Steps to making your creativity work for you when it's hard.
This spring, the daffodils have been epic. I’m always in awe of them, how they lie dormant for months on end, and just as the soil is barely regaining its warmth, the long blades, like arms, begin emerging out of the ground as if saying, “I have triumphed over the most challenging darkness and journey! Look, there is snow all around me, but I’m going to turn into the most vibrant and fragrant piece of art you can imagine, one tiny little stretch at a time!”
There is a point in every rehearsal process where I feel a lot like this daffodil; dormant, slow, and stuck, wondering if the sun will ever shine bright enough for me to create.
I get an overwhelming sense of responsibility which morphs into dread of what lies ahead. I realize the amount of attention I will have to give myself and the patience I will have to stay the course. I know some essential self-love is on the horizon, and I want to recoil and stay in the ground. Usually, for me, it’s some forgiveness for missing the mark, forgetting a Verdi accent, not doubling that consonant, being behind the conductor because I wanted to take time for the acting beat requested by the director.
It also rears its head when the flow of the daily rehearsal process ends, and we head into the theater to start running the show. I’m excited but resist because I hate losing the layers we’ve added due to new factors such as costumes, lights, stage spacing, and a new acoustic.
It’s most difficult for me when it’s time to rehearse a death scene repeatedly without losing the truth. I dread that rehearsal day like no other, often sitting in my hotel room with nagging anxiety and sick on my stomach.
Why is creating so damn hard? Why is it like pushing boulders of rock up a hill all alone? If this isn’t how it is for you, fine. You can skip on ahead. But I imagine that anything involving a creative layering process will also include some sort of resistance, doubt, possible abort mission thoughts, and some tears.
It’s just how it is. Look at that daffodil. It has to push through rock, dirt, and snow just to be here. It won’t happen any other way.
But I’ve learned some things I want you to consider trying when you find yourself in this chasm of doubt and resistance.
First, acknowledge and expect that somewhere in the joy of creating, there will be a snag or two. Or three. Or maybe the whole thing will be a total loss. Who knows. You don’t. You just need to be aware that it’s possible. I don’t mean to anticipate dread, but just be comfortable knowing that you are aware of what it means to be creating: You’re going to do hard things, kind of like having to work muscles to failure to progress to new levels of fitness.
This brings me to part two. You accept it as part of the work. Yep. Just get on board, little children. Whatever starts coming up in rehearsals, you accept it. Know that you will have either triumphed or will have learned a lot on the way out of it.
Turn your attention to it and make it part of your process by giving it some focus. Figure out precisely what is making you have anxiety. Is it the old tapes of feeling inadequate? Is it the difficulty of the subject or the context of the music? Is it someone you are resisting in the cast? Is it the physical exhaustion of a demanding role? Name it.
As you sit with it, you turn towards it. As you accept it, whatever lies ahead, you will notice you give it less power and often have a calming effect.
Treat it with care and kindness. Refrain from trying to beat it into submission or, god forbid, talk ugly to it. Lean in. It’s natural to want to avoid what is uncomfortable. Our nervous systems are actually wired this way. But, lean in instead.
Next, deal with it. Make it the priority in rehearsals. That death scene you dread? Work it to where you know it’s to your liking, and then kindly ask the director to either move on from it or let them know you will be marking its energy once you all agree it’s in performance shape. Action will often dissipate the dread if it is clear, attainable, and cloaked in kindness.
Finally, assess what you will keep, what you will discard, and reflect to see what you have learned. By pushing through, you will gain knowledge of what to pursue in the future, and you’ll be able to prepare for next time.
Ask some questions: Do you want to sing that role again? Do you need a different method of practice? Do you want to work with that conductor or director again?
Any creative endeavor will bring some sort of struggle. But, when you accept it and push through, you gain wisdom and confidence not only in your abilities but in your decision-making. Push through and if you are successful, you may find yourself wanting to risk more, to learn more, and do more, as you repeat the process.
Leaning into the uncomfortable spots, calling them by name, dealing with them, and assessing what to keep for the future will give you knowledge that an obstacle is an opportunity for you to express yourself just like the daffodils of spring.