By Kelly Leonard – Executive Director, Insights and Applied Improvisation
Yesterday I presented at TEDx Broadway. I totally went up on my lines and improvised a healthy portion of the talk, but it seemed to be well received. Here’s the first part of the talk. I’ll post the second part later this week.
It’s January of 1996 and I’m in my office at The Second City when the mail is delivered. I begin flipping through my copy of “Home and Away” which is a tourism magazine put out by the American Automobile Association. Three pages in, a letter to the editor immediately pops out:
As you can see, the headline is pretty clear. It reads – in bold – Don’t Promote Satan.
That’s straight to the point.
The body of the letter reads:
“Please quit promoting Chicago’s Second City. My last visit found three of it’s skits openly mocking Jesus Christ and Christians while promoting Satan. This is counter to every wholesome belief left in this country.”
It’s signed: G. Ross Alexander from Villa Park, Illinois.
I know there’s a phrase in our industry that any press is good press. But that phrase is bullshit. When it’s your slowest month in a business that relies on tourist dollars, you really don’t want a national magazine imploring people not to attend your theatre because you may be heathens.
So what do you do?
You can’t make it disappear and won’t just go away. So, if you work at a satiric comedy theatre, you frame it and put it on your lobby wall.
For the record, none of us could figure out what show G. Ross Alexander was referring to. Our latest show didn’t have any overtly Christian satire. We think it might of been in response to a scene in one of the previous productions where a father, played by Paul Dinello, sings a song to his daughter, played by Amy Sedaris, called “My Wife Left Me For a Guy Named Jesus.”
But, I’m afraid, any pro-Satanic messaging in that show was either projected or imagined by G. Ross Alexander.
My favorite quote from one of the other letters is: “I think the reason liberals laugh at your shit is because it makes them feel smarter about themselves.”
Right on, Michael J. Morris of Minneapolis, MN.
In some cases, I think you’re probably right.
So what’s the point to all of this.
I grant you, 30 year old me had these letters framed and mounted on our lobby wall because I was a smart ass.
But 49 year old me sees something profound and important in the ability to not only embrace criticism, but to actively flaunt it.
The fact is, if you are going to attempt to create something original, you are going to fail most of the time. The percentages are not in your favor. And our natural, human response to failure is to hang our shoulders, head for the bar or to simply give up.
But failure is not a bad thing. It’s a necessary thing.
Brilliance does not arrive on stage, immaculately blocked and ready for the spotlight.
Great work emerges from very messy places – filled with painful rhymes, incoherent sub-plots and prose that should never see the light of day.
The difference between the creative individual and the non-creative individual is the ability to embrace that mess and incorporate the failures into a personal and professional narrative.
The writer Douglas Coupland has a great line, “Sometimes the best lighting of all is a power failure.”
While we all love winning, we have to learn to losing.