The Joy and Camaraderie of Work Well Done

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The Joy and Camaraderie of Work Well Done.

In this age of commercialism at the expense of craft, Babette’s plea goes largely unheeded, “Throughout the world sounds one long cry from the heart of the artist. Give me the chance to do my very best.”

Irish playwright J.M Synge longed for something more when he observed, “On the stage one must have reality, and one must have joy; and that is why the intellectual modern drama has failed, and people have grown sick of the false joy of the musical comedy, that has given them in place of the rich joy found only in what is superb and wild in reality¢â‚¬¦ In a good play every speech should be as fully flowered as a nut or apple, and such speeches cannot be written by any one who works among people who have shut their lips on poetry.”

The true artist knows what it means to seem esoteric and constantly struggles with purity of vision over against the siren song of power and acceptability. C.S. Lewis labeled this caucus mentality “the inner ring” and said of it. “The quest of the Inner Ring will break your hearts unless you break it.”

His prescription for breaking the hold of the inner ring was to be a craftsman and paradoxically, Lewis believed in taking the path less traveled you would find a company of comrades who to share your calling. “But if you break it, a surprising result will follow. If in your working hours you make the work your end, you will presently find yourself all unawares inside the only circle in your profession that really matters. You will be one of the sound craftsmen, and other sound craftsmen will know it. This group of craftsmen will by no means coincide with the Inner Ring or the Important People or the People in the Know. It will not shape that professional policy or work up that professional influence which fights for the profession as a whole against the public: nor will it lead to those periodic scandals and crises, which the Inner Ring produces. But it will do those things which that profession exists to do and will in the long run be responsible for all the respect which that profession in fact enjoys and which the speeches and advertisements cannot maintain. And if in your spare time you consort simply with the people you like, you will again find that you have come unawares to a real inside: that you are indeed snug and safe at the center of something which, seen from without, would look exactly like an Inner Ring.”

This camaraderie appears to be an inner ring but is not–it is friendship. “But the difference is that its secrecy is accidental, and its exclusiveness a by-product, and no one was led thither by the lure of the esoteric: for it is only four or five people who like one another meeting to do things that they like. This is friendship. Aristotle placed it among the virtues. It causes perhaps half of all the happiness in the world, and no Inner Ring can ever have it.”

These thoughts came to mind when I read interviews with two idiosyncratic actors whose choices are counter-cultural and whose careers show the marks of craft and the camaraderie of work well done.

First, Martha Plimpton. Hear what she said.

[ “In the theater, as an actor, you’re welcoming people into your house,” Ms. Plimpton said. “And it just helps to feel some sense of ownership and some consistency of place.”

And after nearly 30 years as an actor, Ms. Plimpton, 37, has found both. Though she has earned praise and even a comparison to Meryl Streep for her humor and versatility over the years, it is only recently that her position changed from indie character actress to classics star.

“She’s the secret weapon,” said Jack O’Brien, the director of “The Coast of Utopia.” “There’s something incredibly modest about her and charmingly evasive. She doesn’t lead with her ego. It’s a sort of camouflage that she uses because, truth to tell, she’s the real thing, and everybody knows it.”

Ms. Plimpton’s parents met while acting in the original production of “Hair” in 1969. But Mr. Carradine, a scion of the acting family, decamped to Los Angeles before his daughter was born he was 19 at the time and Ms. Plimpton was raised by her mother in a rented two-bedroom apartment on the Upper West Side. She still rents it, sleeping in her childhood bedroom; she transformed the other into an office after her mother remarried and moved to Seattle when Ms. Plimpton was about 18. (Ms. Plimpton passed on college, preferring to work.)

By his own account Mr. Carradine was not involved in his daughter’s early life, but now they are close. He said he planned to be in the audience for the opening night of “Cymbeline.”

I feel like I’ve inherited from him and his side of my family a sense of knowing my job and what’s required of a person in this line of work,” Ms. Plimpton said. “To recognize that when you do this for a living, you have to be willing to take the good with the bad. There’s a great familial pride in the history of that. It’s like coming from a family of really great plumbers we’ll do mansions and we’ll do shanties, and there’s pride in all of it, as long as it’s done well.”]

And then there is the ever controversial but somehow loveable Woody Harrelson.

[The recipient of a fairly charmed career, Mr. Harrelson takes none of it for granted. While many actors spend time in interviews rubbing their chins and talking about plumbing the emotional depths of particular roles, he makes moviemaking sound more like a caper from Spanky and Our Gang.

“I love getting together and making something with a bunch of other people,” he said, leaving aside the dire, arduous rhetoric that seems to be the default of many other film actors of some renown.

He is back after an extended break, having temporarily lost his ability to laugh at the business after the campaign against “The People vs. Larry Flynt” in 1997. Gloria Steinem had called for a boycott of the film, which starred Mr. Harrelson as the pornographer editor of Hustler.

“That sort of broke my heart,” he said, “because what people were saying really had nothing to do with the work and what it was about. It was just politics.”

What was going to be a short break with his family his wife, Laura Louie, and their three daughters at his home in Hawaii became an extended hiatus, give or take some time directing and acting in theater to keep his chops.

“I was going to take a couple of years off, but the next thing you know it was almost five years,” he said. “It happily coincided with a time when I was getting a lot less offers from the studios, but if you are not enjoying this job, then there is something wrong with you. The only thing better than being an actor would probably be being a rock star or something like that.”

Now Mr. Harrelson is in the midst of a rekindled affair. “I love it,” he said of acting in films. “I have never been a big fan of the business of motion pictures, but the process, the work, is really fun if you do it with the right people.”]

May God grant you the courage of conviction, the perseverance to learn and practice your craft and may you find the fun of doing your work with the right people.

Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends, Dick Staub.

PS. And remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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