Dean's Blog

Jun
01

The Choice to Be Creative

For this entry, Sarah and I wanted to do something completely different … it’s a candid interview about picking a career in the arts.

Sarah: What made you want to make performing a career?
Dean: I value expertise. I value doing the best job that you can do. And the opportunity to perform as a career was a perfect fit for me. And I really like to work with people who are striving for expertise, even when that expertise is not quantifiable at all. I wanted to play with those kinds of people.

S: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in this career path?
D: Since I’ve always been an artist who has had a hand in the business side of my art, it requires a different hat, using a different side of your brain. You need to move from the left side of your brain, where you’re dealing with the quantifiable, to the right side of the brain, which deals with freedom and color and flow; and the non-quantifiable.

S: How do you deal with the disappointment that inevitably comes along with any career path?
D: There’s a fine line between analyzing something to death and going into a very closed place, and flagrantly just saying, “whatever!” and moving on. When somebody offers up something that’s frustrating or appears to be negatively judgmental, you can only stick with it and adjust what you’re doing to a certain extent. And then make sure you stick with your own truth. It’s the same as when people are saying great, great, great things. It’s just their opinion. You just have to keep moving forward. Quite frankly, that’s hard for me right now. The amount of work this career is taking has put a stop to me, creatively. I’m at the point where I need to make creative choices, even if those choices are frightening to me.

I recently watched a video of a talk that John Cleese gave about creativity. He talked about the importance of being in an “open” state when you’re addressing a problem and then transitioning to a “closed” state once you’ve come up with a solution. And that’s what I’m working to do right now. (You can watch the John Cleese talk at the bottom of this post. It’s absolutely worth the 36 minutes.)

S: How would you describe your experiences to someone who has no experience in this industry?
D: To those people who want to be performers, I really have found this piece of advice most helpful: if you can be anything else, go ahead and do that. Because this is really hard. Emotionally, financially, even physically. There is a lot of rejection, a lot of uncertainty and a lot of days where even the most successful performers want to throw in the towel and say, “Enough. I can’t do this.”

But for those in the audience, I’m just so grateful for every experience I’ve had to bring someone else’s material to life. It’s such an incredible honor. I truly feel that people underestimate what’s required of artists and I think that artists underestimate what’s required of them. I think that’s why art is undervalued. I was watching an interview with Cory Booker, Mayor of New Jersey, and he said that this country needs poets to help enliven our sense of creativity so we can look at the challenges around us with a creative eye.

That’s one of the reasons why you need to go to live theatre, to live performances and watch and read art because it changes the way you look at problems. It allows you to leap and create new things. And when we stop honoring this art as part of our educational system, that’s when we’re really putting our culture and our country at peril. And I don’t mean that to create fear; I just think it’s a remarkably naïve standpoint to take, to only focus on that which is quantifiable.

It’s not just in the performing arts. Even in math and science, there is art and imagination but you develop that side of the brain through art and it translates.

S: What do you find most rewarding about this line of work?
D: The most rewarding part is when I’m immersed in the work and the room has people who are being introduced to the work for the first time. And in that moment of creativity where there is initiation by the artist and response by the audience, it’s a truly deep form of communication and it is electric. It requires something of the artist onstage but it also requires something of the audience. They need to let the quantifiable drop away. The more you resist the art as an audience, the less you’ll experience it. We need willing suspension of disbelief. And that’s how we can become part of the art.

And here, as promised, is the John Cleese speech. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself a little more open after watching it. Or, at the very least, telling a lot of “lightbulb” jokes.

6 comments

  1. Marianne says:

    Very thought provoking piece particularly the section that seemingly advises against entering the artistic field “if you can be anything else go ahead and do that.” Perhaps the operative word is “if” which is very loaded with “road not taken” philosophy. I hear many teachers today tell the young ones who want to enter education to find something else to do and I recognize where that advice is coming from, however……
    I also am intrigued by the focus on communication between artist and audience; something that is seldom discussed when seeing a show, watching a movie, attending an art exhibit, listening to a symphony, stomping at a Flogging Molly concert, watching the Joffrey, seeing Second City and so on. Maybe I am missing something here, but if one is in an audience, hasn’t that person’s very presence dictated that there is no resistance to the art being presented? I would be interested in a dialogue about this communication…….about the prior knowledge that is essential for an audience to bring to an artistic event, about the open mind needed to accept something like Maplethorpe’s Piss Christ (or at least to try to come to grips with it.)
    When I saw three shows in NYC , each was wildly different from the other, however, the audience communication was absolute at Death of a Salesman, Newsies, and End of the Rainbow. I can not imagine audience and performers being any more intimately connected and the connection really had little to do with “quality”……to wit, Newsies, despite is great dancing, is a derivative piece of fluff yet everyone in that theatre was on board with that cast. So when you speak of this communication, I am looking for more specificity from your experience to illuminate the thought because the thought is very significant. It harkens back to Russ Weatherford’s comments about The War Horse. The man was genuinely moved to hector, plead, and reason with a stranger to see that play because it is “what theatre is.” Maybe. Maybe not.
    Thought-provoking!
    mrm

  2. Dean says:

    Thanks for the response, Marianne. My ideas about following your passion are certainly evolving. But, yes, I would love to see — in my heart of hearts — actors, singers, dancers, teachers, anyone following their passion in their careers. The problem that I’ve had throughout my career is that, as my family can tell you, I’m happiest when I’m on stage. I love the feeling, the fun, the challenge. My issue — and pardon me for being personally honest in a public forum — is that in the arts (as in other professions, but mine is the arts), it often feels like pushing a stone up a mountain. I find that resistance to be — over time — painful. And, that’s why I think that one should follow their “bliss” and not embrace activities that are painful (i.e. rejection, resistance). Doing the actual creation of the art is challenging enough … dealing with the multiple instances of resistance can be quite painful. But, you might ask, “Do you want everything to be easy and effortless?” No. I actually find that sometimes the resistance can point out “what you don’t want.” And that’s helpful.

    I love how you can very off-hand list the amazing pieces of art that you regularly seek out in life. You are amazing!

    Resistance from an audience. I went to an event with some colleagues years ago. Some wanted to be there, some didn’t — spouses, mainly — everyone had varying degrees of openness to the event. Those varying degrees translate into the soup of response that is the audience. The audience takes on a “collective consciousness” and almost becomes one voice. It is fascinating — and an honor — to be on stage with an audience. But, yes, when I look into people’s eyes in the audience you can see those who are so present and excited, some who would like to hide, and some every once in a while, those who are not open to the event.

    When I did the Dissertation piece in Palm Dessert the audience was polled afterward and the responses were amazingly interesting. Not everyone is open to any particular type of entertainment. I believe that each and every piece of entertainment doesn’t have to “change your life.”

    Because I go into the audience during my regular concerts I get to actually “shake hands” with the audience and look directly in their eyes. Since — when I’m doing that — I’m simply being the “Dean Regan Performer” person and not a character, I am able to interact honestly with the people I look at. It is amazing. However, it’s not the resistance of the audience in the theatre that I find provoking. If there is resistance there, it is shades of grey type resistance. The resistance that is currently my focus is the actual amount of work it takes to produce and promote and book artistic work.

    Please forgive me as I am very honored and grateful to be an entertainer. It is my passion. But, it can also be — quite frankly — a pain in the neck to do all that needs to be done to present the art. And, as I am human, that’s what’s going on for me this week.

    Quickly a thought about this blogging. I spend a lot of time promoting my work through marketing: evocative pictures and text; newsletters, e-mails, videos (don’t get me started on the process of creating a promotional video!), showcase application (another topic that I’m going to avoid her), agents. The idea of this blog is a bit more personal — and to me — highly dangerous. But, I’m embracing it. And I THANK YOU for participating.

    Let me know your thoughts. I know mine are not “right” or “wrong” and they are changeable, but because of your response, Marianne, I am getting to spend a bit more time pondering my place in this world as an artist and a businessman.

    You remain a treasure in my life and in my blog.

  3. Marianne says:

    Your response has certainly clarified a great deal. It is about being on the stage (“That’s where I live”-Fanny Brice) and that which is an obstacle, a roadblock or a push aside makes the entire enterprise difficult to impossible. Particularly over years. Last night I went to a Blues Concert …Eddie Shaw (once played with Muddy Waters) and his band performed. A 13 year old boy who happened to be the opening act for Shaw, late into the concert, walked up to the stage and asked Shaw if he could play with the band. Shaw agreed and there was this kid jamming with Blues professionals. Could it be that easy? Will it always be that easy? It took my breath away and I thought about your incisive phrase regarding the collective consciousness of the audience and the reality that not everyone is open to a particular kind of entertainment. So often our thoughts focus only on the stage, forgetting that the audience is a significant part of the package. I just had never thought about that.
    Your blog makes a terrific platform for understanding, appreciating, and coming to know artists and the arts so thank you for being willing to put in the time to make the dialogue happen. It matters more than you may know.
    Is there anyone out there who believes that ONCE has a chance to snag the Tony? If there is any justice, that show will win.
    Marianne

  4. Dean Regan says:

    Does anyone else have any thoughts about the “collective consciousness of the audience”? Perhaps from the audience standpoint … perhaps from the artist standpoint.

    Barb? Larry? Anyone?

    One of my teachers — Betty Buckley — always emphasizes be the “seer” not the “seen.” Because as an artist when you focus on everyone looking at you it can — I believe and have found — stunt the creative experience … tarnish the purity of the creative exploration. Often, when I’m directly engaging with the audience, it is easy to be the “seer.” And, often, when I’m getting to know the fresh audience, I can hear a voice inside saying, “I’m tired. Tech was an absolute unwelcome adventure. Can I pull this off?” And, I feel like the “seen,” but then the music does it’s magic, the audience consciousness focuses, my consciousness focuses and it’s amazing. Though there is some resistance that is experienced … this is not the resistance that is so strong for me right now. That resistance is from all the marketing and phone calls and office work … which sometimes does not “get” me anything (doesn’t translate to booking of concerts) … that it gets a bit crazy.

    Hey thanks. This is getting a bit more fun. Thanks Mrs. M.

    (Oh, by the way, for those of you who have seen “Give My Regards to Broadway,” the “Marianne” in these exchanges is my “High School Drama Teacher.” What a gift!)

  5. Dean says:

    John Cleese speaks of being in an “Open Mode” as an artist. The key contributor to that open mode for me is having a schedule in my days, weeks, months and years that allows for spontaneity, positive self-care, nutrition and rest. I have had virtually none of those key contributors for as long as I can remember. Producing and performing in the performing art center shows, touring and creating the CD “Give My Regards to Broadway” have kept me pushed to the gills. I am happy to say that the schedule which has been driving me to push too hard is now … cleared. We have consciously worked to limited new “marketing” projects as well as creative projects so as to allow some time to relax. And today, the 4th of July, I feel for the first time in a long, long time … free and independent. I am having glimpses of the “Open Mode” and loving that experience. And, Frank and I went to see WAR HORSE last night at the Ahmanson here in Los Angeles. Creative genius. Theatrical brilliance and I am inspired!

  6. Marianne says:

    A thousand thanks for introducing John Cleese’s Open Mind concept in your blog. His focus on Space, Time, Confidence and Humor are significant in doing what you personally now are doing. Kudos! So much easier to remain on the treadmill rather than seek an alternate path leading to a goal that is not only healthy but creative. You have inspired me to make a trip to Milwaukee alone this weekend to see Aerosmith at Summerfest on Saturday evening. I will train in, stay at a hotel, meet my nephew and his wife for dinner then off to seek music that is not necessarily in my comfort zone. You have inspired me. (it bears repeating)

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