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.