A Creativity Workshop Gone Horribly Wrong

Your first mistake was signing up for a multi-day session calling itself the “Original Low-Cost Creativity Workshop.” There you are, braving Day Two with the workshop leaders — Meagan, a perky school teacher who admits she’s never actually conducted one of these with her husband before, and David, the aforementioned husband who opens the session by verbally berating his attendees for their horrifying Day One performance. As you sit quietly in the front row, David launches into you, offended that you threw a soda can at him on Day One. You must have hit your target; David had a kids’ boo-boo bandage on the side of his temple.

What I’m describing here is not an actual actual creativity workshop. It’s a brilliant send-up of that ever-growing subgenre of self-improvement titled “Meagan and David’s Original Low-Cost Creativity Workshop,” a one-hour comedy show here in DC at the Capital Fringe Festival that I had the pleasure of attending Friday night. I was the one David accused of throwing a soda can. Thespians Jo Firestone (Meagan) and Dylan Marron (David) of GoHorses followed the verbal assault with increasingly inane and painfully funny violations of proper workshopping.

The “Win-Win-Win” exercise — in which Meagan informs us “everybody wins” by having us fire off a vocal “Win” along with a hand gesture to random audience members — goes south when David sends an older man in the front row a “Lose.” David’s trademarked three keys to success — it’s probably best not to share them, lest someone actually try to adopt them — are co-opted by Meagan in an attempt to re-connect with her old flame she discovers sitting in the front row.

The name of my blog, The Artist’s Road, refers to my recommitted path to bringing out my own creativity. My Twitter feed — @on_creativity — promotes articles and blog posts offering insight on how to tap one’s own creativity. Many of the friends I’ve made through this blog and Twitter are creativity or writing coaches, writing books and instructional guides, and hosting online tutorial sessions and in-person workshops. They have training and experience and are sincere educators.

But what Jo and Dylan point out so skillfully is that there are always individuals — not just in the creativity game — who grab hold of a few buzz words and a handful of well-worn exercises and combine them with enthusiastic salesmanship to promise personal transformations they may not be equipped to deliver. In the case of the fictional Meagan and David, the two came across as well-intentioned, although Meagan let slip that David privately refers to his seminars as “creativity workshops for the non-creative.” Hmm.

There are a couple of lessons here. One is that it’s rewarding to seek out and enjoy local theater productions, particularly by an individual or small ensemble. I love the theater and am always delighted and stunned to have talented people performing for me, right in front of me. It’s even more powerful when attending a black-box show like this one, with limited audience seating. (At one point, when Dylan stepped back in alarm at yet another comical action by Jo, I thought he was going to land in my wife’s lap.)

The other lesson is so old it is known in its Latin form — caveat emptor. Buyer beware. But if you do pull the trigger, register for the workshop, take your seat, and find yourself shooting “Wins” at your seatmates in a contrived “Win, Win, Win” game that will “Win” you no new wisdom or inspiration, I’d suggest you refrain from taking out your instructor with a soda can. At least start by asking for a refund, so you can “Win” your money back.

Do you have some anecdotes of ill-advised workshop exercises or experiences? Share them with us below!

About Patrick Ross

I'm the author of Committed: A Memoir of the Artist's Road.

6 Responses to “A Creativity Workshop Gone Horribly Wrong”

  1. Sounds like that comedy show would be a fun catharsis on what can be a painful and expensive experience. I have my own twisted tale: not about a creativity workshop per se but about a program that teaches a marketing formula to authors. I did get my money back by writing to the credit card company. (It was no small figure so I couldn’t afford to write it off to a bad purchase.) After 45 days, and when the other party did not answer my objections, the charge was reversed.

    I agree about that awestruck feeling when you’re watching unbridled talent on a local stage. Always a treat!

    • Hi Milli, thanks for sharing. Marketing is of course the art of selling, so some marketers may focus more on selling their seminars than on teaching others the art of selling!

  2. Oh my gosh… this sounds hilarious. I think I would have really enjoyed this play! I actually attended a workshop not too long ago and came back with this takeaway: “You get what you pay for.” Or, maybe that’s not fair. Perhaps the best interpretation of the event was: “You’ll find yourself surrounded by more serious, advanced writers at workshops that cost in the $500+ range than you’ll find in a $100 three-day workshop.” Maybe that’s not fair, but that was how I felt. But I think, at some level, there may be some truth there. People who are committed to honing their craft – who are really serious about it and want to make a profession of it – are going to MAKE that substantially larger investment. Of course, I’m talking specifically about writing workshops. In the end, when you’re in a workshop with like-minded and similarly skilled writers, you all “WIN”!

  3. How about the woman who wanted to use our writers group as a therapeutic aid to complete her past with her alcoholic parents?

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  1. Need a creativity recharge? Local studios & schools offer inspiration galore | nobluehair - July 27, 2011

    […] A Creativity Workshop Gone Horribly Wrong (artistsroad.wordpress.com) […]

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