This year, I resolve to fail more

Although I fall into the trap of New Year’s Resolutions (someday I’ll resolve to be more resolved in my resolutions …), I don’t often keep them. However, this year, I’d like to fail more.

I don’t mean that like I want to suck at everything, but that I want to have more opportunities to try. If I fail more, that means I’m putting in a lot more effort.

I was inspired because I just caught up on Paul Mullin’s blog “Just Wrought,” something I don’t do too often. As both a playwright and scientist, he sums up just what I think about “experiments” and “failure.” So I’m going to lift it from this blog, with all due credit.

Artists love to talk about being “experimental”, and it rightfully drives scientists nuts. We artists obnoxiously brandish that word whenever what we really mean is “avant garde” or “edgy”or “provocative” or “abstruse”. Any actual scientist understands that true experiments have rules and consequences. Experiments are tests of hypotheses hoping to become theories; and theories, in order to prove useful, must be falsifiable. In other words, true experiments by definition contain the possibility of failure. However, all too often in the arts, especially theatre, work gets described as “experimental” that is, in fact, incapable of being “falsified”, because it never had a truthful purpose in the first place. Consequently, the worst kind of “experimental artist” will blame the audience for every failure of meaning or impact.

And that reminded me of something Seattle Artist’s Way students do. (note: yes, I know I’m in the midst of criticising the hell out of Cameron’s book “The Artist’s Way,” but this tradition in Seattle’s Artist’s Way classes does NOT come from Cameron, which might be why I approve. Or not.)

At the end of every Artist’s Way class, we do the failure bow.

And we document it with a photo.

It’s something we introduce early on in the 12 week Artist’s Way class. The failure bow was introduced to me in an Improv class when the instructor said “Not failing in Improv is impossible plus it would be VERY boring if you didn’t fail.” SO, he taught us that we need to get comfortable with failing and one way to do that is when we fail we need to celebrate the failing by:

Raising our hands over our head as we smile and shout “I failed!”
Then everyone claps for you (and you clap for yourself too).

The first time I did it, the instructor said “Hey hey hey you didn’t smile. You need to smile.” I said “Can you fail at the failure bow?” Apparently not. Whew!

The cool thing is we’ve noticed it seeps into other parts of our students’ (and our) lives so that when they are at work they do little failure bows (in their head mostly) when they fail at something and then … move along.

We figure this is a great lesson to incorporate as we create – failing is a good thing – it keeps us open to the process of creating – whatever that looks like.

A few years ago, I resolved to be involved in more local, new work. I would go see new, local theatre and I would produce it. I have kept to that resolve for the better parts of two years, with the only exception being the work I do for Taproot Theatre (which is a great company to work with).

This year, I want to continue that tradition, but I want to work with the scientific definition of experiment, and not be afraid to fail. Failure of testing, in the scientific sense, leads to a better understanding of the world. It’s not personal, it just means the original hypothesis was incorrect and should be revised. This is a good thing.

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