The Intern Saga Episode 5: Performance

Hey everyone… sorry for the [extreme] lateness in this blog post, but I truly honestly did not know what to write about for this entry. I couldn’t find any theatrical-related incidents happening in the world that I felt overly excited to share with you or give my opinion on. I didn’t want to potentially bore you with an awesometacular entry that documented how I REALLY like to paint (which is very true. I really like to paint. And I got to do that last week here). I was at a loss, I had run into that very familiar mental wall that is universally known as “writer’s block”. And there I stayed for a good week, poking at this “writer’s block” wall in my mind in an attempt to make it just go away.

Then I had one of the biggest arguments (or very heated debate, if you will) of my life just last week. And lo and behold, I found my blog entry.

I had an argument with someone on Facebook about the recent Daniel Tosh incident (which I don’t really want to get into on this blog). The guy I was arguing with came to Tosh’s defense, saying it was his job as a comedian to “joke” about issues that society deems taboo. Eventually he revealed something about his perspective on art that made me understand why, to an extent, he was so quick to defend Tosh.

He said that a performer’s job (and artists by extension), their goal, is to entertain. That’s it.

I was floored by that comment. When he said that about performers, that struck a major chord in me. On first glance, there seems a potential to overreacting to that comment (which, depending your view about performance, may or may not be true). But upon further examination of this comment, I found that, coming from an artist’s perspective, I really wasn’t overreacting.

First, let’s examine the definition of the verb “to entertain”:

en·ter·tain [verb (used with object)]: 1. to hold the attention of pleasantly or agreeably; divert;amuse.

As an actor, that’s not what I do. I don’t aim to “divert”. I don’t aim to “amuse”. I don’t aim to “hold the attention” of audiences in a “pleasant” or “agreeable” manner. If diversion, amusement, and a pleasant or agreeable distraction are byproducts of what I put out in the theatre, then that is fine and dandy with me. But I never aim to “amuse” someone. That’s a waste of my time and effort, and  that’s a waste of the audience’s time and money. Now I’m not saying that entertainment in performance of any kind – visual, musical, or theatrical – is a bad thing, but rather that it’s not a substantial goal of an artist. It’s not enough to carry an artist through a life-long career in arts. Pursuing any sort of artistic career is hard, and it takes so much passion in order to do it. When I look at what “to entertain” really means as a word, it doesn’t capture the essence of what a performer aims to do at all. There’s no mention of passion. There’s no mention of sharing something intangible with a targeted audience. There’s no real emotion involved.

It saddens me to know that there are people in this world that believe that performance of any kind is aimed to amuse. That’s like saying that a lawyer’s job is to get rich, rather than defend and uphold the law. Or that a doctor’s job is to work at a good hospital rather than save lives. Or that a police officer’s job is to gain respect rather than protect the people. Entertainment is a byproduct of the artist’s intent and goal, just like getting rich, working at a good hospital, and gaining respect are byproducts of the goals of the lawyer, doctor, and police officer. I thought a comedian’s job was to bring laughter and joy to people and show them the light in life. I thought a dancer’s job was to show humanity in the most powerful of languages for those who cannot. I thought a writer’s job was to keep imagination alive. I thought a painter’s job was to show the hidden beauty in the world we’ve created. I thought a composer’s job was to take us on a wonderful odyssey through music. And I thought that an actor’s job was to reveal the best and worst of humanity to those who need a reminder every now and then.

I thought an artist’s job was to inspire others to do something with their lives. That’s what I signed up for when I decided to be an actor. I aim to inspire others. I aim to inspire myself. Through that aim to inspire, I aim to challenge. Isn’t that far more fulfilling than to aim to amuse? I think it is.

So when someone says that my job is to entertain others, I know that they’re not an artist themselves… yet. Either they don’t have that passion and fire that drives an artist, or they haven’t found a way to articulate their goals other than to say “I entertain”. And there’s a way to distinguish the two types. Simply ask why they entertain. The former will give a vague answer or say they do it because it’s fun. But the latter will say something along the lines of “Because it’s the only thing I can see myself doing”.  That’s the sign of an unrealized artist… give them time, and they’ll realize there’s much more to their art than “to entertain”.

Until next time!

~Kelsey;  Artist

((Entertain (v.) definition courtesy of: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/entertain?s=t&ld=1032))
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2 responses to “The Intern Saga Episode 5: Performance

  1. Kelsey,

    I can appreciate your response to your friends’ statement as to the goal of a performer, but I think you’re underestimating the understanding of the term. “Entertainment,” as you point out, is not a bad thing, but I disagree with you that it cannot be “substantial.” If you stick to the dictionary definition then I can see where you could come up short, but all words are ambiguous and therefore have multiple meanings. So let’s broaden the definition a bit. I propose using what Joseph Chaikin offered when he likened entertainment to the notion of “nourishment,” meaning that it was a substantive act that fed the spectator. In particular, since Chaikin was a student of Brecht, what the performer nourished the audience with was knowledge and motivation. Thus the performer nourishes the audience with information. “Entertainment,” then, is simply a broad term for the means by which we performers carry this out. But Chaikin points out Brecht’s assertion that if it comes down to education or entertainment, you have to go with the latter, because otherwise the audience will not come back for seconds, or thirds, or ever.

    So to entertain is not a negative descriptor. It is, in fact, an adjective I’d be comfortable with. Even in the definition that you take opposition to, what are those but pragmatic goals of any performer. We do divert. We do hold the attention of our audience. Those are the basics.

    This is not a defense of your Facebook opponent, but rather a defense of the word. If I had to hazard a guess I would presume that his assertion was more of a cheap essentializing. But at the same time let’s not take away from those who see your definition of entertainment as enough for them. There’s simply more at stake for you, and given the passion of your post I bet you give your all in every performance. But at the end of the show, if that spectator walks away feeling “entertained” do you say you failed? Absolutely not. Because, in some way, they were nourished, and you did that.

    Josh Fleming

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  2. Josh, thank you for your response; I appreciate the time and thought that went into it. That said, I think that we are more in agreement than it may seem.

    I agree with your point that entertainment can be defined “nourishment”, as according to Chaikin. That is a wonderful image and something that I find to be very true in all forms of art. However, what you’ve added substance to is the concept of entertainment, and not the verb itself. The verb is what I take issue with, not the concept. And true, we do divert and we do hold the attention of the audience. But that is and should always be the byproduct of the work itself, not a goal.
    I guess the best way to explain what I mean is through examining the Batman movie franchise (which is odd, because anyone who knows me knows that I am not a Batman fan in the slightest… but it’s still a good example!). In comparing the Christopher Nolan Batman movies to the Joel Schumacher ones, the Nolan movies are far superior, no matter what qualifications you use to compare (unless there’s a deep emotional attachment to the Schumacher movies). Now, I cannot speak for the thoughts and goals of either person, so we enter the realm of speculation. If we were to ask Christopher Nolan why he wanted to make the Batman trilogy that he did, I would expect that he would say something along the lines of ‘to give the fans a movie franchise to be proud of’, or ‘to redefine the comic book movie’, or ‘ever since I was a kid, I’ve always wanted to make the Batman movies I would have wanted to see’, etc. Those are specific goals and ideas to work towards, and the movies he made were wildly entertaining to a large audience. However, if Nolan’s goal was “oh, I just wanted to entertain the audience”, we probably would have ended up with three more movies that very closely resembled Schumacher’s Batman & Robin, where the movie makers tried to throw in jokes and other stuff to entertain the audience and that fell flat on its face. When the goal of entertainment is the only thing driving a project, then the project will have a less successful, less interesting, and less entertaining result than a project that was motivated by other factors than to just entertain.
    So when that spectator walks away from something feeling “entertained”, that entertainment was a result of the stronger goals that went into creating the project itself. Thus entertainment is the byproduct. And any and all entertainment that is a byproduct and is a result of the project is totally valid, fabulous, and welcomed. But when entertaining for the sake of entertainment is the goal of a project, the result of that is, more often than not, boring. That is why I say that the goal of “to entertain” is not a substantial goal, because it’s not a goal at all. It’s a byproduct of what we do as artists.

    Thanks again for responding!
    – Kelsey

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