The Freedom To Fail

I haven’t really done any acting in about three and a half years.

I’ve always found that I’m more courageous, more confident, when I’m acting. It’s easy to assume that this is because of the applause, of having the director be happy with you – all very extrinsic motivation – that makes you feel confident. But I don’t believe it is.

Something that I’ve noticed, from working with good directors and bad directors, is that the best directors trust you, as an actor, to get into the head of your character. They have a vision for you, yes; they have a vision for the entire play and how it comes together. They watch from the audience and know when something looks right, and when something looks wrong. And, both good and bad directors will tell you when something looks wrong. They may both ask you why you’re doing what you’ve just tried. The difference, what makes them good or bad, is how they tell you to change what you’re doing.

Me as one of the three Witches in Project Macbeth, 2013

A good director never, ever, makes you feel punished for trying something.

Even if something isn’t working in the scene, if it distracts or detracts, if it isn’t significant enough… whatever it is, a good director never, ever, makes an actor feel punished or ashamed. They try to work out a unified intention, and help that come across to the audience.

So, by giving you the freedom to try what feels right to you, right for the character, they give you the freedom to fail in the safest way. In the rest of your life, if you make a choice about how to behave and get it wrong, you lose a friendship, a relationship, a job, respect, trust… if you’re lucky, you can apologise and only have to live with feelings of shame for a little while. Stakes are potentially very high. But in rehearsals for a stage show, there is a huge amount of freedom to try and to make mistakes, and be redirected until you learn the best way to act in the final show.

Playing games allows this “rehearsal” behaviour as well. You can play with death, play with survival, play with mastery; try something, fail, try again. Even in games where your mistakes make you subject to abuse, no real friendships or reputation in life is lost (unless, of course, you’re a professional esports athlete – though this will be true of any professional version of a play behaviour, which then makes it questionable as to whether you’re really “playing” anymore). You’re free to fail.

I realised this when I found myself needing somewhere safe to fail. I’ve read “The Right to Write,” and in that Julia Cameron recommends Daily Pages, three pages of free-writing done every morning. I’ve tried this but always end up dropping away from them. So, instead, I started writing something that I don’t care about ever showing. I don’t care how bad it is, whether I’ll ever do anything with it, whether I’ll ever truly finish it. This gives me the freedom to fail. I don’t let myself fall into per-line editing analysis paralysis. It silences the censor, the Bad Director that tells me that taking that risk was bad and I never should have done it. It’s not like the book I write in will ignite if I write something that doesn’t meet my own standards. I just keep going. It gets me out of bad habits and into good ones: the freedom to create without getting trapped in fear.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s