Post-Performance: A Debriefing

May 28, 2013


Last Wednesday I put my ten-minute dance, Swallow, in front of an audience for the first time. It was fun! I got helpful feedback! I didn’t feel the pressure, or suffer from post-show letdown afterwards because my piece was SO MISUNDERSTOOD, and NOW IT’S GONE, AND GAHHHHH. 

When I put on my Sensible Laura hat, it seems funny that showing a ten-minute creative work without melting into extreme anxiety is an accomplishment. But it is for me. So is talking to strangers on full-voice with direct eye contact, discussing my work with confidence, and getting a grant rejection without allowing it to convince me to change career courses. When I look at past creative meltdowns (which usually turned me into a raving lunatic about two weeks to a month before the performance, and often left me with a multi-day headache), I feel a little bummed: there are so many creative processes and projects that I would have enjoyed WAY MORE if I had been able to control my anxiety and fear. That probably goes for more than just creative projects: life would have been nicer. 

What’s that quote about hindsight? Oh yeah...

[Let it be written: if you’re dealing with debilitating anxiety or other mental health challenges, please get thee to a professional. Really. Life can be way more fun. Someday soon I’ll write a full post that’s just about the magic of a good therapist.]


---Keeping The Process Moving---

Here are a few things that helped me put one foot in front of the other to meet my goal:
1. A deadline: I've made a lot of things thanks to deadlines. Otherwise I will keep tweaking and fussing and never finish anything.
2. Collaborators: I don't make dances on myself. Not only am I a performer of questionable ability, but I have absolutely no ability to edit and offer constructive feedback to myself. Having two dancers involved made the process more fun, less lonely, and more objective. 
3. A long-ish process: I started working on this dance in January. Official rehearsals started in April, and we had about 11 of them. This gave me time to think and plan and write-- but still get down to the business of making something.
3. A realistic timeline: I can slap material together in two rehearsals. A lot of people can. But I really wanted to get feedback on something I'd given significant consideration to. I have a tendency towards being ever-so-unrealistic with time. In this case I mapped out rehearsal time for setting material, revising said material, structuring, and working with sound. I needed every bit of time, and ended up scheduling one extra rehearsal (I'm glad I did). Everything takes more time than I think it will. 
4. Morning Pages: In the last six weeks of the process I tried to do some writing every morning a la The Artist's Way. This helped me clear the cobwebs and get focused (especially because I had a lot of life distractions at the time). I'm a big fan of rituals-- I'm keeping this one, dance or no dance.
5. Moving instead of analyzing: When I'm stuck, I have a tendency to think way too much. This time I improvised when stuck, often videotaping myself (as obnoxious as it is to have to look at yourself pensively moving about a small room with a flurry of strange gestures). I asked the questions What Do I Like? What's working? Rather than What The Eff Is This Mess and how can it be saved?



--- Success Markers ---

Was it a masterful piece of choreography? That's beside the point, although I did see the seeds of some things I really like. The goal for me wasn't to make a masterpiece, it was to get making things again without losing my sanity and maxing out my credit card to pay for projectors or weird sets. Good goals, hey? In addition to the whole sanity thing, I count it as a success because I have a reusable piece of material that can be performed anywhere! I can use this material to get better at talking about what I make-- and what I'm trying to move towards making. Also: the process was therapeutic, if I do say so myself. 

But most importantly: I remembered that I really, really like making things. When I put a performance together, it’s one of the few times I get to take my strange little take on life and make it real. Anything goes-- people can dance to a poem about a burrito. They did last Wednesday.

Whether you make dances or run a yoga studio or just want to gradually make your life look a little bit different, the principle is the same: Action Causes More Action. It's impossible to edit and tweak without having a first draft. I didn't think I wanted to keep making performance-- I thought it was too stressful. But working on this baby project helped me clarify what and how I want to create. It helped me remember that change is a process, that thinking is not the same as acting, and that creating can be a really positive and enriching act. 

You can read more about the baby steps to this project here:

[Photos from Ben's video of Swallow, featuring the fabulous Emily Gastineau and Ashley Rose Montondo.]                                              

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