help.

"Well, why can't we just close the curtain, and we can have a concert on the front part of your set.  We could do that couldn't we?"

No, we couldn't.  I know what, let me come in at 5 pm and use your computer and your desk.  While I'm at it, I may not like where you keep your pencils in your drawer, so I'll change that.  Oh, and would you mind if I shifted around some programs on your desktop screen?  You won't be using it at the time.  It's just wasted time for your computer.

I've yet to meet a business person – particularly an executive, who would agree to let someone use their office in its "down" time.  That executive doesn't look at the theatre as a work space equivalent to an office.  I want to say, "Yes, use the theatre while we're loading in a show.  And, by the way, can I sit here and use your phone for the next two hours.  You won't be using it will you?"

"You actors are so flamboyant."

Really?  I'm sorry to disappoint the Scene4 readers who think of your loyal columnists regularly getting together in Manhattan nightspots for dirty martinis and erudite repartee.  I don't own a tux, and my velvet smoking jacket long ago developed gaping moth holes. At night I go home to my wife and my little daughter and am quite happy to do so, thanks for asking.

The biggest example of outré behavior I've ever heard about came from an insurance salesman in Indiana.  I was on the road playing a theatre in the great Midwest.  We'd performed Barefoot in the Park, and some folks from the audience wanted to buy us some post-performance beverages and chat with the actors.  So in the course of conversation this insurance salesman looks over at his wife and asks her if they'd had sex on the pool table yet. She replied, "No."  He said they'd take care of that before too long.  He then regaled us with the story of taking some business partners and etc. out on a golf outing.  According to our guy, this group of men were all a little too wound-up.  So about the 8th tee, he decided to step up to the tee buck naked (save for his shoes).  He finished by pointing out, "There's nothing like a naked man swinging a golf club to loosen up a group of guys."

I'll take his word for it.

Folks, most actors and artists I know who golf, swing their 9-iron (or whatever) without their willy swinging in the wind with them.

"Nathan, do you think artists are more emotional?"

Well, we know that a certain Speaker of the House can spring tears at the drop of a hat.  And he may be many things, but he ain't an artist.

That being said, artists are different.  That's our job.  Our job in life is see through the creative and inventive and unique prisms of our souls and communicate through our music, our paint brushes, our acting, our directing.  People who aren't artists want us to see life and relationships differently than they do so that we can decorate their walls and halls and tell them stories in their theatres.  They want us to help point the way to an understanding of the world and their lives in a way they can't do.

In return, they build buildings or roads or do banking or sell things or grow food or keep us healthy when we're sick.

In the end it's a reasonable system.  So I'll keep my snarky comebacks to myself.



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©2011 Nathan Thomas
©2011 Publication Scene4 Magazine

Nathan Thomas has earned his living as a touring actor, Artistic Director, director, stage manager, designer, composer, and pianist. He has a Ph.D. in theatre, is a member of the theatre faculty at Alvernia College and a Senior Writer and Columnist for Scene4.
For more of his commentary and articles, check the Archives


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April 2011

Scene4 Magazine - Arts and Media

April 2011

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