The following Career Dispatch essay was written by Joshua Boone, who recently concluded his starring role in Dominique Morisseau’s play “Skeleton Crew” on Broadway.
A myth has circulated for years that what you do in your art doesn’t save lives—the whole “we’re not soldiers on the front lines or doctors stitching someone back together” thing. And while that may be technically true, which professionals have the ability to transform, change, or heal a life from within? I can only think of four: educators, spiritual advisors, therapists, and artists.
If I could tell my younger self one thing, it would be: Keep it about the work; everything else is bullshit. That’s what the late Marvin Starkman, a former agent, said to me right before I headed to L.A. for pilot season for the first time. I had just peppered him with questions about the pictures on his living room wall of his good friend, the late actor John Cazale. “He kept it about the work, Josh,” Marvin said. “Nothing else matters. Nothing else in this business matters.”
So then comes the question: What is the work? It starts well before there’s a script in your hand, and it should continue every day of your life after you’ve thrown that script away. The work is about humanity. If you’re a liar in life, how strong will your ability be to tell the truth in imaginary circumstances?
Read books that open and expand your mind. Embrace and confront any trauma that stops you from relating to others who haven’t had the same experiences as you. Approach people from a place of curiosity and a desire to connect, not based on assumptions that create distance.
You’re not always right, so enjoy the lessons that being wrong teaches you. Know that a job is not the work, and that doing the work is what makes you better at your job. And know that you will also need breaks from both. Then again, taking a break is itself part of the work. You need to live, play, explore, and rest. All of these things recharge the spirit—because what can you give and where can you go on an empty tank?
One day, young Boone, you will do a play on Broadway called “Skeleton Crew.” And one day after a matinee, while you’re at lunch between performances on a two-show day, an older white lady who saw the show will approach you and a cast mate and tell you that “her people” are behind. She will see your humanity and thank you for what you gave, because she’s now “a little more conscious.” Therein lies the power of what you do.
The optimist in you will smile, young Boone, because you’re aware that a little more of anything can go a long way. Keep doing the work. Keep telling the truth. And if any of this feels redundant, that’s OK, because everything else is bullshit.
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