I recently returned home from the opening night of a children’s production of Beauty & the Beast at the local community theater. As you might expect from a play where most of the cast were under 12 years old, there was plenty of room for improvement.
The show was spattered with forgotten lines, missed cues, technical difficulties, and frequent moments of awkwardness.
But do you know what happened? After every musical number? After every scene change?
Every time the lights went dark and the audience applauded, my six-year-old wheeled around and, grinning wildly, exclaimed, “this is really great! I like this better than the movie!”
What was it about the play that, despite its obvious shortcomings, made it an overall success? And how does that apply to your own creative pursuits?
Don’t Listen to the Beast
In Act II, the Beast is lamenting over his affection for the beautiful villager Belle. He wants to express his love, but he wonders out loud, “what if she rejects me? What if I look too hideous for her to see me as I really am?”
To these concerns, the wise Mrs. Potts offers her advice: “sometimes we must have the courage to take that chance.”
We all have a Beast.
It is the voice of self-doubt and insecurity inside us that nags, “what if you are not good enough? What if you fail? What if your work is too hideous for anyone to love?”
But we also have a Mrs. Potts.
It is the voice that says, “all those things might happen, but isn’t it still worth taking the chance?”
It takes courage to put ourselves out there. To expose our flaws. To risk failure and looking like a fool. But without those risks there is no chance of success.
The actors on the stage that night—when they forgot their lines, or messed up their stage direction—kept going. They didn’t quit because one thing didn’t work out, or because they weren’t perfect. They performed as if the play depended on them, and they never looked back.
They believed that they were an important part of the play. And because they believed it, the audience believed it too.
Perform to the Right Audience
This play wouldn’t have worked on Broadway. It probably wouldn’t have even worked in high school. But at a small community theater where the tickets were $10 a piece and the dress code was blue jeans and a tee-shirt, it worked perfectly.
It worked because the audience knew what they were getting.
There was no pretense. No false promises.
The audience knew they were coming to watch a play put on by children and performed for children. They knew what expectations to bring with them and what to leave at home.
Can you imagine what would have happened if the audience had paid $50 for their tickets and been told to expect a Broadway performance? The theater would have been empty at the intermission, if not sooner.
Do we ever do the same thing with our art?
Do we make promises about our art, or our business, or our brand that our work doesn’t support. Then, when our clients, or consumers, or patrons (i.e. our audience) show up, are they disappointed with what they get?
Or when we view our own work with these lofty expectations, do we too walk away in disappointment?
We shouldn’t perform for an audience we’re not ready for, but we shouldn’t delay performing either.
There is an audience out there right now that wants to see your work. They want to see it for what it is at this moment, not at some future date. They expect you to have shortcomings, and if you represent yourself honestly, your audience will applaud you regardless of them.
This is not an excuse for mediocrity. It is a call to action.
It is a call to be honest with yourself and your work, to put it out there openly to the correct audience.
It is a call to constantly refine your craft, but to not let imperfection be an excuse for inaction. If you are waiting for your work to be perfect, you will never stop waiting.
It is a call to have courage. To realize what your dream is and to go after it in spite of your fears of failure or rejection.
In Beauty & the Beast, an enchanted rose marks the time when the Beast will forever be trapped in his monstrous form: when the last petal falls, the curse is sealed.
We too have limited time to create our art and to leave our legacy. Despite the fact that we risk failures and setbacks and disappointments, isn’t it still worth it, as the Beast discovers, to “have the courage to take that chance?”