What is the value of struggle, specifically in the performing arts? Of frustration? Of hearing direct feedback that feels uncomfortable? What value is there in being upset by your teacher, your work, and your process of learning in the performing arts? One answer is that these kinds of experiences are extremely valuable, and furthermore even very necessary as part of the process of learning and becoming a champion.
Champions know the sorrow of defeat, the hair-pulling frustration of a difficult experience, and the real challenge of accepting failure. No champion gets to be a champion without these kinds of experiences. In the performing arts, since our instruments we play are ourselves, there is a profound vulnerability that is always present. This vulnerability begins to dissipate when we learn to accept instruction and criticism without taking it personally, but rather, professionally.
This kind of mindset that can maturely take instruction, feedback, and criticism without feeling unnecessarily hurt or offended is a must in the performing arts. And I have learned that young people can develop this skill at an early age, even five years old, when taught this idea. The performing arts are difficult not only because we are our own instrument but also because performing is a very competitive world. As a performer we are constantly auditioning and that means we are putting ourselves in front of others to judge us and either accept us or not. If we do not learn to take these decisions professionally, but constantly take them personally, we are in for a short career; there are just too many rejections. Rejections can be tenfold compared to job offers. For young performers auditioning, the actual times they receive the part they want are far fewer than the times they do not get what they want. Many talent agents of children will make very clear to young actors that they will fail more often than succeed; they say “expect NOT to get the part”. In this way actors learn how to redefine success and failure.
As we teach at the Ruhala Center, an actor can only control their performance: stay focused on that. An actor can leave an audition and feel great about their success because they nailed their audition just as they practiced with their coach; and yet they did not get the job. And sometimes the actor knows he failed to nail the performance at the audition and they end up getting the part anyway. The actor can only control their performance; the rest is out of their hands. Learning this and working within this framework will allow an actor to keep his cool through all the ups and downs of auditioning.
The cast of our Broadway Ensemble’s Godspell, opening this weekend has shown great fortitude and work ethic in their process of rehearsing and developing their roles. They have gone through all heck to get this together. It has been frustrating and hard, confusing and futile at times. But in the end, they stuck with their will power and desire and have come to the other side of that darkness. They are stronger and more resilient, more knowledgeable and better equipped to move forward. Their tears of frustration have been transformed into spirits of champions. I am very proud of them.