A friend of mine asked me to give a talk on the subject of risk,
from an actor's point of view,
and so i was going to tell some anecdotal story from my new york actor life.
Maybe a starving artist story, or the almost homeless story (which one?),
perhaps something a little more beautiful or positive
about an acting moment where in the face of adversity,
something super great happens.
But, instead, i found myself digging into the history of the word,
the meanings it holds, and how does the idea of risk connect to acting or art as a whole.
Why is art risky? Is risk inherent to art?
For those that know me, the party fact girl (aka tazzie facts), knows that this is how my brain works.
I'll make the assumption that when most of us think about risk in relationship to actors,
we automatically think of risk in regards to loss.
And more specifically, financial loss.
As a matter of fact, most definitions of the word risk
refer to incurring unfortunate outcomes from an action.
So, from a financial standpoint,
by even choosing a career in acting, one “runs the risk”
of impoverishment; housing insecurity; financial instability; precarious employment;
inadequate healthcare; and educational debt. I’m pretty sure there are more, but you get the idea.
According to the NEA: "Women artists earn $0.81 cents for every dollar earned by men artists.
This gap is similar to that in the overall labor force (where women earn $0.80 cents for every dollar
earned by men); professional women earn even less -- $0.74 for every dollar earned by professional men"
and the income to poverty threshold for actors is over 60%- which isn't as scary as dancers
and choreographers stats which is a whopping 80%. NEA publications: Artists and Art Workers in the United States: Findings from the American Community Survey (2005-2009) and the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (2010).
The word risk shows up in the english language
around 1640 from the italian: risco. It means danger.
One can postulate from this meaning that being an artist is literally dangerous.
In 2015, artists worldwide experienced a “20% increase in registered killings, attacks, abductions, imprisonments and threats, and a staggering 224% increase in acts of censorship” from the year before. Freemuse: Annual Statistics on Censorship and Attacks on Artistic Freedom in 2015.
Take the Belarus Free Theatre which created and produced theatre
as a response to government censorship. Subsequently, they were forced to go underground,
imprisoned and eventually the founders were smuggled out of the country.
Or Augusto Boal, creator of Theatre of the Oppressed, who was kidnapped, tortured then exiled
for using theatre to engender social and political change.
Or Keith Prosser, who acted in the first play that had an openly gay
character in Uganda where homosexuality is illegal. He was arrested, held for eight days
in a prison that is on the human rights watch list, then deported.
In the Elizabethan era (during a malleable period of the English language),
people were accustomed to comprehending multiple meanings of a word at the same time.
When an actor is working with classical text say, like, Shakespeare,
we usually explore how cultural context imbues meaning.
In all the variant meanings of risk , there’s a common component which is uncertainty.
And that’s kind of what actors do. We invest in uncertainty.
We learn techniques to cultivate, develop and focus our tacit knowledge,
use games that challenge the balance of give/receive, study
and apply behavioral styles of understanding, assessing and managing risk in relation to self
and others, explore the emotional spectrum through experience, create collaboratively,
enrich trust and fearlessness. One could say risk is a touchstone of acting.
“Artistic expression connects us all, transcending borders and barriers. Artistic expression can challenge
us and change the way we view the world.” Ambassador of Latvia, Janis Karklins, 2015 UN HRC.
There is an excellent theory that the word risk
originates from the arabic: rizq, meaning provision (in the sense of giving).
That the principle of rizq, without getting religious, is to make your best effort seeking bounty
and are thankful for the dividends received, whatever they may be.
To me, this is the principle at work in theatre.
It is found in the transformative relationship between the participants and spectators.
The bounty/dividends are in experiencing that visceral exchange which occurs.
Theatre provides witness to the human experience,
allows us to feel connected to the collective stories of life
and empathize with the uncertain complexities of human nature.
The rizq/risk of actors lies in the art of expressing and embracing life.
Embracing life’s a good risk, right?
“Art is one of the most valuable assets of human society, yet the truth is that while we may attach art to a
time and a place; it’s true provenance and relevance remain intangible. We can look at the raw materials (the paint, the instrument…), the composition (the brush strokes, the music) or even the act of
consumption (viewing, listing…) – but the thing that we observe only becomes art within us.” Vikas Shah. Thought Economics-Theatre, Performance and Society 2016.