the loveART blog


your playing small doesn’t serve the world

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In an interview this week with the Washington Post, Sir Ian McKellen says that his remarkable professional success came only after he revealed publicly that he was gay:

…he also credits the uptick in his show business profile with the growth of his comfort level with himself, a peace of mind that developed after revealing that he was gay in 1988 during a BBC radio program examining the Thatcher government’s policies toward homosexuality. “It all happened since I came out, ironically,” McKellen says of the Hollywood phase of his professional life.

The belief among some in his field that opportunities automatically get narrower after such candor is to him mythology. “I’m living proof the opposite is true. You get more self-confidence. You don’t have that bit of dishonesty,” he says, adding that acting “is about disguise. But it’s not about lying.”

At 70, Sir Ian enjoys the rare distinction of being both a world-renowned pop-cultural icon (with his roles as Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings and as Magneto in X-Men) and a leading classical actor on stage and screen, “one of a select few who has all but defined Shakespearean performance for our time,” according to the Post. The Shakespeare Theatre Company just honored him with their annual Will Award.

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He is also a very public activist for gay rights; his website has sections on Activism, Gay Rights, and Acting Is Activism, among other things.

The wordARTist finds it easy to believe that Sir Ian’s creativity was somehow unleashed when he permitted himself to be seen fully, in public, for who he really is. Furthermore, the wordARTist posits that by taking that risk–a large one, in the public profession of acting–he opened the door to taking other kinds of risks in his work, risks that have benefited him, and us, in visible and invisible ways.

Coming out of the closet means defeating one’s shame. And don’t we all hold back, in countless ways, a little bit or a lot, each day? I am reminded of the famous quote from Marianne Williamson’s book A Return to Love (often misattributed to Nelson Mandela):

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?

You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We are all meant to shine, as children do. We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us, it’s in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Think about this now: in what dusty corners are you hiding some piece of yourself, restraining it from public view? It might be in your creative work; it might be in your relationships; it might be in the ways you pursue happiness, or don’t. Sir Ian is a beautiful example of what happens when we confront our shadows, shine a light on them…and then transmute them into a source of strength.

(Photos of Sir Ian McKellen from Photobucket.com.)

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for whom the bell tolls


Yesterday Dr. Paul Elwood, a renowned new-music composer, champion banjo player, and professor of music composition at the University of Northern Colorado, turned me onto the quirky little comedy Stranger Than Fiction. In the movie Will Ferrell plays a terminally boring IRS agent who discovers that (1) he’s actually the character in a novel being written by Emma Thompson and (2) Emma has plans to kill his character off. Faced with the certainty of his imminent death, Will makes radical life changes in the few days he has left.

Then this morning came the tragic news of the real death of Natasha Richardson, a passionate and gifted actress from a long lineage of passionate and gifted artists. Richardson died after suffering head trauma in a skiing accident. She was 45.

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Her father, the Academy Award-winning director Tony Richardson; her mother, the actress and activist Vanessa Redgrave; her grandparents, the great actors Michael Redgrave and Rachel Kempson; her husband, actor Liam Neeson–these people have given the world so much. The wordARTist is struck by the shocking suddenness of Richardson’s passing, especially immediately after having watched Stranger Than Fiction.

What would you do differently if you knew you were going to die tomorrow? Why not do that now? Hardly new questions, but ones that we do well to remind ourselves of in moments like this one.

(Photos of Natasha Richardson from Photobucket.com.)


puppet master

This haunting video clip is from Masters, a work-in-progress by Brian Hull, an Emmy Award-winning puppet master, writer, director and singer. Brian was checking out the wordARTist’s Theory of the Power of loveART one day and was moved to respond: 

Building bridges, dissolving obstacles–yes, yes, yes. I do believe that art will save the world; I know for a fact that it heals. When I was in Normandy a little French girl tried to speak to me in English after a show; then a teacher giddily translated for her so she could have a conversation with me. Turns out she was with a class of mentally and emotionally challenged children and had never spoken at home or at school. So what made her want to talk to me after the marionette show?

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What mysterious power indeed? Even more thrilling, it turns out Brian’s experience isn’t unique. “I related this to my friend Philip Huber (puppeteer on Being John Malcovich),” Brian wrote, “and he said a similar thing happened when marionette artist Bil Baird visited a children’s hospital–a boy who had not spoken in years started talking to the puppet, and immediately he was surrounded by doctors and nurses. I think, though, this is not just puppet-specific, but rather has to do with the arts. Without the arts, I don’t know where I would be. It’s such a crime to take it out of schools and such.”

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Brian performs with his puppets in France, Germany and Italy as well as in his home base of Nashville. In the YouTube clip above he brings to life Van Gogh and Michelangelo in mini-puppet operas (he does the singing, too); a longer version with more artist-puppets will be released in 2010, with DVDs and CDs and an illustrated book. If, like me, you’re very visually oriented, check out the high-resolution version of the Masters trailer. It takes several minutes to download, but your patience will be rewarded with great beauty. 

(All images courtesy Brian Hull.)


jane fonda is blogging

acting, art, creativity, theater,writing

Jane Fonda is blogging. At the age of 71. In New York. While she prepares to go on stage in her first Broadway play in 45 years, 33 Variations, by the Venezuelan director-playwright Moisés Kaufman.

This may or may not mean anything to you. It fascinates me because I am in the peculiar position of being one of her biographers. In 2000 I produced, directed and wrote the two-hour E! True Hollywood Story: Jane Fonda. As a biographer, one gets to know people in a weirdly intimate way; it’s a relationship like no other. You’re not friends with the person (though you might become one), but you develop a wider and deeper overview of their lives than probably any of their friends or family members do. (An awful lot of what you discover ends up on the cutting room floor, but it also stays in your brain and your heart, and forever informs your understanding of their character.) And if you have some kind of intellectual or emotional connection with the person’s story, it can be an expansive experience of the most profound sort. This is, after all, why we read and watch biographies, and why some of us write them.

Anyway, I bring up Jane’s blog for several reasons. First of all, as an artist she’s not scared to say she’s scared. She is acutely vulnerable, sometimes unsure of herself, sometimes triumphant as she goes through the difficult, fascinating creative process of embodying her character and helping the play on the page come to life. This is what she has to say about her character, Dr. Katherine Brandt:

I play a musicologist of today who is obsessed with figuring out why Beethoven, at the height of his powers, spent 3 years writing 33 variations on a mediocre waltz written by a music publisher in 1819. My character is passionate in her quest for understanding and it’s a race against time for her to get a paper written on the topic and delivered to a conference because she is sick. Beethoven (who is also a character in the play) is also obsessed with finishing the variations because he is becoming deaf. Obsession, passion…these are things I love in life– the fact that people can grow old and become sick and yet their passions remain undimmed.

And think what you will about Jane Fonda (I’m not going to get into politics here–though she does, on her blog), she is someone who is always testing new frontiers. I personally am glad she’s on the planet, as a role model for women and girls and as an example of how to live one’s “third act” (to use her words) in a vital, engaged way. 

I recommend checking out her blog if you’re at all interested in the subtleties that go on in an artist’s brain and soul during the creative process. She tracks this daily, with her customary considerable frankness. 

Applause, applause.

(Photo of Jane Fonda from Photobucket.com.)