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  • Writer's pictureMaegan Clearwood

10 - wheel of fortune

Updated: May 9, 2021

10 - wheel of fortune

restart, cycle, iteration, mutability

metrics of failure

Queer: damned if we do, damned if we don't. When the system is built for someone else, what does it mean to succeed? Jack Halberstam in The Art of Queer Failure:

“If success requires so much effort, then maybe failure is easier in the long run and offers different rewards. What kinds of reward can failure offer us? Perhaps most obviously, failure allows us to escape the punishing norms that discipline behavior and manage human development with the goal of delivering us from unruly childhoods to orderly and predictable adulthoods” (3).

For a Coven devising a performance within the context of a university theatre department, then, what is success? Is it a sold-out opening night? Educating undergraduate students in “real world” theatre skills, setting them up for internships and professional careers? Sparking conversation for our audiences, building bridges with the campus community, bringing important issues to light? In most conventional readings of theatrical success, COVEN-19 is a failure. We had full houses, certainly, but we provided no professional training for the undergraduate artists involved. (I cannot imagine that the skills acquired through our process would prepare someone for Summer Stock.) Perhaps we reached our audiences affectively, and I hope that we provided people with a much-needed space to breathe, but we did not educate on important issues or tell a perspective-shifting story.

To that end, we failed miserably. Halberstam argues that queers, and I would add witches, are experts in this field: like Sylvia Plath’s death, failure is an art that we do exceptionally well. We succeed at failure not only because we are constantly set up to lose, but because we choose to lose gloriously, such that it becomes an aesthetic, an ethic, an entire way of life. It's Sylvia's "big strip tease"; it's Buzz Lightyear's "falling with style.” COVEN-19, which failed to accomplish so many of the approval-markers of even devised performance, failed – but many of our failures were glorious, intentional rejections of conventional success. We could have utilized a traditional rehearsal schedule, meeting for 4+ hours 4+ nights a week; we probably would have made a lot more progress, technically speaking; we might have created a more cohesive, intricate show. In meeting for two hours twice a week for most of the process, however, we chose exhilarating failure over exhausting success.

Perhaps contextualizing the Coven within the university and department is too narrow a metric of success. What about the contexts of family, kinship, friendship, humanity, the universe, the past, the present, the future, survival, desire, compassion, grief? I am not convinced that we were entirely successful in any of these contexts, either. At various points, I failed to acknowledge the needs of a witch in pain, or to communicate production news from a place of generosity; and our Coven was not infrequently distracted by competitiveness, frustration, and over-ego. I am, however, convinced that we were successful at least some of the time – and to succeed and fail within the context of family, kinship, and the future, I believe, is a far greater accomplishment than merely succeeding within the context of the university. The rewards, I am sure, are far greater.

anyone can sing: a ritual for glorious failure

sing a song that you know by heart -- preferably a showtune that other people dismiss as cheesy but still, you just can't help smiling every time you hear it. alternatively, fluffy pop music: it's utter garbage but dammit you love a good party anthem.

sing it loudly; forgo style for volume. even if you're a "good" singer, let yourself sound radiantly unpleasant. if you forget the words, make them up. channel your 3am-theater-kid-at-a-slumber-party energy. bask in how terrible you sound and how fun it is to do the things that others say you can/shouldn't do.

if you're still stuck, have some sondheim:

Everybody says don't,

Everybody says don't,

Everybody says don't-

It isn't right,

Don't-it isn't nice!

Everybody says don't,

Everybody says don't,

Everybody says don't walk on the grass,

Don't disturb the peace,

Don't skate on the ice.

Well, I



I say,

Walk on the grass, it was meant to feel!




Tilt at the windmill,

And if you fail, you fail.

Everybody says don't,

Everybody says don't,

Everybody says don't get out of line.

When they say that, then

Lady that's a sign:

Nine times out of ten,

Lady, you are doing just fine!

Every ritual ends with a dance party (screenshot from spring ritual)

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