Be Humble, but let Mother F***ers know....


Matt Whalen

We artists are an insecure, bunch aren't we?

When you’re unsure of yourself, it can be tempting to try to get reassurance from your peers. Reassurance that comes from praise, nods of approval etc. But what if you don’t get that? Does that mean you’re not good at what you do? Absolutely not.

What you need to understand is that as artists, we are all doing something very vulnerable when we show our art, especially when you have an audience viewing the process of building the art (i.e. rehearsals), and then you have an audience viewing and “judging” the final product (i.e. the paying audience). Does what they think count? No.

Wait a minute, how could what they think not count? They are the ones “judging” your art! If someone makes a snarky comment about the 2 hours they spent watching your show, doesn’t that count for anything??? Nope. Because they weren’t a part of the process.

But what if they REALLY know what they’re talking about?? and I mean, like, they write REVIEWS on the shows they see. Still no.

Did they study the script with the rest of your cast and your artistic staff? 

Did they come up with the decisions that your team decided were best for your production?

Did they spend hours rehearsing, interpreting, learning, memorizing, fixing, tweaking, re-spacing, re-learning, agonizing over, pulling their hair problem solving? 

Nope. The answer to all of this is nope.

Not only does their opinion not matter, but it must in no way impact your performance. If they see you on opening night and give you their notes, and they think you should have played the part differently than you did, you have to be courageous and say “oh cool thanks”, even feel free to agree with them so they shut their opinionated mouth,  and tomorrow night, go back do what you rehearsed. If you don’t, you’re betraying everyone else that put in the hard work on your project. One person’s opinion doesn’t count no matter how much you think they know.

There’s a wonderful Teddy Roosevelt quote that I have framed and hung up at work…

“It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena…”

Brene Brown has a quote summarizing this, which I love so much, and it’s 

“If you aren’t in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.”

Before I go on, I’ll admit, I have TOTALLY been the person picking apart performances and productions and have been critical. I’m not saying it’s not ok to do that. That’s part of learning: saying outloud what works and what doesn’t. Critical thinking and discussion is a part bettering yourself as an artist.

I guess what I’m saying is 1. there’s no reason to be mean about it. 2. If you’re on the other side of those kind of comments, remember, they don’t matter.

It’s important though, to know “they don’t matter” doesn’t mean “they don’t exist”.

Critics do exist, both in the official form of people are paid to critique work and write about it, and in the non-official form in people who come to see your work and have something to say. Invite them in, let your work be seen, but also know that what they have to say ultimately means nothing. If you’ve put in the work and did your best, that’s all you can do. If you put your heart, soul, sweat, and tears into it, your work is something worth seeing. 

People you don’t know are probably talking about it, and saying good things that you’ll never hear.  You know in your heart how you did, what you could do better next time, what you really nailed. Your director is the eyes in the audience you need to trust. Listen to them. You don’t need someone outside of your production or project’s opinion to know if your work has merit. It does.

There’s a quote I love, the title of this post, and it’s “be humble, but let m fer’s know.” I think the meaning behind this is do the work without talking about it. Be awesome, and let people see it without the commentary. It can be hard, especially when you’re first starting out, but once you’re established you can do it.

When are you “established?” Right away. You can do it no matter where you are in your career. 

We’ve all done it. We want to impress someone, so in the conversation, we drop anecdotes about our career so they know how big of a deal we are.  In some ways, this can be a part of networking/self promotion/being known. When that’s the case, go for it. Most of the time, there’s really no need. Show them how good you are not by talking about your resume or humblebragging about a callback you got. It’s so unnecessary. Also, it’s so obvious when you’re doing it.

You can still let the motherfu**ersknow. Here are some ways to let them know

1.       Be on time for rehearsal

2.       Be prepared, familiarize yourself before coming in, and be ready to work on what's on the schedule. Know what’s going on

3.       Memorize your stuff earlier than everyone else. Make it seem like it’s easy, and you didn’t really do much, but you really worked your butt off

4.       Have big strong choices to bring to the director

5.       Be awesome

6.       Be consistent

7.       Be someone your fellow actors can rely on and they feel safe in a scene with you knowing it’s not going to be a train wreck

8.       You know that thing that makes you awesome and different than everyone else? Bring that to the table, and give 100% whenever you can. Whatever 100% is that day. It varies day to day.

9.       Be really nice to everyone, be a team player, make them look good, be helpful and respectful to all the production staff, learn everyone’s name, ask about them and what's going on in their lives. Be personable.

Those are just a few examples of “Letting them know”

Finally, being humble doesn’t mean not recognizing what makes you awesome. That’s not it at all. Great reviews, callbacks, getting exciting work, and praise are all such good things, and are so important to internalize.

I think there's a misconception in our society that we shouldn't boast, so we don't let the good stuff sink in. That's the wrong approach. Let it sink in, know the difference between confidence and cocky, but know all of the good traits you have as well as areas of opportunity. No one's perfect, but you need to be able to know what makes you special, and all you've accomplished.

 Let the good stuff build you up, write it down and read it when you’re not feeling good about your work, pick a really close friend to share the accomplishments with and celebrate with them, build your confidence with all that amazing stuff, so you don’t have to have everyone else tell you when you’re doing great, you’ll just know,