As I was preparing for two workshops I presented last month at Florida Junior Thespians, I found the subject of “envy” making its way into both. One, “Help! I’m a Theatre Parent”, was specifically created for parents, and another, “High School Theatre Survival Guide,” for middle school students. In the end, both included a section on envy, the damage it can do, and ideas on re-directing this negative energy into something positive. Strangely, both workshops received some of the most positive responses to date by parents and students alike.
Envy Causes Unintended Consequences
When envy is the driver, people, students, and parents do otherwise irrational things. Whether the result is a festering negativity toward others, action fueled by negative impulses, or focusing unnecessary attention on someone else, envy is a pretty toxic feeling to have. I’m sure I’ve allowed thoughts of envy to creep into comments or conversations with my own daughters, sharing an off-handed remark toward another student because, “They always get the lead,” or “They don’t deserve the role or award they received.” Arugh, if I could take back those thoughts and sentiments and the negativity I endowed upon others. Not to mention the negative example I set for my kids.
My workshops included mention of these failures and a reminder to parents that we have a choice to either help re-direct our students, or feed envy. Students were challenged that they could spend their high school years being envious, or refocus that energy and get on with performing and life.
Redirecting the negativity by focusing on training and improvement and making an intentional choice to hope for positive things for another performer, not only changes you inside and out, but also takes the focus off of others and puts it where it belongs--the young actor and how THEY can improve and embrace THEIR uniqueness.
I joke with my high school kids that as self-obsessed as today’s teenager might seem, today's student is incredibly out-of-touch with "self". Understanding concepts like, how their voice feels when it sounds great, what good support and breathing feels like, the sensation of honest connection with the material, or even what their body feels like when it's physically warmed-up, and many more results of self-awareness. Mastering these concepts takes work, and it’s just a whole lot easier to focus on the flaws or over-focus on the successes of others. So many of the Broadway touring artists who work with our students share from their personal journeys. Most wish they hadn’t spent any time worrying about how much more or less talented their peers were or comparing themselves to others, but instead, wish they'd spent more time and energy focusing on figuring out who they were and what they were good at.
As anyone who has dished it out or been on the receiving side of someone’s envy, there’s NO freedom in it. As a recipient, it makes you a target and as the transmitter it renders you a slave. In a profession where you have to be giving to your fellow actors or audience, or caring for your self, there's no room for these things.
Given the choice to feed or starve envy...starve envy.