A couple of months ago, I was sitting in the audience enjoying an outstanding performance of the musical Thoroughly Modern Millie. The actors were singing and dancing when suddenly one of the women lost her skirt—it fell off completely! The audience was at first amused, but as they observed what happened next, the amusement changed over to absolute admiration. The high regard for the performers came as a result of the response from all of the actors. The woman with the missing skirt kept singing and dancing as the others moved over and circled around her, still performing the song. They improvised their moves—still in character—as they gathered around while the woman replaced the skirt. Everyone moved back out to their positions and the performance continued as if it was planned all along. The performance was exciting, imaginative, and compelling. Needless to say, there was tremendous applause throughout the performance and during the curtain calls at the end of the show.
There are hundreds of such stories in the arts—artists moving forward through difficult moments and what might seem like impossible odds. Circumstances aren’t always known in advance— piano and violin strings break during a concert performance, costumes malfunction, and there are lighting and stage mishaps. Beyoncé kept singing in a recent concert even when her hair got caught in a large fan onstage behind her. Great artists—like violinists Joshua Bell and Itzhak Perlman and pianists Vladimir Horowitz and Peter Serkin—all experienced these moments. Artists prepare and develop a level of awareness that allows them to be fully responsive. That high level of consciousness guides them successfully through situations like the missing skirt. Artists learn that they are responsible for showing up—literally—whether performing a concerto, singing and dancing in a musical, or even in completing a work of art to show at an exhibit. Many times, the challenge has the power to inspire artists to create their art at a higher level than was possible otherwise—the result of an open, expansive, and fully engaged mindset.
If you’re going through hell, keep going.
~ Winston Churchill
These kinds of experiences are part of the life of an artist. In fact, difficult moments and challenges are a part of everyday life for all of us. We can learn from the artistic process how to move through those times with powerful and passionate grace. Many times, artists have to determine what they can do with what they have to work with on the spot. Their expert response is natural. It comes from their willingness to keep going, to keep “making their music” so to speak, even in light of misfortunes, mishaps, and problems.
They succeed, they improvise, and they stay positive and focused on communicating from deep within themselves rather than on self-judgment or on what others think. They’re fully engaged in “making their music.” In fact, rough conditions can be compelling and help you become more inspired and flexible, creating something truly special in your life. What’s important is to start with where you are, and to trust that there is real music within you that will come out if you just let it. Live your life with the sincerity, honesty, a positive attitude, and the conviction of a true artist—moving forward, showing up, and going on.
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