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giving them permission to fly, or at least to try…

July 31, 2010

A couple of times in recent weeks I have been presented with an opportunity to become more aware of how my preconceptions and judgments around what others are capable of can be all that is needed to prevent them from achieving wonderful things.

The first was when my eldest informed me that she was working on plans with a friend of hers. The plans were directed towards a single goal – flight. Now before you think these are the plans of some wildly unrealistic kids who hadn’t given the challenge some serious thought, let me tell you that the initial target was a modest one. “We aren’t trying to fly like a bird Dad, we just want to get a few centimetres off the ground to start with – just to lift off a bit.” Together they had developed a design for wings made from sticks, paper and duct tape (where would modern civilisation be without duct tape!).

We discussed some aspects of the design, I offered to cut some of our bamboo for her to use instead of sticks (bamboo is lighter and stronger) and I made her promise not to jump off anything without first getting clearance from air traffic control (me).

I wasn’t allowed to assist with construction nor was I allowed to witness the test run of the design. I am sorry to report that the design apparently did not deliver the hoped for ‘hover’ – something was mumbled about the bamboo not being strong enough. Doesn’t matter though. I am just glad that she was prepared to try, and that I caught myself before I said “but sweetheart, people can’t fly – other people have tried and failed so don’t waste your time.

I am not always so quick to catch myself though…

The rehearsal period for a theatre production is never long enough. There is a lot of  pressure on everyone to get it to the point where you have a show you can put on the stage. The lines are often first and outline the piece, the blocking (where people move/ sit/ stand/ fall on the stage and what they move to/ sit on/ stand near/ fall over) comes next and adds some space to each scene before adding in all the personal props (bags, hats, coats, books, drinks, pens, cake …) which helps to start colouring in between the lines.

Now I am no expert so this is all just my opinion, but I don’t think you can really give your actors permission to fly until you get all that other stuff sorted out. What tends to trip you up is the tendency (in both me and the actors) to want all of that perfect before stretching our wings.

I wouldn’t say I got tripped up during Hat Tricks but I certainly started to feel a bit of a stumble before I stopped myself and sat down with my cast. I needed to remind everyone, me included, that the theatre is a place where magic can happen.

What I had forgotten was that, as the director, part of my job was to give the cast permission to try. My job is to discuss the design they have in mind for their character, do what I can to help them execute their plans and to keep them safe.

Implicit in all of that is giving them permission to fail. Our seasons are fairly short – only nine shows. I would much rather that my cast deliver four ok performances, four performances that didn’t quite work and just one performance that left the audience in tears of laughter, rage or sorrow than have them deliver nine ‘safe’ performances.

So that is what I told my cast and I think it made all the difference. With seven performances under our belts people have laughed and loved some pieces, been confused and annoyed by others (cast included), found the behaviour of some characters so frustrating they didn’t enjoy some scenes and, yes, there have even been tears from those who have been touched by the emotion in other scenes (me included).

In reality, giving other people permission to try and permission to fail is the easy part. It is when we have the opportunity to  give ourselves permission to fly that we hear a voice saying “… you can’t fly – other people have tried and failed so don’t waste your time.” Don’t listen to it.

I have more than enough duct tape for all our dreams.

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