Friday, February 6, 2009

A Sense of Direction: Connections to Teaching

I recently read "Relation to Actors" from  William Ball's book, A Sense of Direction. So many of his comments on directing are applicable to teachers or facilitators in any setting. Here are a few thoughts:

The rehearsal process, like the classroom space, needs to be a safe space to encourage risk. I remember being afraid of directors and constantly trying to please them. I remember them stopping me in the middle of what I was doing and saying “Why are you doing that?!” This type of interaction makes an actor (or a student) incredibly self conscious and unwilling to try new things. How can we expect students to take risks when they are constantly trying to please the director or the teacher and be “right?”

Failure is certainly a part of the creative process. Ball argues, “It is important to “Fail Big!!” Failing truly is a part of growth and learning; yet, within our society, failing is stigmatized. We are obsessed with being correct and this is typically what we reward. In working with students or actors, we must reward the willingness to take risks as well. Risk taking is so much more difficult than just finding the right answer. I recently spoke with a business consultant who is a serial entrepreneur with several successful start-ups. Someone asked what his strategy was. He replied, “fail fast,” put all of your cards on the table and don’t hide anything. We often hide our ideas, our thoughts, and feelings, but we are only waiting. Why not try it all?

I agree with Ball on his notion that praise (genuine praise) is important in the creative process. I know that I seek praise in my work as most people probably do. I like Ball’s suggestions on the general and gracious praise that can be useful for actors (and students), such as “It’s a pleasure to work with you.” Being gracious for people’s presence, time, and willingness to take risks is easy and important, but often overlooked.

Ball comments that “the artist is a person whose buisiness in life is to praise. Artists discover the wonders of nature and we call attention to those wonders.” He continues, “An artist is someone who draws attention to what is praiseworthy in the Universe.” It is interesting to think about the importance of looking deeply into what is praiseworthy and what is beautiful. Developing this constant awareness makes experiences infinitely richer. We often look for what is missing or what is wrong before asking what is beautiful. I like Ball’s advice:
If you have difficulty finding something praiseworthy, imagine that it doesn’t exist. One of my favorite expressions, and one that has pulled me out of many a difficulty, is this: ‘A thing becomes beautiful because of the possibility of its absence.’ When we imagine the absence of something, it becomes extremely beautiful.
A simple expression that he suggests: “How beautiful that is.” 

A couple other short thoughts:
  • Touching: Often times, we are afraid of touch. I know that I am sometimes uncomfortable with it. Making a small effort to touch everyone—on the arm, the hand, or with a hug can make connections stronger and acknowledge everyone in the space.
  • Interruption: “To interrupt someone who is trying to express himself is unforgivable. It doesn’t make any difference what he is saying.” To interrupt is not to acknowledge the importance of sharing, risk taking.