Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Dawn Andrews - "Nothing extraordinary is possible until you're in conversation with the world around you."

Dawn Andrews is a peak performance coach who specializes in working with creative artists in achieving extraordinary lives and careers in entertainment. I talked to Dawn recently about her work with actors, writers, and directors, and how she saw compassion as important in their careers.
"Compassion isn't important in anyone's career, until it is. I find myself living mostly, and maybe unfortunately, in a place of not being compassionate until something presents itself, whether it's my own struggle or the struggle of someone else, but I don't find that compassion is a 'way of being' that I approach life from. And I do see what it costs me, my clients and the world around me to be that way when I'm presented with one of those issues.

I went to go see this guy perform who's a hip-hop scholar, and slam poet. He put together this amazing piece about his travels... The most extraordinary parts of that piece were the parts where I haven't had his experience but yet I could completely relate to the story he was telling. He was sharing a moment where he had traveled to Senegal. His plan was to meet a woman who had given up her life in Lubbock, Texas, and committed herself to spreading the word about female genital mutilation, and trying to get the tribes to stop the ancient and brutal practice. he went to help her.

The way he described it, he expected that, as African-American man, he would drop into Senegal and immediately fold himself into the culture and change the tribal leaders minds because he had the right skin color. [He said] he had this "I am one of them yet I know better than they do" attitude. He arrives, but when he met this tall Swedish woman from Texas, who was married to a Senegalese man and spoke like five different African dialects, it became so abundantly clear how out of his league and out of his element he was because he had put up this whole egotistical view of "how this is gonna go" and who he was in the world. He was "black" but he discovered she was "African." He realized that from where he was coming from he couldn't affect any change.

When he shared that moment I felt both compassion for him, having that veneer cracked wide open, because I could see the child in him in the telling of the story, and the wonder that he had for what was available to him... Regardless of whether I've been to Senegal or not I have had those moments where you think you have a total and complete understanding of how "someone is" or "how something's gonna work," and I've approached it with a coat of armor on. Before that moment he was more committed to being cool and having the situation "wired" than to making the difference that he came to make.

It is so powerful to me that something as simple as a woman speaking a few words in a different language has you drop the act and make yourself completely open and vulnerable and present and available to what's really going on. And so that's what I was meaning when I was saying that compassion isn't important until it is. Usually, it's not there, at least for me, until I realize that my coat of armor is keeping me from an opportunity to connect or see or participate in something that I've blocked myself from. Artists provide that opportunity for people every time they write or perform or share themselves with the world.

The most extraordinary things that I've seen people do, whether it was totally conscious for them or not... the compassion was there. For instance in this guy's performance, he may not have named it as compassion either for himself or the community he found himself in, or for what he was coming to support this woman in doing. But he would not have been available to do the work he did in Senegal and then share it in his performance with me in such a way that I was completely moved and inspired by it, if there wasn't compassion present.

Through his sharing he lit that match in me. In seeing him move through his struggle, of "hi, I'm this guy, and this is how it's gonna go, and I've got all this information," to "oops," crack the egg open, and now I'm see myself in his situation. It gave me permission sitting in the audience not only to be moved by his story but to feel the same way for myself whenever I step up to do anything I think I've got wired -- in coaching people for instance. When working with clients I find this struggle more prevalent in actors. Maybe it's the need to protect themselves, since they are the instrument of delivery as opposed to words on a page or something outside themselves. There is a lot of "putting on the armor." The cost is that the creative choices that come from that place tend not to be very unique or heartfelt or truthful or have the ability to connect with an audience. At least not on a deeper level that has them moved and inspired."
I asked Dawn if she's seen a difference when the armor comes off.
"Oh my god. I'm committed to every artist finding the compassion and to coaching them compassionately. The difference when the armor is off is like seeing the divine channeled through someone else. In its simplest form, you're either in a conversation with yourself, and other people happen to be in your vicinity, or you're present and in a conversation with the world that's surrounding you. Nothing extraordinary is possible until you're in conversation with the world around you."
Wow. I have nothing more to say except for, "Thank you, Dawn!" *

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Jon Kabat-Zinn - "interconnectedness is primary... it is the birthplace of empathy and compassion."

The great mindfulness teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn talks extensively about our relationship to our true nature, and how that relates to creativity, in his book Coming to Our Senses.

"...perhaps you have noticed that the sense of self is telling us all the time that we are not complete. It tells us that we have to get someplace else, attain what needs to be achieved, become whole, become happy, make a difference, get on with it, all of which may indeed be partially true and relatively true, and to that degree, we need to honor those intuitions. But it forgets to remind us that, on a deeper level, beyond appearances and time, whatever needs to be attained is already here, now -- that there is no improving the self -- only knowing its true nature as both empty and full, and therefore profoundly useful.

Knowing that in the deepest of ways, knowing it with the entirety of our being, we can then rest in the knowing itself and act much less self-centeredly in the world, potentially in amazingly creative ways for the benefit of other beings and with an attitude of non-harming and non-forcing. We can do this because we know on some fundamental level, not merely intellectually, that 'them' is always 'us.' This interconnectedness is primary. It is the birthplace of empathy and compassion, of our feeling for the other, our impulse and tendency to put ourself in the place of the other, to feel with the other. This is the foundation for ethics and morality, for becoming fully human -- beyond the potential nihilism and groundless relativism stemming from a merely mechanistic and reductionist view of the mind and of life.

From this perspective, in a very real sense you are not who or what you think you are. And neither is anybody else. We are all much larger, and more mysterious. Once we know this, our possibilities for creativity expand enormously, because we understand something about how we get in our own way and are diminished through our obsessive self-involvement and self-centeredness, our preoccupation with what we think is important but really isn't fundamental."
As I read this, it occurs to me that what Kabat-Zinn saying is something we already implicitly know but rarely acknowledge, and this is the root of what draws us to arts with compassion at their core. That "...we know on some fundamental level, not merely intellectually, that 'them' is always 'us.' This interconnectedness is primary."

The fact that interconnectedness is primary, and that we all implicitly understand that, means that when we see it acknowledged in the arts in different ways, it automatically rings as true to us. It's common sense. How often do we see a character going through something we personally relate to, and find that it moves us.

I watched part of a movie with my wife this weekend. The woman in the film was going through an enormous emotional upheaval, adjusting to her new life as a mother and the shift that caused in her life and in her marriage. And my wife turned to me and said, "here's how I know X is not doing a good job. This is a woman going through something I've gone through myself, almost identically, and I don't feel one bit for her. She's going through the motions."

When I pressed her further about it, later on, Amy said, "It didn't seem real to me and maybe that's because she's not a terribly good actress and she doesn't have anything to draw from. Maybe if you were a good actress you could draw on something else that made you feel powerless in that way and conjure up those feelings in a different situation. But she's never been through that and she's not adept enough at channeling her existing emotions to make it feel real. I don't think you have to be somebody who's done that specific thing in order to portray it but this actress just didn't have the ability to pull it off."

Obviously Amy doesn't speak for the whole world as an audience, but I was surprised to see such a specific example in a major film and to see how this lack of connection was directly by felt by Amy as an audience member. She had a direct relationship to the subject matter but felt nary a whiff of empathy, based on a performance that she perceived as lacking depth.

This is the impact I talked about earlier:
"There's a deep cost to the world that comes from this kind of behavior. We're suffering, and we're being deprived of the things that bind us, that show us what we have in common, that give us hope."
Imagine someone somewhere watching this film. Possibly a woman in a similar situation, facing a new stage in her life, a shift in her relationship to her husband, maybe coming to grips with what it feels like to be a mother and what that means to her. Or maybe it's something else entirely––maybe it's a man watching the film, who might be affected by a theme of feeling powerless in a family situation, or a teenager watching the performance, who might see his or her own mother or father in this performance, might understand them just a little bit.

Except it doesn't happen. The woman, the man, the teenager, they're all being robbed of the opportunity for connection. Not seeing, or even more importantly, feeling, any real connection to the person on screen, the moment passes, and an opportunity is wasted. The person goes on with their life, not knowing they might've been affected––however slightly or profoundly––and their life continues, untouched.

As I said earlier, when talking about my trip with Save the Children to the Navajo Nation, there is a cost to inaction. When you have an opportunity to make a difference in another's life, and you don't, there is an impact.
"There have been plenty of times when I've thought, I don't have the time, I'm tired, I'm busy, someone else will do it. And on this trip I saw the direct impact of the work Save the Children was doing, on real kids. Just like my own kids. And this relates to the arts in the same way. We can choose to remain in a fog, and rob the world of the real impact we have to offer. Or we can take on compassion in our lives and careers and make a difference."

Friday, May 22, 2009

Edoardo Ballerini on listening - "One of the things you're trained to do as an actor.... is listen."

Edoardo Ballerini, is an extraordinary actor and one of the stars of the upcoming film Life is Hot in Cracktown. I talked to Edoardo yesterday about how thoughts on compassion and he started talking to me about listening. I immediately started thinking about that night's two hour Ugly Betty finale, the fancy camera I was holding and whether I should upgrade it, what kind of mileage BMW motorcycles get, and whether I should get an iced coffee or a regular coffee on my next trip to Starbucks. Then I thought, wow, this guy is going on and on, maybe I should pay attention. He might have something to say that makes me look good!

I'm kidding, of course. Edoardo had so much to say that was so insightful, that I split our talk into two bits. This first piece is on listening:

Edoardo pointed out to me that one of the fundamental skills necessary to being a good actor is listening. That it's fundamental to any actor's training, and, as Edoardo pointed out, the skill of listening is "exactly what's needed [to cultivate] compassion."
"We spend most of our lives and days I believe with assumptions about the world around us... especially as the years go by you get a little older, you think you know how things work, you think you know what somebody's going to say to you or what they mean by something, and we stop listening. We stop listening to our friends, our partners, the people we work with, the random person walking down the street, we just kinda shut everything out. The skill of listening... allows you to let go of yourself, understand where somebody else is coming from."
This is strikingly similar to Zen master Shunryu Suzuki's words in his classic book, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind:
"When you listen to someone, you should give up all your preconceived ideas and your subjective opinions; you should just listen to him, just observe what his way is. We put very little emphasis on right and wrong or good and bad. We just see things as they are with him, and accept them. This is how we communicate with each other. Usually when you listen to some statement, you hear it as a kind of echo of yourself. You are actually listening to your own opinion. If it agrees with your own opinion you may accept it, but if it does not, you will reject it or you may not even really hear it.... a mind full of preconceived ideas, subjective intentions, or habits is not open to things as they are."
Since listening is so fundamental to acting, and it's so fundamental to cultivating compassion––accepting another as they are, with no "right or wrong," it's no wonder we keep finding connections between acting and compassion.

Stay tuned for more on Edoardo's thoughts on compassion.

Thanks, Edoardo!


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Peace Games' Julia Garcia on "Noticing the Other"

Julia Garcia, who's a Peace Games Program Manager, recently read the recent posting on "Noticing the Other" and was kind enough to share her thoughts with us:
"Thanks for this very thought provoking post about 'noticing the other.' As a Peace Games staff person in Boston, it is my pleasure to see children taking part in this compassionate work every day.

The children we work with come from homes and neighborhoods very different from the home I grew up in, however, as you said, they are fundamentally no different from me. These kids yearn to be accepted, loved and respected. And during Peace Games they get a chance to flex their 'compassion muscles' and show their communities just how great they can be.

In the second half of our school year, the students in pre-K – 8th grades participate in 'Peacemaker Projects' that often use the arts as a universal way to communicate their learning. This spring, I have witnessed some of the most extraordinary examples of peacemaking done by children who have true and deep compassion for others.

In one 8th grade class, the children planned and discussed a peace mural that would be hung outside their school to designate it as a 'peaceful zone.' The mural is now finished and the kids feel extraordinarily proud of the hard work they put into their project and for the message it sends to their community. Another class, a 5th grade group, wrote a rap about resisting the temptation to join a gang and have performed it to passersby on the street to raise awareness. Both of these groups felt very connected to the messages of peace they were putting out and were happy to have a way and a place to showcase their compassion for their community and for others.

The arts are a powerful way to communicate compassion—thanks for bringing positive attention to it!"
Julia's personal observation that the kids she works with want what she wants, that they "yearn to be accepted, loved and respected," is fundamental to her ability to work with them. It may seem obvious, but in order to see the humanity and possibility in someone, we first need to see that they are human, and they have the same needs as any human.

Peace Games trains the kids to do exactly what Julia is doing, to see each other as human, and to see the world as full of human beings with infinite possibility.

The Peace Games kids use the arts to express compassion more directly than many actors, writers, or directors I encounter in my daily life in the entertainment business, and the directness of this message is powerful. I am reminded of Eric Dawson, President of Peace Games, and his message last month. Eric talked about how a group of first graders empowered a kid, Brian, who'd previously been bullying them, and made him responsible for their safety.
"What to me is so beautiful about this story is the spirit of compassion, that motivated those first graders to help their friend, and that motivated all of those first graders to sit down with Brian, and instead of saying 'you're a bad kid,' or 'we don't like you, we're gonna come get you,' to say 'here's what we need you to do,' to invite him into their community and set up the expectation that he could be a good, thoughtful contributor to their lives."
What Julia and Eric are pointing out is the power of Peace Games, that when kids can be trained in compassion, they can be trained to act compassionately, and the result of that can be a powerful transformation. These kids saw Brian not as a 'bad kid' but as someone who could make a huge difference in their lives. And because they saw him that way, he became that person, who was capable of being their protector.

This is the impact the arts can have on real, concrete, day-to-day actions. In the same way kids can be trained to express compassion through art, and in that process become more compassionate themselves, artists can take on compassion as a focal point in their art, become more compassionate themselves, and lead audiences to consider the same focus. Imagine the impact if this happened on a large scale, imagine the reach of the American movie business, of the massive numbers of eyeballs glued to television and computer screens watching human stories.

As I have said repeatedly, were every artist or aspiring artist able to see the profound effect of compassion––how a focus on compassion can cause the deepest impact on one's work and life, and create the most heartfelt imprint on the world at large––it would inevitably cause a surge of creativity, inspiration, and compassion among artists, aspiring artists, and their audiences.

Thank you Julia! *

Monday, May 18, 2009

Save the Children's Jane Berliner - Taking Risks in Art, and Seeing the Suffering of Others

Jane Berliner was an agent at Creative Artists Agency for the better part of her adult life, and she later transitioned to her current post as the director of the Artist Ambassador Program at Save the Children. I was fortunate enough to work with Jane when she was at CAA, and I count myself very lucky to work with her in her current post as well.

Jane is a rare gem; she was an extraordinary agent, and she represented some of the biggest actors in the business for a long time. And her passion and commitment to the work she does with Save the Children is absolutely spectacular. You can read more about our recent work together on my "Noticing the Other" posting, as well as as this posting on Authentic's Community Page.

So given the apparent but illusory dichotomy of Jane's career, I thought she'd be a perfect candidate to discuss her thoughts on compassion in the arts.

Here's Jane talking about what it was like working with some of the world's biggest stars, and watching them prepare to take on a role.

“I've seen my former clients be compassionate about characters they play, even some tough characters to enjoy and like... what I can tell you that I witnessed is a complete commitment to getting to know not only the character, but the character's immediate family, or community.”

This is not all that different from what Tom Hiddleston described a month ago:
"'suffering with' means taking on another's suffering as your own, a deep kind of understanding and connectedness with another human being. Having compassion for people as a whole, for the whole palette of humanity, all of us with all strengths, weaknesses, our flaws, our nobility and fragility."
Jane went on to describe why work created with a compassionate heart is attractive to her as an audience member:
“I get a much more fulfilling experience because I have a more complete picture of this person when they're created out of compassion. I think that there's a tremendous effect on the result when the process is that thorough.... If you don't get out there and really risk changing up your own life to the point where you get to know another's life, really know it, once you do that risk, then it will show up in the work. It must show in the work. Because it's now in you. It's a part of you."
As I said recently:
"by being present to the fact that the people I was meeting were fundamentally no different from my own family, no different from me, I was momentarily shaken out of my fog, and I briefly understood the necessity for compassion. I am often and ordinarily preoccupied, but being in this unique circumstance shifted my awareness."
When an actor takes on that risk for us, it shows up in the work, and jars us into awareness of our fundamental sameness. This attention to detail, this thoroughness Jane describes, strikes us, as audience members, as real, and we're attracted to it because of that. Hence, Jane's "more fulfilling experience."

And because Jane has worked in two such apparently separate worlds, she's privy to the somewhat obvious connection between them:
“Working with Save the Children, the people that I see coming and working with us, I think are true artists, not celebrities.... I would have to say that whatever it is that they're seeing the suffering of fellow humankind, I am certain the compassion that rises because of that experience finds its way into the art. I'm sure of it.”
Thank you, Jane, for sharing your thoughts, and for being such a compassionate force, making a difference for millions of children worldwide. *

Peace Games' Rena Deitz - "...the recipe for compassion is simple ... to get it right takes practice"

Our friends at Peace Games have been sharing the work on this site with their staff and volunteers. Rena Deitz, a Development and Communications Intern at Peace Games, had this to say about James Suskin's "Recipe for Compassion":
"James Suskin has it right. The recipe for compassion is simple, and has only a few ingredients. However, much like the recipe for a soufflé, to get it right takes practice and expertise. That is where Peace Games comes in. As an intern in Development and Communications at Peace Games I thought I would be dealing only with logistics and fundraising. Instead, everyday I work with compassionate individuals who teach children how to combine the ingredients: people, time and infinite space. By sharing their compassion, they give children the practice and expertise to be compassionate peace builders in their community."
I was inspired by reading this, because it reminded me that compassion exists in all of us as a possibility; each one of us has the capacity to be compassionate at any given moment. If a moment arises where we forget to be compassionate, we need not regret; we must simply be compassionate, and take compassionate action in this very moment. And as Peace Games' work reminds children to be compassionate––or, perhaps, gives them the tools and opportunity to recognize their own, intrinsic, compassionate selves––so can the arts remind all of us to be compassionate in our daily lives.
"Each moment is a chance for us to make peace with the world, to make peace possible for the world, to make happiness possible for the world." - Thich Nhat Hanh

"Compassion is the awareness of a deep bond between yourself and all creatures. But there are two sides to compassion, two sides to this bond. On the one hand, since you are still here as a physical body, you share the vulnerability and mortality of your physical form with every other human and with every living being. Next time you say 'I have nothing in common with this person,' remember that you have a great deal in common: A few years from now -- two years or seventy years, it doesn't make much difference-- both of you will have become rotting corpses, then piles of dust, then nothing at all. This is a sobering and humbling realization that leaves little room for pride. Is this a negative thought? No, it is a fact. Why close your eyes to it? In that sense, there is total equality between you and every other creature." - Eckhart Tolle

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Noticing the "Other"

I recently visited the Navajo Nation in Arizona as part of a trip organized by Save the Children. The areas we visited were extremely poor and remote. We were told the average family income there was well below $20,000 annually, and the unemployment rate was currently 56%. One of the Save the Children staffers traveling with us told me the landscape in some of the dusty towns we visited reminded her of trips she'd taken to the poorest regions of Africa.

This was a trip connected to my work as a manager; I was traveling with a client who's involved with Save the Children as a supporter and spokesperson. So, naturally, I started to think about what I experienced there and how it related to compassion in the arts.

Of course, having a celebrity publicly bring attention to a cause is a powerful way to make a difference for that cause. And I'm thrilled that we were able to bring attention to the amazing work Save the Children is doing in the Navajo Nation and worldwide.

But how did this visit directly inform what we've been discussing here: compassion, as it relates to work in the arts, and how it helps to create the most extraordinary work possible, the work with the greatest impact, and how it helps to give one the happiest life possible?

In that respect, I was particularly struck by two observations. The first was very simple:

• The families we visited were fundamentally no different from my own. I was profoundly and immediately present to the fact that the parents we visited wanted their children to thrive, the same way I want my children to thrive.

I found this quote from the Dalai Lama:
“Whether people are beautiful and friendly or unattractive and disruptive, ultimately they are human beings, just like oneself. Like oneself, they want happiness and do not want suffering. Furthermore, their right to overcome suffering and be happy is equal to one's own. Now, when you recognize that all beings are equal in both their desire for happiness and their right to obtain it, you automatically feel empathy and closeness for them. Through accustoming your mind to this sense of universal altruism, you develop a feeling of responsibility for others: the wish to help them actively overcome their problems. Nor is this wish selective; it applies equally to all. As long as they are human beings experiencing pleasure and pain just as you do, there is no logical basis to discriminate between them or to alter your concern for them if they behave negatively..... Because we all share an identical need for love, it is possible to feel that anybody we meet, in whatever circumstances, is a brother or sister. No matter how new the face or how different the dress and behavior, there is no significant division between us and other people. It is foolish to dwell on external differences, because our basic natures are the same."
These people we encountered were beautiful and friendly, but the lives they live are very different from the life I live, and the life I share with my family. And what was clear to me, and present in an extraordinary was was just that: they want what I want. We are the same.

This may seem obvious, but for me, personally, I'm not always 100% aware of this fact. I would venture to guess that's how most of us exist, with occasional flashes of awareness. Here's author and psychologist Daniel Goleman from a recent TED talk:
“The new thinking about compassion from social neuroscience is that our default wiring is to help, that is to say, if we attend the other person we automatically empathize, we automatically feel with them. They're these newly identified neurons, mirror neurons, that act like a neural WiFi, activating in our brain exactly the areas activated in theirs. We feel with automatically. And if that person is in need, if that person is suffering, we're automatically prepared to help.... but then the question is, why don't we? The simple fact is that if we're focused on ourselves, if we're preoccupied as we so often are throughout the day, we don't really fully notice the other.”

We don't really fully notice the other. So by being present to the fact that the people I was meeting were fundamentally no different from my own family, no different from me, I was momentarily shaken out of my fog, and I briefly understood the necessity for compassion. I am often and ordinarily preoccupied, but being in this unique circumstance shifted my awareness. Context is decisive.

Shantideva said, in The Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life:
"When happiness is equally dear to others and myself, then what is so special about me that I strive after happiness for myself alone?"
So how do we create this awareness in our day-to-day lives? This sense of compassion for every living being we encounter? As Goleman says, we're preoccupied, we don't notice it when it's right in front of our faces. How many times has each of us stepped past a homeless person on the street, someone stricken with tears on the subway?

This awareness is exactly what the arts can provide. That each of us is fundamentally the same as each and every human being on the planet, each wanting happiness, each wanting to avoid suffering. And, as Goleman says, this is our natural way of being; we're hardwired to be compassionate. Maybe that's why it feels good, maybe it's a product of evolution, the same way we naturally think puppies and children are cute and we instinctively want to take care of them.

And it's our natural inclination to compassion, to connectedness, to humanity, that attracts us to this work in the arts. When we see work that comes from a place of compassion, we're naturally brought to that awareness, of our essential human "sameness," and it feels good.

To clarify:

  1. The arts can break through our usual fog and provide access to our natural tendency towards compassion,
  2. We are attracted to work with a foundation in compassion, because it feels right. We share our inherent needs with everyone else on the planet, and seeing that recognized on screen, on stage, or on paper makes us feel with automatically.
The second observation I had on this trip was this:

• There is a cost to inaction.

There have been plenty of times when I've thought, I don't have the time, I'm tired, I'm busy, someone else will do it. And on this trip I saw the direct impact of the work Save the Children was doing, on real kids. Just like my own kids. And this relates to the arts in the same way. We can choose to remain in a fog, and rob the world of the real impact we have to offer. Or we can take on compassion in our lives and careers and make a difference.

This is what I said in an earlier posting, talking about work that was mercenary, uninspired, and bereft of compassion:
"There's a deep cost to the world that comes from this kind of behavior. We're suffering, and we're being deprived of the things that bind us, that show us what we have in common, that give us hope.

And where does that lead us? To a world full of entertainment created by the uninspired. Sure, there are exceptions, but in a world where artists are being told to focus on business strategy, those exceptions are sure to become rarer and rarer."
So here it is, the call to action. Taking on compassion in your work, in the arts or in your daily life, is the key to the most extraordinary career possible, the most extraordinary life possible, it allows you to make the most extraordinary impact possible, and it's the key to the happiest life possible.

Be compassion. Take it on.

Thich Nhat Hanh

"When you begin to understand the suffering of the other person, compassion will arise in you, and the language you use will have the power of healing. Compassion is the only energy that can help us connect with another person."
H. H. The Dalai Lama:
"Ultimately, the reason why love and compassion bring the greatest happiness is simply that our nature cherishes them above all else. The need for love lies at the very foundation of human existence. It results from the profound interdependence we all share with one another. However capable and skillful an individual may be, left alone, he or she will not survive. However vigorous and independent one may feel during the most prosperous periods of life, when one is sick or very young or very old, one must depend on the support of others...

...It is because our own human existence is so dependent on the help of others that our need for love lies at the very foundation of our existence. Therefore we need a genuine sense of responsibility and a sincere concern for the welfare of others."


Friday, May 8, 2009

Casting Director Kim Miscia - "Compassion in the arts is just like compassion in one's everyday life"

Kim Miscia, who's a friend and a highly respected casting director here in New York City, shared her thoughts on compassion and how it relates to her work:
"Compassion in my field of the arts, casting, has shown its face to me in many instances over the years...

...like the face of the megastar TV and film actress/producer, who went out of her way to make a nervous young actress comfortable before she began her audition.

...or the face of a famous theater director who laughed heartily at every person's audition for a comedy--whether they were funny or not.

...or the face of an award winning writer, who, when an actor fumbled with his lines, reassured the young man that the words weren't important--he was getting the intention just right.

...or the face of the legendary actor teacher who, as an actress drowned in her audition monologue, took her aside and whispered in her ear, transforming her performance.

To me, compassion in the arts is just like compassion in one's everyday life--it's about putting yourself in another person's shoes and feeling empathy for them in that moment--letting them know that they're okay, and that they're not alone. Put more simply, compassion is about making the effort to let others know in tough times--not just in the sunny times--that you are no different from them."
What I really want to highlight in Kim's sharing is the presence of compassion in some of the most successful people in the business: a big TV star, a director, a writer. I'm going to reach a bit here, because I know who the people are she's referring to! These artists, their success, and the compassion in their hearts is not coincidental. The compassion she's talking about is evident in their work. When this particular actress takes on a role, she's so clearly and deeply connected to the character, and its impact on her audience, that people can't help but identify themselves with her. That's not something you turn on and turn off; it's her way of being. If an artist wants the ability to connect with an audience, to create a real emotional resonance in his or her work, compassion is utterly necessary.

Thanks, Kim! *