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. *

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