by Grayson Samuels
Eager young artists have a drive like no other. It’s fueled by a passion that is deep-rooted, that allows them to stay up until the early hours of the morning working on a new project, or stay after school for hours on end for rehearsals. This passion gives artists a unique drive to consistently say, “Yes.” The word yes has become so routine in the arts that its antithesis has turned into somewhat of a naughty word. If you say no to a new opportunity when you are already working on several projects, you are not driven and are deemed weak. If you say no to a director about something that makes you uncomfortable, you are not taken seriously and are easily replaced.
The stigma that surrounds the words yes and no in the theater is completely overwhelming. For as long as I can remember, I have been a yes man. I was told that saying yes to any request or opportunity would open doors for you that you couldn’t even imagine. I was told that saying yes, even if it didn’t work out in the end, was a learning opportunity like no other to grow from your mistakes, even if the mistake was saying yes in the first place. So I said yes, and it opened doors that I couldn’t even have imagined. I learned to grow from the mistakes that I made, and that was beautiful, but it came at a cost. With each new opportunity came new responsibilities, responsibilities that could not have been taken lightly. With each new load on my shoulders, I found it hard to live my life to the fullest and enjoy every moment thoroughly and truthfully. I was always thinking about what I needed to be doing differently in my life to have more opportunities come my way, because if I kept saying yes, the projects and connections would come. And they did, but at a cost. I’m not saying that the word yes is the new naughty word, like its negative counterpart. My life has changed for the better because I accepted every opportunity that came my way. If I hadn’t said yes to this one project, I wouldn’t have met this person that offered me this job, or this and that. The word yes is incredibly magical, but it comes at a price. It’s important to know what that price is before agreeing to whatever you are signing on to.
So, what would happen if we started saying no? Would there be mass destruction? Would rivers flood and trees burn to the ground, and would the world as we know it change forever? Or, would we start to really enjoy the projects that we take on a little more? Would we experience the creation happening around us a little deeper? Would we learn to appreciate our fellow artists around us a bit more? Saying no allows us as artists to say yes to the work that will enrich us, rather than barrel through different projects that are only half as meaningful.
Saying no allows us to find time to play ourselves for a bit, rather than a character onstage. I found that when I was doing several projects at one time, my mind was a gutter filled with thoughts, feelings, and doubts about my work that intruded into my personal life every moment of the day. However, when I was taking my time with each project, pacing myself and giving myself time to breathe and explore myself as a person, I felt better, and the work felt better.
I don’t think that the stigma surrounding the words yes and no will ever disappear. You will always have people telling you to say yes to opportunity that comes your way. From there, you will be introduced to lessons and experiences that will form your career, and you will meet people that will change your life in ways you can’t imagine. This is absolutely true, I have experienced it first hand, but it comes at a cost. Saying no allows you to choose the work that enriches you as an artist, and gives you the time to separate your life and your work. Without the ability to say no, the joy and and passion that actors have is insignificant.
To those of you about to embark on the intimidating and seemingly dangerous world that is college, or anyone starting a new project or endeavor, I implore you: Know when to say no. Take care of yourself. Take care of your mind. Be smart. Say yes, but understand the costs. Breathe.
Williamstown Theater Festival update! This past week, we opened the first two shows of the season, “The Rose Tattoo”, by Tennessee Williams, starring Oscar winner Marisa Tomei, and “Cost of Living” by Martyna Majok. I’ve been spending my time backstage during “The Rose Tattoo”, as I am one of two caretakers of a certain rambunctious goat that appears several times throughout the play. The experience has been trying, exhilarating, and wonderful. I’ve had the opportunity to meet some of my biggest inspirations that appear in the production, and my mind has been blown how in an instant, the actors that you have idolized for so long can turn into human beings in the blink of an eye. Last night, I had a chance to see “Cost of Living”, which was a beautiful and touching look at humanity and the need for human connection. It was a brilliantly written new play, and Martyna Majok is a woman to keep on your radar.