Happy Labor Day weekend! It's September already and though it's been five years (!) since I had my first day of graduate school, I can't help but feel a familiar nostalgia when this time of year rolls around. Lucky for me this year, I am going back to school for a short while this month--back to my alma mater for a short trip, that is. To my delight, I was invited to return to Upstate New York to teach two days of workshops to the undergraduate performing arts students there. I love Upstate New York in the fall, especially in a college town. The leaves are beginning to turn, the campus bookstores bring out their university sweatshirts for sale, and you can get a slice of pizza from your favorite pizzeria, made in that way that only college town pizzerias can. I will be getting to visit with my professors and a few classmates whom I have not seen in a decade. Honestly, I'm so excited!
And while we're being honest? I'm simultaneously terrified; of flying on the plane to get there, of seeing people I haven't seen in ten years, and of talking to students who are hoping to learn something from someone who supposedly has experience worth learning from. In addition to the workshops I will be teaching to the students, there will also be a performance of a scene from my new play with The Perpetual Visitors Theatre, Big Work. I have never heard the play read aloud with actors before, and am struggling with the fear of sharing the scene with an audience for the first time--what if my colleagues and professors don't like it? What if the scene in its current form doesn't yet measure up to my vision of what I want the scene to be? My vivid imagination has been dreaming up all sorts of reactions and scenarios, most of which result in me wanting to melt into the floor of the theatre, overwhelmed by feelings of unworthiness and the feeling of having been too vulnerable. "Why was she even invited?" I imagine audience members whispering to each other as they leave the theatre. My imagination is always on my list of the things I am most grateful for, but in cases like this, I wish I could just turn it right off.
One of the lines my imagination keeps relaying is "But you're not an expert." Last year when I read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, I learned that most experts or masters in any field from gardening to violin have one thing in common: they have invested ten thousand hours in their craft. I haven't put nearly that many hours into theatre. What do I have to teach someone about documentary theatre? I love it yes, but I am not an expert. In fact, documentary theatre is a fairly new pursuit for me. I haven't read nearly all the books or articles I've wanted to about it, I haven't seen all the documentary plays out there, and this is the first time I've ever staged a full length documentary play with an ensemble cast. There's a part of me that doesn't want to show the play to anyone until I know that it works, that an audience will react with positive feedback, and until I know it's as perfect as it can be. But the thing about working towards your ten thousand hours is that you cannot do all of them behind closed doors, where it feels safe. It's almost guaranteed that you have to do many of these hours out loud, where it feels risky.
And yet...I spend a lot of time on here trying to stay positive, to share my belief that fear should not overcome creativity, and that we are worth much more than what we write, direct, make, or perform. Here is my own invitation to mind the gap. I say I believe in defining my own success and not being afraid to fail, but this month, I will grapple with these things not in theory, but in reality. That raises the stakes. It makes it messy.
I am sharing my feelings and fear here on my blog not to garner sympathy or to be self-indulgent, but because I always believe that we should be willing to be vulnerable and authentic, even when it goes against every defense mechanism we have. I also believe that when one person shares their fear, it gives all of us permission to do so. I don't want to shrink in fear from an opportunity that, scary as it feels, also sounds exciting. I want to stretch myself. I want to learn to put my beliefs into practice and dare to feel afraid, uncomfortable, and not know the answer.
Ironically, the very professor who invited me to do this workshop with her students was the one who gave me an unforgettable piece of advice back when I was in her class. She told me never to make the easy choice, but go for the interesting one. She said "If there's a choice you have between a role that you know you can play onstage, no leap necessary, and a role that you have no idea how you'd pull off, but you really want to dive in and try, always go for the one you aren't sure you can do."
I'm not sure how this workshop will turn out, but I know that I want to do it. I want to be courageous and comfortable with not feeling like an expert. I want to acknowledge that I might have something imperfect but worthwhile to share with the students, and believe that I am valued by my professors and colleagues not only for the theatre skills I possess but for the person I am. I want to not have the entirety of my self-worth to hinge upon what others think about the art I make.
So, I am going to get on that plane, sit nervously in the dark through the very first performance of my play, and offer my own experience up to the students for whatever it may be worth. Afterwards, no matter what happens, I will come back to Boston, and continue with creative projects I care about so much. As Maya Angelou said, "I can be changed by what happens to me, but I refuse to be reduced by it." I can't control if I am the most theatrically talented person in that theatre, but I can focus on being as generous of spirit and as authentic as possible while offering my experiences to the students. That is something within my power, and that must be enough.
Alright friends, do share: What are you afraid to do, but are absolutely interested in exploring? What's stopping you from taking that jump?
Also, if you missed it, check out my newest blog on Howlround, where I talk about the need to redefine success for ourselves.