Post from October, 2015

Sometimes You Fail

Monday, 19. October 2015 1:12

Failure is, in fact, part of creative life, and it actually does happen. Sometimes it blindsides you, and sometimes you see it coming at you like a locomotive. If the latter, you take what measures you can to avert what you think is sure to be a disaster, but sometimes those measures fail as well.

And you know all the maxims about creative activity and failure (see previous writings here, here and here) and you are prepared and you know it’s not the end of the world or anything like that; it’s just part of the creative cycle: sometimes you miss the target. It happens. But maxims are cold comfort when it’s a real failure in the real world, not just something you say, hoping it will never happen or some abstract thing in a blog essay on creativity.

And sometimes, it happens in public. It’s commissioned work with a deadline; it’s a scheduled performance; it’s an advertised opening. If you see it coming, you spend some time planning how to lower expectations in the eyes of those who will surely see the completed project, even while you are still trying to turn the impending train wreck into a near-miss. And you discover very quickly that while private failure is never a pleasant thing, failure in any kind of public situation is deeply humbling experience.

And ironically, some of those times you fail in a public forum, nobody knows. The client, the audience, the patrons look at your work and judge it fine. It’s baffling, and surprising. And it’s not, at least in the eyes of your audience, the catastrophe you thought it was; on the contrary, they like it. Some even like it a lot. And then there come those moments of confusion before it dawns on you that not everybody’s taste is your taste; not everybody’s standards are your standards. (And thank the universe for that.)

But still, it takes a little getting used to. Hopefully, you recognize that the real danger here is not that of failing, or risking, or any of those things with which creatives must come to terms. The danger here is far more insidious. It is the danger of adopting your audience’s taste and standards. And there is that temptation. You have moments when you think, “Well, if they can’t tell the difference, why am I ripping my metaphorical hair out to make this piece the best it can be?”

If you’re lucky and thinking properly, those thoughts last only a moment. Then you realize that the risks you are taking and the standards that you impose upon yourself and the demands that your work meet those standards are the reason that the audience really likes what, in your opinion, is less than mediocre. Once you get past that hurdle, you can restore some balance to your artistic world.

And once that balance is restored, you can accept your failure and move on. This is not to suggest that you welcome failure, just that you are grounded and mature enough to recognize that it’s part of the package. Any genuine risk carries with it the potential for failure; otherwise, it isn’t really a risk. And if you aren’t really risking, you aren’t really creating.

Category:Audience, Creativity | Comment (0) | Author:

Addicted to the Creative Process

Monday, 5. October 2015 0:13

Theatre, I often tell students, is a drug. Once you’re addicted, the only choices you have are to keep feeding your habit or go through a very painful and complex withdrawal. Those who succumb often embrace the drug and obsess over it.

This was brought home to me over the last couple of weeks in talking to two different actors about addiction-related matters. One, a method actor, was concerned about a role that he had taken might lead him to a negative mental place. So we spent a couple of hours devising ways to deal with that likelihood, arriving at what I think will be a successful procedure. His vacating the role because it might be unpleasant or even dangerous never occurred to either one of us. One does not simply say “no” to one’s addictions.

The second actor was concerned about how his artistic career decisions, i.e. which roles to go for, which graduate schools to consider might impact his partner, another actor. He said, “I know how I am. Once I start, I won’t stop.” Although momentarily in remission, he’s addicted, and while he might toy with the idea of giving it up, he’s not really serious about it. The relationship will have to accommodate his artistic needs or fail.

There are, of course, other addictions in theatre. There is the fame addiction, which, so far as I can determine has very little to do with anything artistic. There is the “applause addiction.” This is literally the need to hear applause regularly. It has caused some very talented people to break off their formal education and work in the (low or non-paying) semi-professional world instead of forgoing the applause for a time to move into the professional world with a much wider and more discerning audience.

These are not the addictions from which the two actors mentioned are suffering. These actors are addicted to the creative process. They are far less concerned with applause than they are with creating full characters out of a few words in a script and a little direction. Fame is nowhere on their radar. These are people that must do shows to satisfy their creative cravings.

Addiction to the creative process is not unique to actors. All artists seem to have it. Painters have to paint; they will paint with any kind of paint on any surface available. Writers have to write and will scribble on any sort of paper that is about. Photographers will shoot anything any time when the creative fever is on them. Dancers are always moving to whatever music can be heard and sometimes to music that no one else can hear. They’re addicted.

Some will find other things in life to be more important and will go through withdrawal to secure those things. The rest of us, however, will acknowledge our addiction to creativity, recognize that we really have no choice in the matter, and go forward. For many of us that going forward means not only acknowledging our addiction but embracing it. And that means, for some anyway, converting the addiction to an obsession (written about earlier, here and here).

Like most other addictions and obsessions, the need for the creative process will not bring happiness or satisfaction or ease. It will not bring peace of mind. Instead, it will bring a wide range of ever-changing emotions, a constant, sometimes manic, striving, and a sense of purpose. And that’s worth having.

Category:Creativity | Comment (0) | Author:

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