people at theater

Do It Again: The Gift of Having to Repeat Ourselves

I was recently lucky enough to be able to talk about the magic of theater in a podcast conversation with writer, playwright, and Wise & Shine colleague, Jack Canfora. As we talked about the powerful feeling of a night in the theater when it all comes together and just works, he told me a story about Laurence Olivier and young Maggie Smith.

After a night where the performance was particularly magical, Laurence Olivier angrily stormed into his dressing room. Maggie Smith inquired after him, asking him “What’s the matter, Larry? It was brilliant.” Laurence replied, “I know. And I have absolutely no idea how I did it, and it’ll be gone tomorrow.”

Wow, that story speaks to me! About how I want to capture magic, to define it, and put it into a bottle. Also about the repetitive nature of life. Preparing a meal, writing a post, or having a moment with friends – there are so many things that I do repeatedly and when it goes well, want to know why. Laurence Olivier’s reply gets to the desire to capture it in a formula so that we know exactly how to do it again.

The elusive nature of life seems to ensure that there is no perfect replica. Even for someone with the talent of a great actor cannot control all the factors that go into a delivery.  Yet we still strive for those wonderful moments when it all comes together.

If you’re anything like me, that striving actually takes away from the moment. Instead of savoring the now moment, when everything went wonderfully well, and being grateful, I start thinking of what I have to do next, or how things might go differently in the future.

Fortunately, I keep getting the chance to do it again. I’ve found that life requires us to repeat ourselves and then begs us to stay present for each show. I feel this most starkly when it comes to writing. Every time I sit down to write, it feels like breaking through my barrier of protectiveness and layers of my own BS to try to write something meaningful. Then I post something, for better or for worse, and then think, “I’ve got to do that again?”

Of course I do, because life isn’t static. I’ve found that writing rubs off that tarnish or moss that grows when I don’t do the work to show up authentically. For me, that’s where the magic happens. I can only imagine that something similar was at work for Laurence Olivier.

I’ve posted a companion piece on my personal blog: Sharing Wisdom. I also post on Mondays at the Heart of the Matter blog. You can find me on Instagram and Twitter @wynneleon

(featured photo from Pexels)

33 thoughts on “Do It Again: The Gift of Having to Repeat Ourselves

  1. I love this insight! We get the opportunity to repeat our efforts, but the same results are not guaranteed. There are of course many factors at play, that are outside of our personal control, for example, in a performance there are the other players who contribute, plus there is the audience whom we cannot predict their responses. Each element has other extenuating influencers, such as energy levels, their moods etc. When it all comes together it’s magical, and I think those moments should be cherished because they aren’t always replicable, or to be counted on as repeatable every time.

  2. Oh gosh, yes. The bane of my own existence…eyes too often on the horizon instead of right in front of me. I love your reminder: “…stay present for each show”. Good advice right there! 😉

    1. I love this tie you make to those divine moments. So true – and so hard to find (for me at least). I grouse a lot on the way to getting there… 🙂

  3. I appreciate a do-over. I’ve definitely needed more than a few! This also reminds me that life only moves forward, and there is no way to ever replicate an experience or even a moment. Somehow, that makes me feel a sad sort of nostalgia. Of course, I am naturally quite melancholy 🤷🏼‍♂️

    1. Hmmm, your comment has me wondering if nostalgia always comes with bittersweetness. I think it might be a sign that it has/had some import. Yes?

      1. Yes. Agreed. Brené Brown says nostalgia “has a dark past”…and is “a double edged sword, a tool for both connection and disconnection” (Atlas of the Heart).

  4. The perfectionist in me can so relate. My mother is a great cook. When I first started cooking though she would drive me crazy. She never did things the same way twice! Of course, we had different goals. I was looking for perfection and she simply wanted to help her family, feed them, and make them happy. I think that’s a good lesson, remember what it’s all about. 😎😎😎

    1. Oooh, that’s so good, Brian. Remember what’s it all about. Wow, that really makes so much sense to me. Maybe my next post so it’s a two-fer! 🙂 Thank you, my friend!

  5. I think that it’s not possible to repeat what we do in the same way because the present moment shapes ourselves and the way we do things. Beautiful post Wynne!

  6. This is such a creatives issue! I believe in magic but it hides! I love this line, “I’ve found that writing rubs off that tarnish or moss that grows when I don’t do the work to show up authentically. For me, that’s where the magic happens.” Larry and I were just discussing this last night, okay, I was talking he was probably creating a “to do” list in his head. I was whining about some post I wrote, I worked really hard on it, and it sort of flopped in the blog sphere. Then the other day, I threw one together, I was late, late, late, and thankfully the damn thing practically wrote itself and boom! It’s was a hit (you know, someone other than my sister read it). There is no rhythm or reason just the daily authentic work this rest is not up to us I suppose. Larry had no comment. Hugs, C

    1. Somehow you had me snorting at the “Larry had no comment” part. I can’t tell you the number of times the same thing you observed has happened to me. Just goes to show me how little I know. Thank goodness for you, my friend!!

  7. That is so true of many things in life. Instead of savouring and celebrating our success, we focus on the next thing. I think it’s because our world conditions us to never be satisfied with what we have. We always need to be striving for more. It takes skill and discipline to stay in the moment and truly appreciate each performance or blog post.

    1. I love how you mention that it takes skill and discipline. I hadn’t thought of that but I think you nailed that it takes both to still the whirl. Thank you, Michelle!

  8. I have a slightly different take on it Wynne. Frequently husband asks how did you do that, my answer “I don’t know!” This usually means repeating all the trials and errors of how I got there – often connected to technology or even finding/remembering the next episode of the current film series we’re watching!! Oh dear 😅 I certainly need to capture it in a bottle 🙂

    1. Ah, I love this different take on it, Margaret! Right – there’s a “how did I get there” aspect. And yes, we need maps for that, don’t we? Especially with the myriad of sources we have these days! Great comment!

  9. Great post Wynne! I love the Olivier story- I think it’s true with anything (theater, writing, music, running, baseball etc..) and the whole thing is magnified when you’re working as a team of any sort- for better or worse.
    Sometimes we “have the juice” and sometimes not- logic be dammed 😁

    1. Logic be damned – what a perfect comment, Todd!! Yes! I imagine that you’ve seen this quite a bit with the different bands you’ve been part of especially. Sometimes we “have the juice.” Right!

Leave a Reply