Centre of Attention

Words by MONISHA ISWARAN
Art by ELAINE LI

Being the object of an artist’s attention. To anyone who’s interested in creative industries – actors, writers, visual artists – it’s a romantic, idealized notion.

In my experience, it was exciting and informative, but definitely not the easy breezy scenario I had in my head.

I was almost 16 when I had the amazing opportunity to basically be handed a role in a play (which I’ve found in later life rarely happens in the acting world), a role that the writer was still shaping and tweaking.

I’m going to share five things with you that I learned from the experience. Why? Because if you do get the chance to inspire a creative, it’s better to spend the potentially once-in-a-lifetime opportunity enjoying yourself, rather than questioning if you’re doing it right.

Here’s a quick rundown of my experience. I got spotted while singing in an event, and was approached by a fairly established playwright who said I fit the image she had in her head of a character, which was at that point still in the development phase. Being a drama student, I was of course ecstatic and jumped at the chance to do anything remotely theatre-related!

I suppose this experience was different to that of many others, in that I didn’t know the writer or ‘artist’ I was working with at all until she approached me. I was just lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. As an over-analyzing, insecure teenager I felt extremely underqualified to be taking on a role where I would be the centre of attention for the better part of an hour and a half. However, before I even heard a vague plotline, I heard the words “I’m so in,” coming out of my mouth.

Muse lesson #1 – Get to know the person you’re working with really well

At this point in my life I’d never worked, or done anything remotely professional, so I had no concept of how working relationships develop. I was really scared to probe, ask questions, and find out more about the writer’s style and process. This was really a much bigger deal in my head than it should have been – getting to know the artist you’ll be spending heaps of time with will move along the quality of the work at a quicker pace.

Muse lesson #2 – Be yourself, they picked you for a reason

Although any artistic experience can be a great opportunity to evolve yourself in some ways, you shouldn’t have to change yourself to be a part of it. At the beginning, in every conversation we had with the creative team I was trying my best to only say or do the right things, until thankfully one of the girls told me it was time to take a chill pill. Once I started having coffee and spending lunch breaks to chill with the people I was working with, I found it way easier to just be me.

Muse lesson #3 – Don’t be overly sensitive

I think when someone first approaches you to work together in a scenario, where the character is based on you, it’s hard not to get caught up in whether the details are right. It was pretty important to remember that this was someone inspired by my personality, rather than a replica of me.

Being a drama student and all-round theatre nerd, I psychoanalysed the hell out of every word and action in the script. Having learned all about character intention and motivation, I found myself constantly thinking “but that isn’t something I would do” or “I would never say that”. It’s pretty essential to not get too emotionally attached or affected by a piece of artistic work, and realise it really is only loosely based on you as a person.

Muse lesson #4 – You’re allowed to share your views too. You don’t have to just sit in the corner or do what you’re told.

Honestly, I couldn’t have asked for a better writer to have worked with in a million years, and not everyone would necessarily get that lucky. I was definitely given the chance to tweak things if I wasn’t comfortable with them. For example, being a pretty innocent 15-year-old, I was very nervous about cuss words, and swearing in a public setting, and that actually got cut out. If you really don’t want to do something, speak up! More often than not, your artist is bound to understand.

Muse lesson #5 – Know your place in the creative process.

This might sound like it’s contradicting the above statement, but not overstepping your place is important. If you’re creative yourself, it might be extremely tempting to make suggestions 24/7. Don’t. If what you’re saying is about the vision of the project, you might just be affecting the artist’s work or creating too many conflicting ideas.

In short, my experience of being a ‘muse’ of sorts for a playwright was nothing short of fabulous. The one thing I wish I could take back was the constant questioning that went on in my mind throughout the rehearsal process. Why me? Am I a good enough actor for this? Am I pretty enough to play the lead?

If you get given an opportunity to do something you’re passionate about, and inspire someone’s work, grab that chance and run with it. Trust me, those chances are rare gems… I’m still waiting for my next one.  

 

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