Thoughts on Creating Your Own Work, But Also Life

Alexis Scheer (B.F.A. '14, musical theater) is an actor, playwright, and producing artistic director of Off the Grid Theatre Company.

I was going to write a light and fluffy piece about creating your own work, filled with mass-market truisms like “jumping is a lot harder when you tell yourself you can’t fly.” This might have been momentarily inspiring, but ultimately, it does a disservice by making it seem like what we do is easy. What we do is not easy. It is a mass of ambivalence and stumbling in the dark. I do not have any of the answers and, as frightening as it is to pull back the curtain here, I am making it all up as I go along (hint: everyone is). So, here are some things I tell myself often:

Get Out of Your Own Way

You will always be the most monumental thing standing in your way. It’s easy, and satisfying, to place blame on external forces when you are stuck, but that only takes away your power. You have a choice in how you respond to everything in life.

Once, in a frantic moment of what-if-people-don’t-take-me-seriously-as-a-theater-maker-because-I’m-a-woman, I Googled “female artistic directors” and emailed a list of incredible women one question: “How do you do it?” My favorite response is Anne Bogart’s succinct reply, “Have courage.”

So, what if you put down your cheap shield made of cynicism and face scary things with graceful uncertainty? What if you do not wait for anyone’s permission? Do what you want to do and be kind. Kindness and generosity are wildly underestimated, but those are the things people remember before they remember your talent.

Stop Apologizing

You throw “sorrys” out like boomerangs, with the intent for them to come back and knock you over so everyone can see you are punishing yourself sufficiently for having feelings, for being clear about what you need, for messing up. Stop. Doing. That. Your animal heart tells you failure means death, but I dare you to fail gloriously. Failure is a sign that you are taking risks and exercising your humanity. Failing never gets easier. But you can fail forward by making new mistakes, and you can fail better by not beating yourself up when you’re down.

Ask questions. Ask for help. Ask for what you need. Do not apologize for any of it.

Just. Make. Something. (Practical Steps, Finally)

  1. Fill the well. Listen to other people's stories. Turn on the news. Read comic books. Go to the museum. Watch competitive cooking shows. Download someone's discography. Ask your barista what he or she is doing this weekend. Everything is relevant. Anything can be inspiring.

  2. Find your collaborators, the people who inspire you to be the best you. These are artists you can learn from, but they also have something to learn from you. Be open and honest, and then build your workspace. Let them know you value them. Believe them when they say they value you.

  3. Make the thing. The play. The dance. The album. Just do it. Then edit. Then refine.

  4. Breathe. (You should be breathing throughout, but this is a reminder in case you haven’t been.)

  5. Repeat.