Words, Words, Words

Here’s the thing about aha moments. In the moment, they are amazing. Suddenly a lightbulb goes off in your mind and you understand things in a whole new way. But the flip side is this: once you know, you can’t pretend you don’t know.

I’m telling you this because if you keep reading this entry, you might have your own aha moment. And then you will be accountable for what you know.

About a year and a half ago, I was listening to an interview with Dr. Michael Gervais, the sports and high performance psychologist (his work is amazing, check it out here.) He was explaining our “fight or flight response”, and he said that it is more accurately described as our “fight, flight, freeze, or submit response.” Take that in for a moment. Fight. Flight. Freeze. Submit.

Submit.

The word jumped out at me and hit me like a ton of bricks.

My clients and I used that word all the time. I was probably using it dozens of times daily to describe what an actor or agent does when they put an actor forward for a role or project.

“Did your agent submit you for the role?”

“You should submit yourself.”

“Have her put together a submission.”

Yes, I know that in our particular context we use this to mean:

  • to present or propose to another for review, consideration, or decision

But it still made me suddenly uneasy.

When my clients are “submitted” for a project, they often feel more closely aligned to the alternative definitions:

  • to yield oneself to the authority or will of another : surrender

  • to permit oneself to be subjected to something

  • to defer to or consent to abide by the opinion or authority of another

In an instant I knew I could no longer use the word “submit” when it came to artists and they way they pursue their career and collaborations. I had to find another word.

For months, I tried out different words, “to present”, “to suggest”, “to put forth”. But it all felt so formal and not exactly right. And then one day I was on a call with my podcast co-host Peter Shepherd, and he said…

“Well, I’ve gotta go spruik our show.”

“What did you say, Peter?”

“I said, I’ve gotta go spruik our show.”

“What word are you saying, Peter? I literally don’t understand you. You have to do what to our show?”

“Spruik. Spruik. S-P-R-U-I-K.”

Turns out it is Australian slang.

I looked it up and found this definition on urban dictionary:

  • Using the human voice to promote an idea, goods or services to another person.

AHA. This was much closer to what I was hoping for. “To promote an idea.”

So I decided to try it out and see how it felt. I started using the word “spruik” in my conversations, and, unsurprisingly, every time I did, the person I was speaking to would say, “What? What did you say?” And then I would explain why I had decided to abandon the word submit, why I had adopted the word spruik, and how I hoped they would join me. Within the studio, it started spreading like wildfire. Turns out actors are pretty eager to use a word that allows them to promote an idea rather than to give up all of their power.

(I’ll do a more in depth explanation of spruiking versus submitting in a future post. But here’s a preview: In order for what you are sending out into the world to qualify as a spruik, you must actually be promoting an idea. Otherwise it is still just a submission.)

Back in December, Peter came to the US to visit, and I thought it would be fun to bring him to an audition center and give him a taste of what an audition day feels like. As you can imagine, there were many experiences in that one visit to Pearl Studios that were worthy of a blog post, but for now I’ll stick to the subject at hand.

I walked him over to one of the large studios lined with chairs and explained that this was an EPA Holding Room. He laughed.

“Haha, I thought you just said holding room.”

“I did.”

He stopped laughing.

It had never occurred to me until that moment. “Holding room” is just about the least human, least compassionate, least respectful way to describe the purpose of that room.

If you go to the dictionary, there are over a dozen definitions of “holding”, none of them useful for the purposes of attending an audition. I’ll give you a sample:

  • To detain, to preside over, to hinder, to restrain, to have the ownership of…

There are more, but you get it. We need a replacement.

I’m still on the hunt for a word or phrase to replace “holding room.” Here are some suggestions from my clients: waiting area, artists’ lounge, green room. I’d love to hear your ideas.

There are myriad more examples of how our “industry-standard” words hold us back, degrade us, and dehumanize us. .

What do we call fully grown adults in our ensembles? “Kids”.

What do we call the characters we play?  “Tracks”.

I could go on and on.

It is time for us to consider the words that are coming out of our mouths. Is this how we want to describe ourselves? Is this how we want to describe our work?
— @JenWaldman

Now you know, and you can’t pretend you don’t know.