Photo Credit: Brian Schultz
How would you like to have a job that requires you to be always on? Where the cameras are always rolling, and someone is always watching you? Where you smile and laugh no matter what kind of day you’re having? Would you be energized? Mortified? Maybe a little of both? Every weekend from July 11 to Labor Day, I have that job from early morning to evening. As I have discussed on my blog, I am part of the cast of the Bristol Renaissance Faire, a highly acclaimed festival in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where visitors pay $24 to experience a re-creation of the port of Bristol, England, in the year 1574. I portray a garrulous windbag of a barrister named Nicolas Wright, whose personality mixes bluster with a vulnerable need for approval. In real life, I am a quiet, reflective person who prefers chilling out with music and a book in my spare time. You might argue that by becoming Nicolas Wright, I’m faking it. And yet, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Being always on keeps you connected with people. And you need to be connected to be creative.
When you join the Bristol cast, you make a commitment to uplift others. All cast members, entertainers, and merchants adhere to a sacrosanct rule: make every patron who walks through the Bristol gates feel like an honored guest to be celebrated, revered, and welcomed. Bristol is also a dream for anyone who creates. As cast members, we create our own characters and skits, and hone our talents through acting lessons, improvisational training, and dialect coaching. The creativity and customer service complement each other: the characters we develop, ranging from Sir Walter Raleigh to Martin Frobisher, exist in order to offer an immersive experience to our guests — namely a sixteenth century town hosting the Queen of England.
And we are “on” for the patrons from 10:00 a.m. until the faire closes at 7:00 p.m. — without exception. We want patrons to forget their cares for a day, which means we must do so as well. It doesn’t matter whether I’ve had a long week at work, I woke up with a headache, or I’m stressing over an unexpected $1,200 bill from the auto repair shop. When it’s show time, I’m going to mingle with patrons, joking with them, praising them, handing out trinkets to kids, and performing scheduled skits, including the Queen’s Show that follows our daily parade. And there is only one way to do it: with a smile, a wink, and a laugh, for hours. There is no going halfway, nor should there be. That one moment when you let your guard down and act impatiently with a child at 6:45 p.m. after you’ve been enduring heat, humidity, and mosquitoes could tarnish a family’s first visit to Bristol. That instant when you grimace because your toe aches as you march in the Queen’s parade just might be the moment when a happy couple celebrating their wedding anniversary is taking your photo for their Facebook album. If necessary, you fake it until you make it. But here’s the thing — being always on is both exhilarating personally and essential to creativity. Here’s why:
- Uplifting others is a selfless act. When your attention is focused on making other people happy, you stop thinking about your own problems and direct every fiber of your energy outward. You, in turn, are rewarded. Just last week, I handed one of my Nicolas Wright calling cards to a patron, who noticed that I had written a runic symbol on the back of the card. It turned out that he was an expert on runic symbols. He happily produced several runic stones he had hand-crafted and eagerly discussed his passion with me. A small gesture on my part was returned 100-fold. What if I’d blown him off? I would have lost.
- Faking it until you make it really does make you happier. As the saying goes, love is a verb. Action creates emotion. At first you might truly feel like you are acting when you hit the streets of Bristol in the morning, but the energy from the patrons and my castmates uplifts me. It never fails: be friendly to one person after another, and no longer do you feel “on.” You naturally feel energized and positive.
- Being always on spurs creativity. Our directors encourage us to deepen our character development through interactions with patrons. Each time I meet a patron, I have an opportunity to test a new joke or gauge a response to a revelation about my character. When I first developed the character of Nicolas Wright, I cast him as a nobler leader. But then I experimented by making him a bit more devilish, and I noticed patrons became more engaged and interested. They liked him more as a villain than as a saint. But I would not have achieved this kind of creative breakthrough unless I had constantly put myself out there, interacting with people and giving them my all. Sometimes my jokes bomb, but Bristol is the kind of place where trying and failing is not only expected but celebrated. You just cannot grow unless you’re pushing yourself to inhabit your character and learning from everyone around you.
Learning how to “fake it until you make it” has taught me how to take energy from other people, internalize it, and then build on it, whether I am acting at Bristol or living my everyday life. That energy not only uplifts others, but it strengthens you. And the dynamic of being with others leaves you with fresh ideas that won’t necessarily arrive when you are alone.
You don’t need to be an actor in a Renaissance Faire to apply this lesson. For instance, occasionally I attend business conferences as part of my job as a consultant and writer. The events usually include social functions as well as more formal learning sessions with presentations. Instead of blowing off the cocktail parties as I once did, I force myself to not only attend them but to mingle with other attendees, no matter how busy my day is or how many unanswered emails I need to address. I almost always walk away from the social functions learning as much or more than I did by sitting through a PowerPoint presentation because the real-time insights from other attendees build upon each other through conversation. What are some opportunities you might try?