Random thoughts about watching, working and living in the arts, from HMS co-founder and executive producer Scott Silberstein. "In The Moment" offers a quick 60-second read about new ideas, events, shows and productions in the HMS world, and "Adventures In Yes" takes a deeper dive into how art and media reflect, define and inspire our world. Enjoy!

May 10, 2018

ADVENTURES IN YES: "After the Fall"

In Which We Explore The Joys of Falling on One's Face.

Heidi Kettenring, an expert in the art of falling, in "Noises Off" at Indiana Repertory Theater

That’s the incredibly talented Chicago actor Heidi Kettenring to your left, demonstrating her supreme skill in the art of falling in Indiana Repertory Theater’s current production of Noises Off. (If you’ve never seen Heidi live on stage doing Shakespeare, cabaret, Broadway, drama, comedy, you name it – then get thee to Chicago and do so. We’ve got ourselves a national treasure here.)

I've been thinking a lot about the art of falling Not for nothing did Hubbard Street and The Second City choose that phrase as the title for their genuinely groundbreaking marriage of dance, theater and improv. The phrase also puts me in mind of one of the best lines from “The Lion in Winter," when Geoffery says to his brother Richard, “As if it matters how a man falls," and Richard replies, "When the fall is all there is, it matters."

I've been thinking about this because three big broadcast projects I've been developing, all of which felt promising a few days ago, have fallen apart or been put on hold.

None of this spells the end of the world for me or HMS. Not even close. Several other broadcast, online and cinecast projects are moving ahead just fine. And besides, anyone who develops projects will tell you that they fall apart all the time -- more often than not, in fact. I get that.

Still, after you've had the kind initial exciting brainstorm and seemingly productive meetings and conversations, when the real world comes knocking on your door with a few notes and your great idea is brought to its knees, it leaves a mark.

Being somewhat notorious for dating analogies, I'll describe it like this. When you meet someone who fills you with hope for that perfect romantic outcome (was that ever better committed to film that Joseph Gordon-Levitt's dance of romance in 500 Days of Summer?) that intoxicating infatuation is the most tasty and wonderful feeling in the world. But then for any number of perfectly understandable reasons -- again, more often than not -- one or both parties either lose interest or can’t find a way to keep moving forward. You do the dating dance long enough, and you develop a sense of understanding, acceptance, perspective and maybe even a sense of humor about that, but in that moment when hope is first dashed, none of those soften that crushing jolt to the chest cavity.

So I'm feeling that professional jolt right now. But rather than wallow, I want to take advantage of the moment and process the best way to bounce back. Maybe you're bouncing back from something right now, too?

One of many great things about a life in the arts is that so much of it involves failing.

I say that without sarcasm -- that really is a great thing about it. Failure is, in many ways, the dominant experience in our world. We always aim for the perfect creation, performance or production... and they almost never happen. We know that, and we do it anyway.

This is why it’s essential to surround ourselves with the smartest, most honest and challengingly supportive friends and colleagues possible. It’s the company of people like that which makes the difference between an amazing life and a lonely one. In their company, we can begin to discover how enjoy that frustratingly, tantalizingly tasty space between perfection and the best result we could summon in pursuit of it.

During an interview for HMS’ documentary “Steppenwolf Theatre Company: 25 Years on the Edge,” John Malkovich told me that the nights where everything on stage goes exactly right occur about once every 10 years, and so “one mustn’t get too expectant.” By that math, over the space of a quarter of a century, John Malkovich had enjoyed 2 ½ such nights.

He certainly did not seem to be complaining about this, or asking for sympathy. On the contrary, he seemed to be dining out on perfection’s elusiveness, fully understanding that without failure, there's no way to know what constitutes success.

The first edit of “Second to None,” our documentary about the making of a mainstage revue at The Second City, was, to put it bluntly, flat. Despite it being filled with one smart and funny sequence after another, featuring rehearsals and performances featuring one of the all-time great Second City casts (Tina Fey, Scott Adsit, Rachel Dratch, Kevin Dorff, Jenna Jolovitz and Jim Zulevic, under Mick Napier’s direction), that first cut was dreadfully dull. At first I was baffled. How could that be?

And then the answer became clear. We never showed them having a bad show or a flat rehearsal. We never showed them failing.

So we went back into the edit suite, adding in a sequence in which that incredible cast had quite possibly the worst improv set of their collective careers, as well as the conversation that followed. And then the doc came alive, because now there were genuine stakes. When the viewer understood that failure was a real possibility, even for the best improvisers in the country, witnessing their successes was a far more emotionally engaging experience.

Among the many tenants of improv is that it's best to avoid attachments to particular outcomes. Not that we can’t or shouldn’t get hopeful about an idea or event, but it's better to stay present to what an idea or event actually is, in the moment it actually exists, and then play with it in that moment, as opposed to force a particular outcome or ending. The former sets the players up for success; the latter virtually guarantees failure.

You can find examples of this in your own life everywhere you like. If for example I base my enjoyment of a U2 concert on the band playing “Until the End of the World,” I might not only be in for a fall, but also might miss out on what would otherwise was a great show. Likewise (and only because I haven't beaten the dating metaphor to death just yet), if the person I have a crush on doesn’t return those feelings, and I write off a friendship with her just because she’s not in love with me, then I might well miss out not only on a potentially wonderful friendship, but all the other great things that might have happened (like, who knows, she might be the person who introduces me to the woman of my dreams -- you never know, right?)

Not that either of these outcomes are foregone conclusions, either, but the truth is that there’s real beauty in having absolutely no idea what’s going to happen, and real fun in enjoying the process of moving forward anyway. This is what I think about when I remember my friend Guy Adkins' expression "Onward, Forward, Up." Wherever you are, Guy, you knew what you were talking about.

Back to why I started writing this in the first place.

A little time has passed since the most recent project melted down, and you know what? Life has gone on, and I got an idea for a blog out of the deal. Further, in the midst of writing it, another show -- one which I previously thought had died many months ago -- has unexpectedly shown new signs of life. And based on something I learned as that project started to resurrect, I may just have come up with a way to resuscitate one of those newly presumed dead projects. Truth is, this new idea might be better.

Maybe. We’ll see.

All of this brings us back to that image of Heidi, falling beautifully and hilariously, in a play that celebrates both crash-and-burn failures and this deep-seeded compulsion to bounce back. As she and I discussed recently -- appropriately, just before seeing some friends open a new show -- the former is inevitable, but the latter is up to us.

Personally, I’m in favor of the bounce. Because sometimes what goes down just might come back up.

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