If at First You Don't Succeed (Part 1)

by Ryan Kasprzak

Having recently explored the immense and inspiring literature that is helping people to understand what exactly is The Performing Arts Project, I was struck by one particularly beautiful section of our mission statement:

“It has been said that the challenge of education is not to prepare people for success, but to prepare them for failure. In vigorously emphasizing a wide-ranging developmental approach – paving the way for the student to reach his or her true potential as not only artist, but collaborator and leader and citizen – we seek to nourish a generation of performers who cannot fail to succeed.”

Ironically, this passage got me thinking about some of my most epic failures and how in hindsight, they actual led me to some of my greatest successes. Though the options were plentiful, I have selected three of my favorite failures and of course, the unexpected dénouement that always ends in triumph.

Epic fail #1: Too much excitement for one Post-it note.

While I was still in college, I got an unexpected casting call and received an appointment to the invited dance call for the 1st national tour of Fosse. Jubilant with excitement I scribbled all the pertinent details onto a post-it note: 214 West 34 Street between 7th and 8th Avenues. 3rd Floor. 10am. Got it!

In the days and weeks leading up to the audition, I kept having a reoccurring nightmare.  I would show up to dance and find that something had gone terribly wrong and I was horrifically unprepared. Oh no, all I have are pink ballet slippers. Oh jeez, the only song in my book is “I’m a Little Teacup.” The circumstances were ridiculous but the fear was very real and I would wake up in the midst of heart pounding terror. The night before the audition I double and triple checked all my stuff. Shoes, vocal book, trusty Post-it note… check. I was ready, it was just a bad dream, nothing to worry about.

The morning of the audition I left VERY early with plenty of time to get where I needed to be. I wasn’t leaving anything to chance. I got off the train and started walking down 34th Street. Hmm… that’s weird. I see 215 West 34th over there on the north side of the street but where is the 214 I need? I must have just missed it and begin wandering back and forth along 34th Street searching for a building that is nowhere to be found. All that’s there is this God forsaken One Penn Plaza! Panic starts to set in as I frantically start asking for help (keep in mind this is in the days long before smartphones and Google maps). One of the pedestrians I accost says “There is no 214 West 34th Street. You must have written down the wrong address.” Noooooooooooo! It can’t be. It’s just like the nightmare… but worse because it’s real. My teenaged mind and fragile psyche are totally crumbling. I dial 411 and ask for the address of the theater. “214 West 43rd Street”  Ahhhh…43rd Street, NOT 34th Street. My trusty Post-it note hath forsaken me!  

With a new respect for everyone with dyslexia I hop a cab and bolt to the audition. I’m only 10 minutes late, but my nerves are totally destroyed. I crash and burn like a fat kid in a dodgeball tournament. It’s an embarrassing disaster and needless to say, I don’t get the job. Well, not on this particular occasion.

A few years later, I did eventually get to be part of the Fosse tour. It was my first job out of college. I started six days after graduating Magne Cum Laude from Marymount Manhattan College. I toured the world, got my first shot at being a dance captain, and it remains one of the greatest experiences of my career. If I hadn’t made a clerical error on that little Post-it note and perhaps booked the first audition, things would have been very different. I would have left school (likely never to return) and started a career on the road as a grossly underprepared teenager. I suspect I may have gotten into all sorts of trouble and had only my dancing shoes (no college degree) to get me out of it. Dare I say I had a beautiful failure? A happy accident? Who knows. I believe that failure is neither good or bad. It is just a part of life that happens exactly as it was meant to happen.