It should come as no surprise to anyone that I went to a performing arts conservatory for my college experience. Not to burst readers’ bubbles, but I am pretty sure I have never been described as shy or ambiguous in my opinions. However, it wasn’t until a 2nd semester Voice Production and Speech class in which I got up in front of my ridiculously talented classmates and admitted that I have an oftentimes crippling case of stage fright. No one knew. I guess I hide it well. That being said, it has been the bane of my existence as performer for as long as I can remember. Seeing one of this year’s NYFF 52 Spotlight on Documentary selections hit very close to home. I present my thoughts on ‘Seymour: An Introduction.”
The film features concert pianist and teacher Seymour Bernstein. His history as an entertainer was wildly successful yet short lived due to a overwhelming case of stage fright. He and (director) Ethan Hawke both attended a dinner party and happened to be seated next to one another. Once the two struck up conversation, it became clear that a collaboration was something very personal to Hawke as he too suffers front stage fright.
The purpose of the documentary delves into Ethan’s more existential questions pertaining to “why we do what we do,” particularly as artists. Though we see very little of him in the actual film, as it is Bernstein who gives the audience a master class in life. Relating any task we take on as a piano lesson. Persistent practice, making mistakes, and passion should be the driving forces behind your everyday life.
The film intercuts sequences of Bernstein preparing to perform in public for the first time in 35 years as well as interviews with both former and present students. We are treated to moments of creative genious and moments of raw emotion. It’s not a film about music. It is much more universal than that.
In a press conference following the screening, Hawke and Bernstein had a charming banter, clear and truthful friendship at play. Hawke explains that through his better understanding of Bernstein, he has learned people care that you’re engaged, not that you might make mistakes. It’s about being moved. In life, we cannot rehearse for the big moments. He comments that as a performer, you live “an emotional life.” You are “creating an illusion of spontaneity. You play as you practice.”
Bernstein could not agree more. His best advice for living with purposeful passion, whether it be in the arts, or in athletics, or whatever drives you to put one foot in front of the other for a dream is this, “We have to be perpetual students. You aren’t great after 4 hrs of practice? Do it for 8.” Well said, Seymour. You cannot argue with logic. Class dismissed.
You can purchase tickets to ‘Seymour: An Introduction’ now. http://www.filmlinc.com/nyff2014/pages/nyff52-ticket-availability