Notes from a Conversation about Wretched Contentment

A Group Conversation

In this 90-minute conversation, we explored whether the performing arts has become a safe, comfort zone and whether this limits our career and personal life opportunities.

The session took place at DandD14 on Sunday at 3pm. (Devoted and Disgruntled is an annual open space conference in the UK organised and hosted by Improbable Theatre. It took place in January 2019 at the Royal & Derngate Theatre in Northampton over three days).

A few key points made by the group (which grew in size during the session!).

– We tend to seek certainty these days, yet the state of not knowing, the
wildnerness can be a vital place for our creative journey

– Long silence and the empty space can be hard to bear, even a state of suffering, yet these are also places where our finest ideas and impulses can be born

– As we get older we notice we have less time ahead of us than behind us andthis can focus us more on the essential, to suffer collusion less

– We can collude with mediocrity, avoid risk and danger, play life too safe, never risk real honesty which can be uncomfortable, and even when we do honestly name, we take no action. When we do commit to real action, we dilute or allow things to revert back to familiarity and safety, or fade away

– We can live a B minus life but label it as A plus!

– There is a longer term price to pay for this superfical strategising around safety and ease. We feel (if we go there) a deeper sense of wretchedness

– It can be ok to say “I have reached a limit” and can now only share with, and support others

– Coaching and trusted challenge can help is creatively embrace and transform our deeper wretchedness

– We tend, in the West, to have an issue about avoiding a deeper honesty and label it as rude or unnecessarily traumatic

As we develop ourselves as performers, artists and theatre makers, Fringe festivals can seem like a game where there is a smart path through them to optimise success.. The danger of this is we can win the battle but lose the war. We successfully pilot through, do well, feel the highs, even highly satisfied, but we can also feel something is missing, eluding is deeper down. Confronting it, naming it, can feel like a risk, a place of danger. Yet that deeper. darker place, can make us feel paradoxically more alive, more authentic. But going there, initially, may need us to call our current ‘tactical’ happiness, wretched.

This can be easier if we open space for comon ground (common suffering?) convesations with other people, when we feel supported in a mood of trust and honesty by our community. We ay need to do this work alone, but not always.

As we get older, or if we have a sudden crisis (such as a life threatening illness) this confontation can become necessary, as we realise our mortaility and our limited time in our lives.

Yet this also can be joyful work, especially over the longer term. When contentment is not wretched at its core, our fulfilment feels real, we can be genuinely creatively satisfied.

person holding round smiling emoji board photo
Photo by on

Suggestions arising in the group

– coaching can be help – another view on us, offering time to reflect and ak powerful questions

– learning to value honesty, for it to be normal and not traumatic – the dialogue of honesty is a skill that can be learned

– an exchange between older and younger generations can be valuable, even essential

– do not dilute your definition of excellent, nor avoid exploring your dreams and your potential

– don’t measure success narrowly not over-strategise your personal and professional life

– restlessness, silence, not knowing – all are actually valuable ways to be in life and the processes of creation

I felt a sense of growing fellowship, honesty and NOT collusion by the end of this session.


How Wretchedly Content Ae You?

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