Benjamin Evett is an Arts Project Consultant and Creativity Coach, as well as being a professional theatre artist for the last twenty-five years. He runs The Arts Engine, a service that helps both aspiring and established creatives to realize their artistic dreams.
Presence. It’s an evocative word. We instinctively recognize it as an essential quality in a great artist. But we tend to think of it mostly as something possessed by extraordinary performers or personalities. It’s the air that makes Tilda Swinton so magnetic that we can’t take our eyes off her. It’s the confident intensity that makes Lady Gaga utterly compelling. It’s the focus that surrounds Yo Yo Ma like his very own atmosphere.
The truth is, though, that presence is an essential state that can be nurtured by ALL artists, whether they be performing artists, visual artists, or writers. It is a way of being in the world that allows the creativity of the inner self to flow to the outer world without interruption.
In the World–Inside and Out
The reason someone with presence is so compelling is because they are present (I know, “duh,” but give me second). They are in a state of full awareness of the world around them AT THAT MOMENT, combined with a complete understanding of their internal space, where they are going and what they are doing.
Presence requires you to hold two opposing levels of awareness in your mind simultaneously. On the one hand, you must be in the world: you are truly hearing, seeing, feeling, smelling everything around you. You are responding to it, in real time. On the other hand, you are totally focused on what’s happening inside, at that moment; what you are expressing, trying to let out, making.
When these forces flow in perfect harmony, it fosters a powerful feedback loop, in which the external input feeds the internal creative engine, which drives creativity into the world, which interacts with the world around you to excite and inspire you inside. And so on and so forth.
Performing your Creative Self
Sometimes, we are just Present–people often say, “I was in the zone” when they experience it–but mostly, it’s hard work. Performers have it easy (well, relatively speaking). They have practiced what they are going to do beforehand. It is second nature to them. All they need to do is center themselves in their bodies, in the now, and let what they have made come out to meet the world.
But for those of us trying to create from scratch, alone, in our apartment with a blank page or canvas facing us, it can be much harder to find that sweet spot of Presence. The world can just be a distraction: the FedEx truck driving by, the aching back, the noise of your inbox beeping away. Your awareness isn’t tuned into your purpose so that the two flow together. They’re fighting.
So how do you foster presence? It’s a big topic. One way is to think of yourself not as a writer, but as a performer. Script and rehearse the way you perform when in your “Creative Character.” Look for those moments when you find yourself “in the zone” and think about what it is about the your environment, your physical state, your mind, and the work you are doing that is making it so easy. From these observations, you can begin to build a set of principles, practices and actions that you perform each time you get to work–your Creative Character. Then you “go on”–perform your character–when you do your work. With practice, you will find that you will be “in the zone” more frequently. In other words, truly Present.