“In the course of a two-week run of CHAOS THEORY, I will surely hit a perfect performance.”
I thought this right up through yesterday, at the last performance in the two-week run. It wasn’t until it didn’t happen that it seemed peak-level obvious that my metrics for success were skewed and I should have known better. I’ve fallen into the trap of believing in perfection more times than I care to own up to. Yet here I am, owning up to it. Again. I may be agnostic on the religion front but I do put my faith in extremely imaginary higher powers from time to time.
Perfection is alluring. It’s shiny and calming and there’s a “doneness” to it that I imagine would feel really good to achieve- some mixture of pride in one’s work and confidence that it reached people in just the way it was intended to. But you know what else would feel really good? Wearing pants made of clouds and riding around town on a 20-foot-high panda named Jedediah. Too bad those things aren’t real. Too bad perfection isn’t real.
I find this information annoying. I want to live in a world of cloud pants and the possibility of doing something I care a great deal about flawlessly. Having an active imagination and being able to see possibilities in the world is an amazing gift that we, as a species, excel at, but when we can’t make those possibilities into reality it can be exceptionally frustrating.
Why can’t the world just bend to our will?
Yet, even with a dearth of extremely large pandas, the reality we have is excellent. It’s excellent precisely because we can have visions within it and work toward making those visions a new reality. What a cool thing it is to be a creator and an imaginer rather than a destroyer or a nay-sayer or a blob.
But the flip side of imagining things and being optimistic enough to believe they may come to pass someday is that we sometimes put our belief in false idols. Sometimes this idol is “perfection.” Sometimes it’s “I’ll give this person another chance.” Sometimes it’s “techno-optimism,” “white supremacy,” or “imposter syndrome.” We who believe things must be diligent about those culling through those beliefs to root out the harmful ones; both to ourselves and others. It’s extremely hard to do this- we all know how hard it is even to name our misplaced beliefs, let alone stop acting upon them. Fortunately, we have a great many guides for this process. The act of seeing the world and imagining a different one is one of the fundamental actions of being an artist. Artists, no matter their medium, draw from the imagination to help us believe in better imaginary higher powers.
It’s no small thing to alter one’s belief system. Then again, it’s no small thing to hold to one either. Belief is not a passive state but an active choosing. If I truly choose to stop worshiping at the altar of perfection, where can I redirect that belief to instead? What’s out there that is more deserving of my belief, and the energy that goes into maintaining or realizing that belief?
The reason I was never going to have a “perfect” show was not just that perfection is an imagined construct that was defined, by me, in such minutia that I would never be able to achieve it even if it were hypothetically possible, but also because I’m not alone in the world. There is at least one major variable that I couldn’t possibly account for in live performance and that is the variable of other people. Audience members bring themselves to a show and it is my job to meet them exactly where they are at the beginning of our shared, 80-minute journey. The idea of perfection is, like so many false idols, a self-centered one; one that had to do with me- my abilities, my failings, and my perceptions of each moment, regardless of the actions of others. To be caught up in perfection, even at the back of my mind before a performance, is to forego fully preparing myself to meet new playmates and be with them in all their weird and wonderful glory.
There is a time and a place for dreaming about cloud pants and a time and a place to be fully present in the reality of the moment. Performing in shows is the latter. Being present with an audience is not only completely delightful and surprising, it’s also an investment in future imaginings; ones we co-construct from a shared set of visions. It’s not a perfect vision, it’s also not a singular vision, but it is, imho, the best thing live performance and gameplay have to offer. So I’m letting myself off the hook. I have not achieved a perfect performance, I will never achieve a perfect performance, but I have learned from them and loved being a part of every one of them, which is a far more lasting and impactful metric for success.