I built a school in Oslo, Norway called The International Theatre Academy Norway, which begins its 6th year of operation this year. The school is entrepreneurial arts training for Theatre Artists.
One of the unique components of the school is that students build original projects, which they implement in the community, outside of the school environment. We push the students into the market and the develop a professional network, while still in school.
I would give students the assignment that they must create a one-person show. The stipulation? They could use NONE of the school’s resources and had to produce the work in a professional or semi-professional space, outside of the school and in the community. They would then have to:
• Write it
• Direct it
• Produce it
• Act in it
• Allocate funds
• Generate all resources necessary
• Negotiate and sign contracts for space, technical needs, etc.
• Market their show
• Generate press via radio, papers or TV
• And finally put butts in seats (who paid to view their show) and profit.
In brief, they had to be largely self-sufficient and had to stand on their own legs, creatively and professionally. They had to be the engines for their own creativity. You can imagine this assignment was both exhilarating and terrifying.
I would tell the students, “The point is not to be as brilliant as Ibsen, though that would be great if you are, though it is improbable that you will be. Genius comes with time. The point of this exercise is to complete it”.
Some excelled in their process. They not only went through it, but generated large audiences, a good deal of press and made a profit.
Others fell squarely on their faces. They felt the bitterness of defeat and humiliation. In conventional thinking, they “failed”.
But did they?
The failure of these students was equal as a learning experience as those who succeeded. In fact, in some cases, I think those who failed, learned more than those who “succeeded”. Experience is comprised not only from our success, but our character-building failures.
For most of us, our fear of failure and judgment is what most impedes our action.
We must accept that we cannot always win and that failure is inevitable.
If we don’t try with all of our effort, wits and energy, we will never know what our potential might be. If we allow ourselves to fail before we complete our effort—to fail at, “I am not as brilliant as Ibsen” or “I am going to look stupid” or “I can’t do this…because I have never done it before”, then we are destined for a different kind of failure. This kind of failure is a failure of spirit. It is a failure of imagination. It is a failure of not heeding the call to adventure. In this type of failure, the world will never know what potential we posses, for we have not allowed ourselves to discover and express it. This type of failure is worst kind of all, as it is a failure towards our selves, rather than a failure of accomplishment.
Failure towards our selves can eat at our confidence, spirit, and sense of self. It is a weakening failure.
Failure of accomplishment—of having tried our hardest and of coming up short, can serve as a foundation for learning. This type of failure is a positive failure and is a stepping-stone, upon which to stand, as we build our next endeavor.
The hero’s journey is not one of following paths; it is one of making paths. Sometimes the hero stumbles. If they give up on their adventure at hardship and go home, the direction from which they came, they are no heroes, in fact. To quote from myth and Joseph Campbell, “Where you stumble, there your treasure is”.
We must learn from our failures. We must use our failures and we must expect failure, to some degree.
The exercise I gave my students, of being more self-sufficient, of being the engines of their own creativity, had a far-reaching effect for most. The effect was the realization, the illumination of, “I did that. I can do that”. This is a hugely empowering realization, for when they realize that they can, they do.
The title of this article is by Joseph Campbell–An Open Life: Joseph Campbell in Conversation with Michael Toms (1988)
Jim Hart is the founder of The International Theatre Academy Norway.