TBA Festival 2012: Andrew Dickson’s Life Coach Performance Review

Andrew Dickson is neither licensed nor experienced as a life coach. He simply believes that no one is broken or requires fixing; everyone just needs a little help to bring their own answers out. He encourages us to see the life coaching process as a catalyst for working on our own lives.

Dickson humorously launches each Life Coach session with a disclaimer reminding his audience they didn’t pay anything to attend, so they shouldn’t be too judgmental if they’re not terribly entertained. Life Coach lacks the energy and humor of Dickson’s previous TBA performances. Yet while not particularly amusing, Life Coach may be one of TBA’s most genuine and truly interactive offerings.

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To build the project, Dickson invited anyone interested in receiving coaching to email him about the challenges they face. The very real subjects he works with in these public sessions were selected from the emails. Both subjects at the two sessions I attended were relatable women with issues that TBA audience members are probably not unfamiliar with: how to balance the need for creative fulfillment with paid employment, figuring out where they are going with their creative work, and feeling validated as an artist. Dickson acknowledges the vulnerability and courage required to open oneself in front of an audience. Before the coaching begins, he protectively requests that any reviews or blog posts about the sessions stick to only him and his project and not the people he works with.

The subsequent communal vibe of his project is not unlike a support group, with plenty of time is set aside for the audience’s personal reflection. Attendees have an opportunity to speak candidly about their own life issues with each other before coaching begins. Dickson’s method involves asking open-ended, leading questions that move the subject forward in their own thought processes. What would be the most helpful thing you could get out of this session today? What are some actionable steps you could take to make that goal happen?

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Nothing earth-shattering is revealed, yet certain moments stand out as sharply honest. At times, the coaching feels too private to be watched. I wonder if Dickson may have bitten off more than he could chew. He may make a sympathetic and supportive ear, but public life coaching as an art performance could lead to an oversimplification of a person’s private issues. Dickson had to attempt to wrap everything up with a tight bow in order to end the show. At the close of one session, he asked the subject if the plan they made for the next steps in her life sounded good. “They sound scary.” she responded. She and Dickson ended the show with a hug.

It’s complicated to consider where a social practice project like this one begins and ends. What is the responsibility of the artist and audience in a piece that requires such public openness of its participants? Dickson set himself up for a very real challenge, to create a public spectacle while also being a meaningful guide for real people looking for help with real life problems. Its difficult to guess what the lasting impact of the coaching will be for Dickson’s subjects and audiences, but I know that I benefited from this opportunity to hear universal issues that artists face from another perspective.

Saturday, September 15th, 1:30-2:30pm Saturday, September 15th, 3:30-4:30pm
Sunday, September 16th, 1:30-2:30pm Sunday, September 16th, 3:30-4:30pm

The Mark Spencer Hotel Ballroom
409 SW 11th Avenue, Portland, OR 97205
Free Admission / All Ages

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