The Full Catastrophe
My musical theater class had our cabaret night Sunday evening. I had been nervous all month about messing up and ruining the show, and my anxiety peaked on Sunday morning. I had two songs in the show, "Summertime" and "All of Me." I was fairly confident about "Summertime," but we'd had a disastrous dress rehearsal of "All of Me," and I was convinced that something was going to go very wrong.
As it turned out, pretty much everything did, starting with my air-headed decision to do something about the ridiculous color in my hair. I bought a highly recommended (and expensive) "color extraction system" at a professional hairstylist supply store that was supposed to take out artificial color and leave your hair the way it was originally. I used it as instructed, and it did exactly nothing, until I went swimming and emerged once again with green streaks. I pulled it back and hoped nobody would notice.
"Summertime" was fine, and well received. "All of Me," though, was prop-dependent, and when I get nervous, props tend to take on a wild life of their own. I pulled my slinky shawl from around my shoulders, intending to drape it sensuously around my partner's neck, and instead hit him in the face with it. Our (fortunately plastic) champagne glasses leapt off the table and crashed to the floor, where I tripped on one. A lace handkerchief that I was supposed to pull out of my bra to emphasize "Your good-bye left me with eyes that cry" got lost around my navel and I had to dig for it.
And it was okay. I recalled my improv teacher's mantra, "Mistakes are gifts." We tried to use each mishap to deepen the scene and move it forward. I kept singing, we kept dancing, and the audience kept laughing and clapping. For the finale, my partner, whose day job is as a firefighter, spontaneously lifted me up and swung me around, neatly demolishing what was left of the set, and the audience went wild. Afterward, my teacher said, "They loved you--even more because of all the mishaps. They were with you 100%." and I felt that.
What I brought away from the experience was not the idea that anything goes, but that if I take risks I am going to make mistakes, and that that is part of the fun and excitement of live performance. What happened wasn't the result of carelessness or poor planning, but of hard work, dedication, and nerve-induced klutziness, which I hope one day to control. But it is comforting to know that an audience is willing to engage with me on this journey, and to cheer me on.
I will be away next week. I hope you all have a good summer's end.
Susan O'Doherty, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist with a New York City-based practice. A fiction writer herself, she specializes in issues affecting writers and other creative artists. She is the author of Getting Unstuck without Coming Unglued: A Woman's Guide to Unblocking Creativity (Seal, 2007). Her Career Coach column appears every Monday on Inside Higher Ed's Mama, Ph.D. blog, and she is a regular guest panelist on Litopia After Dark. She can be reached at Dr.Sue at mindspring dot com.