While I was studying my drama degree, I was already playing semi-professionally as a bass player in a number of bands. It was like I lead a double life doing drama classes by day and playing gigs at night. One day while sticking up posters around town to promote an upcoming gig, one of my acting lecturers stopped me and said, “Josh, you better make a choice about whether you want to be an actor or a musician. You can’t do both!” I had to stop myself from saying something I’d regret later so I just took what she said with a quiet smile.
This particular lecturer is a very accomplished actress who’s won award upon award, performed in hundreds of plays and probably an equal number of films. She was one of the first actors I’ve seen who would totally embody her passion for acting and totally lose her composure if ever someone disrespected her art – and rightly so. She has given herself wholly to her craft and it shows. One day while teaching an acting class she went all Incredible Hulk on a fellow student who hadn’t done their homework because, “You’re disrespecting my art!” All we saw was homework books flying across the classroom in the wake of unrestrained passion – even I was shaken, although I did my homework. The student was an emotional mess after the fact and so was our lecturer.
In acting, people tend to differentiate between those who act in theatre and those who do film because the skill set required for both differ from each other. In the same way, I could say “You should make up your mind about whether you want to do film or theatre. You can’t do both.” This ‘either or assumption’ is garbage. In the renaissance era it was assumed that people would excel in various disciplines, that one could be a painter, a scientist, a poet, a musician, an architect and so on. Look at Da Vinci, look at Jay-Z, look at Clint Eastwood.
My lecturer’s rhetoric about doing this or that is one I’ve heard on repeat since then in various circumstances – the idea that someone can’t be good at more than one thing. In my career since, I’ve done both – both equally well. In fact, being able to do both has often granted me unique opportunities that required both skills. And yet, the prevailing assumption is that one can either be this or that. If I label myself a musician, does that mean that I’m not an actor, or not a writer, not a businessman?
Interestingly I was doing marketing for a show while my lecturer scolded me for doing more than one thing. Maybe I should’ve let someone else do my marketing while I focus only on acting or bass playing, thereby absolving myself of the responsibility to get tickets sold for my own show. The broken model in creative industries relies on everyone else other than the artist to manage his/her own career – people like agents, managers and various other ‘gatekeepers’. This method forever dis-empowers such individuals and propagates their dependence on outside forces, leaving them sulky and self-entitled when things don’t go their way. All of this because they decided to be one thing: the singer, the guitarist, the designer etc.
I am passionate about business and even have the papers to back it up, but because I’m an artist – does that mean I automatically forfeit my role as entrepreneur? Of course not, the two are one and the same thing.
Giving someone one all encompassing label limits that person’s potential and if they heed such input they begin to live out a self-fulfilling prophecy. In my life I’ve been told that I can’t sing, I shouldn’t rap, I’m not a performer and have even been told that I’ll never sell anything. I’ve been called a ‘boer’, a ‘laanie’, a ‘bushman’, a ‘coloured’ etc. Had I heeded to any one of these labels I’d forever be boxed in by whatever was said.