Monday, September 13, 2010
Sick of the "right to fail"
The final speaker at the Chicago Theatre Anti-Conference a few weeks ago was Roche Schulfer, the executive director of the Goodman.
Mr. Schulfer listed his "top ten opinions about theatre today" and many of the ideas were fantastic and challenging. The one that surprised me, and has stuck with me the most though, was when he said, "I am so sick of the 'right to fail.'" I hadn't realized that I was, but the more I think about it, I am too.
We want to give artists freedom to experiment, and trust them to stretch their imaginations and push the boundaries, but we are not doing this because they have the right to fail. We are doing this to give them room to succeed.
Schulfer compared this to a sports team. A true fan will love them if they win or lose, but we don't give the coaching staff freedom to try new things because they have the "right to fail." We also expect that if a new defense scheme results in in the team getting humiliated and blown out by an inferior team, the coach will apologizes, regroup and try something else that he thinks will succeed.
Far too often I have heard artists stubbornly defend work that didn't succeed. "The audience just didn't get it," "It's the process that's really important." When what they should be saying is what we hear from a defeated football coach, "We weren't as prepared as we should have been," "We're going to regroup, learn from our mistakes and try to be better next week."
Like football fans, your audience wants you to succeed, and will hopefully come back next week to watch you try again. Like a loyal fan, your audience "deserves a win." Also like a loyal fan, your audience might come back multiple times hoping to see a win (if they like you), but if you blame the fans when you lose, refuse to admit that you lost, and refuse to learn from your mistakes, the fans will eventually give up on you.