I love this filmed interview with Philip Quast. He’s the actor celebrated for his definitive performance as Javert in Les Miserables. Like many actors his wisdom is valuable for facilitators: we are also dealing with the challenges of performing – and helping others to perform together.
Quast likes the rehearsals more than the finished show: “The rehearsal room is everything to me, it’s problem solving, it’s teamwork – like working on a farm where you work together as a team to make something grow.”
His approach to rehearsing a new play is to study the play but not to learn his lines. He argues that learning your lines before meeting the other actors is a mistake: you develop a preconceived idea of your performance instead of creating something fresh in response to your fellow cast members. As facilitators, this kind of aliveness is essential to helping groups to be creative. It’s all too easy to make detailed plans which risk cutting us off from what’s really happening in the room.
Coaching and facilitation: creating a rehearsal space
If we think our work has to result in a definitive performance we put everyone under pressure which stifles creativity. What if we see ourselves and those we work with as being in a rehearsal space? This can reduce performance anxiety. It encourages flexibility, a willingness to change course easily and to be affected by each other.
One of my favourite practices in training is to get pairs to lead an activity – but give them little or no time to prepare, inviting them to work together without agreeing “who says what”. They often give a highly engaging performance. In the feedback afterwards they talk about all the things that they thought were messy because they weren’t scripted. These usually turn out to be the best parts from the point of view of everyone watching.
Quast believes that great performers are truly themselves, not imitating others. And the key to performance is relentless curiosity about everything. In coaching, I invite people to experiment with being different versions of themselves . And being curious about what happens is often a better response than worrying whether it’s right or wrong.
Quast agrees with Samuel Beckett that “habit is a great deadener.” You have to work against habit. Groups can tell when a facilitator is doing something by rote and when they are truly responding to what is happening in the room. By not being stuck in habit, you remind everyone that creativity is possible now, in the moment.