by Mac Welch.
You may remember Mac from a previous T3Writes post From student to professional (pt.1!). Here he is again for part two!
About a year ago, I was an Assistant Director at Theatre Three for the production of The Manufactured Myth of Eveline Flynn. During my time, I had the privilege of writing a piece on young artists and the struggle to become an artist after school. I promised I would return and write a follow-up. Little did I know that I would be given the opportunity to come back as an actor in the upcoming production of Noises Off. So, although this is being written as a follow-up piece, it’s also now a mini-promotion for the upcoming show.
In the year that I’ve had away from Theatre Three, I’ve had the opportunity to direct my own projects, stage manage for a university production, and direct opera in Prague. I have learned a lot from every experience I’ve had, but I have also come across a wild new observation. This observation was had while in a directing class. I asked the professor, Stan Wojewodski, about the fear that one has in the room. He talked about how it never goes away, and that’s why he loves it. I wondered where that fear came from, and then he mentioned something that I had never heard: Imposter Syndrome.
Imposter Syndrome is essentially the fear that you will soon be called out for being a fraud. When in the arts, an entirely subjective practice, it is very easy for someone to claim that an artist doesn’t know what they’re talking about. But the worst part is that there is only so much that an artist can say in return, because we all only know so much. One can say that they have been practicing for so long, or that they have been studying a magical new form that is transformative, or whatever. At the end of the day, August Wilson wrote his first hit at 34 and Shakespeare wrote his at 24. It’s all very up in the air. Especially when plays are written out of necessity, rather than practice, they are bound to create a drastically different product than someone writing in a university setting.
My problem, however, is not with the fear of being called out in the room, it’s the conversation I have with myself either on the way to or from rehearsals. I have struggled with thoughts of “Am I good enough?”, but also “Should I be trusted with the power to tell others what to believe?”. This predicament is not only one had by directors, but every artist. We do an extremely vulnerable thing, and it comes with the fear of responsibility. Our artistic responsibilities are public, vague, and intricate.
My advice on this matter, after discussing it extensively with my girlfriend and fellow students, is that everyone has a place in theatre. It is perfectly valid to have second thoughts about the importance or message of a specific piece you make, but to have second thoughts about our importance as artists is death. If we second guess, we drown. If we forget why we do it, we get left behind. We must continue to create and lift each other up, because none of us totally know what we’re doing.
Another element of this problem is the audience. There are plenty of people that think that if the audience resonates with it, then it is correct. This raises a very interesting question: are we held captive to the limits the audience places on us, or are we supposed to make our own content and let the audience take what they will? Is an imposter validated by the acceptance of the masses, or does validity rest in personal success? Should validity ever be a concern at all?
Ideally, no one has to worry about the approval of anyone, because imposter syndrome is only in the eye of the beholder. Judging should be left to the audience, not the artist. It is our responsibility to collaborate and help each other make the best stuff we can. That is not to say there shouldn’t be conflict, because that is where the best art is born; that’s collaboration. But there does need to be a celebration that is paired with a life in theatre, rather than an apology.
These all seem like separate issues, but they really aren’t. It all stems from the same toxicity: Imposter Syndrome.
I’ll leave you with this. I was getting very frustrated about something I was doing in acting class and I eventually exclaimed, “I don’t know! Is it okay that I just don’t know? Because either everyone around me is smarter than I am and I am missing some magical piece of information, or everyone is acting like they know everything. I’m tired of all of us acting like we know everything”. To which my professor answered, “I’ve been trying to figure that out my whole life, and I regret to inform you: it’s the latter”.