Tuesday, January 08, 2008

OK, Here's the Problem

I love books like And Then, You Act and The Empty Space all kinds of inspirational books that are poetic and spiritual. But the problem is that I don't actually think that way myself (which is why I read the books, I suppose). I am what Rich Gold, author of The Plenitude: Creativity, Innovation, and Making Stuff, calls an "Engineer." Engineering, Gold writes, is focused primarily on "problem-solving" and "the user and the world." We work less from inner vision (that's for artists) than from seeing a problem and trying to figure out a way to fix it. "Engineers believe that within the fixed bounds of the laws of nature, there is the solution to almost any problem." That's me.

Recently, I was reading a book that discussed different "life themes" that dominate people's lives, and one jumped out at me:

Activator-The focus here is to perform tasks that others have failed to accomplish. These may be truly gargantuan or quite menial, but the focus is always on getting the job done right. Activators are the turn­around artists or the trouble-shooters of the world, the ones who suc­cessfully reverse failure.

That's me in trump. I'm not an artist, although I have a great deal of creativity and am pretty innovative. But I use that creativity and innovation to solve problems. I'm probably not going to found a new theatre, but if you have a theatre that is messed up, I can probably come in and fix it for you. And then, like the Lone Ranger, I'll tip my hat, say "my work here is ended," and ride off in search of another problem. The question I am most likely to ask about a play or a theatre is what it "does" -- what effect does it have on people, how does it change them. That's an engineering question.

So when I look at something like the regional theatre scene in America, I'm looking at it like an "activator engineer." Somehow it got messed up, and I get the fun of figuring out how to fix it. It's not about inner vision or self-expression, it's about nuts-and-bolts systems, mission statements, and guiding principles. It's about what Paulo Coehlo calls, in The Alchemist, a "personal legend" and what Joseph Campbell calls "bliss." To me, once the grit is cleared out of the system, once the purpose is clear and the values are defined, then all the wonderful artists can take over and bring beauty and wonder and poetry into existence without being prevented by a bunch of friction and short-circuits. To me, the system of American theatre is so full of grit that hardly any artists are free to really do what it is they are best at -- follow their inner vision. Instead, they are forced to think like...well, like engineers: what does the market want, how can I get my work seen? If things were working correctly, a bunch of us engineers would keep the system running smoothly so that the work that artists created would be seen and appreciated and they wouldn't be bothered with marketing and administration.

To all the artists who read this blog, I hope you'll keep this in mind. Ultimately, I'm not interested in telling you what to do as artists, I'm focused on trying to make things work better so that you can fill the world with books and plays like And Then, You Act and Angels in America that inspire me and let my engineer's mind experience vicariously what it might be like to see the world not as a puzzle, but as a miracle.


Slay said...

So, what was the book that told you you're an activator?

Anonymous said...

I'm a big Paulo Coelho's fan and I don't know if you heard about his blog
I've started as a fan and now I'm collaborating with him and thought that you would like to enter his universe.
Check the blog.
if you want, or subscribe to his newsletter
You'll see a community of warriors of light sharing ideas, dreams and most importantly following their personal legend.


The Warrior of Light knows that everyone is afraid of everyone else.

(Manual of the Warrior of Light)

Merry Christmas!