Tuesday, April 14, 2009


I direct a piece of theater called The Thorn. It takes a small army to pull it off. There are probably about 13 people on earth who really understand all of the logistics and organization it takes to pull it all together. 
I am not an organized person. I can barely keep my lights separated form my darks. This is why I own so many pink shirts.  
The only thing I really understand how to do is how to fix something until it gets right. Right is not an absolute fact in art. Far from it. It’s more of feeling; an understanding of what the audience will experience and then deciding, yes this is what needs to happen for this type of a story. And what I spend my time doing for three months is practicing scenes over and over, fixing and changing and tweaking things until it is finally right, or at least as right as I can get it.  

The same is true with a novel. I write and then rewrite over and over again until I think, Yeah, this what I want to say. This is the type of story I want the audience to experience. Then I give it to my editor. And he edits (much like the audio and video and lighting engineers do their work on my first draft of a show), then he gives it to editors who edit more, until finally things go into production.  And that’s the scary part. Because once the book finally goes to press or the show is finally performed in front of audiences I can only think, Is this really what I wanted to say? Is this really what I wanted to do?  

I always thought it’d be gratifying when books are printed and shows are performed (and don’t get me wrong in some ways it is) for the masses. Instead all I usually think is Wait! Stop! I need to fix one more thing.  Because I know the truth. Now, it’s out there in the light of day for anyone to judge and to make comments on. 
This happened in The Thorn. When the first show was over a man came up to and said, “Are you the producer?”  
And I said, “Sure.” 
He said, Thomas (the new narrator) was okay but I have a couple of notes that will make him great. 
And I said, "Really? Oh, good.” 

Then I smiled as he gave me notes for the narrator of our story.  And this is what’s so scary about creating these days. For shows, anyone can come up to you after the show. For books it's worse there are blogs, amazon reviews, and so on. The reviews people see could be from my aunt Roxy or someone who only read two pages of the book yet other people will at the very least listen and take stock in the review.  
It freaks me out. 
You can spend months (years) on something and someone can take five minutes, type 100 words, and make a grand proclamation.  But in the end that’s what’s great about art. It’s not just about the creating of it, it’s about the audience experiencing it, and the audience can experience whatever they want. They can say whatever they please.   

And I can only sit there and smile as they say anything and everything. Because deep down I know the truth, they have as much right to criticize as I do to create. 


Ash said...

good start.
if it be any "comfort," my dad said he saw Thorn in colorado and he actually appreciated that Thomas was chosen as the new narrator. he said it was a different perspective and while Thomas is often brushed off as the "doubting" guy- maybe there's something we're missing about him.

i went and saw Thorn in SC. of course i still love the John all did an amazing job.

but you're right, you're always going to have critics- yet- if someone IS criticizing, for better or worse, they're noticing you...and that's also what makes art such a fantastic thing. it's a constant back and forth b/t people.

my3kidsdad said...

My favorite saying in situations like this is "Where were you when the page was blank?" It is easy to criticize but creating something good from nothing, that takes a God moment. Most people know what they like after they see it, but rarely do people know how to create what they like or are willing to do it. Keep up the good work, Rob. My other favorite saying: A friend of mine directed community theater and got upset with one of the actors and jokingly stated "You will never work for free in this town again!"

ANGIE LEE said...

Here's the thing Rob: you are an artist and it's your nature to be sensitive to criticism, constructive or not. I know, I'm a singer with New Life Choir and I have the same nature. Here's what I TRY to do (notice the emphasis): I create with a desire to do my very best. I always have that mindset. Then the Spirit takes what I offer and turns it into something amazing that I can't hope to do on my own. How amazing is that? As for the addition of Thomas, I think it adds fresh perspective and gives the audience a new way to view the story. I've seen the Thorn a few times now and I appreciate seeing a new show every year. Who could ask for more?

Cynthia said...

If one or two changes to a literary work would transform it from mediocre to sensational, then the criticism would be worth its weight in gold. You could take that all the way to the bank and thank them for their generous free gift. However, if it is just a matter of preference and has no transforming power, who cares? For those people, companies have created video games and movies with "optional"endings.

my3kidsdad said...

Saw this today and thought about you:

"It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by the dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy course; who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat."


Rob Stennett said...

John, that quote is amazing. Couldn't agree more.