Success and Failure, Part 1

One of my core struggles in art-making (and really life in general) is how to reconcile a fierce commitment to experimentation with a deep fear of failure. The very nature of experimenting is to court failure. The more “failures” I have, the more I learn, and then the more “successful” the whole process is. It sounds good on paper, but embodying this is a whole different story.

I’m reminds of something I read about Edison and (I think) his invention of the lightbulb. His team had made around 2,000 attempts, and they were discouraged by all the times they had “failed.” Edison reframed it by telling them (and I paraphrase here,) “Nonsense! We now know 2,000 ways it doesn’t work!”

I aspire to have that perspective on my art (and life.) In the meantime, things like mistakes, failures, losses, embarrassments, and weaknesses are terrifying to me. And yet, they seem to be the only path towards finding my true work, my unique contributions to make.

There’s the story about the spiritual seeker who finds the master atop a mountain, deep in mystical absorption:
The seeker asks the master, “How do I attain wisdom?”
The master replies, “Through experience.”
“And how do I obtain experience?”
“Through making mistakes.”

Recently we shot the pilot episode of a reality show that Dandelion is developing with Austin Forbord and his RAPT Productions. We intend it to be a kind of “Project Runway” of experimental performance. It is a huge experiment, with many complex levels of entry, and many things still to be figured out. I thought it was a very successful day, because we learned about many of the ways it won’t work, as well as some of the ways that it might.

And it was also extremely provocative for many of us. We were thrown headfirst up against difficult issues, and forced to face parts of ourselves that most of us would rather avoid. For me, the primary issue that was raised was about the nature of winning and losing. I realize that I have a lot of emotional baggage to sort through around this.

So much of my work is about creating environments of inclusivity, where there is no right or wrong. I seek to revision much of contemporary performance to establish a radical embracing of diversity and humanism onstage, and to glory in the beauty of all human beings’ essential oddness, imperfection and undefinable-ness. I want to challenge so much of my own training, and so much of the pressure we all receive to fit in, to try to be different than we are, to seek outside validation. And the more I work towards these visions, the more I’m confronted with my own desire to conform and be told that I’m okay by powerful people–the more I see my intense desire to “win” and my intense fear of “losing.”

I’m excited, and a little nervous about facing this part of myself. Like all performance projects that are meaningful to me, I’d like this next one to be a vehicle for letting go of habits that are no longer useful, and to uncover and dismantle some of my own obsession with dualities of winning/losing, right/wrong,  good/bad, and success/failure. I’d like to find a playing field for my work that is beneath and beyond these distracting ways of viewing experience. And I look forward to finding ways that wrestling with my own neuroses in this arena, will allow the work to resonate with something common to all of us that are both blessed and cursed with a human mind.

(to be continued…)

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