The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Watch the full performance/lecture by David Kaye.
You don’t have to be an artist to know the fear of taking creative leaps. Likely we’ve all had moments when we had to decide between the safe choice and the aspirational choice, risking the known for an unknown that might be fantastic but could just as easily be uncomfortable, scary or even a total failure.
David Kaye, professor of theatre, has had a lifetime of creative leaps that he calls the history of bad ideas. He shared some of them in this year’s Lindberg Lecture, titled “This Was a Really Bad Idea: Life Vs. Theatre and the Creative Abyss,” delivered last month at UNH.
It all started when he was about six years old. Inspired by a television program on parachuting, he clambered up a pine tree, shimmied onto his garage roof, raised a bedsheet over his head and jumped. Not a success, but no harm done.
Decades later, with the help of a Fulbright grant, he moved to Israel for six months with his wife and two children to build bridges between Israelis and Palestinians through theatre. A brilliant idea in his head, but, as his one-person play about the experience relates, a comically difficult endeavor in reality. Perhaps even a bad idea.
He’s always been a “shoot first, ask questions later” kind of person, Kaye concedes. But, on the whole, it’s a good personality trait to have when it comes to creativity in the theatre. You have to get your ideas out there, no matter how ugly or embarrassing. Through “beating up the ideas” — working and reworking — the bad ideas often result in good art, he says. It’s not an easy process. It takes courage and a willingness to improvise.
“It’s like fishing in shallow waters,” says Kaye. “You’ve always caught fish in shallow waters and suddenly the fish aren’t there. Maybe, you think, they are out in deeper waters. The problem is that out in those deeper waters, you don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s dangerous. You may lose sight of land. A storm may blow in. You could play it safe and stay where you are, but you know the results – less and less fish. And there’s no guarantee that just because you go out to the deeper waters you’re going to catch anything. But at least you know that the possibilities exist out there, beyond the storm.
“To me, that’s where art lives: beyond the storm, on the other side of the abyss. It’s a dangerous journey to get over there, but usually it brings us to the great idea,” says Kaye.
And if it doesn’t, keep reworking. The night before he opened his play, “And God Said (!@#?!),” co-written with Oded Gross, Kaye cut the entire first scene. The bit just wasn’t working, so he improvised.
Kaye says he’s learned to embrace his bad ideas, trusting that they are a necessary step on a journey to finding ideas that really work.
“I may end up with a sheet over my head and a sprained ankle, but I’ve got to admit that the leap off of the garage was a lot of fun,” says Kaye.
For those among us who fear taking chances in our own lives, that trust in something better might help us make that leap.
David Kaye, professor of theatre, is the 2016 recipient of the Lindberg Award, given annually to the outstanding teacher-scholar in the College of Liberal Arts.