I am in Bethlehem, Palestine, working with the Diyar Academy for Children and Youth, along with elderly women of the Ajyal group. (“Ajyal” means generations in Arabic.) I am directing a theatre production made up of three short plays adapted from classic short stories and translated into Arabic.
How do I lead amidst my own uncertainty of the outcome, without past experience in this type of collaboration, and without command of the Arabic language?
As I work in Palestine with the youth and elderly, it’s not enough to gather people, give direction, supply notes, and repeat. I must educate the youth and elderly on the importance of this collaboration. I must take the reins when the older generation wants to teach the younger, rather than letting me do it. I must help the youth see the importance and wisdom that the elderly possess, having the life experience that commands respect and admiration. I must discern when to ask what is being said in Arabic when I am trying to direct, and when I should give them space to work it out. They need a leader, and … ahem … that’s me.
Recently I read two of Barene Brown’s books: Daring Greatly and The Gifts of Imperfection. As a shame researcher, she claims that people with consistent positive results in their work and lives practice vulnerability. Diyar’s mission is Biblical: “That we may have life and have it abundantly.” I am exploring the notion that vulnerability (however that looks to you) leads to abundance.
As a leader, sometimes I feel I am operating out of scarcity, craving more abundance of experience, knowledge, patience, and confidence. Currently, I am facing the fact that the most important part of what I do is the process. As a recovering product-oriented person, this upsets me. I want what I create as a theater artist to be good – at all costs! As of late, I am seeing “good” as the daily commitment to lead with vulnerability. So far, it leaves me feeling connected and loved, even in the uncertainty and fear of making bad art. The good news is that this fear is starting to wane as I redefine good and bad, and lead out of my abundance.
Elizabeth Malone is artistic director of Compass | performance collective, a theater company associated with commonGood. With theatrical experience in NYC and a passion for communal purpose from her work in Palestine, she is creating artistic, risk-taking theater in Riverside.