It is not childish to live with uncertainty, to devote oneself to a craft rather than a career, to an idea rather than an institution. It’s courageous and requires a courage of the order that the institutionally co-opted are ill-equipped to perceive.
-David Mamet, True and False: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor
Being brave is a dangerous art, it is a quality whose consequences can lead us to embarrassment, stupidity, recklessness and failure. Yet it also has the potential of bringing great rewards, success, admiration and personal growth.
Many of our celebrated hero’s throughout history, literature, film and theatre are often described as being brave or courageous, often seemingly acting without fear. This lack of fear as a distinct ingredient of bravery is an overly championed and simplistic understanding of what it is to be brave.
The principles of bravery are that we actually feel the fear, acknowledge the difficulty and endure the pain, yet continue in spite of our torment. What makes bravery so vital to our species survival is that it is indifferent to results. We can be brave and it may lead to either failure or success, what bravery really affords us is the opportunity to keep trying.
To be brave is to demonstrate the willingness to endure pain or danger, its close cousin, courage is the ability and willingness to deal with fear, pain or grief. Bravery then is an essential skill for living and perhaps more of us would benefit from recognising that it is something we can learn through exposure to challenge and regular practice.
If more of us had a special place to practice the intricacies of being brave we might all survive our challenging existence a little more intact.
For some of us, if not all, it is true to say life can be hard. Amid our positivity and optimism lies a dark heart of often secret personal suffering and grief. Even though collectively we are generally regarded as having better lives than ever before, our own individual struggles still remain stubbornly difficult to overcome.
Many of us of course know that being brave, courageous or resilient are virtues we should regularly try to utilise in our day to day living. But life is a constant stream of day to day, this inability to pause living finds many of us lost simply trying to survive. Work, school, family, relationships and friendships all yield as many obstacles as they do blessings and can erode our ability to remain brave in the face of adversity.
So when we are young it is a relief and perhaps more should argue, essential to have a space where bravery is rigorously explored. For the lucky ones among us this place is a good youth theatre.
In a good youth theatre we are required to expose ourselves to failure at every opportunity; to stand in front of others and share our most precious of things, our ideas. We struggle with ambiguity in the search of truth, whether it is the truth within a text, a character, an action or ourselves. We must be brave even reckless in face of the consequences and learn to deal with our feelings of inadequacy, fear and imposter syndrome.
Bravery is something we must draw on to take risks and progress. Whether the risk taken leads to perceived failure or success, we must again summon bravery to help us deal with the aftermath so we will one day be ready to dare again.
Being brave is hard. With practice though, it has the accumulative effect of generating resilience and a good youth theatre gives us a safe space away from the outside world to develop this much needed quality. Spending months creating something you care about, that is brimming with your own embryonic ideas and to then share that publicly through performance, where you might be on stage for the first time is a bravery of the highest order. For others it might be as a first time writer or director watching others expose your thoughts and words completely free of your own fear driven control. Even more simply but no less painfully for some of us, the act of standing in front of ones peers and audibly announcing your name is a difficult but essential step into the world of the brave.
The brave space of youth theatre is special. It is informal, friendly and demanding. Often it is led by teachers and directors who fully understand the importance of making things more difficult for the attendees in order to lead them back to their own lives finding the world slightly more manageable or interesting or luminous. It is unique because we aren’t required to be there, we choose to be there, learning, developing and exploring for its own ends.
These precious environments have become predominantly reserved for the young yet they are increasingly needed as we mature.
Why is it that so many activities we enjoy and learn from when we are young suddenly become abandoned or unavailable to us as we become adults?
Too many of us go through life experiencing some sort of hardship yet never really, actively choosing to work at anything we find truly difficult. Fear, laziness and timidity often hold us back from taking life by the scruff and throwing it about a bit. To practice and commit to something without any guarantee of financial reward, success, or appreciation is one of the bravest and most valuable things we can do. Not enough of us do it in our roles as children, students, parents or professionals.
Perhaps if more of us had access to the bravery factories that good youth theatres inherently are, we might find life’s crucial moments a little easier and that taking risks can often lead to immeasurable reward.
Thanks for reading