Tonight was opening night and I'm on Cloud 9. However, on Monday, our first dress rehearsal, I was at whatever place is the polar opposite of Cloud 9. I was utterly despondent and ready to start applying to Kroger.
The thing is that dress rehearsals, at least at my middle school, are almost always bad. I started keeping notes a few years ago, and I've documented something. First dress rehearsals are almost always bad. Like, awful.
However, I've documented something else. Those really bad rehearsals seem to yield really good plays. It's not just in my little corner where that happens--it's an old theatrical cliche that a bad dress rehearsal means a good opening.
Why is that? It is counter-intuitive, no? One could make a logical case that the way you practice is the way you will perform.
Perhaps I'm wrong, but I have a theory about this. Humans learn by making mistakes. We grow through trial and error. That is true individually and collectively. In my experience, we really don't learn--can't learn--without making mistakes.
A dress rehearsal is the first time that all the elements are combined--costumes, lights, sound, scenery, props, make-up, hair, and so on. No matter how well you have rehearsed, throwing all those variables into the mix increases the chances to make mistakes. And that is good.
When I was a young director, I expended a lot of energy trying to make us have good dress rehearsals. It was exhausting. Then, I realized that they students needed to make those mistakes. Each mistake meant they figured out a way NOT to do something--which put us closer to figuring out what SHOULD be done. But it only happened with trial and error.
My efforts to prevent mistakes were counter-productive. For example, if I went backstage to make sure the stage crew was ready for a complex set change, then I could make that particular change work well. That once. But they didn't learn how to do it--or how to not do it--and so I set them up for failure as soon as I was gone.
Here's where I am going with this. Middle school is a dress rehearsal. It's a time for kids to start making mistakes. Mistakes in a dress rehearsal don't matter. No one is there to see it. It's safe.
Middle school mistakes aren't permanent. They will go away. There's no audience, as it were. And the kids need the chance to make those mistakes. They have to figure out how NOT to do life before they can figure out how they should do it. Not just in relation to academics, but in terms of social relationships, getting to know their strengths and weaknesses.
The parents of successful children know or intuit that their child needs to make mistakes. Sadly, many parents do what I used to do and expend a great deal of energy trying to create a perfect performance and not allowing mistakes. This is, of course, a huge mistake.
Kids need to fail. They need to struggle and make mistakes. There's no other way to learn. And intervening to prevent a child from making mistakes does not prevent mistakes. It only postpones them, which ensures that the stake will be higher and the audience much more critical. Do you want your child to mess up in middle school or the workplace?
It's tough to do this. It's really tough. I sit through dress rehearsals in agony, and I die a thousand deaths inside that week. I go through intense self-doubt, and question every decision I've made along the way. But then on opening night, I realize the struggle was not incidental to, but rather integral to, to the process and the success.
So, to parents everywhere, including the parents of my own children, I say, "Let them fail! Let them mess up!" This is a dress rehearsal--it is not the final performance. But the final performance is coming--and the audience will be much more demanding.
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