Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Thick Skin

You have to have a thick skin to last very long in the theatre business. You can take a lot of flak, be it justified or not, and many a young technician has run screaming for the cushy confines of a lifetime in the cubicle after having their self esteem ripped up, trampled on, ground up and fed to the theatre's cat for dinner by the angry men and women who are still all too often the ones in charge of a production.

Fortunately, though, if you can survive this experience (or are lucky enough, as I was, to have a reasonably pleasant introduction to theatre) you can begin to take the monsters with a grain of salt, and learn to live with their behaviour. Still, that thick skin comes in handy.

But it can also be a barrier. Besides being able to deflect criticism, a thick skin also makes it harder to accept praise, especially when in the past that praise has been criticism in disguise. Now a little praise is, of course, essential to ensuring long-term well-being. It's not something you can manufacture yourself (unlike criticism), you have to be praised by others. And you can even spot praise that is "agenda-based" - someone wants something, so they will praise you in order to get it.

In the past 24 hours I have recieved comments both of glowing praise and damning condemnation. Do I accept one and throw out the other? Or do I reject them both? It's been a paradox that theatre people have been wrestling with since the ancient Greeks (Euripides made a comment about it while in rehearsals one time, I believe).

I choose to accept both points of view, but with a qualification. The praise was well-considered and undeniably earnest - no hidden agendas. The criticism was unpleasant but, in context I should have expected it. The qualification: I will neither let the praise go to my head nor the criticism go to my heart. I will take away only the factual portions of both points, so that I may consider them. If I agree with the praise I will re-inforce what I'm doing already. If I agree with the criticism I will make a change. In any case though, I have removed the emotions entirely from the equation. The emotions of the commentators are their own, for better or worse they need not become mine. As for my own emotions, I will save those for when it is my turn to praise or critique.

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