I blogged awhile ago that I had received an autographed copy of Hugh MacLeod’s book, Ignore Everybody and 39 Other Keys To Creativity (affiliate link) and kinda gave it a glowing pre-review based on having followed Hugh’s work for some time now. The book came in right after we opened Wayside Theatre’s 48th Season back in June with Man of La Mancha.
I finally had time to actually read the book this week, after opening the second show of our season, The Gin Game, this past Sunday. Shame on me. I should have found some time in between shows to have read the book. It most likely would have saved me some soul searching and hair pulling as we worked to bring The Gin Game to life. But hindsight’s 20-20.
Bottom line the book is it is outstanding. If you’re in business, if you’re in any way involved in trying to use your creative gifts to make your way through life, if you are just interested in watching the world go by you, you should read this book. Hugh’s a cartoonist and so much more, as his cartoons and insights cut through the clutter and will stand you up short and hard on those mornings you look yourself in the mirror and wonder what you’re doing with your life. Again, you should buy and read this book.
But on to the title of this post and the part about ignoring myself. One of the largest parts of my job is picking a season of plays each year for Wayside Theatre. Yeah, sure we have to do the plays well, and market them well for them to be a success, but it all starts with the plays I choose. I get asked all the time how I pick a season and I think folks think I’m holding back when I say that it really is a mystery to myself and those who are also involved in the process. The plays we (I) pick state who we are (I am) and what we (I) do. There are indeed factors like budget and how I believe the community will respond, as well as other key indicators that I pay attention to, but once all of that is rolled into the mix, it comes down to something, somewhere deep inside me somewhere that says this is it. Are we (am I) always successful? Nah. If I was a baseball player I’d be rich. In this business if we get 3 out of 10 right we consider ourselves lucky. There is no magic formula.
After the decision on the season has been made and finalized (usually within a couple of months after the current season is underway) we begin working on putting all the pieces in place and you forget about the big old momentous decision process on choosing the season. That is until you get close to executing. Then the doubts start creeping in.
That happened to me big time with The Gin Game. Here we have a well known play (name recognition - that’s a plus) with a cast of two (inexpensive after an expensive season opener in Man of La Mancha – another plus in tough economic times) that would feature two well known actors much loved for their earlier performances at Wayside Theatre (star power – big plus). What could go wrong?
Well, nothing went wrong but my feet got colder than liquid nitrogen buried under an iceberg. First off the play features the use of profanity as weapon. The character of Weller has reached a point in his life where he just doesn’t care who may or may not be offended by what he says. When he discovers that Fonsia, his gin partner at the old age home, doesn’t care for his swearing and taking the Lord’s name in vain, he proceeds to use it to get under her skin when he feels the need to knock her down a peg or two. This eventually leads to him completely unmasking her and stripping away her prime and proper facade to the point where they are hurling epithets (including an F-Bomb or two) back and forth like lighting bolts. The theatrical effect is stunning and yields gasps each and every time. But in our very conservative area, it also yields some complaints from some audience members.
I don’t begrudge or judge anyone their preferences in life about things like language. To each his own on all sides of the spectrum. We do out best to warn potential audience members ahead of time in our advertising and our PR, but invariably that doesn’t always work. So, as I sat in rehearsal and heard each vulgarity tossed out time after time after time as we repeated scenes, each one sounding like a howitzer, I begin to doubt my judgment in scheduling the play. That’s a mild way of saying I was terrified. But at the same time I kept resisting urges to tone things down, knowing that somewhere below that sick feeling in my gut was the gut instinct that I had to trust.
The other big self-doubt factor about the choice of the play had to do with the huge dynamic shift we were going to foist on our audiences. Since December we’ve done musical after musical and by their very nature they are big, bold, sexy things. I said confidently many times earlier this year how much I was looking forward to the shift in dynamics when we offered The Gin Game, a small intimate play, that required listening and patience from our audience. But the closer we got, let me tell you I got really, really nervous about that choice and those confidant statements. Would our audience respond well to the huge shift in dynamics? Would small work? Would they have the patience? Would it keep the momentum we have slowly and painstakingly built all winter and spring long during some rough economic times?
Talk about stress. I was boiling over and really doubting a lot on the inside. On the outside though I kept plowing ahead and sticking to my guns. But in those intimate conversations with myself, it wasn’t a pretty picture. When I’d look in the eyes of our staff and see doubts, it was like looking in a mirror.
To make an already long story hopefully come to an end sooner, the upshot is this. I again stuck to my guns. The Gin Game opened strongly to enthusiastic reviews and great audience response. We’ve still got momentum and we’re still building slowly but surely.
Years ago, I had a moment of self realization while directing another show. We reached a moment in rehearsal where I knew exactly what had to happen to make it go from good to beyond good. I stopped the rehearsal, but couldn’t articulate what I wanted to happen. I was literally shaking. The thoughts were there but nothing that came out of my mouth made any sense whatsoever. Now, I’m usually calm and reasonably articulate when giving direction. I have a very loud ‘command voice.’ But I couldn’t get the words out in a way that made any sense to me or to anyone else. The realization I had after that moment, and in moments since, is that when I come up against one of those ‘big moments’ and fear and anxiety threatens to choke off any hint of communication, I’m on to something. That’s my self doubt reaching up from somewhere deep inside my innards telling me that what I’m about to set in motion will either be brilliant or stink up the joint. And if I don’t find that fine line, or edge, or danger zone, the reality is I really end up not satisfied with what I’m doing.
I’ve learned to recognize that, and while I haven’t learned to ‘ignore myself’ when it happens, I’ve learned to embrace the doubt and know it means I’m on to something.
Now, if I can just figure out how to speak when it happens.