theatre

Are you an Artist?

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Artist (n): someone who creates things with great skill and imagination.

Why did you start performing? What's your reason for continuing? 

Was it the rush of adrenaline that swept through every part of your being after being on stage, leaving you with an addicting high? So much so that like a drug, you had to keep going back for more for fear of getting withdrawals?

Is it the desire to feel wanted? Does it give you something that your life outside of performing can't give you? Does the glorification of your creativity and seeing people appreciate you and your art fuel your ego?

Is it a cathartic way to heal your wounds? Is it a way for you to escape the real world, your troubles, your anxieties and inhabit another's world?

Or, was it the fulfillment of unleashing your thoughts, emotions, imagination or life story through your art? The unwavering, persistent need to create and curate art, all for the sake of creative fulfillment?

Or all or part of the above?

Personally, it's a way for me to process my wounds, escape as well as a medium for me to unleash my thoughts, feelings, emotions, etc through my art. The unrelenting need to create. Theatre is, in part, therapy for me. It has been since the I was young. I may write a blog on that at some point. I have discussed it briefly in a few media interviews. But, when I feel it's the right time, I'll divulge a little more as to why theatre and creating art is therapudic for me.

The reason I decided to write this blog is because of a conversation I had with a fellow artist while I was filming earlier this week. For those who haven't been following my Instagram or Facebook stories, I was on set last week for a TV show (I can't divulge what yet but I will later in the year) and I was chatting with one of the performers back stage as we were getting into make-up/costume. This particular performer works full time as a performer (which is pretty rare in NZ) and we chatted about his background and skimmed over the milestones that allowed him to get to the place he is at now. He corrected me when I referred to him as an actor, he said "no, I am an artist". 

David Bowie. Artist Unknown.

David Bowie. Artist Unknown.

I stopped to think about this for a second. It resonated with me. I apologized and rectified my statement. We then got talking about why we are artists and not just actors or performers. 

Basically, what we discussed was the following. An artist has an undying need to create. Let's look at it this way: An artist, despite their profession, whether they're an actor/actress, dancer, singer, comedian, etc will find ways outside the conventional or given circumstances to make art. They may take on roles handed to them and have the ability to be creative in the way they flesh them out, but they also make a priority of creating their own projects, collaborating with other artists (often from other creative professions) to further extend their creative abilities and do not limit themselves to what is handed to them. They want to make art, for whatever personal or impersonal reasons that may be. The need is great and overwhelming and once one project is done, another must take it's place or the artist will feel unfulfilled. 

Artists are the ones who don't wait for a circumstance that art can be projected into to present itself. They're ambitious, they've got a go-getter attitude and will unwaveringly follow their desire and need to bring fourth their thoughts, feelings, manifestations into a real, tangible thing. 

The other important thing about artists is this. Artists are true to themselves. Yes, we've all had to sell our soul to the man every once in a while, creating acts or doing something which doesn't spark our creative soul for the sake of money, for example. BUT, the majority of the time (especially for personal projects) the artist will create something for themselves and a manner that is true to their style, taste, etc.

Lady Gaga. Art from Twitter @MusicNotDaBling

Lady Gaga. Art from Twitter @MusicNotDaBling

Yes, yes... it is important to consider your audience, as dependent on whether a piece is a film piece, or a performance piece, you need to keep in mind the demographic, whether it aligns with your brand, etc. BUT... your art should represent you and come from your heart. You can always tell a superficial act from one lead from the inner musings of the creative mind.

When people come to watch an act, they want two things: to be entertained and to be moved. Aligning with the principles of Stanislavsky (see my previous blog post on this here) if the artist feels the emotion and thinks the thoughts truthfully, the audience will feel it. If the artist feels joy, truly feels it, so will their audience. An example - we all know that one person who is like a dead weight when they walk into the room, a "Negative Nancy", per say. The negativity of the person will flow through the room like smoke, circling and winding it's way through the room from the ground up until all are consumed by it. We're emotive beings, and we have this incredible ability to feel. We can flip this on it's head and like the "Negative Nancy" we all have that friend who is full of energy and radiates happiness. It's like their very presence ignites a spark of positivity and lightness to anyone within a 6m radius. These types of people are consumed by their emotions, whether positive or negative, and we can feel it. The same goes for when you're on stage. Bottom line, if you're emotionally connected to what your performing, whether it be pure joy of loving being in the moment, or whether it's emotion attached to a political statement, message, etc you're trying to get across, so long as it's conveyed in a way the audience can process and understand it, they'll feel it and get it. 

Marina Abramović. Performing her public performance art piece 'Rhythm 0' in 1974. Photographer unknown.

Marina Abramović. Performing her public performance art piece 'Rhythm 0' in 1974. Photographer unknown.

The other very important defining factor in being an artist is this. The artist is in a state of constant change. They evolve, develop and grow. They allow themselves to be fluid and non conforming. They do not put a full stop at the end of their creativity. Yes, they may close the book on a project, but they'll be in relentless pursuit of the next one. An example is Lady Gaga. From when Gaga first debuted on the scene (note: she was performing LONG before we all knew of her in the mainstream) to now, she's gone through significant changes, which we can see with every album released. The "Born this Way" era, the current "Joanne" era, etc. Be sure to watch her documentary about creating her album "Joanne" called 'Five Foot Two" (see the trailer here). Bowie is another excellent example - who, like Gaga, transformed it seemed thoughout the progession of his musical journey, The "Mod" stage, the "Ziggy Stardust" era, the "Aladdin Sane" era, the "Diamond Dogs" era, etc. Another person is Christina Aguilera (see this video about her upcoming album here - it's truthful and pulls at the heart strings because you can hear it's sincerity). Another artist who I have huge admiration for his Marina Abramović. The true definition of performance artist. Her most incredible piece of art I have studied is her public performance of her work 'Rhythm 0' in 1974, which you can see pictured above. If you do not know her, please go and Google her now.

Now, another note. No artists are the same. Some go through rapid changes and some may only evolve once. You cannot compare your journey as an artist to anyone else. It's like life - if we went around comparing ourselves to everyone, we'd get a bit depressed, wouldn't we? Your journey, your path is your own. So long as you are being true to what you feel you need to express and your vision, that's what matters. 

Are you an artist?

Character vs. Persona

Lilly Loca as her original drag king character, Gary Krumbert. Photo taken by Peter Jennings.

Lilly Loca as her original drag king character, Gary Krumbert. Photo taken by Peter Jennings.

Character (n): 

1. the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual.

2. a person in a novel, play, or film.

Persona (n): 

1. the aspect of someone's character that is presented to or perceived by others e.g. "their burlesque persona" 

 

I've often heard performers getting confused as to how to classify themselves - is who they are when they perform burlesque a character or a persona? To me, when people get it wrong, it irks me. Why? Well, because having performed in theatre and acting most of my life until 8 years ago when I first dipped my toes into the sparkly waters of burlesque, I was very much involved in character-based roles. I still am, and very much incorporate it into my burlesque career, but how I perceive a character may be a bit different to someone else who possibly doesn't have a theatrical background. I can't expect to get frustrated if someone is just a bit naive and thinks characters and personas are the same deal. So - I'm going to clear it all up for you! 

Important Note:

There is absolutely nothing wrong with having either a character, persona or both! It's just important to get it right when selling yourself to a client or producer. If people sell themselves as a roving character, yet when push comes to shove, the "character" isn't fully formed, and when hit with questions from people your interacting with while in role like "So, who is your father?" and you can't answer it - that character isn't developed and you've essentially promoted yourself as being someone you aren't. If you're a persona, you are you, just an adapted version of you, so audience members aren't going to expect a fully developed, three dimensional back story apart from your very own! 

Character - How do I know if they are one?

As stated above, a character has the mental and moral qualities of an individual. Basically, this means your character should have a backstory. Here's a checklist of how you can figure out whether you have a character or a persona:

  1. Do they have a distinct name (that is separate from yourself)?
  2. Do they have distinct personality traits which act as a basis for all of their actions, reactions, conversations, etc?
  3. Do they have a particular way they physicality hold themselves (i.e. they are confident, so walk with a proud chest, tall stature and moderate tension)?
  4. When you are them, do you find that you fall into their mindset and let them drive the way you act, react, perform, interact, etc?
  5. Can you imagine a backstory for them? Do they have a family? what's their favorite colour? Are they married? Do they like seafood? 
  6. Do they have any particular quirks (i.e. allergies, a twitchy left eye, a distinct dislike for physical contact)? 

If you've answered 3 or more of these with "yes" - you've probably got yourself a character. If you've answered more with "no" or "I'm not sure", then it's probably safe to say you've got yourself a persona.

How do I develop a character?

So - how to develop your character (if you have one)? There are various character profiles you can download from Google - I've got them for all my drag king characters Jethro, Gary and Santago. I know everything about them from what high school they went to (or didn't) to what their preference in food is. It is fundamental if you're creating a character to have a well rounded, fleshed out, 3D one - especially if you're roving. Why? Because their history, personality, quirks and life experiences will be a huge influence on how they interact with people and the kinds of acts you'll come up with for them. Just like if you have a persona - the acts you create for your onstage persona are inspired and influenced by your own life! Same needs to happen with a character. 

Case Study - Me, Lilly and Gary.

Lilly Loca. Photo taken by Studio81.

Lilly Loca. Photo taken by Studio81.

To use myself as a case study, I'll take one of my characters Gary Krumbert and my onstage burlesque persona Lilly Loca as examples. Gary is a fully fleshed out, 3D character. He has his backstory, he in himself is a person. I am not me when I am him. I am fully, 100% in role as Gary. However I react to a situation in role as him, I instinctively know what to do and how to react because I know him so well as know his backstory well enough to be able to conduct myself accordingly. With Lilly - essentially, Lilly Loca is me. She is me, I am her. Lilly Loca is a stage name I fashioned myself to separate Nat Hugill, the mother, wife, theatre actress, producer among other things from Lilly Loca - the bawdy, silver tongued burlesque entertainer and MC. To complicate matters further, I say I'm Lilly Loca performing as Gary Krumbert, Jethro Jenkins, Santago Montego, etc. Why? Because I use my name Lilly Loca as an umbrella for all things burlesque - and if I want people to find me, or remember me, I need to link my characters to the name I go by in the burlesque industry. Weird, I know - but otherwise people think Gary is someone who isn't me - you have no idea how many times I've heard people say "OH YOU'RE GARY?!!! I WOULD HAVE NEVER KNOWN HAD YOU NOT TOLD ME!".

To complicate things further...

Lilly Loca as Absolem. Photo taken by Bruce Jenkins Photographer.

Lilly Loca as Absolem. Photo taken by Bruce Jenkins Photographer.

You can be in role in your persona. Yep - now, there's a BIG difference here between being in character or playing a role as your persona. Again, I'll use myself as a case study. 

So, as explained before, I, Lilly, am a persona. I am essentially Nat with a jazzy name. Lilly is my mask, my facade, but underneath it all, it's still Nat. 

As Lilly, I sometimes take on a role for a particular act. This is to say, they're not a character as they're not fully fleshed out or a person in their own right, it's me as Lilly taking on characteristics of a particular character to help achieve a particular emotion, feel, look, etc. Pretty much it's performer inception, haha! 

When I perform my Absolem routine - the routine is inspired by the character of Absolem from the famed Alice in Wonderland books. However I am not the character of Absolem. I take on qualities of Absolems character as Lilly to help the audience understand that the act is in homage to this character and helps them to understand the metamorphosis I go through in my routine from caterpillar to butterfly. It's like if a performer was to perform a snake inspired act - they'd take on qualities of a snake to convince the audience that that's what their doing (i.e. use fluid, snake-like movements when performing, use glaring eye contact, etc) but they in themselves are not the character of a snake. On stage, they personify the characters traits, but offstage when people chat to the audience, they're themselves, not in role. See what I mean? That's where it all get's a bit confusing. 

So, if you're ever in doubt as to whether you are a character, persona or a persona donning qualities of a character but aren't in themselves a character, read all of the above and ask yourself those questions to determine it. 

I hope this has been an insightful read for you!

Next blog: Goals of 2018 + review of my 2017 goals