What is 'Talent'?

"Have You Got It???"

The statement "Oh, yes. They're very talented," is often heard and is seldom challenged or explored. It is taken for granted as a simple indisputable fact that talent is something that individuals are simply lucky enough to have. But what is talent? What does it really mean? And how do we know if we have it?

Pausing to think about the issue for a moment provokes a huge number of interesting questions …

  • What of the child, who from an early age takes every opportunity to perform and is immediately identified as talented? Does this mean that talent is genetic - a component that you have to be born with or you will never be able to acquire it? (THEY'VE GOT IT!)
  • If so, how do we explain the actor who has diligently and committedly worked hard at their acting all their life while everyone has judged them as hopeless (talentless) and suddenly at 65 they begin doing great work. Have they suddenly acquired talent? Maybe talent is something that can be 'grown into'! (SLOWLY THEY'VE GOT IT!)
  • Or what of the child actor who was seen to be incredibly talented but come the age of thirteen is categorized as unhirable? (HAVEN'T GOT IT ANY MORE) Does this mean that talent is transient, ephemeral, magical and indefinable?
  • And what of those with such extraordinary talents that they find it impossible to live comfortably with their abilities and destroy their lives through drugs or alcohol? Is talent an unmanageable, uncontrollable monster? (GOT IT, BUT …!)
  • While sometimes an actor in training appears to have little ability and after working hard not only becomes proficient but in fact ends up being extremely good? (GOT SOMETHING … AND IT'S GOOD!) Does that mean that there is no such thing as talent? Is it all just to do with how much you know? Or how much you practice?

Let's go back to basics.

Defining a Definition.
A quick dip into the Oxford Dictionary is not much help … "Special aptitude, faculty, gift; high mental ability." But still the questions exist.

Members of The Rehearsal Room provided the following thoughts on 'talent' ...

"A unique or original way of entertaining an audience."

"A form of acting that stands out."

"Talent is a WAY that you feel."

"Is being different or new or the same"

"Talent can be seen as a measurement. It is a thing that you use to see yourself … In order to see your own talent you need confidence and self-awareness."

"It's the trust in yourself to do it"

"Talent has a history - a history in genes, in memory and in consciousness."

It would seem the word 'talent' is evocative of many things but still we cannot pragmatically place it in a practical usable context. So, is it magical and elusive?

Magic or Illusion
In the world of entertainment those who have to literally produce "magic" performances work in a world of "illusion". The illusionist creates the appearance of a reality but it is in fact a trick. The trick has a process, a methodology which allows it to deliver the "illusion" to an audience night after night. So, is talent an illusion? Perhaps it is. If so what is the trick that delivers it.

Perhaps audiences identify performers as talented when they sense high quality but can't simply understand or can't identify the methodology which explains such an outcome - so it appears magical.

Or perhaps when a performer or actor unconsciously achieves the appropriate methodology then this is described as being talented - which in fact it is. For having such faith in ones self, that knowledge and experience are less important than intuitive impulses, is an unusual character trait. There are so many elements in our psyche that generate self-doubts that most people have difficulty solely trusting their intuition. As an actor, to be able to succeed at this requires remarkable self-confidence - that's a talent.

The Magic of Confidence
However, one reason that it is hard to arrive at a satisfactory and practical definition of the concept of 'talent' in an actor is because in the end it doesn't mean very much to the practical outcome of a performance. Some talented people perform well and some badly. But, if talent doesn't always guarantee a good outcome there is a quite specific list of other things that can definitely be seen to contribute to the creation of a good performance. If those ingredients are in place the outcome will be recognized as good acting. One significant contributor to a good methodology working effectively is 'self-confidence'. Generally an actor who understands the methodology and is confident to use it will do well. So, perhaps self-confidence is the key to being 'talented'.

Talent - Do You Have It or Not?
Either way, if an actor delivers a story that the audience understands, believes and enjoys - then the audience will come back for more. And perhaps they may also label the actors as "talented". But if talent is ephemeral and hard to define, story is not. Everyone can recognize a well-told story and a truthful performance. So stop worrying about the ephemeral - let's get on with dealing with the 'identifiable' and delivering the 'achievable'. Let's have 'em coming back for more.

March 2003

With thanks to Frieda McKenna, Damian Andrews and Paul O'Brien.

Copyright © The Rehearsal Room 2003. All rights Reserved.



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