You Are Not A Robot

Posted on 26 August 2013

Karakuri ningyo are a type of mechanised puppet made in Japan. These had their origins in the 17th century and may have been the inspiration for German cuckoo clocks. One of the most famous Karakuri puppets is the archer. You wind the automaton up, then the mechanism causes a little human figure to grab an arrow, set it to the bow, draw the string, aim, and shoot at a target. The figure hits the target nine times out of ten. This is no mistake. Humans occasionally miss a target, so the puppet is designed to do the same. It is perfect in its imperfection.

Our culture is obsessed with perfectionism. It’s seen as the way to achieve your dreams: if you are perfectly good at what you do, people will have to pay attention, and you will have to succeed. This sort of thinking leads to obsessive behaviour and in fact kills art. No one can control all the elements that lead to success or failure.

You cannot control where you were born or into what family. You cannot control the state of the creative industry into which you want to enter. When I was growing up, I knew a fellow who trained to be a theatrical organist. Just as he entered this field, talking pictures came into being and took off, ending his career in his teens. You cannot control whether or not people like your work, you can only make it easier for them to do so via skill and a sense of the current trends.

Good artists learn how to live and work with uncertainty and fallibility. It’s what particularly distinguishes us from corporate drones. We have a flexibility of outlook and ego that makes it possible to turn every experience into something precious: whether it’s laughs or high drama. There are no mistakes, there is only life.

As a comedian I was concerned that I wasn’t flexible enough with my comedy. I wrote my material and performed that material, but there wasn’t much room for improvisation. So, I decided to take a course in TheatreSports. As part of that course I learned the “Ten Commandments of Improvisation”, it ends with this statement with which we started all of our practise sessions:

When thy faith is low, thy spirit weak, thy good fortune strained and thy team losing, be comforted and smile, because IT JUST DOESN’T MATTER!
~Improv Encyclopedia

I’ve auditioned actors who think it will be a bit of fun doing comedy, but never let their guard down enough to actually have fun. Their performances are stilted and unfunny. I’ve participated in Toastmasters to help with my improvisational speaking. I’ve seen suited men stand up ready to show off to the world what geniuses they are, fall to pieces when they discover they aren’t going to speak perfectly the first time they give it a try. They usually leave quick smart, so as to not expose themselves as being imperfect. Everyone fumbles when they are learning a new skill.

When I talk about all the different classes I take just for fun, such as tap dancing or Tai Chi, people assume I must be super at it to even bother turning up. I will also hear people say, “I couldn’t take that class, I wouldn’t be any good.” The point isn’t being good, the point is learning and having fun. I was bottom of my belly dancing class, but I didn’t care: I loved the music, I loved the teacher, I loved the other students, and I had a good time. There were no exams that would make or break my future career. However, I was enriched as a person and a creator from the experience, and used it in one of the films I created.

When you get up to do standup for the first time, you will make mistakes. When you do some comic acting for the first time, you will make mistakes. GOOD! Make mistakes. Make lots of mistakes. Make big glorious outrageous mistakes. Be confident in your mistake making. It’s how you learn, how you find your voice, and how you develop something new to offer the world. Make no apology for your creative mistakes. Learn from them and move on. You are not the only person in the world making mistakes. And a stage mistake may dent your ego, but it’s not going to kill you. You are not a robot. You are a gorgeous juicy human being, negotiating a big complicated world that could use a few laughs. Revel in your humanity.

Peace and kindness,


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