Teaching That Failure Is Okay
In theatre education, the paradox that must be addressed but is rarely discussed: what is more important the show or the students education? Laying my bias on the table outright, I am a firm believer that the students education outweighs how well the show turns out.
As a good friend of mine, Sam Kusnetz, has said many times in regards to student designers, "Process over product." I love this quote. I've used this quote. I'm actually in a meeting while writing this blog where I am about to use this quote.
I want to examine the paradigm of putting a show together from a logistics standpoint, and how we designers/technicians learn this process both in the "real world" and in education.
Make it work
Putting a show together takes a lot of planning. To build the widget, certain pieces must be put together at specific times, and are dependent on the order in which they are assembled. For instance, you can't focus lights if the set has not been loaded in yet. I could use a literal example of the process from one department to demonstrate what I mean, but I think I'll use an analogy (or is it a metaphor? I alway get them mixed up).
If you want to build a car there are some parts that are independent of one another. You can build the tires, the engine, the frame, etc. separate from other parts. But you can't put the tires on the car until the frame is done. You can't put the engine in until the transmission is done and the electrical system is in place. There's an overarching timeline that puts these puzzle pieces together, but each piece also has it's own procedural build.
In theatre, it happens occasionally where one department is a bit behind, or someone forgot to build a thing, or there was a miscommunication on who loaded in first. Through our experience we learn how to improvise as issues come up, rethink a preplanned approach, or generally problem solve to ensure a smooth process. It requires an understanding of our individual departments, what it takes to make it all happen, and a production manager that understands all these systems and how they interrelate.
How I Learned to Drive
Okay, yes. That's a reference to the play by Paula Vogel, but it's also a metaphor/analogy/allegory/whatever that I use often when talking about mixing. I can give you a book to read about driving, you can watch other people drive, you can even sit next to me while I drive. But it's nothing like actually getting behind the wheel and driving.
When my dad taught me how to drive we went to a street out in the middle of nowhere and I sat behind the wheel. He explained the pedals, how to change gears, where to put my hands on the wheel, and how to use the mirrors. Then he told me to go. It was terrifying and amazing!
Stripping away the driving metaphor what happened? In a controlled environment, with experienced supervision, and the lack of as many of the "real world" variables as possible, I had to accomplish a complex and multidimensional task.
Can We Hold?
Let's bring this back to why we're here: theatre education. Just like my dad teaching me to drive, I find that allowing a support system to be in place, with proper supervision, we should measure a student's success based on the process itself and not on the show.
Though the process they will discover issues, problems, and all the things that Murphys law will allow. Learning how to handle this stress, how to think quickly on your feet, and learning how to prevent failures on one show and apply it to future productions.
For example, there was one show I worked on where I didn't backup the sound effects for a show. Yeah I know, I'm the worst. That show just happened to be the time that the computer decided to wipe the hard drive. Now I can tell you with absolute certainty that I have never not backed up a show since.
In an educational environment, it should be a place that it is okay to fail. A safe place that if you mess up, it won't affect the rest of your career. It should foster the educational process that cannot be simulated. Just like learning to drive.