A grad school professor of mine once related some wisdom to our class: “every artist has a certain percent ‘done’ at which they will stop working on a piece. For some people, they’re “done” when the project is 50% complete, others are “done” when a project is 137% complete.” Personally, I have yet to come up with a percentage because I have yet to feel like something is done. I imagine when I DO hit that point, IF I hit that point, it will be upwards of 1000% done. I mean, I do like my cookies crispy, but cookie-done and creativity-done are two different dones. I imagine my creatively done work will be so done it is charred to a crisp. It will go up in smoke and be utterly unrecognizable. It will be an ash pile of doneness.
I wouldn’t say I’m *done* performing CHAOS THEORY, in fact, I’d love to perform the live version again, but for over two years I performed that piece and I made tweaks, if not major revisions, every single time. Sometimes those revisions get worked into the script, changing the very fabric of the piece. My directors would things like “let’s set a date to freeze the script” just to watch me hyperventilate. They were joking, of course, given that improvisation was built into the script itself (just not everywhere), but hyperventilate I did.
Truth be told, almost nothing feels “done” to me. There is a philosophy I love that comes from good ‘ol Aristotle called eudaemonia that states that true happiness can only be experienced with a long life in which we seek to flourish throughout, and, most spectacularly, that one’s flourishing in life can be altered after one’s death. Eudaemonia has it’s pros and cons, to be sure. It allows for the possibility of becoming a better person even after we die, but if you believe in an afterlife consisting of heaven and hell, eudaemonia would allow for the possibility that you could end up getting shuttled between heaven and hell based on how folks on earth felt about you at any moment in the course of human history (or future). Eudaemonia is peak not doneness.
While eudaemonia is highly choice-based for the living and highly passive for the dead, doneness is a choice- a choice to stop working at something, whether it has reached its terminal point or not. I rarely choose to be done because I love to revisit things, rethink them, and learn anew from past events. In fact, I wrote the first draft of this post last November. There was a whole section on how “done” we were with elections (but not really because the votes were still being counted and Georgia had two run-off elections in the works. In this iteration, we’ll stick to performance: There is another layer of doneness that pertains to the bleed between performer and character. For instance, I wrote everything my character in CHAOS THEORY says, yet she is not me and when the show is over I am done playing her, for a time. This is different for the audience, who rarely see the changeover. For instance, I once had someone ask me in a talkback once whether I ever let the character I was playing, Dr. Saoch, “out.” “Out?” I asked? “Yeah,” she said. “Do you ever let her go grocery shopping or go out for drinks? Do you ever let her out?” I was stunned. I felt like I was being asked by a five year old if Santa was real and I had to be the one say ‘No, Santa is not real, but that doesn’t make him fake.’ I can’t let this character out because she isn’t real, I’m real. I felt a twinge of hurt that the audience member wanted to hang out with this character more than me. Of course, she didn’t know me, but her focus was on hanging out with my creation.
On the one hand: COOL. Hell yes. I made a character people will miss when they’re not around her. On the other hand, I found myself wondering if people think that she is me. She comes from me, yes, but she is not me. And when I choose not to play her anymore, she will be… done. Her actions- my actions- will be relegated to the eudaemonic. Is she separate from me in this instance? Does she have her own eudaemonia to contend with, or is it all me? Have I just undermined my (our?) happiness in life by taking away the happiness in that audience member that they might meet this character out in the wild? Do I need to take my character’s feelings into account when I decide I am “done” with her, or do I trust that she lives on in the minds of others?
I’d probably feel a little crazy giving serious thought to this question, except that the question itself means that I am thinking of this character as separate from me, which seems like a good sign on the sanity front. The audience member felt that, too, and she valued the character enough to ask the question of her freedom, her agency. She just didn’t realize that for me to give this character freedom, I must spend less time as myself. We cannot both lead at once. This dangerously trippy territory is one of the things I love about writing and performing. It begs deep, philosophical questions about Being. The character grows with me because neither of us are Done. I’m not done performing this role, and therefore I am always learning from it, and the character is not Done being called into existence so she is not Done existing.
Write to me and let me know- what % done are you done at?