I‘ve promised you Paris updates and those will come tomorrow. But today, this is the story that needs telling.
This is a post about an artist’s heart, as yesterday, my heart broke in two places.
Maybe it was two days ago. I don’t know. I’m 7 hours ahead of “home” time here in Paris yet regardless of time span, I can tell you that this morning my heart continues to break along the same two lines.
The first fault line split open when I read the news in the wee hours – while America was sleeping and Europe was sitting down to happy hour (which runs until 8pm here – American bars, take note). Alan Rickman had died.
Most people know him as Professor Snape from the Harry Potter film legacy. Others, the affable yet wayward husband opposite Emma Thompson in Love, Actually. Me? I’d always know him as Jamie from Truly, Madly, Deeply. Back sometime around 2003/2004, my then-boyfriend and admitted cinemaphile said there was a movie I “had to see.” Knowing this was an argument I wouldn’t win, I gave in and settled in on a Saturday afternoon to watch some British flick.
From that moment on, Alan Rickman had my heart. I’d never quite seen anyone on the screen do so little yet say so much, be inarguably human and manly and tender yet still be the sexiest being to grace the room. In everything I saw him in and every role he endeavored to portray, I never saw Rickman because he gave himself over so completely to the emotion of the story that needed telling and demanded that I buckle in my shit and go for the ride of my life.
(Bottle Shock – another favorite: “Because you think I’m an arsehole. And I’m not, really. I’m just British and, well… you’re not.”)
Cancer is the arsehole and heaven, in whatever iteration you’ve chosen to invest, is the lucky one. In a week, it’s gotten floor seats to the greatest arena event of all time with Rickman giving himself over to Bowie’s music and René Angelil producing the entire affair.
For the better part of the day in Paris yesterday, I wandered the streets – sometimes alone while my inarguably better half got some work done – and had “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” going in a madcap manner through my brain and occasionally, vocal cords. My artist’s heart had more questions than answers.
- Am I taking what’s been given to me artistically or am I daring to ask what else is there?
- Am I waiting for permission to create, to be, to shine?
- What am I afraid of and where am I holding back in my creative work?
I suppose if you’re not an artist, you can edit the above questions and ask the same of your own life. All I know this morning is that as I write this about a man I’ve never met, I’m on the verge of tears because it’s rare to find a human that doesn’t just inspire you. Fuck, anything – from a filthy penny on a dirty sidewalk to a TED talk can be inspirational.
I’m not looking for inspiration. I’m looking for the unspoken challenge. Inspiration has to go somewhere; make you do something. Alan Rickman challenged me to ask better, harder questions about my own work and to not just leave those questions sitting there like a forgotten bread crust on an inspiration sandwich. He dared me to answer them – honestly. Sans bullshit. Because no one pays to see a liar or someone pretending.
So if it weren’t enough that there’s a baller gig happening in heaven that I don’t have tickets for, the Oscar nominations came out yesterday.
White, white white white white. Did I say white? White.
It’s as if The Academy poured Clorox on the whole of 2015 and forgot that people who aren’t white actually performed on the screen.
As I perused Facebook in the wake of the news, I saw everything ranging from friends – true friends – hating on white actors who received nominations to thought-provoking discussions a zillion comments long on a few friends’ timelines to their friends saying it was time for performers of color to jump ship and have their own awards. Segregation.
And it all hurts my heart.
Because as an artist, I see art as experience. Perspective. Talent doesn’t have a color or age or gender. But I ask how can Sylvester Stallone get a nomination in Creed when the actors that support his story – actors of color – are passed over?
And frankly, can I ask how the actual fuck anything from 50 Shades of Gray got nominated for anything?
What world is it that we live in where in 2000-fucking-16 that we still have to ask these questions – the question of whether talent has a color or gender or age? The Atlantic reported about 2 years ago on the shocking (Shocking? Okay, perhaps not too surprising but sobering nonetheless) composition of Academy voters – you know, the ones who determine who gets nominated for what? Oscar Voters are roughly 94% white, 76% male, and an average of 63 years old.
Well, no fucking wonder, right?
I also saw the completely asinine, white-privilege-laced argument on someone’s thread that “perhaps affirmative action can help actors of color get a nomination when their talent isn’t enough.”
My reply directly to this person was: What the actual fuck?
Yeah, the person commenting was white.
So today, I don’t know what it means to be white. I know as an artist, it feels pretty shitty because my friends are so goddamned talented it hurts. Their experiences and voices and actions and ways of getting from text to performance astonish and challenge me to rise to the occasion every fucking time an occasion stares me in the face.
It also feels shitty because what if someday, someone said that because I was white, I didn’t deserve to get an award nomination I’d received and someone else was left out or overlooked and attributed that to the color of someone’s skin or gender?
I don’t have an answer. I just don’t.
As an artist, my work gets better because of the people who surround me but how can we – in this world where we look to people like Rickman and the power of an Oscar nod to tell us what’s good – keep walking along as if nothing is wrong? There’s no way that a person’s gender or skin color can dictate their ability to play a leading role as each day, we all play the leading role in someone’s life and it’s the role of a lifetime. Yet, Hollywood sees things differently. The classical and modern stage canon also sees things differently.
There’s a lot wrong with the arts right now and it’s nothing that will be changed in a month’s or year’s time.
My heart broke a second time yesterday because I saw the hearts of my friends breaking. Empathy’s a bitch like that. I’m feeling helpless and not wanting to because I cannot tolerate being part of a problem when there’s an opportunity to be part of a solution. Because I think about ever season general audition notice that comes out here in Chicago and how I feel when I read the breakdowns. For those not in the arts, those are the notices theatres post about the plays to be included in their upcoming seasons and the roles available.
Can you say sausagefest? Can you say hey – thanks for choosing a season with 25 roles for men and 4 roles for women?
Can you say how the hell did you come to that decision and more importantly, who played a part in the making of that decision?
The desire to break off – for any demographic – and do your own thing comes from a continued beat down by the bigger culture, telling you that you don’t matter. It comes from not being seen by the culture you’ve committed to support and work tirelessly to lift up. It comes from thinking that your experiences and the story only you can tell don’t matter.
Which is why people leave. More importantly, it’s why the people we need most leave.
And don’t get me wrong – amazing things have been started by people who “leave” something else.
But this is one area where we’d all do better if we stuck together and asked, “What now?” and dared to ask, “What’s five years from now?” instead of, “You know – fuck all of you. We’ll do our own thing.”
As an artist, I create for humans – other humans living a life so human that it hurts.
And maybe that’s why, today, my heart remains broken in two places.
The first place – because the world’s left with a body of work created by a man like Rickman who gave himself over to the work.
And the second place – because of the people who give themselves over to the work tirelessly and continuously, only to be passed over time and again.
Because I can do something, about both my own work and how I support the work of others. So can you, no matter what industry you call home. And as I hit publish, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.
PS: If you want a powerful and plain-spoken call from a fellow actor/artist in Chicago, check out this post that’s breaking bandwidth from Harmony France. You’ll be glad you did.