When I was training as both a psychotherapist and a drama therapist, a colleague in my program remarked, “Theatre. Therapy. It’s all the same. We all want to be seen and applauded.” Now people enter therapy (and drama therapy) for more reasons than simply to be witnessed and to have their feelings validated. Ideally, therapy helps individuals problem solve, restructure thought patterns, change unhealthy behaviors, relieve symptoms and increase joy and spontaneity. However, my friend had a good point. There is something deeply healing about one’s authentic self being recognized and accepted. I don’t know that we need applause necessarily. Yet all humans thrive from support, encouragement and being accepted and loved unconditionally.
When I used to take acting classes, I remember desperately wanting to do well. In fact, my desire to win over the audience often became a stranglehold. I wanted so badly to be good, I forgot that great performances stem from the actor’s vulnerability and risks. Stellar acting is also messy. It occurs when an actor bares her soul, warts and all, and in this, we identify with the character and are reminded of our own humanity.
The only way we learn to take these kind of risks though is to have a safety net of sorts that often comes through the love and support of others. This builds our self-esteem, allowing us to realize that if we stumble or make mistakes, our core identity is still intact. Thus, one of the best things we can do for others as they step out in their creativity is to honor the process vs. immediately making a judgment on the product. The child whose finger painting is welcomed and hung on the refrigerator is the child who hopefully will never stop making pictures. Not every painting will be a master piece but some of the best art comes through a series of initial mistakes. No one ever learned to speak a language without first opening one’s mouth and flubbing words. Likewise, we never truly excel at something without much trial and error.
When I think of the creative process, I like to think of how pottery is shaped on the wheel. At times the piece looks grotesque and disproportional but with the artist’s patience, eventually the right form emerges.