January 11, 2002 (Ira Pilgrim)

In Praise of Amateurism

Living is doing, not watching.

There seem to be more great professionals than ever before, and they are accessible to us all through television. This is true in the arts, music and sports. I used to think that there wasn't much point in seeing an opera with a mediocre cast, especially when there are great singers around. I still feel this way about an opera or a concert that I have to pay big bucks for. As a result, I don't go to operas and concerts at all. I suspect there are many people who like sports who are turned off by watching professional baseball players who rarely miss catching a ball, or basketball players who perform incredible feats with a basketball. If you've seen one home run, you've seen them all.

It is a fine experience watching a great craftsman in action, but it doesn't compare to doing it yourself. No amount of spectating can match that base hit that drove in the winning run, and you did it. Or that moment when you hit that high C at the end of an aria.

The word amateur means lover; one who does what he does for love, not money. With sexual love, the amateur (at least among females) is considered to be superior to the professional; why not in other endeavors?

What amateurism offers is a chance to do the same things that the pros do, without devoting your whole life to it.

I am a dedicated amateur at lots of things, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Both professionals and amateurs are afraid to muff that line in a play, crack a note in a song, strike out in the last inning with the bases loaded. Yet fear, like pain and pleasure, is an important part of life. Those who, through fear, miss those experiences, are missing some of the most gratifying experiences that life has to offer. It is a matter of taste as to what experiences a person prefers, but those who do things get a hellofalot more out of life than those who just watch.

People who attend a play feel that they get a lot out of going to a play, but I think that they get less from it than the actor who has a single line, even if he muffs it. It is more fun to play in a performances in the Willits Community Theater, than to sit through a long run production on Broadway. While the pay for a professional stage actor is great for relatively little work, the thought of saying the same lines year after year would bore me to death. While there is no pay for acting in amateur theater, and sometimes you have to pay to do it, it's an unforgettable experience. How many professional performances that you attended do you still remember? If you have a major part in a local production, it's a hellovalot of work for a dozen performances, it it's worth it. I don't know why, but it is.

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