‘What’s the rush?”
My acting teacher Kate quickly responds to my request for her help in putting together an audition tape to send to talent agents.
It’s pilot season. I watch all my classmates scurry off to auditions and I am envious that I am not alongside. I want to work. I need a job. I want an acting job. It’s been six months since I graduated university. Student loan officers are contacting me. I’m paying interest on my line of credit. My mom is supporting me. I don’t want to work in a restaurant.
“There’s no rush,” I say to hide my sinking heart.
Kate apparently senses my discouragement.
“Give yourself time to evolve Ã‰ you don’t want to get an agent for the sake of it, and be sent out for auditions not ready,” she said.
After a couple days, I am struck by the sober reality that I’m no genius, no Meryl Streep. I won’t be phoning home to Teslin declaring, “turn on the television” anytime soon.
A friend of mine, an incredible actor, told me in the beginning of his career he rushed the process of signing with an agent. As a result, he damaged his reputation.
“It took a long time for casting directors to change their impression of my talent and my professionalism,” he warned.
I consider myself a late bloomer in terms of discovering the gravity of my passion for acting. In high school, I was too busy drinking, smoking and producing personal drama to be concerned with theatrical drama. I decided to study acting in my fourth year of my communications degree.
I envy my 16- and 18-year-old classmates whose natural impulses are remarkably sharp. I would be a great actor, too, if I had started at birth.
I constantly ask myself whether it’s too late. Where does this obsession with youth and talent come from?
In an October 20 article in the New Yorker, under a column titled The Annals of Culture, Malcolm Gladwell brought up a good question: “Why do we equate genius with precocity?”
Bartleby.com says precocious is: “1) Characterized by unusually early development or maturity, especially in mental aptitudeÃ‰ 2) Botany. Blossoming before the appearance of leaves.”
“Genius, in the popular conception, is inextricably tied up with precocity – doing something truly creative, we’re inclined to think, requires the freshness and exuberance and energy of youth,” said Gladwell.
He gave examples such as Picasso, who produced a masterpiece Evocation: Burial of Casagemas at age 20; T.S. Eliot wrote the famous poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock at 23 and Orson Wells who wrote Citizen Kane at 25. Mozart wrote Piano Concert No.9 at the age of 21 and Mary Shelley finished writing Frankenstein at 19.
According to Gladwell, there are many stories to demonstrate that the emergence of talent is not age related.
For example, Mark Twain’s genius didn’t appear as sudden bursts of youthful ingenuity. He was 49 when he produced the adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Literary critic Franklin Roger said about Twain: “His routine procedure seems to have been to start a novel with some structural plan, which ordinarily soon proved defective.” Twain would search for a new plot, “which would overcome the difficulty, rewrite what he had already written, and then push on until some new defect forced him to repeat the process again.”
Twain revised, despaired and gave up on Huckleberry Finn so many times that the book took him nearly a decade to complete.
Gladwell revealed that Alfred Hitchcock made Dial for Murder, Rear Window, To Catch a Thief, The Trouble with Harry, Vertigo, North by Northwest and Psycho between his 54th and 61st birthdays.
Gladwell established that late bloomers happen not because of a defect in character, but because their creative juices flow through a process of trial and error, which often takes years to come to fruitation.
On the other hand, prodigies such as Picasso rarely engaged in open-ended exploration. Picasso once said in an interview with the artist Marius de Zayas: “In my opinion, to search means nothing in painting. To find is the thing.
“The several manners I have used in my art must not be considered as an evolution or as steps toward an unknown ideal of painting Ã‰ I have never made trials or experiments.”
For the late bloomer, exploration is an important part of development of their craft. Every work leads to the next, and none is generally favored over the other. Late bloomers typically believe that learning is a more important goal Ã‰ and they build their skill gradually over the course of their careers, improving their work over long periods.
Gladwell said that the pursuit of great achievement for the late bloomer will look a lot like failure. Late bloomers require forbearance and blind faith as they are revising, despairing and developing.
In Respect for Acting Uta Hagen wrote, “Children do drown. And not all actors develop by mere physical presence on a stage Ã‰ (or in front of a camera.)”
The belief an actor’s training comes from presence on a stage is akin to the sink-or-swim method of introducing a child to water, she said, but confessed that she used to accept opinions such as, “You’re just born to be an actor Ã‰ actor’s don’t really know what they’re doing on stage Ã‰ acting is instinct – it can’t be taught.”
“(An actor) must learn that, until he (or she ) is ready, (they’re) doing the same destructive thing to themselves and the role Ã‰ that a pop singer with an untrained voice (does) with a Bach cantata,” she said.
In today’s market, a late bloomer’s success is highly dependent on the support of others said Gladwell. “Sometimes genius is anything but rarified; sometimes it’s just the thing that emerges after 20 years of working at your kitchen table.”
If you are a creative mind that starts without a plan, and has to experiment and learn by doing, you need someone to see you through the long and difficult time it takes for your art to reach its true potential, Gladwell said.
With guidance from professionals, teachers, and my own intuition, I am praying I will know when I am ready to get an agent.
In the meantime, I am bombarded by letters from student loan officers and am opening up to the prospects of seeking a day job Ã‰ reluctantly.
Ashley Hunking grew up in Teslin. She is now a freelance writer and actor who lives in Vancouver.