Ilayda Arden, 26 January 2013

This session was inspired by the situation that many of my friends and I find ourselves

in at present: young artists beginning to take the first tentative career steps into ‘doing

stuff’ or ‘making theatre’ and having the constant fear of falling flat on our faces in

these attempts.

Of course this fear is never exclusive to those starting out, and the people involved in

the session were by no means just those that were early in their careers but also

individuals who were tried and tested in the theatre world.

First came the discussion of what people perceived as ‘failure’. Is failure getting a bad

review for a show; not having a project completed on time; bankrupting yourself; letting

a team of people down; never gaining recognition after many, many years of hard

work; or gaining the recognition, but never really enjoying it and making what YOU

want to make?

The possibilities seemed endless, after all, each individual has their own aspirations,

targets and expectations of themselves.

Eventually, we settled on referring to failure in a very general sense- I'm sure that in

each individual's mind, there was a specific vision of failure floating around as we

discussed the situations around it.

Some key questions and points that revolved around the topic then:

-Learning how fear can manifest itself:

1- In the earliest parts of inspiration, the embryonic stages, where you have a tiny little

bean of a single idea, some people expressed that the presence of fear often resulted

in them being terrified of even attempting to vocalise it/think about it/try it out because

of the fear that its not original/totally shit/immature/pure conjecture etc and so nothing

ever happens.

A suggested response to this was to just take the plunge, embrace it, if you're scared

of doing something cliched, then fuck it, do the most cliched thing in the world ever,

and play with it, use it to your advantage.

2- You are totally terrified by an idea/project/task but it's exhilarating terror that sparks

you into moving forward: rushing, making plans, and then suddenly halfway through,

you come crashing down, have a meltdown and it's too hard, you're riddled with self

doubt and panic.

A particular response to this stood out in that someone described this like a horse

race, where exhilaration and panic went head to head. The trick is to use panic to spur

exhilaration on wherever possible and to try to not let panic get too much of a lead…

3- You are doing a project, and someone of worth (venue, friend, critic, potential future

contact, classmate) asks about it. You present it in a cynical/self-deprecating manner,

hoping that when it all finally comes together and this person sees the work they (and

you) will be pleasantly surprised after all the low expectations.

Response- Remember that if you tell someone of worth that something is

crap/undersell yourself- they will have no reason to invest in it at ALL and may never

actually come to see it/hire you in the end anyway. Off the back of this, someone

suggested that the simple act of practising saying nice things to yourself about your

work or what you can offer could be quite useful, so that when someone else asks

about it- you can talk about it without feeling the need to preface it with ‘well, it’s a bit

shit but…'

Similarly, someone else mentioned that often times, the trick isn't to talk yourself or

your show up, it's just about showing a genuine interest in what you're doing, and

being pleasantly mannered when doing so, even if you are bloody terrified of it.

-We then discussed the idea that even if we fail as artists, the world doesn't stop- we

will almost always learn something from the experience, absorb it, and move on, in

some way or another. And that for many of the group, it was important to remember

that the PROCESS of creating, or achieving a goal, was just as important as the

PRODUCT or the achievement itself, if not more.

- Many people agreed that the FEAR is worse than the failure itself. This kept coming

up with many people stating that in the instances they had failed, yes, it had absolutely

SUCKED but, that life had gone on, and that eventually… Well, they started again.

- Remember that your expectations are not the same as others… You may have grand

visions and the perfect idea and everything may need to be 1050000% perfect,

because you're creating something, or you want to the best, or because you know

that's what you're capable off- but the chances are that not everyone else in the entire

of theatre land has the same expectation from you.

-Leading off from the above however, someone mentioned that they get very angry

when they see ‘bad’ theatre. This sparked two areas of discussion:

1. From a consumer point of view, if someone comes to see your work and they feel

like it wasn't worth their time or money, that sucks. BUT, we came back to the point of

art being subjective- one persons ‘meticulous and dangerously silent’ is another

persons ‘wanky self-indulgent bollocks’. And if you have failed to please someone, but

instead have made them feel something very negative, then you have still succeeded

in making someone feel something.

2-The importance of not crumbling under criticism was discussed, with particular

importance on being able to take negative comments and trying to learn from them

(within reason), as they may well be able to help shape your work/skills.

-Being more like children.

Someone mentioned the creative ability of 4 year olds, and how studies have revealed

that the age of 4 can often be considered a creative goldrush age of sorts- because

the inhibitions that we pick up as we go through formal education and adolescence

have not yet been built up as they often are. Giving yourself permission to play was

the phrase used.

-Remember some people LOVE seeing failure.

From a creative point of view- people often love seeing things fail-and this is

something that you can often use to your advantage. This moved onto discussion of

clowning, and shows like the SpiderMan musical becoming successes despite their…

failings. The question this left hanging though was that, it's fine if your original intention

was to fail and for people to see (clowning), but what if you set out to be amazing and

fail and people see that? There wasn't an answer to this, except… How would people

know it was supposed to be amazing?!

-And finally TALKING about it.

The discussion group observed that people seem to overlook this one quite a lot.

Sometimes just sitting down and talking to someone about it can be AMAZING,

whether it's because the person you're speaking to is giving you treasured life

advice/support, brainstorming creatively with you, has completely misunderstood what

you meant or has a completely contradictory point of view, talking about your fear of

failure can help you gain clarity, take a few deep breaths and pull yourself together…

It was mentioned that this should be taken with a pinch of salt of course- if you're a

director it's probably not a good idea to rant to the cast and crew that the entire

production is going to be a massive flop- because these people depend on you. But

finding other people like assistant directors, friends, or family to occasionally say ‘im

kind of scared’ to could help make you realise that everyone is always just a little bit

scared of something…


creating work, self belief, Coping, Theatre, talking, jobs, freedom, psychology, career,

children, failure, coping, Children, fear, theatre, Failure, confidence

Comments: 2

Deborah Henry-Pollard, 6 February 2013

We all hit this fear of failure and it can just stop us in our tracks. But I think there is something to be said about deciding if

something is a failure. In science, they experiment over and over assuming the first time, tenth time, hundreth time, it will

not work. But each time, they learn something new and can eliminate the ways that don't work. They embrace the trial and

error so that they can find new and exciting ways to do stuff. However, in many other spheres we seem to expect that we

can get it ‘right’ the first time and the fear of not doing this is what shackles us or sends us into a flat spin. I always love the

quote from Samuel Beckett - “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

(And without failure, we would never have had post it notes

And here's a blog I wrote on embracing not knowing.

Li-E Chen, 7 February 2013

Really enjoyed reading your post. Thanks for sharing this!