The other day, I was visiting with my friend, Evangeline Crittenden, a multi-skilled actor, director, writer, and musician, whose latest projects include Pepper & Snatch’s Cowboy Cabaret (next show June 13th at the Bang Bang Room in Downtown LA!) and the dream-pop duo, Glamour Pony, and during one of those meandering, thought-provoking conversations that last for hours, we started talking about the necessity of audience participation in performance. A performance shouldn’t spell everything out for you, we agreed, shouldn’t tell you exactly how to feel or think or process, shouldn’t smother you with its own interpretation until you cannot breathe.
(I do want to say that this could all be a matter of personal taste, though. We like what we like and create the way we create. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯)
This discussion got me thinking about the 2005 film, Hitch, starring Will Smith as a dating coach who teaches men how to get the women of their dreams into relationships. I don’t recall much about the movie, and given what I remember about its premise, if I saw it again today, I don’t think I’d like it much either, but this one scene keeps coming back to me: Hitch is teaching Kevin James’s character, Albert, how to get to the first kiss at the end of a first date, and he says, “The secret to a kiss is to go ninety percent of the way, and then hold.”
Go ninety. Then stop. Wait for the other person to go the last ten.
Here’s what I like about this idea: giving the other person the opportunity and choice to participate, inviting them to bring something to the interaction between you. The percentages may vary, but I think maybe this advice applies not only to kisses but to performance and writing as well.
Once, in a creative writing workshop, a colleague told me that I didn’t have to land so heavily on each paragraph. I didn’t have to hit so hard. I could just let the words ring for a while.
At the time, I thought, Uh, no. I want every word to land like a punch. Or like a steamroller. To this day, my solution to most of my writing obstacles is “throw more words at it.” One hundred or why bother, amirite?
Since then, however, I’ve come to appreciate that space between ninety and ten, that restraint, that gap between the thing and the audience, the place where meaning resonates.
Poets do this beautifully, I think, utilizing line breaks and white space, creating breathing room on the page, places for the words to ring, gaps that ask the reader to make their own connections or to imagine outside of the poem. I love rereading Danez Smith’s poem, “summer, somewhere” (excerpted here) from their collection, Don’t Call Us Dead, for example, not only because it’s beautiful and painful and powerful and and and... but because the lines ring:
paradise is a world where everything
do you know what it’s like to live
It’s stunning, the way the words take you right to the edge of spelling it out, but don’t. The way the reader has to piece together the rest. Has to take that leap into meaning. Has to think (and I think also to empathize and connect). I think that’s more powerful, in a lot of ways, than words that wash over a reader, overwhelming them, because it invites a more active participation, because it creates a more interactive experience.
There is, of course, a time for creative work that does most or all of the work. There is also a time when a driving, steamrolling sort of narrative style works better than a spare, restrained one. (Maybe that’s a topic for a future post?) But I love that breathing room between the art and the audience, because I think it means the audience comes out of themselves, in a way, isn’t insulated from the creative work but part of it, forming these connections, building bridges.
Next week: EGO. For the past few months, after the biggest crisis in confidence I’ve experienced in probably ten years, I’ve been thinking about the role of self-confidence in art. When is it necessary? When will it ruin you or your creativity? How can we use it and not let it overwhelm us? Join me me me me me next Sunday at tracichee.com and/or post your own responses with the hashtag #workandprocess. I’ll go ninety. You go ten. <3
Work and Process is a year-long journey of exploring and reflecting on the artistic process, craft, and working in a creative field. Each Sunday, I’ll post some thoughts, wonderings, explanations, and explorations on writing and creativity, and by the end of it, I hope to have 52 musings, examinations, meanderings, discoveries, bits of joy or inquisitiveness or knowledge to share. In each post, I’ll also include a topic for the following week, so if you happen to be inspired to question/wonder at/consider your own work and process, you’re welcome to join me. We’ll be using the #workandprocess hashtag across all social media platforms, and I hope we find each other to learn and connect and transform on our creative wanderings.