As a Fox Foundation fellow, I’ve been working with a group of teenagers in New York City to devise a new play that deals with both the minutia and the epic themes of their daily school lives. Twice a week for the last two months we’ve met in a Roundabout Theatre Company studio to talk, improvise, act, write, and edit. I probably don’t need to tell you that the teens and I have grown to respect and inspire each other; you’ve seen that cliché a hundred times. I will say, though: I’m glad the cliché comes from truth.
So, after a couple weeks dealing with “real life is tough” kinds of material, I decided to lift us up a bit. I thought we should start sharing grand ideas and blue-sky thinking. I introduced a number of activities designed to let me in on their biggest, most fanciful notions. How can we literally change the world, Chanique?
Change the world? That’s a lot of work. And I’m lazy. I don’t trust myself with a task as big as that.
That wasn’t exactly the type of answer I expected.
But then there are people who say even the littlest things can change the world, like recycling a piece of paper or making sure I don’t waste food, and I just think, “Really?” If that’s the case, then I’m changing the world every f—ing day! And I don’t get praised for that. That’s just me doing what I’m supposed to do.
That’s pretty insightful, actually. Those “little things that make a big difference” have become ingrained in her daily life. Those little things that were so important to teach when I was younger are now just routine.
But then there are some days when I sit back and think about everything that’s wrong with the world and I really, really, really want to do something about it but I just don’t know how. And that’s just really frustrating because you can’t just learn how to change the world; there’s no “Change the World Class 101.” I guess what I’m trying to say is that I make a lot of mistakes in my life, so what if I mess up trying to change the world? I know it sounds stupid, but it’s how my mind works. So I’ve just decided I’d rather not change the world, I guess. It’s just something that should be taken seriously, and I don’t think I’ve got it in me to do something that important.
Ah, there’s the insight.
It seems she has respect for sizable intentions, but no confidence that her participation is valuable. She accepts that doing little things to help the world is part of being a decent human being, but regards more laudable ideas as beyond her ability. Making a substantial impact on the world at large is most decidedly not something she feels energized to do. My instinctual reaction: how can we optimize a young lady like this? She is smart, insightful, gets great grades in a chaotic environment, and is achieving beyond every member of her family… and yet she’s convinced she has nothing positive to offer. She won’t try to change the world because she might mess it up.
Shoot, maybe she’s got a good point.
Actors are always told to come in with a bold choice. But as humble citizens (who just might mess something up), is it better to let experts make the influential moves? Is no choice better than bold choice?
Help us figure it out over on Facebook.
Daniel Robert Sullivan appeared in Jersey Boys as Tommy DeVito in the Toronto and International Companies. He has performed at Kansas City Rep, Arizona Theatre Company, Pan Asian Rep, the York, Utah Shakespeare Festival, Gloucester Stage, and others. His backstage memoir, Places Please! (Becoming A Jersey Boy), was published last year by Iguana Books.
The William & Eva Fox Foundation, a private grantmaking foundation, is committed to the artistic development of theatre actors as a strategy to strengthen live theatre. Through its prestigious Fox Fellowships the Foundation has provided more than $3 million to underwrite periods of intensive study, research and training by actors recognized as having a serious commitment to the theatre. In 2004 the Foundation awarded fellowships totaling $150,000 to ten distinguished actors. The Foundation is the largest grantmaker solely dedicated to the artistic and professional development of theatre actors, and one of very few that provides direct support to individual actors.