Looking for Genius

einstein460x27660 days into my acting training in England and I feel a resistance. This is a technical-type of training. An architect has to have spent some time in his life learning basic geometry; and likewise, an actor has to put some time in to learning to pronounce consonants. When you are learning to hit “t” sounds and “p” sounds there is (it seems to me) a right and wrong way to do it. In learning these “basics” everything becomes much more individual, introverted, and about yourself which seems antithetical to what an actor is supposed to ultimately accomplish; a connection to the audience. Thusly, this type of focus on the technical, which requires everyone to gage their own progress individually, has eliminated, at least for the time being, any sense of ensemble and has created a kind of backlash where the line between “good” and “bad” is thick, black, and very clear. What should be a community of actors working together and supporting each other has turned in to an environment of critique and judgment. You can tell someone that they didn’t pronounce the “t – h” sound in the word “thee” and that could be a fact. But when you say that woman’s “Lady Anne” was bad . . . that’s an opinion. Is it this new focus on technicality that has created this environment of right and wrong? Maybe. So in an attempt to rid my fellow actors of judgmental mind, and infuse our creative space with some much needed positivism . . . I contemplate the notion of genius . . .
Criticism, when thought out and articulated in a constructive way, is wonderful. Sometimes I feel as though people have opinions or aversions to someone or something without any thought or reason behind them. I’m thinking of that old adage “opinions are like assholes . . .” I spent an entire dinner conversation with my fellow actors all on the subject of other actors that they thought were “shit.” It wasn’t long in to the dinner conversation that every comment seemed to be a different version of the same thing and were neither constructive nor interesting; “I don’t like her,” “I think she’s awful.” “I really don’t know why she was cast!” “I can’t believe she got an Oscar,” etc. etc. I fell silent during almost the entire dinner and felt thoroughly exhausted after the meal was through.
In the Oxford English dictionary genius described as “exceptional natural ability.” That’s all? That’s what it means to be a genius? I was surprised by this. I thought being a genius was . . . I don’t know . . . a more rare and special thing.
I was on the train back from London where I saw a production of Death and The Maiden with the amazing actor (dare I say genius) Anthony Sher, and it all became clear to me. While my I-pod was on shuffle a section of Wayne Dyer’s Power of Intention came on (right after Puccini and Smashing Pumpkins) and he started talking about “finding genius.” He claims that we are all geniuses in our own right. He talks about his one daughter who is a genius at singing, and then his other daughter, who is also a genius with the way she interacts with horses. Within a few minutes you really start to buy his premise. I began to think about my family; My Dad who is a genius with numbers, and my brother who is a genius with a golf club, and my sister who is a genius with children and my Mom who is a genius at helping others; And what about my aunt who is a genius at buying shoes and my best friend who is a genius at picking the best wine. I started to look at all the other actors I’ve come to know here in England. While some of them are not technically great at pronouncing consonants yet, they all have their moment of genius that is unique to them. Come to think of it . . . everyone I know is a genius in his or her own right and that is precisely the point. WD talks about the reason people get afraid, jealous, depressed, or judgmental is because somewhere along the way they have forgotten their own inherent genius. It is our duty as human beings and especially as actors and artists to look for the genius in others. And the people who seem to have momentarily forgotten, it is our duty, our job, to remind them. When you think about it . . . the amazing people in your life; be it a family member, a teacher, a girlfriend, a director, a mentor, a therapist do exactly that: They help to remind you of your exceptional natural ability. While others might choose to criticize or judge someone’s performance, whether it is an Oscar winning performance or on a stage graced by the students from The Old Vic Theatre School, I will choose to be constructive and ultimately look for the genius in their attempt. If you haven’t today, make sure you look for the genius in someone that means something to you . . . and don’t forget to tell them. We all need a reminder from time to time.