Q: Did you know that the name of your organization is also an expression to show recognition of a mistake or minor accident?
A: OOPS, did I do that? ….. Yes, obviously we know! We make mistakes all the time, but our name was not one of them.
Besides being a fun acronym for Opera-Oriented Project Sponsorships (which is our goal: to elicit funding from Patrons for Artist created Project Proposals featuring classical singing), calling us OOPS highlighted a couple characteristics we wanted to associate with our organization: Humor and Mistakes.
Danish Physicist and recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics, Niels Bohr said, “An expert is a person who has found out by painful experience all the mistakes that one can make in a very narrow field.” In the field of Science, mistakes are seen as a natural part of the process of experimentation; ask a question, formulate a hypothesis, test your hypothesis, fail, formulate a new hypothesis, fail again, and continue this process until you come to a conclusion that brings you closer to the truth or answer you are seeking. In the arts, however, “oops” is more often a four-letter word. Risk is inherent to the creative process, but we so rarely find a way to gracefully embrace our own mistakes.
During a recent production of La boheme with Theater Latte Da, I was struggling with perspective. I was beating myself up for little mistakes made here and there during the rehearsal process. I typically like to use quotes to reframe situations and find new perspective, but the usual “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” (Arthur Ashe) wasn’t working.
Then, I had the idea to reframe mistakes into expectations.
A perfect performance is impossible and out of my control, as anything can happen in live theater; it is a machine with fallible humans as the moving parts. I went into the final room run and told myself my goal was to make 5 mistakes. My relationship to the mistakes changed immediately. Previously, when I made a mistake and perfection was the expectation, the mistake would start a stream of negative thoughts: "what just happened, how did that happen, I've never made that mistake before, I am such an idiot," which would compound and spiral into more thoughts.
Live theater is a game of focus. Singing over an orchestra without microphones alone is a complex, physical task, but a complete performance necessitates other thought and action tracks clicking along in your head including singing in a different language while simultaneously translating to English so you know what you’re saying, listening to what other people are saying on stage while translating their text into English, responding naturally to the conversation/situation, occasionally glancing at the conductor to make sure you’re musically together, listening to the orchestra but singing slightly ahead of the beat because what you hear is behind what the audience hears, remembering and executing the staging in the moment while appearing to do so organically for the first time, etc. There is no time for those negative thoughts while performing, because they can so easily overwhelm and take the space of necessary, proactive thoughts.
After adopting the mindset of “make 5 mistakes,” when something unexpected happened, it was met with “oops, that was weird, one down,” and I was able to get back in the flow of the show quickly.
I have been anxious about starting this organization because I don’t want to make mistakes or fail. Instead, I have had to remind myself that I am going to make mistakes. Mistakes are not the name of the game, mistakes ARE the game. The way to win is to accept and learn from them.