Birthing Pains

I see the creation of each art work as a kind of birth. There’s both great connection and great pain in this process, and I often forget that the magnitude of how connecting a piece is directly relates to how painful its birth can be.

Last week we tried out a structure for performing a lot of the most salient material we’ve been developing in our Friend project. It’s a difficult feat to imagine how to collage together all the disparate strains that develop in an experimental creation process, but I always do my best. The order of events that I came up with seemed very powerful when I envisioned it, and I was excited to get into rehearsal to try it out.

After talking through the two-page sequence of sections we gave it a try on Sunday night. There were some moments that resonated with me a great deal, and many unexpected images that moved me. But there were also long passages that felt awkward and confused. Those were excruciating.

Even though I know this is an important part of the creation process, I forget that in the moment when we’re doing a first run of things. I feel ambushed by material that seems unformed or over-formed. I panic, try to push things into a more interesting state of relationship, try to speed everyone up, insert all sorts of new ideas or lighting angles and generally try to resist what is actually unfolding. I get mad at myself, the performers, circumstances. I feel disappointed and doubt my abilities as an artist.

Now that I’ve been directing ensemble-based performance steadily for over a decade, I can recognize a little sooner than before that I’m in a “first draft” experience and that it is usually painful. I’m able to relax with the process more. But it still hurts. Somehow the gap between my visions and expectations, and what actually comes out in an early run-through is always shocking.

This time I got a glimpse of insight into the process. I was able to watch myself as I went through the pain of pushing that first draft out into the universe, and then saw how I took that experience and transformed it into a second draft. Sometimes the second draft is as challenging as the first. But there are also times when it feels especially magical–forged out of the fire of disappointment into nuggets of performance electricity. This was one of those times.

Our next rehearsal was inspired. All the performers dug into the material at a whole new level. I was able to get the action moving and then watch as it seemed to create itself. The powerful material developed not in spite of, but directly in relationship to how painful our run-through had been.

Here’s a look at that next step as it unfolded for us this past week:

(If you’re unable to watch the embedded video, you can just go to this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=igF9Vr7gdR8 )

We have a public showing tomorrow of our project as it stands at this point. I know that there is no way I can tell how all our material is working until we try it with an audience. This next step could be any combination of painful and joyous, and both are probably equally helpful (even though my preference from where I sit now is definitely for an experience more on the joyous side of the spectrum.)

It feels good to be able to remind myself before going into this public showing that my intention is for the work, myself and the ensemble to grow from this experience–and to invite the pain or awkwardness as part of that growth if that is what the cards hold for us this time.

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