You Become What You Do

In my twenties, I was a performer. In my thirties, I was a teacher. I became what I spent my time doing. When I lived in Chicago, I did a lot of things, but the thing I did the most was rehearse and perform improv. For about five years, I performed at least a couple times a week and usually rehearsed once or twice too. I got good at improvising, very good, but I don’t think I mastered it. I think I still needed a lot more experience to accumulate in order to master it.

And then I began to teach. I liked teaching, a lot. I learned much about how to improvise when I started to coach it and then later when I taught it. There is something powerful about having to think deeply enough about something that you have to explain it to someone else. Still, during these first couple of years in Chicago as a teacher, I performed as much or more than I taught. I had some balance and I continued to grow as a performer.

When I moved to New York, this began to change. Once there, I had to worry more about how I was going to pay the bills. I really didn’t want to take a day job, but that meant I had to teach a lot more and coach more than I had in Chicago. I started teaching four classes a week. I did perform, but not as much as I would have liked. I got myself on a Harold team, but instead of playing weekly, like I had in Chicago, we played every other week, sometimes every third week. I put together shows, but those would only last for a few months. I probably spent at least six hours teaching or coaching for each hour spent performing. Even if my goal was to be a great teacher, this was not a good setup. Like anything else, being a great teacher requires that you recharge often. By the end, I did not feel recharged at all.

When I left New York, I had become a teacher. I was a pretty good one, but in my seven years there, I only became a marginally better performer. My confidence as a performer had waned and my love for performing had definitely bottomed out. This is no surprise. I spent all my energy teaching (and running the school where I taught), and I got better at it. It wasn’t that, “Those who can, do. And those who can’t, teach.” It’s more like, “You become what you do.” I taught, so I became a teacher.

In the years since, when I’ve mostly been away from the theater, I realize that this was a mistake. Although I love teaching, my first love is performing, and my second love is directing. I’m not sure teaching is even third on that list. It might be fourth or fifth, if I’m honest. I love it, but it’s just not my highest priority. I want to be the best performer I can be, and that will mean that I’ll have to devote the lion’s share of my energy to performing. I want to improvise and I want to act and I want to develop original theater as a performer, writer and director. There’s no secret to getting better at these things, except that you must do whatever it is you want to master. I let myself get distracted from that in NYC.

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