There is a great deal to be said for the community of artists. The coming together of creative beings with a shared need to create. This coming together is what allows us to realize the expression of what’s burning inside of us. It’s what gives us purpose. It may just be the “why” in what we do.
As artists we are deeply sensitive creatures who, like all human beings, need human connection. But we crave it more. We know what it feels like, what it tastes like; we thrive on it. Yet we are often isolated from the kind of creative partnership that allows for that human connection, that compels us to come together to affect people on an emotional level, and thus be moved and changed ourselves.
We’re often alone in our creative incubation. We write alone, we prepare alone, we dream and aspire and muse alone. Which is necessary. But we have to come out of the cave and find each other. Find the collaboration of souls to make work together, to join our creative fires, to find community.
Recently, Michael Sheen, who we have worked with on Masters of Sex, came to the Studio to sit down with to a group of our actors. It was communal in that we were all together in the same room, a band of artists looking for connection. It was wholly communal in that we found a kindred spirit in Michael, bringing us together in artistic consciousness.
Michael not only told entertaining stories about his career and his creative origins- for three and a half hours- he shared an intimate narrative about how he came to be who he is as an artist. As a band of fellow travelers, we went with him on his fascinating personal journey, and in that, we saw ourselves more honestly.
Michael talked about his struggles, his triumphs, his weaknesses, and how he consistently pushes through the obstacles in his life. He referred to himself as “lazy” and “scared” and talked about how he has to repeatedly confront his fears in order to do the real work of an artist. Story after story, he came back to what seems to be his creative gospel: Do the work you love, not the work you think will be good for your career.
Keep coming back to the “why.” He challenged our actors to continue asking that of themselves, and to create work out of their love of the work itself. To make work happen and not wait for someone to give them permission to be an actor. He championed the spirit of doing work that makes you feel alive, and trust that doing so will lead to success. Do what inspires you, what scares you, what you love, what your creative soul requires… on a daily basis. It’s the only way to be fulfilled, therefore successful, and it may even give you a glimpse of enlightenment.
In his absolute commitment to his artistic journey, Michael shares so many of our core values. His career is the manifestation of what we believe, the embodiment of what we know to be true for artists. During his visit, we were witness to a true artist’s creative process, to the journey of someone brilliant, big-hearted, and wise, who always comes to it with a working class ethic. Roll up your sleeves and just do the work. We love that. We believe that.
Michael had a profound impact on all of us. Here is what some of our actors had to say after out 3 + hours with him…
What really spoke to me was that we all feel afraid and have resistance, but what do you do with that feeling? Michael pushes through it, because his need to create/express and to learn about himself through doing his work is so great. He knows his worth, but it comes from a place of gratitude, which is impressive to be around. Maybe the thing that most spoke to me, was when he spoke on making decisions that were “career based” versus following his intuition and heart. He said every time he made a decision based on what he thought his career needed, it never worked out, and when he followed his heart, it lead to good things. I felt aligned with his energy and it was exciting to be around someone that is so successful, but who in the same breath felt the same as me. There is no us and them, we’re all just doing the work.
I appreciated what Michael said about becoming a better actor; that you have to read and work in great text. Go after the difficult stuff… the great playwrights. Theory is great, talking about it is great, but only by putting in the work on a daily basis do we really get to experience growth in our craft.
I’m always fascinated by the artist’s path; how someone chose or was chosen to be an artist and what led them to their individual journey. Usually there’s always a little magic or Divine timing along the way. Michael’s journey was no less serendipitous. Hearing Michael’s journey was even more inspiring, knowing how difficult (nearly impossible) it can be in England to circumvent the constraints of one’s social class. The town in which one is born in England can often dictate or derail one’s path. Instead, growing up in Port Talbot led to his breakthrough. Powerful! It reminded me how important mentors can be–how one amazing teacher can change a child’s entire trajectory. Also inspiring was Michael’s ability to roll up his sleeves and give his heart to whatever was in front of him–facing his fears and saying yes to whatever came into his path. He focused on what was in front of him which then led organically to his next artistic adventure and ultimately to a great career. A great reminder to trust in your journey as an artist and keep keeping on!
Hearing Michael discuss how one can’t be afraid to fail, and sometimes you have to be willing to step out of your comfort zone in order to grow as an artist, resonated with me. Someone once said to him, “dare to disturb the universe.” I’ll never forget that.
Michael is a master storyteller. Each prompt and each question lead to such riveting and entertaining stories that revealed much more than the question asked that I have been thinking about it all day, every day since.
Michael talked about being an actor as a vocation, but approaching it with the work ethic of the miners in his town. Coming from a family that identifies as “workers”- law, military, medical- I really identified with the feeling of overcoming the shame of acting not being a “worthy” profession, of overcoming the need to do something that “matters.” I could feel that he would have felt equally as successful if he had kept creating in Port Albert as he has here and I am reminded that the joy is in the doing, not in the getting paid for the doing. Part of what moved me about Michael, though, is the steadiness and the deliberate way he went about his work. I think it is that ethic that keeps the “worthiness” question at bay. In discussing that work and worthiness he reminded us that “You must believe on a very basic cellular level that this is important. That is is transformative and powerful and life changing.” I know I have seen that in my own life and I see it every week here at BGB in the people who continually show up and show us who they are and allow themselves to be changed by that.We talk so often about how the business has changed to a content creator model. At times that has inspired me, but often I find myself frightened or frustrated by it. Somehow, being reminded that the Work and the Effort (the ethic) of Feeding the Creativity Dog regularly and consistently made it thrilling to put pen to paper and continue developing my ideas and my identity as an artist. Leaning into the truth that this work is necessary and transformative and powerful makes me want to work, and the details of that work became fun and exciting again when I realize I’m feeding the right dog.
Michael Sheen clearly has an explorer’s heart and isn’t afraid to delve into and reveal the many corners of his being. He is constantly immersed in his art by doing the work. Whether that means developing a play, filming a movie, or writing a screenplay. He made it so clear that it is key to be wholly dedicated to a life as an artist by being proactive and not waiting around for a phone call to get working. As a young artist it gave me a lot of hope to hear about his perseverance in the tough times and his dedication to doing good work and transformative characters.
Michael was incredibly generous, witty, resourceful, quick, honest, and genuine. Listening to him lit a creative fire. He constantly asks himself why he does this. It made me reflect on the same question, as I have been asking myself this a lot lately, and realizing that my reasoning is ever evolving. Knowing that it’s alright that it changes, but to be truthful with myself and to find the love in the grit of the work and not just the product.
Our deepest thanks to Michael and to our BGB Community!
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Photos by Casey Nelson