Songs for the Struggling Artist

The Panic at the Beginning
September 20, 2016, 9:34 pm
Filed under: art, Creative Process, theatre | Tags: , , , , , , ,

For about a week, I was crying at pretty much every opportunity. I got on the train, I’d cry. I’d lie on the floor, I’d cry. I’d go to the bathroom, I’d cry. In the moment, the source was not entirely clear but I finally traced it to the total terror of beginning work on a new show.

I didn’t always feel terror when starting work on a new show. I used to feel a kind of thrilling excitement, a blind enthusiasm. But then I DID a lot of shows. And I went to graduate school, where the making of shows went from being a pleasure to a battle. I think I may have a bit of metaphorical PTSD from grad school. There were shows post grad school that were relatively trouble free and there were shows that reinforced the fear – difficult collaborators, or challenging circumstances.

The fact is – part of the reason I was able to start shows with unbridled enthusiasm at the beginning of my career was because it was the beginning and I had NO IDEA what sort of challenges might be ahead. My company is 15 years old now and I have MANY IDEAS about what sort of challenges might cross my path as I embark on show development – and very few of them are nice. I am afraid for good reasons.

Starting something is scary for everyone – but it is especially scary for those who have been burned by experience. The culture gives a lot of support and enthusiasm for people who are just beginning. Theatre projects by first time makers are supported a great deal more than the projects of people who have been at it for a long time – but in a way those of us who have been at it a long time need more support, we are both tougher and more fragile.

I know I am not alone in this. I talked with an artist who is a generation ahead of me who was about to embark on a new project and he said he felt totally panicked – but also like he couldn’t talk about that fear, that, after decades in the game, he was supposed to be all cool about it.

When I first started making shows, people were constantly telling me I was brave. But I wasn’t so much brave as naïve and energetic. I’m brave now, actually. Now, I feel panic and terror and I have all kinds of evidence that the odds are not good for my project but I fight through all of that to do it anyway. And I’m telling you about it because I suspect that you are also brave in some way that isn’t flashy or new – but in some quiet, fighting through the weeds way. And if you see me crying, don’t worry, it’s probably just that I’m starting something. I’ll get through it and start that thing regardless. I’m brave like that.


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2 Comments so far
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This is your best essay yet!! I love these and this one has truly named and killed the dragons of fear of creating, starting, graduate school, student teaching and just living bravely for me. Thank you!!
Janet Girardeau (from city college)

Comment by Janet Girardeau

Thank you so much Janet! Much appreciated. I’m glad it struck a chord with you. Slay those dragons! Yeah!

Comment by erainbowd

I'd love to hear from you. Gentleness and kindness encouraged and appreciated.

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