Turning the corner and staying open

This past Friday evening the project that I have worked on for the past six weeks finally came to fruition with a successful opening night performance to a very receptive audience.  Anyone who creates something and then presents it to the public, regardless of format or discipline, knows that the opening/launch can be terrifying.  In the past I’ve always found myself wringing my proverbial apron, unable to let go of the project, and wanting to run out of the theatre as the performance unfolded.  This time, I feel like I turned a corner in my practice as a director, and I learned to just trust the work that I’ve done, and more importantly, to trust the other people that I’ve made the work with:  the actors and the production team.  As a result, I found myself sitting in my assigned seat at 7:45pm, ready to experience the work, and feeling much calmer than I’ve ever felt before, a feeling that continued throughout the entire performance.  I actually enjoyed myself!

It’s a lesson that’s hard to learn, but one that makes a lot of sense.  The act of sharing any piece of art with an audience is dangerous and uncertain for the creators.  It requires a giant leap of faith that the audience members will engage with the piece and invest the energy to make meaning for themselves about what is being presented.  While I try to be as clear as I possibly can be in my art making, I’ve slowly come to realize that my vocabulary for making meaning won’t always match with every audience member’s vocabulary.  Which means that not everyone will like the work that I choose to present.  This used to bother me a lot, because I desperately wanted to be affirmed for the work that I was making, but I’ve come to accept that my job is to make the work that starts the dialogue, not to judge it or force people to like it.  Martha Graham sums it up quite well in the following quotation about art making:

“It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable, nor how it compares with other expressions.  It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to stay open and aware to the urges that motivate you.  Keep the channel open.”