When I was studying at Carnegie-Mellon University in the late 80’s/early 90’s, many teachers left an impression but one that stands out in my mind is the late choreographer, Billy Wilson. Billy is among my first memories of CMU because he was the first instructor I had really come in contact with at my audition in 1986. The dance portion of the audition process was first up in the day and I still recall Billy standing in front of the long dance room on the second floor of Margaret Morrison teaching a routine to Christopher Cross’s ‘Ride Like the Wind’. And 5, 6, 7, 8…
I recall a very simple but fun exercise that Billy did when he was guest teaching one day. The class would begin in the corner of the room and as the piano would vamp out a classic broadway strut, we would each have to walk to the center of the room, stop, say our name, turn, and strut off. Simple right? Hardly.
Billy would often stop, wave his hands, and say ‘Wait. Wait. Wait. What are you doing?’ Then he asked something profound. ‘Where are you coming from? You don’t look like you’re coming from anyplace.’ He proceded to explain that it’s not enough to wander on stage, say a line, and go off. In order to have purpose in your life as a character, you need to know a) where you are coming from, b) who you are/what do you want, and c) where you are going.
To be frank, a lot of us had no idea where we were going in life, much less in that exercise. But the point was clear and it was not just the basis of proper stage presence, but of text analysis when preparing a scene in a play.
Know where you’re coming from, who you are, what you want, and where you’re going.
Good advice for work and life. Thanks, Billy. Rest in peace.