Wednesday, January 23, 2013

“Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.” -Malcolm Gladwell

Outliers - Malcolm Gladwell
     In addition to observing rehearsals at the American Shakespeare Center, I also continue to study theatre at James Madison University.  I initially had considered starting my internship over the summer, so that classes wouldn’t get in the way. However, I couldn’t have picked a better semester, because on the first day of classes, I discovered that my Voice for the Stage professor was then also working  as the Director of College Prep Programs at the ASC: Symmonie Preston.  It has made my internship even  more enriching than I believe it would otherwise have been, thanks to Symmonie referencing things in class that I have since observed in rehearsals or  facts about specific actors.
     Most recently, Symmonie had our class read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers: The Story of Success. When you look at the cover of this book (right), it looks nothing like a theatre book. Psychology, math maybe, but not theatre, surely? And yet, it contains a lesson that every performer should learn: the 10,000 hour rule. 
     What exactly is the 10,000 hour rule? To explain, Gladwell begins by telling the story of Bill Joy, a famous American computer scientist. When Joy first attended the University of Michigan in 1971, the university had just opened their new computer center, which featured one of the most advanced computer science programs in the world.  This center became Joy’s life; a place where he could program for hours. This passion for programming continued into his graduate years at the University of California at Berkeley, where he ended up creating the operating system used in almost every computer around the world. 
Bill Joy
     So why does Gladwell enlighten us on Bill Joy’s success story? His intention is for us to analyze not just what he was able to accomplish, but exactly how he became successful.  Was it innate talent, or was it the hours he spent in front of the computer, honing his programming skills? When analyzing computer programming, Gladwell explains that it is “a wide-open field in which all participants were judged solely on their talent and their accomplishments...a world where the best men won.” Of course, to compare computer programming to the theatre world is a bit hard, as there are times where money and connections can also play a huge factor into your success as a performer.  However, Gladwell notes that “...the closer psychologists look at the careers of the gifted, the smaller the role innate talent seems to play and the bigger the role preparation seems to play”.  Yes, it helps to have talent, but what sets the amateurs and the professionals apart is the amount of time that you spend working on your craft.
     But how hard is working hard? How do we know when we are working as efficiently as we can be?  The answer Gladwell gives us: ten years or, to be more specific, 10,000 hours, to achieve mastery at your chosen  craft. This 10,000 hour rule applies to everyone. Although the actors currently at the ASC have proven their talent by being able to perform in such an amazing program, during their Renaissance Season specifically, they still rehearse 28 hours per week (not including the amount of work used to memorize lines outside of rehearsals), in addition to putting on performances Thursday mornings and throughout the rest of the weekend.  Since these actors are all ASC veterans, some of them with more than 40, 50, or even 80 ASC productions already behind them, in addition to their work at other theatres, those 10,000 hours are but the  beginning. It goes to show, no matter how talented you may be, you still have to practice just as much as anyone else to maintain, and gradually exceed your abilities.
     If you wish to be successful, you have to be willing to work for it; all 10,000 hours worth.  No matter what it may be. Besides, if it's your passion, shouldn't it not be work at all?

                                                                                -Rachel Z, The Aspiring Actress


Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers: The Story of Success. New York: Little, Brown and, 2008. Print.

Stern, Tiffany. Making Shakespeare: From Stage to Page. London: Routledge, 2004. Print.

Image of Bill Joy:

Image of Outliers: