In an incessantly sarcastic society where irony runs rampant, many artists have surrendered to the same cynicism and self-deprecation to which they are subjected. Irony-laced quips muddle sincere truths; pessimism has become tragically hip. This unabashed reliance on sarcasm has shamelessly replaced genuine sentiment, and the effects are staggering. Daily conversation is drenched with deceit, art is content with contempt, and entertainment is rife with rancor.

Paralyzed by such a dismal state of creative existence, it is imperative for the artist to awaken to a more genuine movement: Practicing Sincerity. In truth, the artist should strive to abandon all forms of irony and uphold a sincere sense of self.

This certainly isn’t a newly minted concept. Over the last few decades, the New Sincerity movement has created waves in music, film, and literary criticism. David Foster Wallace challenged writers to explore this ethos with his essay, “E Unibus Pluram.” Written as a reaction to the self-aware metafiction being produced in the early ’90’s, Wallace’s essay advocated a renaissance of sincerity:

Real rebels, as far as I can see, risk things. Risk disapproval. The old postmodern insurgents risked the gasp and squeal: shock, disgust, outrage, censorship, accusations of socialism, anarchism, nihilism. The new rebels might be the ones willing to risk the yawn, the rolled eyes, the cool smile, the nudged ribs, the parody of gifted ironists, the ‘How banal.’ Accusations of sentimentality, melodrama. Credulity. Willingness to be suckered by a world of lurkers and starers who fear gaze and ridicule above imprisonment without law. Who knows.

Wallace’s nod to sincerity has occasionally been revisited by artists and critics alike. Although it is often brushed aside, Practicing Sincerity is truly vital in such cynical times. It is, quite simply, the right way to live. By Practicing Sincerity in their craft, artists create approachable aesthetics, encouraging growth and spontaneity. A culture is formed, art is produced, and society thrives.

Not only is this ideology applicable to the performance piece itself, but Practicing Sincerity also adheres to the artist’s demeanor during rehearsals. By upholding a genuinely sincere attitude in the creative process, artists are free to conduct themselves openly and without fear of judgment. Sarcastic quips inhibit the process; sincere truths yield productivity.

The rehearsal space is a sanctuary in which art is collaborative. In it, artists welcome any idea with an open mind. Through exploration and exercise, choices are made and decisions finalized. Characters develop and scenes contextualize. By remaining free and relaxed, each artistic decision made is done so collaboratively and within an ensemble concept. Therefore, it is absolutely crucial that the artist stay relaxed, focused, and engaged, and these attributes are all achieved by Practicing Sincerity.

Many artists are already abiding by this principle.

When searching for inspiration, filmmaker Sam Bailey seeks out brutal honesty and vulnerability. She says, “As long as we’re telling stories that come from a place of discovery and reflection, then I think we’re making the most sincere work possible.” Focusing on women and people of color, Bailey has an admirable talent for revealing truth and authenticity in her medium, specifically with her brilliant short form series, You’re So Talented.

Bailey is interested in changing how filmmaking is perceived, specifically with production. She says, “I would love to be in a place where we create work on our own terms without having to cater to any type of agenda that doesn’t align with our own.” Her sincere work is already gaining well-deserved attention; You’re So Talented was recently nominated for a Gotham Award.

Devising-based artist Sarah Rose Graber is driven by a sincere curiosity for people and innovative storytelling. A true believer that theatre is an essential component of making the world a better place, Graber divides her time between the US and the UK, creating community-based pieces where non-identifying artists are the performers. As a director, performer, and facilitator, Graber looks for honesty and authenticity in her work. She says, “Sincerity allows for confidence in the choices being made and to take ownership of our ideas.”

Graber is currently utilizing this process in creating a new show about the topic of Serendipity, premiering in conjunction with the Aberdeen Performing Arts in Scotland. Graber says, “It has been nothing short of a delight to connect with people over their stories to generate content ideas for the piece.”

The concept of play is equally essential in Graber’s process. She says, “When we let our imaginations enjoy new ideas, when we can laugh together and focus on a creative goal by playing; important discoveries are made in the process.”

Finally, playwright Philip Dawkins weaves honesty into all of his brilliant work. Constantly checking in with himself and his fellow artists, Dawkins asks, “How are you performing realness today?” As artists possess the task of imprinting themselves onto the world, Dawkins adheres to a strict set of responsibilities when writing. Although these responsibilities differ from play-to-play, Dawkins’ ultimate goal is to be honest in his work.   

A major advocate of self-ownership, Dawkins says, “Don’t let other people tell you your identity, tell them your identity.” The theme of identity is prevalent throughout Dawkins’ new play, Charm, which recently had its world premiere through Northlight Theatre at the Steppenwolf Garage. Inspired by the true story of Miss Gloria Allen at the Center on Halsted in Chicago, Dawkins discovered the importance of honoring a living person with this significant piece. Dawkins says, “I sincerely wanted to tell her story.” Through inclusion and dignity, the play reveals that people are not all that separate from one another. Again, sincerity prevails in this compassionate piece about respecting each other and redefining charm.

Cast of Charm by Philip Dawkins. Pictured (l-r) Namir Smallwood, Julian Parker, Matthew Sherbach, Armand Fields, BrittneyLove Smith, Awate Serequeberhan, Monica Orozco. Photo by Michael Brosilow, courtesy of Northlight Theatre.

Practicing Sincerity is a beautiful way to live, love, and create. Embracing it will empower the artist with confidence, grace, and ease, as well as the willingness to create truthful moments without fear of judgment or scorn. It is absolutely essential in the creative process and beyond.

So scrap the sardonic state of existence and sincerity will shine. Uphold it, speak it, and breathe it. Let’s make a change.