Walking the Tightrope

I just got back from the cinema, following a showing of one of the most exciting and inspiring films I’ve seen in years. It’s a documentary entitled “Man on Wire,” which follows the story of Philippe Petit, the high wire walker, and the series of events leading up to his epic walk across a high wire strung between the Twin Towers in 1974. Seeing Petit on screen now and in extensive footage form the 70’s, I was struck by his single-minded focus on achieving extraordinary feats (he warmed up for the New York exploit with similar walks between the towers of Notre-Dame in Paris and the Sydney Harbour Bridge), his concentration, his incredible confidence and, most of all, the beauty of his artistry.

These qualities reminded me of a wonderful interview I read yesterday in the current edition of “American Music Teacher” magazine with the performance psychology consultant, Bill Moore.

Moore distinguishes with the utmost clarity between the skills we performers need in practice, and those we need in performance. The basic gist is that during practice we need:

1) the ability to self-monitor correctness
2) the ability to give self-instruction
3) the ability to analyze cause and effect with regard to mistakes.

So far, so obvious.

However, he then claims that in performance these particular skills are more of a handicap than an asset and instead we need:

1) courage (to overcome internal and external negative forces such as self-doubt)
2) trust (to let go of conscious correctness)
3) acceptance (the ability to see things as they are without judging them as right or wrong).

As soon as I read this (and I strongly recommend the entire article, written by Jane Magrath), I agreed wholeheartedly. Yet I felt simultaneously astounded that no one had ever given me this information so clearly before! Of course, easier said than done, and Moore goes into a lot more detail about useful ways to practice those performance skills frequently before you hit the stage. I’m very grateful for his wisdom and intend to put his ideas into practice immediately!

It’s evident that those performers who manage to let go of their critical rehearsal habits and move into courage, trust and acceptance are those who thrive, not only in performance, but in their lives as a whole. And no one has demonstrated that to me better than Monsieur Petit.

2 Responses to “Walking the Tightrope”

  1. Robert Sturgess

    I know this is an old post for you….but I saw this movie and I was struck by the artistry of what he did….but what struck me was that he really wasn’t very nice to the people who helped him. They don’t seem to be his friends any more. In particular, just about the first thing he did after having completed the walk was to sleep with a stranger and destroy the relationship with his girlfriend. The men were similarly discarded. I thought he was quite ruthless.

  2. Thanks for visiting the blog, Robert. I too was disappointed in Petit’s behavior towards those who supported him so magnificently.
    Human beings are really complex and sometimes great artists make personal choices that I don’t agree with, but I still appreciate their work. I admire most those who make a success of both.

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