Songs for the Struggling Artist


Feedback Loop
October 4, 2015, 9:28 pm
Filed under: art, Creative Process, theatre | Tags: , , , , ,

When I first started making my own work, I got an extraordinary amount of very positive feedback. While a lot of it was from the audience, the most consistent voices of support were those involved in the production. Based on their enthusiasm, I thought I must have been a genius – at writing, at directing, at producing.

It occurs to me now, though, that I was doing shows with theatre people and I now understand that theatre people tend to think everything that they’re currently working on is genius. I fear now that I ended up on this path because I believed all those theatre folk when they told me I was brilliant.

I started to think about this recently while accidentally witnessing a production meeting in a coffee shop. The creative team was young and very enthusiastic about the piece at hand. Many of them were genuine in their excitement but the lighting designer, it seemed to me, was just playing the game. He understood that he was expected to blow some smoke and so he did but he was struggling. I could feel him grasping for the words and tone to fit into the love-fest happening at the table. I suspected that most people in the group were fully convinced that this project would be the one to give them all their big breaks, while the lighting designer was there to do the job. It felt like he knew what he was doing and he also knew that the show under discussion was no better or worse than anything else he’d done. He was likely the most experienced artist at the table. I sympathized with his struggle.

A lot of us indulge in that “This shows is going to change everything!” idea – especially at the beginning of a career. And we all encourage each other in this delusion. It really can help buoy up a project. The endless feedback loop of people calling one another geniuses can be the fuel that gets a show off the ground. But it can be very painful when you’re the person in the group who knows that this piece is probably not going to be anyone’s big break. The odds are good that the show will close with not much notice and probably no one in that group is a genius. Most of us aren’t really geniuses and I wonder what we lose in imagining or pretending that we are.

On the other hand, I’m very grateful to each and every one of the people who thought (or even just said) I was brilliant. It was very nice. It felt good. That encouragement kept me going. And maybe what this post is really about is my need to have some of those people around again. It’s been a long time since someone called me brilliant and maybe that is what I need. Even if it’s just smoke. Maybe.

I just started reading The Rise by Sarah Lewis and she opens with a discussion on Mastery. She explores the idea that Mastery is the continued work on improving a thing, regardless of outside influence or possibility. Archers, for example, continue to work on their aim, despite the lack of outside adulation or approval. (There aren’t a lot of lucrative Archery contracts, you see. And can you name a famous Archer?) So, I’m interested in a theatre that is more interested in Mastery than approval. And while I like to be called brilliant as much as the next theatre person, I don’t want to depend on that “brilliant” feedback loop anymore. I want to get my aim exactly right for my own mastery and my own satisfaction. THAT will be brilliant.

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