Technical difficulties. Those two words elevate the blood pressure for anyone who has produced a school play, a rock concert, a church production, or any event requiring sound and lights and power. Last weekend, 30,000 Chicagoans gathered on the banks of the Chicago River anticipating a spectacle produced by the Redmoon Theater. The Great Chicago Fire Festival was a $2 million dollar production, six months in planning. The event was designed to commemorate a horrific event in 1871 that almost destroyed the entire city, and to honor the resilient spirit that rebuilt in record time. So this last Saturday, at the big moment when a trio of fabricated floating Victorian mansions were due to ignite, nothing happened. Awkward silence. And eventually an announcement explaining there were electrical problems. We now know that heavy rains over the previous days prevented the pilot lights from working. Other parts of the festival were a success, including the displays of 2,000 artists’ work and concluding fireworks. But the heart of the event - the re-enactment of the Chicago fire - fizzled.
As I reflected on this failure to ignite, my first response, right from the gut, was great empathy for the director and his team. I have been there. I recall wireless microphones which had been tested and retested, stubbornly refusing to work once the real deal began. In one of our original musical events, staged for Holy Week, a thunderstorm blew in causing us to lose power for about 15 minutes and stranding about 20 actors on stage while we tried to calm the audience of 4,000 in a dark auditorium. We used to call them “gremlins” – especially when failure of well maintained and tested equipment shocked us. Stuff happens.
However, as Chris Jones of the Chicago Tribune reported on the festival failure, there was no back-up plan: “…there seemed to be no contingency, no plan B, other than inaction and delay.” We always need to anticipate the potential for the gremlins, for the unexpected disaster, and put into place contingency plans.
When failure happens, a normal response is fear that prevents us from every dreaming a bold dream again, from taking risks. But creativity, by its very nature, is risky. The Redmoon team has produced some of the most innovative experiences in our city, blazing a trail of new ideas. Most of them work and a few are actually brilliant. I am certain that in their debrief of last weekend, lessons were learned, and new commitments made. After the real Chicago fire devasted the city in 1871, an astonishing period of rebuilding marked the spirit of the pioneers who refused to give up their vision and who united to create an even more beautiful and safe city. I, for one, sure hope the Redmoon folks don’t stop taking risks. I was encouraged by director Jim Lasko’s take on the learnings: “We’re being challenged to embrace our message, which is to have grit and resilience and come back and do it better.” Just like those l9th century Chicago citizens.
For all of us who create – let’s keep pursuing bold dreams….and not forget to have a Plan B.