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Failing & Emergence

Life is a series of emergent experiences.


No one really knows what will happen to a baby in its life as it grows older. The chaos that is life provides it the right amount of disturbances, changes, adaptations, reflections and transformations that propel it forward. As this child grows, it attempts at achieving something and failing becomes its existence. One could look at these failures as a way to bound their inability to grow. But, the reality is that, for all humans and species on this earth, resilience is natural. It is the substance that makes and propels life forward.


I am in interested in the emergent qualities of life and live performance. I remember when I was a very young emerging artist, I enrolled in an extra-curricular class in high school called "Theatre Appreciation". As a group of students, my peers and I, would venture to a theatre once a month, typically a regional A-house-type theatre to watch your basic mainstage type programming ("Hello Dolly", "Of Mice of Men", "A Street Car Named Desire", etc.). Sitting there amongst the 300-or-so audience members watching a live performance, I was taken by a moment when an actor, playing a character on stage, dropped a handkerchief on the stage floor. The dropping of the handkerchief had no meaning to the narrative. This was a moment when the actor had accidentally dropped something on the floor. Something unscripted. The scene went on, but nobody picked up the handkerchief.


It dawned on me, at this young high school age, that, in real life, regardless of what was happening, if I had an object in my hand and it had accidentally fallen to the ground, I would, uninterrupted from what I was doing, naturally bend over and pick it up and keep doing what I was doing. I would not wait until the moment I left the area (or the "end of my scene") to walk by it, pick it up, and leave.


The experience of watching this at a young age stayed with me while I went forth with my theatre education. Later, in my early thirties, this moment back in high school made me realize the importance of liveness and what the real potency of live performance is. It is in these absurdities (ie. the actor on stage attempting to figure out when a good time to pick up the handkerchief would be so as to not interrupt the flow of the dialogue or action on stage) that we propel art into a space that is devoid of realness. However, in the theatrical representation of realism, we also breed the act of non-participatory citizen engagement. (I have a future blog post scheduled on my thoughts around church, state & theatre)


Going back to this moment of failure on stage, this moment made me embrace the emergent elements of live performance, usually based in theatre as failed moments, or unscripted moments, or things that were not supposed to happen on stage. These moments bring with it an increased level of liveness, not just for the performers on stage (Actor thinks: How do I pick up this hankerchiek and make it look nature in this scene?) but also for the audience, who sits there thinking: How will that actor pick up that handkerchief? Do they know they have dropped the handkerchief? Is this part of the show? Was the actor meant to do that? Suddenly, all 300 audience members and the actor(s) on stage are in a shared state of liveness -- a liveness that was due to a small unexpected element in a highly structured and solidified performance.


And so, when applying live performance understanding to real-world ways of being, I see this ability to embrace the failed/unexpected moments as moments for potentiality, in which one failed or unexpected element can turn into multiple possibilities for a future. This failure turns into re-organization.

This is what makes live performance magical.

It is in these emergent qualities to embrace the aesthetic of failure that we can begin to bring into existence the real transformative power of live performance.


Of course, I say this all, with the inability to know everything at the same time. It's a giant paradox. In an attempt to fail, one needs to somehow unlearn and untrain. Not to mention the many years of placing a public in front of a proscenium theatre that separates the artists from the public, putting the artist on a raised stage that creates a high level of non-interactivity or non-participation, embedding in the audience, this notion, that there are rules here you have to play by and that those on stage should be listened to. (Sounds like any form of authority to me). Moreover, as it has become increasingly popular to do today, when something is uncomfortable on stage it is introduced with a long list of trigger warnings telling the audience what they are about to see before they have even experienced it, subjecting the audience to a certain level of coddling and hyper-safety.

This doesn't treat the audience as a brave spectator, who has shown up, who have re-organized themselves through millennia, adapted during heartbreak or disaster, and who, until the dawn of social media, didn't turn to erasure as a way to become robust.

I am now sitting at my desk transcribing what I initially dictated into my smartphone voice recorder. At 8 am on December 16... no, make that December 19, 2020, I recorded the above thoughts into the voice recorder. After quiet contemplation and reading from my list of essential books to read, I voiced these emergent thoughts into my recorder. And even now, after I review what I said and am transcribing them into this blog, I keep manifesting new ideas. New reflections pop into my head. I propel forward with new knowledge due to wanting to edit, change and reorganize my initial thoughts.


As I move forward from that moment back in high school to this late-30s era I am in today, I am reflecting back on the many points in my life when I was challenged. In those moments where I felt like I would fail, I look back now, and realized, that time kept going forward. And, from those moments of uncertainty, I looked down to the ground, picked up the handkerchief and kept going. This time, with a handkerchief in my hand.



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