The Stage, The Work, The Truth: An Open Letter To Myself
by Mary Gauthier
When I take the stage I must be humble. Humility is the only worthy response to the trust the audience will put in me while I am there. True humility is what makes people, like me, successful; false humility will make me look foolish. Stand tall and look the audience in the eyes, one by one, and let them know I am comfortable, confidant, and humble.
If ambition and the hunger for applause has driven me to the stage, then I should not disgrace myself by having nothing to say. It is my job to articulate that which everybody already knows but does not say. I must do this in such a way that people will respond to me as they would to a friend. I must speak and sing clearly, and my words must ring true. The second that I waver from the truth they will know it.
I cannot afford to oversell my music. It speaks for itself. I must sing my songs honestly, speak my words truly, pull my stories from deep inside myself, then go deeper still. This is where the truth is. I must not put on airs or try to impress. If I give the people what is real, this will impress without effort: this will impress most of all. I must never pretend to be the star looking down on my audience. This is repulsive, and the people will turn on me.
I am not smarter than my audience and I am not more beautiful. I am only a mirror. I reflect back to the people that which is already theirs. If I cause people to laugh or cry, we laugh and cry together because they trust me and feel comfortable with me. This will not happen if I am feeling discomfort brought on by raging ego.
I cannot have their attention for free. I must give them something. Forget this and I will languish up there. What must I give them? What do people--what do I--really need? We need to get closer to the essence of ourselves. The artist can help the people do this. The artist is a risk taker who must expose his or her self and thereby reveal to the audience their own selves; and, in this public act, form a community. People hunger for community and authenticity. If they are given ego instead of honesty, they will be put off. What I offer will be returned two-fold if I offer the right things. So I offer the people a part of themselves they may not have missed. They need the artist to do this. They will thank me as they choose--there is no need to solicit gratitude.
I must not affect my behavior or act out of false emotion. This will leave the audience staring at my ambition, and ambition is not pretty. Ambition is close to my ego. It must be tempered with humility, or the people will not like what they see. I believe that any talent I posses has been given to me by my Creator, and through discipline--humility and truth--I can shine the light back on my Higher Power. I have no power to create without the help of my creator. I must take no credit for it. I do not deserve this credit, and my ego will never be satisfied by it anyway. Give the glory to the Creator of all that is.
I write and sing my truth and that makes me brave, but I must not confuse courage with blessings. Bravado is false, it does not ring true. Honesty, authenticity and reality: this is what people hunger for.
I am not a commercial. I should not be self serving. It is not necessary. I should not turn my act into a commercial because the people will become suspicious and ill-tempered. They endure too many commercials. My job is to seek the truth and show it in ways they may also see it. Nothing is more essential to my work, nothing is more important. A beautiful singing voice is loved, but if it sings platitudes and mundane drivel it will never matter. Beautiful costumes and a gorgeous body cannot hide the ugliness of vanity and conceit. Youthfulness is no substitute for content. Not in the long run. I need not fear these things.
I should not waste my time chasing the light. The light will come to me if I am honest because the light follows truth. If I follow truth, the light will follow me Deep down I know this, but I forget it too easily. Show up for my truth, sing it wherever they will let me, and be patient. Chasing the light will wear me down, and my energy should not go there. I need not chase, but I must show up. Always be ready to play, never be lazy.
I should not pretend to know what I do not yet know nor should I pretend to comprehend that which I do not yet understand. This is not honest and it will block me from finding the truth. The people will know that I am faking it and they will distance themselves from me. I cannot look good all of the time, I should not be afraid of my humanity. My mistakes connect me with people as well, because the audience appreciates vulnerability. People will appreciate my sadness if I am sad, my happiness if I am happy, my anger if I am mad. Fake an emotion and they will know it. I am not an actor, not really. I am a reporter, reporting the truth. This is not easy. Many truths are hard for me to look at. But if I see them in myself, and tell them, the people will respond. Although I am afraid to expose myself to them, I must do this nightly.
This is my job, this is the job of every artist. I should be assertive, be confident, be humble, be honest and be true. If I am blessed and touched with grace and if I am willing to go through the pain of this, I will be called an artist, and I will be whole.
Mary Gauthier is a singer/songwriter based in Nashville.