I reject the notion that posing nude or scantilly clad is a an expression of our bravery...in reality I believe it's driven by a kind of self-contempt and feeling of unworthiness that we're constantly trying to avoid.
As I look through instagram and see folks taking new headshots at the speed of light or posting 100's of photos of themselves in various dressed to kill, impress or seduce poses; I remember graduate acting school. I recall how much mildly talented actors were rewarded with stamps of bravery when they went nude on stage.
I can't help but correlate the need to be nude with the "mildly talented" part of the equation. It's a stand in for something important from within: self-worth, personal excellence. Acting schools and the industry reward nudity. As if somehow when you take off your clothes for a role, you're co-signing the Universe's decision to make you fearfully and wonderfully made. That somehow you need to convince the world of this fact instead of yourself.
The posing obsession is a way of avoiding the deep, scary work of going within and convincing yourself of your worth, your loveability. I call it work because dismantling all of the limiting beliefs that your family and the world have handed you is an act of FIERCE BRAVERY. It requires action, work, determination & courage
It ain't just an affirmation, it's earning a doctoral degree in learning your purpose and "posing fab" is a substitute for that and a piss poor one at that because once you know
who you are,
why you're here
and what you're meant to be living out in this lifetime,
you don't need outside confirmation.
It's is an inexhaustible supply of love and appreciation for your Soul's Song...it's the applause that never ends because it comes from within.
When you are in your purpose, you become a flaming force of nature destined to live in your greatest joy and leave this place better than you found it. Instead of feeding off the momentary attention of others, you change the world around you and show others what's possible for themselves....and what's possible on this journey is a lot more than smoldering eyes, a pretty face and some abs...that shit fades....who you are and what legacy you left behind are inexhaustible sources of life fuel.
And it's not enuf to go on this journey with superficial manifestations of change: fasts, denying yourself pleasures, going on trips, shaving your head, botox and a cleanse...these are all superficial...but rather, getting in a room with a professional with a list of all the life skills you know you're lacking. You're lacking because your parents could not teach you what they didn't know, but they were adept at handing down all their fears along with their wisdom.
So, to learn a new set of life skills, you first need to make a list of what you don't know how to do.
For me, I didn't know how to tell people how I felt or set boundaries. I had to go to someone to teach me that important skill so I could implement it in my life and see the power I had to change my life. Doing this with a professional who will keep you accountable by setting an agenda and measurable goals is the terrifying, miraculous work of transformation...of actually learning your Soul's Song and living it outloud without the world's permission or consent.
The result is you set the terms for your life's journey instead of being flung about by the world's superficial, money-driven whims...which leave you tired, hungry and lacking.
Why are you here? You're already fearfully and wonderfully made. All you have to do is get about the work of believing it. The constant need to do photo exposes is a desire to be loved...a desire to have the world confirm what's already true (but we have a hard time accepting), we are beautiful and deserving of love. Acting as a profession is a need to be have our lovability confirmed...the applause, the accolades for showing up in the best clothing, hair and make-up...its all wrapped up in a profound need for approval...which in itself isn't bad...
The problem arises when the internal understanding of our worth needs constant validation from outside. Showing up fab and sexy is a very clever (exhausting way) to avoid doing the important internal work of believing what's already true: you are a wonder waiting to happen.
""""One of the most mortifying moments I experienced in my theatrical career was when I was asked to bring the entirely African-American cast of a new musical we were workshopping, a new piece by an African-American librettist and composer, across the street to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and up into the plush boardroom so they could perform a song or two for the board of directors. I wanted to say something, but I didn't. For one thing, it would take an invaluable 45 minutes to an hour out of the creative team's limited time together. But... every year we had to do the same old song and dance for the board to remind them that yes, we did do new plays and musicals, so yes, it was sometimes a good idea to expose the board to new voices, to the vibrancy of an exciting work in progress.
You all know where this is going, don't you? I led the team in. The talent in that team! The writer/composer himself and the cast, lauded veterans of the stage and the most promising members of the next generation of acting giants. And there was our board. White, as white as can be, white white white white. And very comfortable. They'd just been served lunch, I believe. My theater spared no expense in pleasing our board and catering to their demands (oh my god, I'm feeling such rage right now! I'm pretty sure we had a staff member who was mostly dedicated to help our richest board members get house seats to shows on Broadway and the West End. But I digress...)
The only black face in the audience seated at the conference table? The only person of color? The head of our education department, of course. My heart went out to her.
The cast sang a song from the show. They did it. And they brought it. Because they were and are professionals. And the very pillars of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion reverberated down to the parking lot. It was breathtaking.
And I had just been complicit in the remaking of a scene for the millionth time: black bodies and voices entertaining white audiences, an institution raising money on the backs and voices of black bodies.
I was too mortified to apologize to our writer and to our cast, none of whom, I should add, expressed even an iota of discomfort. They were professionals, and they shone. And come to think of it, they'd probably all become accustomed to this scene. "It's just how theater works," they might have thought with a shrug of their shoulders. Or maybe they seethed inside, for the millionth time, when all they were trying to do is workshop a new musical.
Well, I apologize sincerely now to our writer and those actors. I wish I had had the courage to put my foot down. It is not how theater should work.
I quit the American theater on Valentine's Day 2016, so I've been out more than four years now. And honestly I don't plan to return, which is why I can write with such candor.
The heart of the problem, my friends, is with the non-profit structure, which is capitalism on steroids. Who are the bosses ultimately in an American institutional theater? The board of directors. Who are the board of directors? For the most part, those members of the community not with the strongest attachment to the art form but those with the deepest pockets. Often they're really not members of the community. They often just drop in. They are sometimes mere tourists.
It's no wonder that that board meeting was held in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The theater, like most American theaters, had built its board of directors on the old opera model: You get the richest folks together, offer them galas and house seats and receptions and private recitals and showings (for which artists often don't get paid extra, mind you), you pamper them and make them feel more special and entitled than they already do, and then they'll write you big checks to support the kind of art they like, the kind of art they can bring their kids and grandkids to. AND they--not the artists, not the community--get to hire the institution's leadership.
It is a rotten model. Rotten to the core. How can any artistic institution claim to be working for and in the community with that model?
It's got to be torn down. It's got to be reinvented. And I have no idea what the next model will be. I really don't. And no, honestly I don't think government is the solution frankly. Some of the most bloated, self-satisfied, decadent theater I've ever seen was in Germany, where it was almost fully government-funded. Lots of bells and whistles and provocations and completely soul-dead.
I see amazing and galvanizing lists of demands recently being made and posted by theater artists of color. These are vital demands. But they don't address the central issue. As long as the ultimate bosses of an artistic institution remain the community's deepest pockets, nothing will change. Nothing. You'll be putting band-aids on a gaping wound. Sorry, but it's true.
So please figure something else out. Maybe for a few years you just avoid the institutions. You've already started. In the pandemic, so many of you are making amazing art without an institution. Find those who truly adore your work and ask them to fund it. Screw non-profit. Form a corporation and value your art art-making as a resource that profits you, your viewers/audience and your community. I have no idea.
But please don't return to a new version of the old. After the virus, after he's out of office, after police reform and nationwide conversations about race, after, after, after, begin something new. I can't wait to see what it is!”
Words: Pier Carlo Talenti
Video: Griffin Matthews
April Yvette Thompson