Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Lesson: How You Practice Is How You Perform

This saying was once said to me by probably hands down, the best Acting Teacher/Coach that has walked the face of the earth, Mr. James Pringle of the World Famous Harlem Theatre Company, now located in Chicago. 

Mr. Pringle would often end what had been considered grueling hours of study and practice to churn out some of the most intense students of theater, film and television.  Mr. Pringle was rarely impressed with natural talent--although he appreciates it-- but hard, smart workers.  If you were a natural but lazy or lackadaisical, you were as good as  sucked.  Sheer talent didn't keep you from being thrown off of his stage.  In fact if you're talented and usually a hard worker but slacked off a day or a moment, you were tossed off of his stage quicker.  He has an intuitive eye for excellence and keen sensibility for when one works at it.
Harlem Theatre Company painted sign
Harlem Theatre Company logo
Now in Chicago, IL
The words and actions of Mr. Pringle often resonate with me, creatively and practically.  I hear his lessons, "lateness leads to mediocrity... [still working on that one], when you leave the stage you should be exhausted, drenched in sweat...Analyze don't memorize..."   Nothing abounds more for me than, "How you practice is how you perform..."  That is not to say that mistakes aren't made in practice or in performance [life], however you work out the kinks in practice.

How You Practice is How You Perform rings true with life in general and can be applied as a filter for a number of situations.  I was involved in an audition with my GodBrother/Director John E. Scutchins for a theatrical interpretation for my latest novel, Nothing Special....Just Friends? 

We rented out a New York City studio in search of the best theater performers to work at their craft.  For two days we auditioned scores of men and women and had the most difficulty finding the right actress for the main character.  We needed her to figure out this girl's complexity without judgment, understand her depth and motivation or make it up and make it work.  We came across a young lady who captured an inordinate amount of our time.  She had the right look and sensibility but getting good action out of her was truly like pulling a tooth in denial.  When we asked her to try it again, she vocalized numerous complaints about how tired she was and how she had a hard 9 to 5 day.  "Great, use that..."  My GodBrother/Director instructed.  She refused, left and we were all disappointed that we had yet to find the main character.

After the actress exited the room, the Director and I spoke about the possibilities.  I was ready to settle.  "She--the unmaleable one--came closest.  I say we go with her."  I stated.

"No.  I guarantee you if my name were Spike Lee or Steven Spielberg, she would have found the strength to not be tired and she wouldn't have complained about it.  She has respect of persons."  My GodBrother retorted.  I couldn't argue with that.  Mr. Pringle's words resounded, "How you practice..."  How you are in practice [on your way to Steven Spielberg] is how you will perform if you ever get to Steven Spielberg.

Recently, I entered a conversation with one of my nephews who inquired about publishing a Children's book.  "Fantastic!"  I say before I sock him with a barrage of questions.  I am always willing to help but I have to know you are willing to put in the work.  His answers, "I never really wanted to write a book, it just kinda happened, I have an illustrator and we're going to go 50/50..."  And so on and so forth.  Finally the conversation morphed into more of why he never intended to write moreso than why he was the right guy to write this book and have it published.  I told him that and he responded with, "...But I'm just telling you that..." 

I became incensed. "More than your Auntie, I am a Publisher.  You can't just tell me that because that's what you'd also say to Carolyn Reidy.  What you just said to me is what is organic at your core.  You can try and fake it but the good ones see through."  Again, Mr. Pringle's voice, "...How You Practice..."

Finally I've come to the conclusion, these lessons were more for me than anyone else.  Excuses like, at least, only or it's just are just that--excuses to under-perform in life.  In my life they are Not an option.  It is a reminder to treat people how you wish to be treated, practice strong and hard and don't minimize opportunities because who you are in front of today may be the person you want to be in front of tomorrow. 

Tell me about life lessons from mentors that resonate with you!

This is Toni Staton Harris Checkin' Up and Checkin' In on How You Practice....

1 comment:

  1. Toni, a mentor of mine once told me "Mary you don't have to dress sexy to get noticed. Being respected is more important". I will always remember that and dress like a lady....I may not get as many 'looks' but I think I get more respect.