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From Bill – Life of the Artist (Part the Third) – The Show Must Go On

February 23, 2012

The show must go on, they say.

I remember hearing about Mozart, how he died young.  Or then there was Jimmy Hendrix, Van Morrison, and Janice Joplin—let alone Whitney Houston.  They all died young.  It seemed the rule that the life of the artist is WILD! full of passion, excess, danger!  Rules are broken, people get hurt.  Being an artist is a license to live a life beyond moral restraint.

Pre-production still: Bill as ringmaster Dan Rice in A RESTING PLACE. Photography © H. Scott Heist 12 /

I never bought that bill of goods, though there are parts of it that are true.  For me, I thought about Shakespeare.  Married once and not necessarily unhappily, it seemed his primary goal in life was to get a decent house in the suburbs and be “normal”.  Or Magritte, Chagal, Tobey– all artists that married but once.  Albert Schweitzer.  There’s a fantasy that goes hand in hand with thinking about “being a star,” “famous,” “making lots of money” that is associated with an approach to life and art, the creation of art, that is decadent and retrograde, if not just downright unhealthy.

Right now, this deep into the year, everyone here at Touchstone, I might venture to say, is pretty beat up, working hard to make something beautiful with very little money and never enough time.  It can be pushed too far, unhealthy, but it’s not an essential part of the job.  At the same time, the creative process is the task of taking an infinite amount of possible work and putting it into a limited amount of time—always a recipe for stress.  But no, the show doesn’t necessarily have to go on.  The trick is to push it just as hard as you can without hurting yourself or what you feel to be “right” in regards to your responsibilities to yourself and the world—to obey the laws, take care of your health, be a human being in society.  The greater the talent, the greater the difficulty for restraining the beast, but that doesn’t mean excuses should be made, as if artists got a free ride.

We’re about to embark on Alison Carey’s A Resting Place, and I’ll be playing the character of Dan Rice.  The script still has some work to be done on it, but a big part of his conflict is that he was an artist, a performer, the leader of a big Carnival Show.  We’d call it a circus today.  And even though the country plunged into the Civil War over states rights to keep slaves, Dan never took sides.  The show had to go on.  He went South to get money from the folks down there, telling jokes against the North;  and he went North to get his money, telling jokes at the expense of the South.   Maybe it was the best he could figure out to do at the time, or maybe the money made him turn his head away from his real responsibilities.  I don’t know.  I probably never will.

Here at Touchstone, being an artist isn’t an excuse to be free from being responsible for ourselves and the consequences of our choices.

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