Today we’re going to discuss dilettantes,  I do my best not to point fingers because I am as guilty as the next person. I attended school for art and no, I am currently not being paid to do art. I did a stint for two years as a freelancer and then said “You know, I need health insurance and a roof over my head.” And so I have moved from a participant to a supporter and admirer. This is true of many things in my life. I can’t give you a hard line of what separates the professional from the dedicated enthusiast because that line is as wide and muddy as the Amazon. But even a river that size has sides,  and if you are standing on the bank, you’ve made a choice. To be extra clear, don’t claim to be a thing if you are not.

Most of the professionals I know have endured some serious hardships to be where they are. And since we’ve been around over a decade, we’ve seen plenty of folks swimming beside us who have come past us, given us a ‘high-five’ and then gone to the bank and pulled themselves up. We’ve firmly settled on a rock somewhere near dead center and one of these passing performers kindly referred to us as “dedicated part-time professionals.” So from our mossy, wet stone, I share these observations.

Investment in tools and equipment
Whenever I start something I often invoke my inner miser-I will save up and buy the best I can of “one thing” First this was a pair of boots, then a costume. This making sure that I have spent so much that NOT using it makes me feel hideously guilty and I have to justify the cost. This isn’t the method for everyone. With our group you are welcome to use loaner swords and costumes for about a year, then, the other members will start giving dirty looks because by that time, you should have your own sword and unique costuming. I’m told this is a generous amount of time. Other groups do it differently-they own your equipment but if you don’t produce, no equipment for you and OUT! But frankly, if you claim to be a juggler, pirate, lion tamer, what have you and haven’t bought a single item to support this claim-no one will believe that you have commitment.

Recently a western martial arts group posted a cartoon that made me chuckle. It showed someone watching a film, taking one class in martial arts, being disappointed and going back to playing video games.  As I commented on the thread, we see this pretty often.  This last weekend we did a workshop using dowels and at the end we let the participants handle the weapons and one commented “This is heavy!” (It was a rapier, if you were curious) We are about incremental changes over time-and that is why we will take anyone with the heart to try-some of our best people come from humble beginnings. A friend with Das Geld Fähnlein  and I have a similar attitude about members which we call the “pasta theory.”  The idea is to toss them in hot water, then throw them at something and see if they stick (thus, ready for consumption/finished)  Our requirement is six weeks of practice for one show a year. If you can’t make that level of commitment, I can’t be bothered to learn your surname.

Focus and Goals
Focus can a be a problem with performers. My partner laughs every time when I react to people with a bad attention span. Studies have proven that people cannot multitask  and so we work to make practice a place where we can self and group evaluate, where the only point is to learn/improve skills and think about what the future holds. We ask our members every year what they want to be able to do next year. Some people treat our segments and plays like merit badges-collect and move on to the next one. Sadly, it doesn’t work this way.  If someone doesn’t have a  basic understanding of why cuts or phrases are done a certain way, it’s like trying to eat a sandwich without any bread-messy and it looks unappetizing. We also do our best to discourage drama, because when someone wastes time at practice –they aren’t just wasting their time, they are wasting EVERYONE’S time.  It’s small ship, we all need to row together and know where we are going.

This is so important-as a friend says “The first part is showing up.” No one is 100% every day but even the days when it is a lower percentage, it can be a learning opportunity.  I still go to practice when I’m under the weather (but not contagious)  because sometimes there are questions, or just moving slowly still is moving. Everything adds to our routine-stairs rather than elevator, water rather than soda, slow movements through sword strikes and being in the head space that the next moments in time are focused on learning, listening, observing and doing.  Every small step gets ups closer to the end goal.

I’ve written a whole post on this so if you want to know my feelings on the subject just click on the link. Summary: Important.

And you will encounter people who think they can do what you do (A cracked podcast about this phenomena) But don’t be discouraged, you know that in a week, a year, two years, you’ll be better and better and they won’t be there at all.

Won’t lie, the rather self-deluded dabblers make me upset when they feel the need to share opinions with me. Even professionals will do this but you need to file these things away in your own time and importance. I like to use them as spikes in my ascent to being better and better. I remember one individual saying to me “well if (member of defunct well-known comedy sword duo) was here and saw you do that, she’d ream you a new one.” To which I replied
“I guess we can all be happy she’s not, then.”
And that pretty much sums up my feelings on the subject