Trust Falls

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When I was a senior in high school, I got a chance to direct my first play. It was a short piece with a small cast of three students, two of whom were my close friends. The third actor was a younger, incredibly talented student (let's call her Alexis--not her real name) who I had pushed to include in my piece, as she embodied her respective role perfectly. Directing was a brand new experience for me, but, as with all my projects, I was eager to do my best from the start.

Early in our rehearsals, I actively worked hard to establish trust between myself and the actors, because the play was heavy and I wanted to create an open atmosphere where we could work with and learn from each other. There was already a degree of trust between myself and the two actors I was friends with, because we had known each other for years. But Alexis was someone I did not know beforehand and who was, self-admittedly, a bit more reserved. So we ran a series of trust exercises during rehearsals, particularly trust falls (i.e. the act of falling backward with your eyes closed into someone else's waiting arms). Alexis was always cautious and reluctant to participate--understandably so because, as the name implies, it takes a lot of trust to fall backwards into someone's arms and hope that they will catch you before you hit the ground. But I continued to encourage her to step out of her comfort zone.

One day during rehearsals with Alexis and one of the other actors (let's call her Chelsea--also not her real name), we came upon a massive spider. It probably wasn't massive, but in my memory it was as big as Aragog the acromantula from Harry Potter. And I fulfilled the role of Ron, running away with Chelsea to a safe corner of the room. Alexis, on the other hand, had no fear. She stood next to the spider, cooing at how cute and harmless it was, while we looked on in horror several feet away. Suddenly, Alexis challenged Chelsea and me to stand close to the spider for thirty seconds. I, naturally and wholeheartedly, refused. But then she upped the ante and categorized it as a "trust exercise." She said standing close to the spider would demonstrate that I was willing to step out of my comfort zone, which would help increase the trust between her, Chelsea, and me.


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Well, there you have it. I was in a bit of a predicament. No part of me wanted to stand near that spider. But on the other hand, I had been encouraging Alexis to trust us, pushing her outside her comfort zone several times during the previous rehearsals. It seemed only fair that I would push myself too, as unattractive a prospect as it was. And so, slowly and very reluctantly, Chelsea and I approached the spider, standing closer and closer until we were practically on top of it. Once the thirty seconds had passed, we ran for the hills before the spider had a chance to assault us as viciously as I imagined it could.

In the end we all had a good laugh and Alexis mercifully took the spider outside, free to live and terrify another day. We returned to rehearsing scenes no worse for wear. But I was happy that I had faced that fear. Because how could I ask Alexis and the rest of the cast to face their fears and push themselves if I wasn't willing to do the same? If I wanted her to trust me with her fears and concerns, I had to trust her with mine too. And from that day forward, as crazy as it might seem, that act of reciprocity made a difference in our show. Alexis began to trust and rely on all of us more, both on and off the stage. Why? Because I had made a promise to challenge myself alongside the cast and, most importantly, had followed through.

This experience is one of the many that have taught me the value of trust in any working relationship. It's in those moments of deepest trust when real, unfiltered creativity begins: where emotions are raw and passions abound and limits are nonexistent. Sometimes that trust develops over time; other times it's due to a unique and sudden set of circumstances.

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But my favorite type of trust is that which develops as a result of a leap of faith--the metaphorical (and sometimes literal) act of falling backwards, hoping and believing that someone will catch you before you hit the ground. The type of trust that flies in the face of all my fears and worries, pushing me so far outside my comfort zone that I can no longer see it. In my life, that type of trust has led to some of my most exciting work, whether it was improvising on stage or in the studio; trying something new in rehearsal or in front of a packed audience. And I've found that my projects have only improved with the presence of this trust between myself and my fellow artists.

Now trust does not always come naturally. More often than not, this fundamental element of a strong working relationship is found lacking. To be fair, it can be difficult to develop that trust, as Alexis found at the beginning of our rehearsals. Art of any kind is incredibly personal and usually involves opening oneself up to criticism, judgment, and other people's interpretations. So it's no wonder that opening up a passion project to a fellow creative can tend to create more anxiety and wariness than trust. But at some point during the creative process, you need to learn to trust your partners with the collaboration and your art. If you don't trust them, then you need to ask yourself why and how you can address that lack of trust. It's worth your time to develop those bonds and relationships, whether by blindly falling into someone's arms or facing your fears (arachnid or otherwise). Trust me, your collaboration and your art will be the better for it in the end.