"Success leaves clues. People who succeed at the highest level are doing something differently than everyone else does." - Tony Robbins
What do you want to do? Who has been extremely successful in that area? How can you learn from their journey?
My father was in the military, and we moved a lot when I was a kid. I don't think I stayed in one location for more than two years. When I was twelve, we moved to Mesa, Arizona. That year I attended Mesa Junior High, and like most kids my age I had a P.E. class. One day we were outside, and the teacher put us on the basketball court, gave us a ball, and said, "Choose teams and play." I was pretty small then, and I was new—which didn't help get chosen early in the team selection process. But, even with all of that going against me, I got picked! The very first play of the game, my team had the ball. I got the first pass of the game, and I immediately put the ball under my arm and started to run. I didn't know how to play basketball at that time, and I didn't know dribbling was involved. They stopped the game, replaced me with someone else, and I was never selected for a team again at good old Mesa Junior.
I was so embarrassed; I swore to myself that that would never happen again. So, I saved up my money, bought a basketball, and practiced every day. I started watching professional basketball on television and began to learn a few things. I did my best to interpret what I saw and use it in my own game. Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and Julius Erving (Dr. J.) were three of the biggest names in professional basketball at the time, so I spent every moment, that my parents would allow, sitting in front of the television watching them play. I even rented instructional videos and read books about them. If Dr. J. spent his entire summer as a kid on an outdoor basketball court, refining his skills, so would I. I'd pack a lunch, just like him, and play as long as the sun was up.
When I was 15, we moved to San Diego. I volunteered to be a ball boy for the Junipero Serra High School's varsity team, mostly so that I could listen to the coach and learn everything I could. I loved it! I took everything I heard and tried to apply it to myself. The local church let me have a key to the building, so I could get up early to play for two hours before school. After school, I would scrimmage after practice with the varsity team. It wasn't long before the coach saw me playing and said, "You really need to try out for the team next year. I think I've got a place for you." I couldn't believe it. He thought I had what it took to play! I certainly put in the time, but I hadn't considered what it might eventually mean. I just didn't ever want to feel embarrassed like I did that day at Mesa Jr. What began as a painful memory led me to fall in love with a game that I played almost every day after. I played, not because I wanted to make the team, but because I wanted to play and be as good as I possibly could be when I was on the court.
Eventually, I shifted my focus from basketball to theatre. It’s not that I don't look back with gratitude for what the game of basketball taught me. I'm still just as driven as I was then, and I still do everything I can to get better by engaging in "higher level" work—all thanks to basketball. Similar to how I spent hours studying high-level players in basketball, I've spent countless hours studying productions by Bartlett Sher, Diane Paulus, Julie Taymor, and Peter Brook. It's like I'm studying their game. I've read articles and books about how they approach the art form, and I've become a much better artist. In fact, I've found myself fortunate enough to be chosen for some theatre teams including Stage Directors and Choreographers Society (SDC) and Actors' Equity Association (AEA). These are the professional unions for actors and directors—like the NBA of theatre. I learned enough to turn pro! These teams have offered some incredible opportunities, but for right now I'm choosing to invest my skills in my son and my students. This is where I choose to be because this is where I think I can make the greatest impact.
So, I'm curious. How far do you want to go with your art form? Who are you studying? Are you studying the best, or are you happy enough just playing against the other kids from the neighborhood? (If that's the case, please remember not to put the ball under your arm and run.)
Every high-level performer studies someone.
Idina Menzel studied Barbara Streisand who studied Eleanora Duse and Sarah Bernhardt.
Robin Williams studied Jonathan Winters who studied Charlie Chaplin.
Daniel Day-Lewis studied Robert De Niro who studied Marlon Brando and James Dean.
Kobe Bryant studied Michael Jordan who studied David Thompson.
Success leaves clues. Who are you studying?
* MFA - Directing, Arizona State University