The Pressure of Pushing the Envelope

I produce dramas. I’ve been doing it for the past nine years, and I seem to be stuck in this never ending cycle of “topping” the previous performance. I don’t purposefully do it. Not at all. I would never put that much pressure on myself. Can you imagine having to always out-do, out-compete, out-perform your last whatever-it-is – whether a live performance or a novel that you’ve written?

But from the feedback I’ve been receiving, it seems like that’s what has been happening.

In 2014, I produced the musical “Boardwalk Melody” and I heard “That was the best one yet!”

In December 2014, I produced RLT “For All Generations” and I heard over and over: “That was the best one yet.”

In May 2015, I produced the musical “A Tad of Trouble” and I heard many times: “That was the best one yet.”

In December 2016, I produced “RLT Christmas: Tales of Wonder” and  I heard MANY times,”that was the best one yet.”

And now, last night, after the finale of “The Secrets of the Magic Pool” I heard it echoed over and over, “That was the best one yet.”

Do you see a pattern here?

Was this show really better than all of the last shows? Do I have to beat myself up and try to “out-do” what I just did? Or is there something else going on?

I think it’s something else.

First, there’s recency bias. The show that someone just experienced is fresh and recent. The others are months if not years in the past. It’s not really an accurate comparison without seeing the two live, back-to-back which, of course, will never happen.

Second. it’s a matter of taste. Live theatre is SO subjective that no two people will ever experience it in the same way. So someone might have liked this one better than the others, and these are the people who comment. It might have been different people commenting last year or two years ago.

Lastly, yes, some things have gotten better. As I continue to learn theatre, I have gotten better at directing. I do think this show had the best pacing of any show I ever produced. So yes, there are elements which continue to improve which may be better than the last time around.

But even so, I purposefully choose to brush-off these compliments. It’s not that I don’t appreciate them. I do, greatly. But if I took them to heart, it would create a terrible amount of pressure. What can I do to out-perform last year?

I can’t do that to myself. What it comes down to is simple: the story. Commit yourself to a story and do the very best you can with it. I have to continue to be the writer that I am. I cannot try to “out-do” myself or I will find that I am getting away from the experience and discipline which has given me this measure of success. So I will continue to write the best stories I can. I will commit myself to that story and not stop and compare with what I’ve done in the past.

Writers have to live in the present or they are condemned to fail on the laurels of their past. And that would be a shame.

So I’m glad you thought it was my best. However, it probably wasn’t. It was just another rendition from me. Nothing more.

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