I don’t know who first said the quote that gives this post its title, but it’s a righteous sentiment.
There was a profile of Baryshnikov in American Theater magazine recently. You may or may not be aware that Baryshnikov has become a major theater performer in the last few decades. This, from the profile, caught my eye:
What’s your advice to young people looking for training today?
If you want to be in any kind of art form—musical theatre, drama, dance, Broadway—you have to start from your very early years and really learn how to read music, how to sing, how to dance, how to train your voice.
That’s great if you’re five or six years old, but many people who come to me to study acting are considerably older than that. So they should go back in time and get training from the time they were a small child? Well, basically.
It’s not commonly understood that many of the successful people in the business now have been doing this their whole lives. They do things instinctively that untrained people can only do with great effort. Many people think they will come to Los Angeles and cash in on their looks and youthful vitality. They just need to take a few classes to learn how to not look like a clumsy neophyte in auditions and what their best camera angles are. Maybe a few improv and cold reading classes, and they’re ready for prime time.
Learning a new language is difficult. Learning to read music is difficult. Learning to finger a flute is difficult. And yes, learning to act is difficult.
People watch their favorite shows and movies, and the actors in those productions make it look easy. They bring a lifetime of skill and experience, make it through the gauntlet of multiple rounds of auditions, and then are coached, directed, costumed, coiffed, made up, lit and edited so that no one ever gets to see them sweat. But as Bette Davis once said, in this business, you have to love the sweat more than the lights.
Some people come to my class and don’t want to engage with the complexity of the framework that I present. But human experience is complex, and acting presents human experience, so it could only be complex. Like any art form. And that’s actually a good thing. It’s what keeps it interesting. I am frequently asked by students if they have talent. I don’t answer the question. But to cultivate and nurture whatever talent you have been given, you have to have an appetite for this complexity. You have to be fascinated by it. You have to be able to become obsessed with it. If you can’t do that, then while you may be able to trade on your native talent (and/or looks), there will be probably no growth, no development, no sense of discovery, and you will likely lose interest in the business, the way that Kurt Cobain stopped wanting to play “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” It was a great song, but it even it grew stale after being played a few thousand times.
Everybody wants to eat, but nobody wants to hunt.