Lessons from One-Take Living: The Power of Performance

Mar 17, 2023

Placing a formal performance in the public eye can be a daunting experience for even the most accomplished and talented of individuals. As the performer or artist stands before an audience to present a musical program, deliver a speech, or exhibit a piece of visual art there is always a certain tension or anxiety because in the act of performance, we reveal aspects of our true selves – even when playing a role or performing a set task. In fact, for many one of the most common phobias is the fear of public speaking.


In schools, assemblies, productions, concerts, and exhibitions are all forums for powerful experiential learning. As a part of the mainstream curriculum, we often invite young learners to stand before their peers, parents, and teachers to speak, play, or exhibit carefully honed manifestations of creativity, passion, and learning. To be on display in front of peers and parents can be a lonely and nerve-wracking experience, but one rich with educational value that not only tests skills in execution, it also builds confidence and character.

Performers learn very early there are elements of a performance that cannot be taken back: a word misspoken, a note misplayed, an artwork blemished in its execution. Performers must learn to push through mistakes, setbacks and disappointments; they learn to harness focus and hone skills through experience. Through the crucible of public performance, performers acquire the ability and the attitude to face the world with an assured sense of self-confidence, not necessarily fearless, but not paralyzed by fear. It is through the ‘creative tension’ of performance that performers truly learn how to master its power.

At a higher level, there is an important truth buried in performance-based learning. In a world increasingly shaped by hyperlinking, branching logic, clips, bits and bytes, upgrades, remakes, re-booting, we actual live in surprisingly ‘linear’ fashion. The finely curated, closely choreographed, and blemish-free versions of life surrounding us in the digital world are an illusion, confections of technology that are painstakingly assembled and flawlessly presented.  In the real world, we are fundamentally and irrevocably bound by the laws of the universe to the one-way chronological sequentiality of a life that has a beginning and an end. We live our lives in one ‘take’ – there is no divine director to shout ‘cut’; there are retakes, no ‘do overs’, no chance to rewind or reset. For better or worse, our words and actions abide; their influence will continue to resonate in ways great and small. We may regret what we have said and done, we may forget our words and deeds, but they cannot be undone. In real life, moment follows moment, both subsequentially and consequentially.

The power of performance is found in its ability to help us understand that even with the immutable laws of time, our ‘one-take’ lives can be experienced with joy and growth. Time is a merciless tyrant, but also a wonderful teacher. Learning of the permanence of our acts and utterances can be unsettling, but necessary. Learning through performance to make mistakes and recover in a safe, supportive setting is an essential part of a complete education.


Dr. Malcolm Pritchard

Head of School