Zen and the Art of the Opera Audition: Stuckness

Third in a series of audition season posts inspired by a recent re-reading of Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.


“No matter how hard you try to hang onto it, this stuckness is bound to disappear. Your mind will naturally and freely move toward a solution. Unless you are a real master at staying stuck you can’t prevent this… What’s really been getting you stuck is the running from the stuckness through the cars of your train of knowledge looking for a solution that is out in front of the train. Stuckness sh0uldn’t be avoided. It’s the psychic predecessor of all real understanding.”

“Stuckness.” It’s not an elegant word, and even the way it sits in your mouth evokes the feeling of being awkwardly trapped. Artistic stagnation is a fact of life, and sometimes “stuckness” happens on audition day. Get used to it. After you get the job, it’s going to happen on performance days. You can run but you can’t hide.

The thing I find the most illuminating about Phaedrus’ approach to stuckness is that it flies in the face of many of the strategies proposed to combat creative block. We are often told to widen our field of vision and get away from the problem in order to get out of the rut. And indeed, that has worked for all of us at some time. But this idea of not running away is particularly useful when there’s nowhere to run to anyway.

Let’s say that your audition is in 2 hours, and the last thing you want to do on this particular morning is engage with art. It’s likely that a desperate attempt to scurry away from your funk will create yet another layer of anxiety. Perhaps the best thing to do is sit with it. Give the stuck feeling a finite amount time to occupy your body and invade your mind. Give into it and don’t get caught up with despairing about it. Sometimes it’s just your body or your mind telling you that it’s tired. Rest. Embrace the stuckness. And you’ll be surprised how often your customary energy and inspiration will spring back into the void.

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