Somewhere along the road of history, someone decided that since personal pride is a sin, taking pride in your work was also taboo. Someone else along the same road (and I think this person was an artist of some type) took it a little further to say that if it was not absolutely without a doubt the best thing ever known to man, the work is not worthy of praise. I say to them: balderdash.
Praise is like food and drink to artists of all kinds. Money is not usually as much of an issue, it can come from all different places in response to all different things. Praise only comes from a sincere enjoyment of the work at hand. Artists and performers can and do starve to death without praise and appreciation. For some reason, though, they all seem to be in the business of going on a starvation diet by rejecting all but a minute portion of the praise that is offered, and even taking that with a heaping side order of salt. Sound a little weird? Well, I will say so. It is, however, logical in the art world. A little explanation here:
Artists and performers are, by definition, perfectionists. We want to be the best and the greatest at what they do. They also have an intense fear of failure and humiliation (sound familiar?), so it is difficult for them to risk those by really going for the gold. Therefore, we are constantly aware that we are doing less than our total best, which of course means we’re really awful (there seems to be nothing in between) while at the same time still hoping to be wonderful. Any praise or compliments given then, feel to us at best undeserved, and at worst, stolen deceitfully. Have you ever thought any of these thoughts when a compliment was offered to you:
- Well, this person doesn’t really know anything about theater, so they don’t know what they’re saying.
- If they had seen me on any other night, they wouldn’t be so generous. Tonight was just a fluke.
- I have no real training, so I can’t really be as good as she says.
- I’m only doing this well because of the tricks I learned in acting class.
- Tonight was terrible! What is he talking about, great?
- She didn’t mean it. She’s just saying that because she can’t tell me how bad it really
- I wasn’t even supposed to have this part. It’s all a mistake. If the other person was playing it who was supposed to, they would have been tons better.
- There were many other cast members who were better than I.
Or any other thoughts that completely annul the compliment? I have, too. It is sometimes very difficult to get your mind outside of your own worries and confidence problems and perfectionism and look at the root of the praise. There is only one reason that you get praise, and it is this:
Someone enjoyed something that you did so much that they told you so.
That’s all. It has nothing to do with how you compare, personally or professionally, to anyone else in the world. It also has nothing to do with how talented you may or may not be. Nor does it have to do with the intelligence level of your audience, their social standing, or their professional connection to your craft. Whoever it was that gave you the compliment, assume that is was for the reason above. Compliments never ever hurt you. They only feed you. Even if, by some strange tweak of the universe, you accepted a compliment that you did not earn or deserve (by your standards), accepting it would do nothing to you, but it would make the person who gave it feel good. Segue into my next point.
People who compliment you enjoyed your work. You can tell, because they told you so. You don’t need a notarized affidavit to be sure that they are not lying to you. They told you because not only did they like what they saw, the liked it so much they were compelled to tell you about it. It is very rude to call people liars. I think you already know that. If you don’t accept a compliment, graciously, you are, in effect saying, “you are lying when you say that. You don’t really know what you’re saying.” What a slap in the face to someone who went out of their way to a) see your work and b) to tell you how much they enjoyed it! Rude, unprofessional, and childish. If a compliment you have offered has been rejected, you know what I’m saying.
How to start? Practice in the mirror (I’m not kidding. This mirror is going to become one of your most important tools in honing your craft) smiling nicely and saying, “Thank you”. If you get comfortable with that, you can really go out on a limb and say, “Thank you. I’m glad you enjoyed it.” Or, “Thank you! We all worked really hard.” Or, “Thank you. I’m glad you were able to see the show.” This is how you accept a compliment. Often times, that’s enough. You may, just by thanking them, encourage them to say more about the show. That’s like getting a second helping, or even dessert sometimes. Don’t turn it down. No calories to worry about here. You may just feel well fed and renewed with creative energy. Nothing to lose, everything to gain.
If you are still having trouble with the angle that take you to the audience’s feelings, and you need a motivator closer to home, just remember that you never know who you’re talking to. You may be offered a compliment by someone who could be very important to your career, and trust me, you can’t tell by looking. Playwrights, directors, agents, stage managers, future teachers, all go to performances by young actors to see what the next generation of artists is bringing to the table. Play the game, if you feel you must, that everyone you meet after a show is one of these people. That way, when it really is, it will be completely natural and automatic to accept their praise graciously. Which, by the way, is one of the reasons that those people make it a point to give a compliment, just to see how you take it. It’s a measure of your professionalism, if not your confidence level.
Another thing I’d like to touch on before we leave the praise arena. You need to give out compliments of your own. Give them freely, often, and sincerely. It’s like feeding an entire third world country when you make it a point to compliment people on their work. Set a goal that every day, you are going to hand out three compliments to three different people. Be on the lookout for your opportunities. Don’t limit yourself to drama class and rehearsal, but that’s a good place to start. Find things all around that you honestly and sincerely can compliment, and then do it. Start small. “I like your sweater” or “good job with the math puzzle” or “It’s so nice to see you happy today” can go a long way for people. Then, after you have been doing it for a while, it will start to become easier. You’ll be noticing things that are worthy of praise all around you, and you’ll feel like you don’t have time in your day to compliment all the things that deserve it. It’s really cool.
A quick word of caution, though: accepting compliments does not mean you have to accept criticism or acting suggestions from the audience members who offer them. There’s another post on just that. It’s a different thing, and it does not have anything to do with feeding you.