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October 27, 2011

‘Echo Chamber’ opens tomorrow.

I wake up, for the first time in this process, nervous about what I am doing. I have been scared by various things as I go along – of course (isn’t that inherent to the process of venturing into the unknown?) – but this morning it was straight-forward nervousness.

I have a solo show opening tomorrow. I am nervous.

I wonder what I am nervous about. Forgetting my way through the show perhaps? Unlikely – I know what I am doing and embedded in the heart of the structure is the possibility – necessity – of the show being a partially improvised relationship with a particular audience in a particular place. Forgetting is not so scary. Of course if I lose my way, forget to drop elements of the narrative in at the right moment, fail to hear the necessary shifts in the soundtrack that tell me when I am moving from section to section, I will, like any performer, encounter the harsh reality of being lost under the gaze of an audience, but that’s not so scary. I’m used to improvising.

There is nakedness in the show – physical and psychic. Am I scared of this? Again, not so much. I don’t lightly expose my not-as-young-as-it-used-to-be body to the world. But I am not so worried about that. Nervous, but not scared. Psychic exposure? I feel pretty ‘safe’ in what I do – my work is not based on accessing ‘real’ emotion, though sometimes that emotion emerges from the physical work I am focussing on. Though the performance is dark and painful, it is not overwhelming. I am not so scared of that.

There are plenty of other things that could become the focus for nervousness: I am the composer of the soundtrack and it’s the first time I’ve attempted this. I have not been an ‘actor’ for many years and now I have to act. I train performers and it is now time to show whether I can also ‘do’ the thing that I ask from others. Can I deliver a show? And on and on……

But none of these really are the heart of the nervousness I think. I think the heart, of course, is that I want this work to result in ‘success’. And of course that means that I answer the question – ‘what does success mean, here, now, for me, for this work?’

Actually the training others/doing it myself nervousness is interesting. One of the things that feels very powerful to me in the making of this show, especially as I face up to its delivery, is that I am having to face the ‘reality’ that those who train with me face – delivering performance under the eye of an audience. I train through simple principles: ‘Pursue Your Pleasure’ ‘Only Pay Attention to Things You Can Do Something About’, ‘Have No Opinion’. How do these principles stand up when I apply them to myself? Actually pretty well, when I can access the mental discipline required to adhere fully to the core principles of my training I find those principles yield good results to me. I perform better and feel better about performing. This is good. Not only does it confirm for me that much of my training is effective, it reminds me how fucking hard it is to translate those simple-sounding principles into the reality of being a performer on the edge of delivering a show. It is good to be reminded of that difficulty, and good to be reminded that, working through that difficulty and finding the mental discipline in myself that I ask for in others, improves the totality of my performance (both what I do and how I experience it). This seems to be a success.

I have received many messages from people from round the world – many I have trained and some from people I have never met but who read this blog or follow DUENDE on Facebook. They wish me well. They are glad that ‘Echo Chamber’ is happening even if they do not get to see it. Many of the people I have worked with send back to me some of the encouragement and support that I try to give to them. I cannot tell you how much this means to me. This, perhaps more than anything, is success.

I like what I am making. The soundtrack seems to work. My body seems to work. The script seems to work. The journey seems to work. Thus far, though I am working in a bubble, as only one person has seen anything of what I am doing, I think that what I am attempting is successful.

And yet, and yet… that nervousness I woke up with this morning.

Tomorrow I stand and deliver my work to an audience. I want it to be a success. I want the audience to like, respect, enjoy the work. But I can do nothing about that now except do my job as well as I can. What I have made is what I have made. I would like the work to be seen by people who would enable it to have a fuller life – a tour, exposure, development. But this is outside my control and the bitter truth is that though I am experienced in every aspect of making and delivering theatre, publicising what I do, bringing it to the public notice, is the one area of the job – the one most essential of areas – that I fail in. Every time. I am not a salesman and so the work remains unsold. If I define success as achieving the one thing I suspect I will never achieve, then I am doomed to encountering repeated failure. I would like those who have control of public money to see the work and decide, finally, to start offering me the sort of financial support that would make it possible for me to bring to life the visions I have for DUENDE. This is not likely and anyway, there is nothing I can do about it. I must – as I tell others – only pay attention to things I can actually do something about.

So as I face the opening of the show, I need to prepare myself for an understanding of what will constitute success. If I do not, then the likelihood is that I will end up feeling that I have failed because I have not ‘achieved’ things I was never likely to achieve anyway.

I will have succeeded if I feel I have done my job as a performer, delivering the detail of the show to the audience. I will have succeeded if the audience feel that they have been in the presence of a live performance. I will have succeeded if I encounter myself (and my audience encounter me) as a performer/maker of skill. While I hope they like it, I cannot really control that. I will have succeeded if I know I have worked with integrity, honouring the material I am trying to make, honouring the principles I work from, giving myself the same unconditional respect as a risk-taker that I give to others. I will have succeeded if I emerge with my body uninjured and my curiosity (and desire to make further work and to explore this work further) is enhanced.

Others will decide if I have succeeded in their terms – and some of them will feel they have a god-given right to tell me where they think I have failed in those terms. But those judgements are not mine and, like a strange foodstuff I have not encountered before, they are opinions I will choose to taste, then swallow or spit out.  I will have succeeded if I feel that I can take my place in the community of artists that I love and respect, working for and with audiences whom I deeply respect because they are seeking out the unusual, and that, in that community, I feel I have done my job with integrity and skill. Everything else is outside my control.

Yes I am nervous. The ship is preparing for launch. But as I write my way into these thoughts, I can feel that nervousness start to transform into excitement and even just a little bit of pride at what has been so far achieved.

If you can, come along. If you can’t, think of me……

One Comment leave one →
  1. Emma Idén Asker permalink
    October 27, 2011 12:50 pm

    Dear John, I´ll be thinking of you…toi,toi,toi and enjoy!!!Love Emma

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