The Conflict Quandary

Conflict: it’s what makes good drama, and draws people into a story. Our goal as actors is to discover the conflict in our material and bring it to life with our own interpretation. We can connect more intimately when we ourselves have lived through that conflict, and we then connect to an audience in the same manner. Our personal conflicts are what make our performances unique, real, and powerful. So in order to become a better performer, I must face my conflicts. And I can’t help but find it funny that one of my biggest conflicts is whether or not to be a performer. Just as the eternal struggle of Jekyll versus Hyde (which ironically is one of my favorite musicals), two sides of me are at war.I had never intended to be in theatre. I still wonder how different my life would be had my friends not drawn me into it during intermediate school. Prior to 7th grade, I had been quiet, thoughtful, and analytical. I read a lot of books; I enjoyed learning about how the world worked. I wanted to be an astronomer; I dreamt of the stars and the universe. I even had those little glow-in-the-dark planets and stars on my walls. I was an introvert (and still am), but when I started 7th grade I decided that I wanted to be more outgoing. I became involved in band, chorus, and theatre… and the rest is history. I was injected with the passion for theatre and the transformation was beginning.

There are moments when I ask myself, “why do I perform? Is it the fame and fortune?” I think it’s only natural for humans to want those things, even for introverts. We all crave acceptance by those that matter to us. So we compare and rank… and today, fame and fortune are the signifiers of success. Do I want those things? Of course I do! But I think it’s easy for people to get wrapped up in that life and become egotistical and even narcissistic. We see celebrities who are divas and jerks, become addicts, and get away with having attitude because they are popular. I was always afraid of being that sort of person; I grew up believing that you never bragged… Modesty is paramount. Work hard and always put others above yourself. Moreover, I think I have always seen theatre as frivolous, so I felt guilty pursuing it. There are people out there in the world that are making discoveries and inventing things. They are changing the world; they will leave their mark in our history books. I was always good at science and math, so I decided to take the safe career choice and study astrophysics at Harvard. Jekyll was strong; he was putting up a very good fight.

After my first year, I realized that I really wasn’t enjoying myself. So I decided to find a middle ground and try a joint concentration (the Harvard equivalent of a major) of math and music. That did not last long either, and eventually I made the switch to only music. Even though Harvard’s music department was focused toward musicology and composition, I decided to remain there. After all, it was a prestigious institution and I was being financially covered there. I learned a great deal about music theory, composition, and conducting while there. But I was still doing two, sometimes three, shows a year. Something inside me was unable to stop performing. The tides were turning; Hyde was getting stronger.

I think I always imagined myself being a music professor. I have always loved teaching. I love to help people discover and learn, because I myself have always loved learning, and it has always been rewarding to do so. My plan was to get a masters or doctorate and find a job that would allow me to teach, conduct, and maybe work in theatre. I ended up doing that in Hawaii for eight full years. But even when I was the band director at Hilo High School, I was moonlighting as a performer. I was pushing the boundaries of what I could accomplish each day, but my desire to perform never faded. Hyde was growing stronger and was set free at night, leaving Jekyll sleep-deprived and weak.

It was at that pivotal moment, that something had to be done. I knew that I couldn’t keep it up forever; I had to reevaluate my life. I had to find the constant…the thing that rooted me. Finding my passion would allow me to center myself. I finally forced myself to stop and think; I had purposefully avoided doing that for a long time. I was afraid to become truly introspective, because something in me was afraid to see what was inside, career and otherwise. Well… performing stood out; I knew that no matter what happened in my life, I would always want to be doing theatre. So I decided to give it a shot and see if I could make it as a professional. After all, I could always teach later. So did Hyde ultimately win?

It is all a matter of perspective. The Jekyll and Hyde analogy depicts performing as a negative aspect…as the evil. It maintains my long-standing idea that that theatre is frivolous and egotistical. It is far from it. It is culture, social commentary, and nostalgia. It connects with people and moves them; it makes them think, formulate opinions, and discuss. People need the performing arts, and I remind myself to be proud that I am a part of it. I enjoy getting myself caught up in the psyche of the characters. I almost think of them as puzzles to figure out, working to get all the nuances and subtleties, so I can portray them the best I can. [I plan to write another blog on this topic, so I’ll leave it at that.]

I do take pride in seeing the impact of my performances. When I know I have made an audience member live and feel something, I have connected with them. And when I am able to meet them face to face, and hear directly that my performance had meaning to them, I am rejuvenated and happy. For me, this is how performers leave their mark and change the world. It helps me feel validated in my choice to perform. I also love the adventure I go on as a performer. There is the discovery and development of a character throughout the process, and also the cooperative creation that happens on stage with each show. When you integrate them, it leads to an immersive experience that has life of its own every performance. That is why I do theatre: to discover and share with people within the story, and to expand that world by including the audience. However, I am still deathly afraid of becoming self-centered and I don’t know if I’ll ever be rid of that feeling if I stay in this profession. Perhaps that is my greatest conflict; my true Hyde.

While conflict is essential to the creation of drama, ultimately storylines are progressed through the decisions we make and the actions we take because of them. Those decisions can lead us toward success or failure. And while failures are scary, it also brings experience, and those experiences lead to successes. The worst thing we can do is play it safe and not take action; that is the greatest sin. And that is what I have done for many years. I have focused my attention on others, placing my value in what I bring out of them, and seeking self-value in that. It has allowed me to avoid taking action of my own… I created my own safety net. But now I have discarded the safety net. I am forcing myself to make strong choices. It will bring both success and failure, but there is a peacefulness in knowing that I have made decisions and taken actions. The results will banish the “what-if” and bring the story to a close. After all, no story would ever be able to have a happy ending if its conflicts were never resolved.

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Pedro
Pedro Ka'awaloa has a BA in Music from Harvard University. He is a professional performer and music director, as well as a choir conductor, pianist, musician, teacher, and composer. Pedro is also a fitness and mindfulness enthusiast.

5 Comments

  1. It is great that you have gone through all this to figure out what you are passionate about and then do it. With all this introspection, I don’t see how you will ever become “egotistical and even narcissistic.” I always wanted you to conduct because you are so good at it and on learns so much under your baton. But I see now — you should do what you love most. Maybe later you will love conducting the most. 🙂

    • Thank you, Ruth, for reading and commenting. I definitely enjoy conducting, and do plan to do more in the future. And my preferences might change at any moment; I’ve always found it difficult to pin myself to any one thing. But for now, this is an adventure that I really needed to go on. Mahalo nui for your support; I hope one day we get to work together again. 🙂

  2. Really enjoyed reading this, Pedro! Can’t wait to catch up this weekend!

  3. […] this syndrome in order to become a better performer. As I said in my earlier post about conflict (Conflict Makes the World Go Around), what I need to do is make decisions and take action. I need to make strong choices. The first […]

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