Know Thy Limits

You know those real fancy single serving coffee machines? Put in all the desired information and thirty seconds later you’ll have a hot cup of coffee with all the right everything.

This morning I was plugging in the information for my ten ounce cup. I could have sworn I pressed the eight ounce button. (I may have grazed the twelve ounce button.) Usually I would appreciate the upgrade, but in this case, my cup could not handle the excess and I ended up making a big mess.

So often I hear performers priding themselves in giving all they have to give. Pushing themselves beyond their limits. I’ll hear directors and choreographers pep their casts up with expectations of giving 150%, or 200%, or 2000%. “Leave it all out there”, they’ll say.

It’s a good sentiment. I agree with the sentiment.

But this sentiment comes with confusion.

Pushing yourself to break and to failure is great for rehearsal or a workout, but pushing yourself beyond your abilities in front of an audience can come off as indulgent and selfish. It can be dangerous, and really, you might just make a mess.

Go above and beyond for your audience, sure. Exceed their expectations, yes. But we should also be careful not to push beyond our limitations for an audience.

If my barista hands me a half full cup of coffee, I’ll probably hand it back and ask them to fill it up.

But then, if they try to hand me a messy overflowing cup, I’ll probably hand that back too. In fact, I probably wouldn’t take it at all. Would you?

Push and learn your limits in the rehearsal room. Then as a result of that work you’ll be able to give your audience polish and control.

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