At Business & Arts NL, we’re always interested in furthering the conversation around creativity, and the intersection between creativity and other sectors like technology and business. Challenging times such as the one we’re currently in are calling for creative solutions, so there’s no better time to be having these discussions.
In March, we were pleased to host an online event featuring renowned playwright Robert Chafe of Artistic Fraud (the theatre company behind such acclaimed plays as “Oil and Water,” the true and inspiring story of Lanier Phillips; and “Between Breaths,” the tale of “Wale Man” Dr. Jon Lien). Just under 60 people took part in the event, which was hosted in partnership with techNL, a not-for-profit industry association that has represented the province’s technology and industry sector for over three decades. Emad Rizkalla, Founder and CEO of local e-learning company Bluedrop, interviewed Chafe, who discussed the many aspects of creativity – how it’s developed, how creativity and empathy are linked, how risk and failure are intertwined with creative success, and more. Following are a few selected snippets from that discussion.
Do you see creativity as something that you’re born with, or is it something that you can unleash or develop through practice?
“I think what you might be born with is a predilection to play, a predilection towards – and I mean this word with the utmost respect – foolishness. My family are all working class – great, wonderful, working class people. As I said in my commencement address, they’re people who made their living with their hands, and I’m useless with my hands. And growing up, the notion of creativity as a path to employment, like actually paying your bills, was so foreign in my world. So it’s not something that I was taught. However, what was encouraged and what was entertained and what was fostered in me was a sense of uninhibited play and foolishness. I was a kid that would dance on tabletops and I’d wear towels as costumes and looking back, I’m the only person in my family who did that kind of thing. And that ability to embrace and accept a fantasy, to let down my guard of how the world might perceive me a little bit, I think is what was fostered through my family and my early upbringing, and that led me to a career in the arts. So I’m not sure if creativity is something you’re necessarily born with, but I think that your early environment can really beat it out of you, if you’re in an environment that doesn’t allow you to play.”
Do you see a connection between empathy and the creative process?
“In my field of work, that’s probably the number one, necessary job description – an empathetic person. With my friend circle, I jokingly call myself an amateur psychologist. My line of work is literally crafting imagined lines of action and reaction for people that don’t exist, that will read to other people that do exist as real…So that’s the mark of success for me, is when the work emotionally resonates with another person.”
We’ve heard that artists are risk tolerant and you need to have a thick skin in order to succeed. Do you think that’s true? What’s your relationship with failure like?
“We’re old friends. Risk tolerant – I don’t know if I would ever categorize myself as that. I think it’s something I would aspire to be, I think most artists would. Failure really, really hurts. I often say that I’ve written 17 plays and five of them are good. It’s a bit tongue in cheek, but it is true. A lot of my earlier work that I’ve done – a lot of which actually failed, some of it which actually was quite successful – I regard now to be failures. But they were really informative failures. The universe somehow gave me the opportunity to keep working through them, because it always feels like when you have a failure, that it’s career damning and that’s going to be the end. One thing about the arts that’s very interesting is that our failures…feel really immediate and really public. Like if I spend three or four years working on a show and it premieres and it bombs, and that has happened, you are experiencing that failure with everybody else. It’s a failure that’s immediate and oftentimes it’s in the paper, people talking about your failure…I’ve just learned over the years to be really clear with myself, in terms of every project, what the goal of the project is. And surprisingly that’s changed over the years to being less and less about how many tickets we sell…it’s become a much more personal metric of the work. And the great irony with that of course is that the more I focus on it being reflective of my personal goal, the more the work has become successful.”
To help further the conversation, we recently reached out to our arts community to ask them what they do to unlock/ignite their creativity. Read their responses here.