If there is one thing that I would like for you to glean from reading this post, it is this set of instructions: Risk. Fail. Risk Again. I know, as an English major that is constantly writing papers and using rhetorical strategies, that it is not necessarily conventional to begin a piece of writing with the message you wish the reader to take away from it, but in this case, I think that it’s a wonderful thing to keep in mind from the start. I first saw those instructions, “Risk. Fail. Risk Again.”, on the cover of a booklet advertising the National Theatre Institute’s acting program and they have stuck with me in the years since. With these words always on my mind as an actor, I was really thinking on them as my summer began in Roanoke. And what I am learning everyday here at Mill Mountain is that risking, failing, and risking again are the only ways to grow: grow as an actor, grow as an educator, grow an artist, and grow as a person. If we are not willing to risk, we are not willing to learn, and learning is essential for a life in the theatre.
During one of our weekly apprentice company meetings, we spent a great deal of time talking about risk and how it can benefit us as artists. I sat and listened as my fellow apprentices poured out their hearts about risks that they wish to take, but are too fearful or too uncertain to make the leap on and I identified. And I once again identified as that same group voiced risks that they have taken and succeeded. After our talk that night, I simply could not get this idea of risks out of my head. What risks was I not taking? What risks did I want to take? What risks had I already taken, both on a large and small scale? So I decided to make a list. I found that there are so many things that I want to do and having been holding back on, as well as a lot of things that I have gone for in life that have really led to great things. To speak on a personal level for a moment, one thing that I am finding that I really want to take more of a risk on, perhaps even make it a large part of my professional theatre career, is acting in and teaching through children’s theatre. I have so long been afraid of what someone would think about my choice to work in this field and also about my own prowess with acting in shows that appeal to all, from very young to very adult, that I have shied away from it. But I’m telling myself no more. And that is in large part because of what I am doing this summer at Mill Mountain and because of the amazing talent and insight of our apprentice directors and mentors, Anna and Jay. They have let us know that in this world of theatre, and specifically educational theatre and theatre for kids (and adults too), there is a lot of risk, fail, and risk again. That is how we grow and find what works best.
I think our fear to risk comes from living in a world that tells us that we cannot. We cannot do something that might not work because, well, it might not work and there are very serious consequences to that, young man. But I am here to tell you that in the theatre, you are free to try something and let it fail without that fear of consequence. The only requirements are that you know what you are taking a risk for and that you learn from your potential failure. And, of course, that as soon as a failure occurs, you get back up and risk again. That’s what we do daily as a company of apprentices- we realize that we are enough and that the risk we take will pay off. We learn a show in two weeks and take big chances along the way. We run two shows in rep and keep things fresh each performance. We adjust to new performance spaces everyday and make split-second decisions to truly fill the space. We live together 24/7 and find a way to still be one another’s biggest supporters and best friends. We risk. We fail. We risk again.
Written by: apprentice Drew Whitley