Many people hate their jobs. They spend most of their time working at something that gives them little or no personal satisfaction and then take out their frustrations on the people they love.
For creative types, the opposite is true. Many of us are in love with our work and derive a deep sense of fulfillment from our artistic process. Sometimes our obsession with our work can cause us to ignore the people we love.
In his commencement speech to the 2005 graduating class of Stanford University, the late Steve Jobs said:
"You've got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don't settle."
Confucius put it more succinctly: "Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life."
There is a point, however, where a passion for one's work crosses over into workaholism. Much like someone with a substance abuse problem, the drive to get another "creative high" can keep an artist chasing after professional rewards while neglecting his personal relationships.
American Conservatory Theater recently presented the world premiere of Higher, a new play by its artistic director, Carey Perloff, that focuses on two architects in love who end up competing for the same gig. Directed by Mark Rucker on a simple yet stunningly effective unit set designed by Erik Flatmo, Perloff's play revolves around the following characters:
Perloff's drama neatly contrasts the way rival professionals approach their art. Elena desperately needs to be able to tap into her emotions and explore the proposed site for clues on how to design an appropriate memorial. Michael, on the other hand, is so passionless, competitive, and ego-driven that he never stops to question the appropriateness of his designs.
Because Michael is so wrapped up in himself (and so busy fending off Valerie's sexual advances), it never crosses his mind that Erica might be competing for the same prize. When her secret is finally revealed, it almost destroys their relationship.
As usual, Mark Rucker has directed with an extraordinary sensitivity to ego, motivation, and how to communicate a creative person's personal and professional frustrations to an audience. Perloff's script is smart, touching, and abrasive in all the right places.
I was particularly taken by René Augesen's performance in a role that seems tailor-made to her emotional strengths as an actor. Alexander Crowther provided a sensitive foil as the passionate young Israeli man who misinterprets her work-related interest in his story.
Andrew Polk and Ben Khare were noticeably uncomfortable with each other as the estranged father and son. Concetta Tomei's portrayal of Valerie ricocheted between an angry viper's sting and a wealthy cougar's insatiable lust.
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