This went up on the USS Rock n Roll blog today:
An ensemble I was in a while ago did a form devised by our director TJ Jagodowski called The Fibonacci. You start with an opening scene, A, which goes for maybe two minutes. Then you have a second scene, B, which is related thematically or somehow inspired by scene A. Then you repeat A as exactly as possible, same actors hitting all the main beats and as many of the lines as they can, with the caveat that you are going to flavor it with information from and tone of scene B. You then repeat B similarly, as faithful as possible but somehow incorporating the sensibility of A. Then you do a new scene C, similarly inspired by but contrasting the earlier two. Then you go back, repeat A, then B, then C, and create a new scene D, and go on and on as such until you’re out of time.
One thing I used to love about it was TJ’s analysis: this form is designed to fail. Your brain can’t possibly wrap itself around every single detail, so inevitably it will start to break down once you try to repeat the fourth, fifth, sixth scene. And when it does, it can become transcendent. That bizarre character from scene D wanders into the taut dramatic reality of scene C and then bang, all of a sudden, an unexpected catharsis.
It’s a marvelous release to know that you will follow the form in good faith, it will come apart, and you will inevitably be free to fail, and through failure find the remarkable. Being “free to fail” is a lovely bromide, but difficult to live down. I can’t think of many shows that failed and felt liberating. After a poor show (which too-often translates mentally as “non-laugh producing”) I always feel like a part of my soul has died and I probably should cut off one of my hands.
Apropos of a real reaming notes-session a few years ago, my friend Ben quoted some NFL head coach who said something along the lines of, “the longer I do this, the more I realize that the only difference between winning and losing is how people treat me afterward.” Peaks are nice, valleys are not. It makes sense to me to try to react with detached humility either way. I want to refine my ability to let my wins and my losses be treated with the same determined resolve. This is extremely difficult.
While I’m trafficking in sports analogies, a friend who had a basketball coach father and now coaches high school hoops himself was sub-coaching my Harold team. He was saying that nine times out of ten he can tell who’s going to win a basketball game from watching warm-ups. He thinks similarly that the way an improv team comes into a building, does their warm-ups, and shows their focus will tell you who’s going to “win” the game (ostensibly meaning to have the best show). While I think the allegory specious (and my girlfriend who grew up playing basketball (in Indiana) said she’d never heard of that idea), it still resonates.
A professional does the preparation, and is ready. Ready to show up and nail a show, without a fuss. If everyone has their own routine and manner for coming to the show as a pro, the way they do warm-ups won’t be the only indicator of how things will go, but it might be one. And the thing I try to keep remembering is that being a pro doesn’t mean success all the time. In fact it means devouring the opposite.
Steven Pressfield’s excellent book The War of Art is a tour-de-force for aiding an artist’s practice, and one of his key topics is going pro. Doing so is not easy, as he writes:
The artist committing him/herself to his/her calling has volunteered for hell, whether s/he knows it or not. S/he will be dining for the duration on a diet of isolation, rejection, self-doubt, despair, ridicule, contempt, and humiliation.
That really speaks to me right now, because that taste of rejection and self-doubt is in my mouth a lot lately. Pressfield reminds me that I’ve chosen it, and I’m on the right track. I can’t possibly do right every time, just like that form The Fibonacci. It can’t be done perfectly, it’s designed to fail, and lead to the next weird great moment. I am free to show up, be a pro, and dust off after, win or lose. And that’s the only way forward.