The creative process is a fickle phenomenon.
As artists, I firmly believe we are compelled to create. It’s more than just a passing interest—it’s a consuming need to express our world, its beauty, its hardships, its messed-up-murky-monkey business… all in an attempt to make sense of it…
or tell a memorable story…
or inspire change…
or wrestle with the dark questions.
I believe our ability to create—following the example of our great Creator—is an amazing gift. It’s also incredibly hard and humbling.
A friend (and fellow performer) once shared this description of the creative process.
This is awesome.
This is hard.
This is awful.
This might be okay.
This is awesome!
That so perfectly sums it up.
We are often terribly excited to begin a project… and then we quickly realize how ambitious it is. How intimidating. Too much to do and to get right. Questions and doubts begin, asking whether or not the work will ever come together. At points, we may even loathe the process, fearing that it will never reap the beauty we hope for.
Then we start blaming ourselves. Maybe we’re the reason it’s not coming together. Maybe we’re the reason everything is terrible. Personally, I’ve been a part of near 100 productions in my lifetime, and the pattern has never changed. We never seem to remember, in the throes of a creative process, that Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Yet, we push through… and it gets a little better. A little sharper. A little stronger. We start to see glimmers of the huge potential this project has. And we sprint towards that goal.
Personally, I never want to tackle a production that is too easy. I’m constantly looking for a play or musical that will challenge the students, our limited facilities, and our budget constraints. I don’t think we grow as artists if we stick to the same old routine. I don’t think we educate our audiences either if we just give them some rehashed product they’ve come to expect.
Part of the love/hate relationship with mounting a production is the thrill of tackling something new compounded with the effort and energy it takes to make it a realization. Uncharted territory is exciting. However, if fear takes over and we settle for status quo, then our art suffers terribly. I have known several directors who routinely return to the same production they did a few years ago. Their repertoire seems to be limited to about 15 plays total. I will never understand why they do that, especially when there are so many incredible works which have been available to produce since the dawn of time, the written word, and Aeschylus.
I exaggerate a little, but you understand my point.
We must overcome our fear of the difficult, of the unknown, and of our limits as created beings. Let me be clear. I’m not advocating some unwise regimen of extremist behavior here. Our art cannot be our idol. I’m talking about removing the chains of the “what ifs” and exchanging them for the satisfaction that says, “Look what we did!”
To create is to be brave. To step out in faith and exercise the gifts we have been given by the Father.
There are so many subsets of the creative process contained within a production… so many ways to be brave.
- The playwright’s work to create the world of the play
- The director’s approach to realize that world
- The designers’ renderings, presentations, and models
- The technical director’s oversight of the build
- The actors’ wrestling with the characters and motivations
- The choreographer’s interpretation
- The scenic charge artist’s detail and nuance
- The stitcher’s embellishment
- The composer’s/sound designer’s aural story
And on and on and on. Everybody creates! Everybody works to contribute their special skill or gift to this GINORMOUS—or, honestly, it could be “simple”—product that will invite hundreds of others (spectators!) to judge their work.
WHY DO WE DO THAT?
Why on earth do we exert so much effort, engage in vulnerability, and invite criticism?
Because we cannot keep our work to ourselves.
Theatre is communal. It loses its value without an audience.
This is where I think television and film fall short. Though an audience may engage with the material presented on the screen, there is no give and take that is reciprocal. The film doesn’t change based upon how you react to it. But the theatre…
Every performance is different. Connection. Inflection. Chemistry. Comedy. Rhythm. It’s so wonderfully dynamic. You know exactly where you stand with an audience for each performance, and it is always some place new and unchartered. You know when you connect and when the crickets are chirping. It’s an unbelievable exchange of emotion and thought that goes both ways. You share space. Air. Energy.
And, at the end, polite applause. Sometimes ridicule. Silence. Judgment. Questions. Strong opinions.
Praise. Like-minded excitement. Dialogue. Thoughtful consideration. Enthusiastic exchange of ideas.