WHAT WOULD MARK TWAIN DO? Advice to Actors from Mark Twain by Meredith Bean McMath (pictured below with Mark Twain in Bermuda)
"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime." - Mark Twain
I was reading a column about Mark Twain's book, Seven Life Changing Lessons You Can Learn from Mark Twain (“Dumb Little Man" Column, Business Insider), and I thought, Hey, this MY life, for pity’s sake! My weird little theatre life, with its broad, odd, wholesome, creative, charitable views of the world - found all because I chose NOT to vegetate in a little corner of life. And those that join me in organized chaos have the pleasure of inhabiting dozens of people and perspectives, new worlds and old, and all sorts for magic and mayhem.
"I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened." - Mark Twain
Well put, sir. For the pleasure of inhabiting a completely different perspective for a time, an actor will risk self-respect and criticism, face sleep deprivation and midnight terrors. and live through some terrible things. And the things that happen to them in real life? Those feed into the actor’s art and enhance the richness of every character portrayed.
"Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living; the world owes you nothing; it was here first." - Mark Twain
Ah. The actor who walks into auditions wanting a particular role… then argues with the director about casting choices. Yes. That’s going to go over well; do that. And then try auditioning again… anywhere but here. Of course, Twain could also be describing life as a director. And, yes, I tell myself to get over myself... a lot, actually. And I better, because…
"When people do not respect us we are sharply offended; yet in his private heart no man much respects himself." - Mark Twain
I hate a bad review, but if I don’t leave room for improvement, what do I think I am, perfect? Ridiculous notion. Every really good actor I know doubts themselves, because they’re always reaching for perfection. Conversely when an actor has said (however shyly) they believe they are good, nothing good has ever come of it. And then there is Twain's great advice for getting organized:
"The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one." - Mark Twain
Spot on, spot on. And when chaos descends — as it will, without fail, one to ten days before opening night - I remember these wise words, as well:
"When angry, count to four. When very angry, swear." - Mark Twain
Twain may not have been thinking specifically of the theatre when writing this last piece of advice, but it sure does come in handy to a thespian - it certainly does.