Neal Bledsoe

Marshall Hawkins had personal reasons to congratulate Neal Bledsoe after he delivered Idyllwild Arts Academy’s Commencement Address on May 20. Marshall, founder of the school’s Jazz Program and master of the standup bass, had been rehearsing to perform classical music. Marshall drew inspiration from the Commencement speaker’s emphasis on experimenting with what Neal calls “the great variety of ways to engage the world artistically”—the experimentation that has become his career.

Writer, filmmaker, and conceptual artist, Neal is also an actor, featured through July 9 in Alexi Kaye Campbell’s The Pride, at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, in Los Angeles.

He has even tried dance.

“I’m terrible, but dancing has helped me become physically more at home with myself. It’s enriched my acting by making it less cerebral.”

He majored in Theatre during his only Academy year, as a postgraduate in 2000-2001. He remembers realizing that “all the arts were at our disposal” and that “I should have been here all along since my goal is to live an artistic life. Idyllwild helped provide a framework for that life, so it’s funny that after having spent so much time trying to avoid school, now all I want is to live like I did there: always learning from someone else.”

Idyllwild introduced him to the paradox that discipline can be liberating.

“Howard Shangraw, in his Acting class, told me, ‘You’ll be a fool if you don’t get a classical theatre education.’ I think he meant not to try to make a career out of charm or good looks, but to devote myself to the craft of acting.”

Neal recalls the shock of seeing Mikhail Baryshnikov, already in his sixties, rehearsing with the Mark Morris Dance Group—but in the ensemble.

“He’d been incomparable when he was young, but there was no ego in his questions afterward. It was, ‘Was the lighting right?’ or, ‘Did that step work for us?’”

Devotion to artistic craft, Neal seemed to suggest, liberates us from ourselves so we can form real connections with others.

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