First off, I am utterly convinced that art and creative expression are necessities for every single living soul on the planet. The first ten weeks at Dell'Arte have opened my eyes to the connection between art and nature allowing me to understand that art is not a frivilous act that comes after the washing is done. Art exists to reconnect spirit with spirit. Art is the entry way into infinity. It is a dance with what lies beyond and what exists within -both. At the same time. The ways to express oneself abound. Theater is but one of many, and an arduous one at that. Singing, dancing, drawing, painting, playing, erupting into the forest in stillness and listening with a deep awareness to all that exists. Taking that home and expressing it through art. This is the beginning of something for me that is very meaningful. I feel like I have woken up from a very long sleep and I am blessed to be alive and whole on this planet. I am blessed to be half asleep and partially dead on this planet as well. The act of waking in the morning and choosing to connect with all that is through creative expression is a blessing that I have and that we all have. I sound like an evangelist. I really am energized by it.
The last few weeks at Dell'Arte have been beautiful in so many ways. The connection with the group of people is precious. We can disagree and express our annoyances with each other in one moment and in the next we are playing ferociously. That is not even something I can do with family or friends. Life is more full of flavor. I think much of it has to do with stepping out of the city and into nature. Being surrounded by Redwoods and the ocean has an effect on the soul. My sensory intake has lessened to a point where I can actually process what is around me and enjoy it.
Now, as I take the next few weeks to reflect on my life and where I am headed, I can't help but feel overwhelmed by the need to "heal the world" and all those people in society that are still plugged in. It is a self-righteous painful approach to the world around me. However the counter of simply creating theater for the sake of creating theater and turning a blind eye to injustice feels painful too. Like anything in life the middle path must be acheived. This path however has a wide array of paths within it. I am interested in working with advocacy groups, I am interested in working in the education system. I am interested in working in prisons. I am interested in working with veterans. I want to create beautiful theater simply and I want to create connections between creativity, self-discovery, sustainability for the earth, community-focused living, and policy changes that respond to the hopes and dreams of a society that lives in a creative sustainable engaged way. Am I taking on too much? How do I even begin to achieve this?
I feel at peace when I remember that I am not the only one working to find this path, the path is certainly working to find me too. It's working to find you too.
This poem makes me feel happy and powerful. I don't know much about it but it speaks to me. Mohja Kahf is the author. She's an Arab American bad ass woman. I'd like to read more of her stuff.
So much of my life lately has consisted of failure and rejection. Which is fine. Totally fine. I am being torn apart to be rebuilt. I get it. But there are some days when it really gets me down. I love the way this poem takes on adversity with such fervour. I love the way arrogance is reclaimed. It's not a bad word. It's used with pride. It's inspiring. I need not let the rejection and failure get me down. I can tear its flesh like a guard dog tearing the leg off of an intruder.
Come at me. I dare you.
Ishtar Awakens in Chicago
My arrogance knows no bounds
And I will make no peace today
And you shall be so lucky
To find a woman like me
Today neither will the East claim me
nor the West admit me
Today my belly is a well
wherein serpents are coiled
ready to poison the world,
and you should be so lucky.
All I have is my arrogance
I will teach it to lean back
and smoke a cigarette in your faces,
and you should be so lucky
No I will make no peace
even though my hands are empty
I will talk as big as I please
I will be all or nothing
And I will jump before the heavy trucks
And I will saw off my leg at the thigh
before I bend one womanly knee
I am poison
And you will drink me
And you should be so lucky.
Today was a day unlike any other. Along with my friends, I clowned in a nursing home. We were thrilled and scared and unsure and eager and full of joy. We walked in with a slight shake in our knees and open hearts. A couple nurses eyed us wearily as we walked down the hallway. I eyed myself wearily. What the heck was I doing there? My friend Audrey had introduced this idea from Canada called La Belle Visite and so we thought we'd try it out to see if it would work in Humboldt. The activity director whom we had met weeks earlier had given the green light although I don't know if she was sure what she was signing up for either. When we entered the activity room, it was full of seniors with smiles and I immediately felt at ease. Such a kind group of people, so open.
We introduced ourselves as the Schirles. Myself Maude, my sister Claire, and brother Art, as well as Art's wife Vicky. The Schirle's name inspired by one of our favorite teachers at Dell'Arte Joan Schirle.
The methodology of La Belle Visite is based on the idea that clown can elicit an engagement with seniors that will offer a sort of healing through laughter. A chance to take it easy. And I really do think it did just that. We were able to lead them in some singing and some light chair dancing, tai chi, exercises and we ended up doing a good deal of performing as well. Really, it was quite precious. Four small noses offer a huge opportunity for a group of people to play together. We all just played and laughed. At one point, Claire (Audrey) picked up a Christmas gift from under the tree and started shaking it.
"It's for me!" She exclaimed.
"Oh dear. Claire" I continued. "I'm afraid that's just a decoration."
I smiled awkwardly looking at the residents.
"No, its not. It's for me and it's from SANTA!" She insisted, followed by a chuckle from around the room.
We took musical requests and sang some prepared songs. We danced, juggled Kleenex, and just took every opportunity we could to have a conversation with the residents about their lives and memories.
Overall for all four of us, there is quite a sense of satisfaction and passion around this. So much here to learn. So much to build on. We sat over lunch filling a napkin up with new ideas for our next visit. So much laughter and so much potential. I love the idea of how public performance can elicit otherwise unlikely interactions that can then inform and add momentum to relationship building which can add to trust and then for the trust to enable a performance that comes from a greater place of honesty and care. When the public gets lost in the performance and the performer gets lost in the public. When the experience becomes shared and real human interaction results, a veritable and spontaneous community forms. An experience that continues to nurture all those involved as they continue on in their future interactions. So much more to learn...
We'll be back for our next visit in January and continue on once a month until June 2013.
Yes. This is why I came here. To do this work with these people.
I've had a few days off to reflect on my work at Dell'Arte over the past few months and visit some friends. I've really enjoyed this time. Already I feel like I've learned so much and yet I also feel like I am just beginning the exploration of my body as a tool for theater. Last week we did a contact improv engagement where a fellow ensemble mate and friend held my liver. It is called organ work and it was quite amazing. After lying on the floor for several minutes staying in tune with this organ in my pelvis, I then began to move slowly in space with all the movements beginning from that organ in my pelvis. The result was a discovery of what it feels like to move in space from my pelvis. It was a raw awesome powerful feeling. Every move outward with my appendages was not awkward or powerless as so often they feel, these movements were simply ripples, responses to an inward gesticulation. I am thrilled to have found this connection after weeks and weeks of looking for it. Who knew I would find it through my liver. I guess its her gift to me after taking a caffeine alcohol detox for two months.
The Japanese call this power one's hara. That is one's life energy. Connecting and working through one's hara allows for a replenished powerful state of being and moving. Hara-RAY for the belly as a center and source of power.
If you've never been rocked back by the presence of purpose, this poem is too soon for you...
Been a long week. A fellow ensemble mate and friend shared this poem with me. I love it.
A teacher asked me this week what are the things I care about and urged me to use these things to make theater.
I care about my mother, and my sister. And my brother and my father. I care that wherever they are, they are whole and healing and growing and burning with a desire to be in the present moment in love with themselves. I care that I can do the same thing. I care that we have a beautiful planet to live on and I care to keep it that way. I care about innocence and about the sparkle of wonder in babies' eyes. I care about comfort and pain. I care about growth. I care that the world is made of contradictions and that I am able to congest that in and be okay with that. I care about love. I care about gentle touches and caresses. I care about the way people touch me and I care about the way I touch them. I care about warmth. I care about kindness. I care about laughter. I care about being able to laugh outloud in revelry for something that I love. I care about friends. I care about the warm feeling I have when I am in the presence of a best friend. I care about the warm feeling I have when I am in the sunshine. These two things, are quite similar actually.
I care about my health. I care about my body and the way it carries me through space. I care about its curvatures and the way it wants to move. I care that I am able to move it so eloquently through space.
I care about a lot of things. An awful lot of things.
I care about being a positive force in the world. Both a force and a positive one. I care about teaching and I care about learning. I care about making a small impact on nature and a big impact on the way we consume. I care about thinking and questioning our cultural structures and creating art that offers others the opportunity to do the same. I care about changing laws and policies that reflect what the majority of the people in the world want and not what rich corporate interests want. I care about doing this with joy and relentless love.
This week was pretty intense. I felt like I was supposed to be a lot more prepared than I was. We had a guest dance teacher. He is very talented and understands how to dance in a way that is. Is stunning. Just so talented. So its hard not to hang on his every word. He knows something we don't. He is so demanding though. And it's pretty destructive. He just lays people out and steps on their egos. It's painful to watch. Even more painful to experience. The kind of pain, like roots being pulled from the ground. That's one metaphor he uses to talk about step. To pull the roots from the ground with each step. The foot a trunk reaching deep into the earth. Shoots of mud and rock fly up as you walk. This is the kind of power we are working with in our movement. However he spent most of the week telling us that there are no down movements. We are constantly moving up. Just like a tree really.
We worked on a dance piece he had choreographed almost twenty years ago. And it was just...is just an amazing experience to be thrown into the middle of something like that, as a non-dancer. It's an inside pass to the life, and level of demand of a dancer. Just felt so small in that room. Just to keep up was a major boon. At one point he singles me and several others in the room out and says that we emote on our faces too much. The audience feels cheated. Wow. Ouch. And I can see that. I know what he means. No matter how painful to hear.
In addition this week, we were challenged to find a metaphor and put it up on stage. On Friday, during our performance lab when we showed our metaphor performances, our clown teacher (and ironically the twin brother of the dance teacher, ahem) spoke of the need to embody the experience a metaphor gives you in a way that does not rob the audience of the experience nor does it illustrate the metaphor in such a way that the feeling is lashed down. This is a big aha moment for me in that I realize my assumption was that my feeling and the feeling the audience will have will be one and the same. Therefore our work to illustrate the metaphor I imagined would offer the feeling for the audience. But it didn't work that way and would venture to say in general it doesn't work that way. When we work to illustrate metaphor --it offers an image. It does not offer the audience a look into the experience and feeling in the taking of the metaphor.
The dance and the theater are one in the same that the job of both are to embody the feeling through the body in a way that allows the body to do the processing. That the mind and the superficial face gestures gets out of the way for the body to steer, as much as humanly possible. A good metaphor, if you will, seems to me to be the ability to harness a horse and saddle it, a wild horse. To be able to hear the horse and her needs and also to be able to speak to the horse, guiding it when needed. I sound like a drank the Kool-Aid. And maybe I have. But it is...it is an endeavor worthy of undertaking.
One of the most difficult things about performance is allowing oneself to be seen. There is a vulnerability mixed with an openness that requires immense courage. I have become increasingly conscious of my habit of turning inward during performance. It is a defense mechanism to avoid failure however the act of closing myself off is in and of itself failure. It requires a constant reminder at every performance juncture. To allow for the messy parts, the mistakes, the wrong notes, the screw ups. And the exaltations, the touch with creative spirit, the beauty, the magic that is working through me. To allow all of it to be seen. What an elusive thing. But to be able to be seen. Is a rare gift. For those witnessing. Staying present and open. Energy does not compensate for this. Sometimes an overdo in energy is just another defense mechanism to avoid being seen. Not moving is another defense mechanism. Making bold choices that can sometimes feel fake or contrived, and doing it from a place of honesty and vulnerability, is being seen. More of that please.
Stream of Consciousness writing of blog to a random song on my iTunes. Knowing that I will post this, hoping I have the good sense not to. This is the kind of thing we do in our writing class. I notice I am already editing. No more of that. David Grey sings White Ladder. This song reminds me of 8248 Latona Ave N. My mom. Jason. The backyard, Carise. Rupert. Carly came over for a visit. I was dating Daynatyah and Nathaniel. What ever happened to Nathaniel. What a doll. Torture soul. Smart kid. So many smart people out there. I wonder about feeling smart. People often say they are not smart. What do they know. What a relative thing. I hate this song. I never listen to it. It makes me uncomfortable. It makes me sad. It really brings me right back to that time. That house. My mom rented it. She had moved back from Bainbridge. Jason never lived there with her. He was in...where was he? With Dad I think. Carise was living in Bellingham and then also in Seattle. I was bouncing around from place to place. I am in Blue Lake California now. This writing exercise is really strange. I am feeling a bit totured by it. I said I would write until the song ended. The pages of text may not be free. I may not be free. That was proposed today. That I take my surroundings for granted. That I need to question if this sound I hear is really the sound of typing. And what exactly is that quality? What are other sounds that it reminds me of. No time to sit and listen because I have to keep writing in order to actually connect the quality. It sounds like a torture chamber clicking and clacking in the far off room. It sounds like shouts, it sounds like bugs chatter, it sounds like teeth chattering. It sounds like braces clacking as two teenager make out, in the back of a movie. It sounds like the life long profession of a woman from the nineteen twenties. Live is playing now. I alone. I think that accounts for the darkness. Of the images. I must apologize for my thoughts. They are not my own. I am a walking contradiction and incredibly apologetic for that. For being weird. Freak. So weird. And yet I am bleh in this city with all these clowns. Literally. A city of clowns. What a trip. I am falling from this precipice. If I sit for too long and let it come to me, I die. I fall off the surf board. How to feed the animal but get out of the way and let it steer.
What a journey this school is on both artistic and social levels. One idea of the three circles of energy that I wrote about here has really been blowing my mind lately. As an actor, there is a demand on stage to constantly be in second circle in order to be ready and open. It is a state that the audience can receive most fully.
However when applying this theory to real life, I find that checking out and going into a first circle state where I am not receptive to others and just living in my own little bubble is a very common thing I do in public. I also find that I go into third circle where I get really stressed out and tense up and get really aggressive. When I do manage to find myself in second circle I often find myself moving into third circle when I see others around me that I deem "out of it" "not in second circle."
I am coming to the see that I work to manipulate others energy constantly to pull out of what I see as first circle behavior or pull them away from what I see as third circle behavior. The act of manipulation itself is a very third circle act. It is painful and uncomfortable and doesn't even work. I ignore or belittle or ignore or chastise or tease people in order to "align their energy." It's mean and doesn't work. The only circle of energy that I have control over is my own. The act of working to change anyone elses energy just causes suffering in my own self. A sort of "I know better so I am going to teach you" attitude.
To be present and receptive to all peoples energies without any defense mechanism in place. Is. Super. Scary. And something I have not really tried much. I will be more conscious of this moving forward.
Well we did our A place, an event piece and I felt really bad about it. I didn't like what we presented. It sucked the life out of the room. But we didn't mean for it too. We were four people out on a boat fishing, catching a fish. It was pretty dull.
This week we were asked what our goal was this year and I said: "My goal is to perfect the art of failure." Today as we received feedback on A place, an event I felt it. Failure. Mmm. Glorious. What to do with that?
Learn from it but not take it personally. Reflect but don't dwell.
What to learn here?
1. Creating theater is hard and it takes time.
2. Working with an ensemble is hard and it takes patience.
3. Staging a piece on a boat is really fucking hard.
and most importantly
4. Silence on stage must be earned. It can't be gratuitous.
My teacher Ronlin in our 3D Mask class this week proposed a story was in 3D. The beginning is the horizontal line, the conflict is the vertical spike in the story and the conclusion is the depth. Wild idea. A real story is in 3D. It is alive. It breathes. I don't know how the thing comes to life and at one point the writer stops being the force behind the creation. Is there a point in artistic creation where the reigns must be given over to a creative energy that the artist cannot take credit for? Or do we ever even begin to start the creation process? Are we always simply channels, working at all times to get out of the way for the unknown to work through us? I'm struggling to understand the connection between the unknown and my consciousness. Both are a part of the creation process, no? At one point do I have a part of this creation process? And what does I mean in this context? I use it a lot and am not even sure what part of me it refers to. I know...heavy. But seriously I'm not being flippant here.
There is a demand for honesty here at Dell'Arte that is so high I sometimes feel stifled. I am reminded what my other teacher Joe said about working to explore the micro level of intention. Movement follows intentions. So, rather than just turning your head on stage, asking the tough questions about the motivation behind every head turn. Dissecting a piece of theater to this level of detail, allows for a level of nuance that creates good theater. When you turn from upstage to move downstage to open a door, does your head lead because you heard something? Does your body lead because you're still looking for someone out the window upstage? Who are you looking at? How do you feel about them?
Working to include this level of detail in a cognitive way, seems to go in direct contradiction to the idea that we must somehow tap into this state of being a channel for the creative unconsciousness. To listen and embody what we hear. Simply.
Like any good prospect in life. Wrought with paradox and contradiction. The dance goes on.
Today is Monday, rainy and grey in Blue Lake. My roommate and I both woke up in grumpy moods and walked to morning practice in silence. This is also the day we get our outline for a performance done in a laboratory setting this coming Friday. Always a bit exciting to learn what we're going to be working late into the night on over the course of the week.
The outline was simply to create a place and an event. A place could be a church
and there are a great deal of qualities that a church embody. And that depends
on the church as well. Different churches walls are covered differently. Some churches walls are bare, others covered with images of saints, Jesus, the Virgin Mary. But beside the images, there is the way the space is
set up. Are there pews or chairs? Is the pulpit raised above the audience or is
the presenter positioned at ground level with the congregation? Is there a
baptismal? Where is it? Are the ceilings vaulted? Or low with wooden beams? Stain glass windows? How are the lights set up? Is the place covered in gold? Orthodox style? I can remember the distinct smell of
the Georgian churches and the many candles lit before all of the icons.
Women with heads covered in scarves. Priests with long beards, dark brown eyes
that are lowered in contemplation or maybe boredom. A church is a place. And
then there is an event. Events that take place within a church can be many. A
wedding, a Sunday gathering, a funeral, a baptism, a Christmas celebration. The
events often transform the energy within the space while at the same time they
are informed by the space. The idea of having a high school prom at a church seems
comical because the place and the event are in opposition. A high school prom
requires loud music and dancing and laughter and romance. Drama. A church is
not the appropriate place for this event. What happens however when a performance is
set in such a manner where the place and the event are in conflict? Is there
potential there or is this going against the grain of what is natural?
This week I experienced the first synthesis of my graduate studies in conflict resolution at American and my studies here of theater at Dell'Arte. The idea was proposed by my writing teacher Lauren who is a talented playwright. She gave a short lecture last week on the evolution of humankind and use of mask as ritual and performance. Her presentation focused on the way that early humans used the natural world around them to create masks. She noted a book by Paul Shephard written in the 70's titled Nature and Madness where the author posits that by growing up in and around nature, humankind gains the ability to understand ambiguity on a very fundamental level. Shephard argues that as humankind loses more direct contact with nature, we miss out on the subtleties of ambiguity and in turn our propensity towards conflict increases. When humankind is unable to understand that all things in the world are not black or white, good or bad, evil or holy, then humanity is unable to transcend and resolve conflicts in a fluid creative manner. This type of creative fluid problem solving is achieved when one has an understanding of paradox and ambiguity. That if something or someone is different, they are not necessarily bad.
Much of my favorite studies at American University revolved around the political theory of constructivism and that humanity has constructed a narrative of war and peace in such a rigid way that we perpetuate our own demise due to a social construct. The hope that lies in social constructivism is that we become conscious of our choice to construct our world in polarity and transcend this archaic way of thinking.
Shephard's theory supports the conflict resolution analysis by arguing that being in touch with nature at an early age allows for human's brains to implicitly strengthen this cognitive skill of understanding and reacting to ambiguity with grace.
As I continue to pay attention to nature as a foundation for the creation of theater, I see the effects of this understanding in my personal life as well. It is a bit difficult to pinpoint qualitative or quantitative results but there is a level of calm, happiness, generosity and compassion that I feel growing in relation to taking a step back out of the din of city life.
Acrobat class is super cool. Lots of muscles I've been neglecting that are getting plenty of attention now. Did you know there was a time long ago when if you put your genitals over your head, you could be killed?
Unless of course you were a court jester. Those dudes got away with anything.
So much lately in my life has had the theme of returning back to the source. I've had this illness that I have been treating through a full body detox. I have not been drinking alcohol or caffeine nor have I been eating sugars or yeasted food for nearly one month now. I have been returning back to the source of my body functioning without any real habitual drugs. It has been a journey.
I have also been returning to the source of where I grew up. The west coast. It has been almost a year in the making and today is the first day in a long time that I have been comfortably settled in a place that feels like home. I couldn't really say that since January of 2012. It feels good to be back on the west coast. At least for now.
I have also been returning to the source of relationship with my self. What does it look like to be friends with my self? To hold my self accountable for kindness and compassion to my self the same way I do with others? What is it like to be alone but not lonely? To not rely on another partner to create a sense of happiness. It takes immense courage to return to this source.
This program has allowed me to really take some time to explore the magic and beauty of nature. I am in awe of the source of all life in nature and the natural yet complex way the world around me moves. No ego. No assumptions. This week a group of thirteen of us were tasked to recreate our experience on Nature Day that I had previously talked about here. The process of creating the piece was incredibly demanding. Thirteen actors all with different concepts. On Friday when we performed I was really proud of our work. Our teacher Ronlin gave us some really helpful feedback. We're tasked to bring it back to him next Friday for another showing with his notes incorporated. Mighty heavy task.
And today I had the good fortune to watch Zeitgeist the documentary made in 2007. If you haven't seen it, see it. It's streaming on Netflix. It really returned me back to the source of why I came to Dell'Arte this year. I came here with the hopes to learn the skills of creating affective theater that will play a role in transforming our current economic and political system to one that is more just and sustainable. This movie reminded me of the deep passion I have for this cause and returned me to the understanding once again of just why I am here. I am grateful for that.
Every moment is a chance to return back to the source of the present moment. There is great power. Here.
Today was nature day. I crawled out of bed at 4:30 am to meet my fellow classmates and spend sixteen hours in nature and the car. What a day. What an amazing day. We started off the day on the top of Horse Mountain watching the sunrise. Sure was cold. But the views were worth it. Emotional. Haven't watched the sunrise in god knows how long. We descended out of the clouds and moved on to Patrick's Point where we walked through Yurok Indian Tribe dance grounds and then perched on a fence for an hour overlooking the ocean and watching the whales and sea lions. Our next stop was Fern Canyon and we hiked for seven miles through the Redwoods. Just amazing amazing views. The trees rise so far up to the sky, they just took my breath away. At the end of the forest excursion we walked through a gulf of high walls of ferns encasing a river.
You really can't make up that kind of beauty. It is only found in nature.
I sound like such a hippy. Hurmph.
After our epic hike we drove out to Moonstone Beach to watch the sunset. As the sunset, I looked around at the same forty people that I enjoyed the sunrise with this very same morning. Good bunch. Our teacher and leader of the nature day excursion Matt asked us to hold everything from our past in one hand and then release it. Then he asked us to hold everything to come in our future in the other hand. And release it. And notice the power of the present moment. He finished sharing this idea with us just as the last lick of fire crossed the horizon leaving a deliciously pink and blue sky. The sun off to warm another part of the world. A handful of us threw off our clothes and ran into the ocean. It was real cold and real refreshing.
Reflections. Loads. Too much to say. Key things. Looking forward to working this year with this group of people and learning together. Looking forward to working this week and exploring finding the essence of the natural world in my theater. In my previous training I've often worked to somehow embody the four element exercises of fire, earth, air, and water. However, I've never watched these things with such a careful eye. I have a different sense of them...I am curious to explore how that translates into the theater.
Also it just feels so good to be back on the west coast. The Pacific Ocean reminds me of my childhood. It has a special smell. That reminds me of building sand castles with Carise and Jason and Dad.
The horizontal point way out over the ocean when my eye is unable to see sends me somewhere strange and special. Maybe it is metaphor, or maybe it is real but it makes me think that may be where Jason is. Somewhere that I can see but only sort of. Somewhere just out of reach.
On a more personal level. I am struck by the journey of walking with my self. Being friends with my self. Not sure how that translates into being a more accomplished actor/creator but I do know it is part of my Dell'Arte journey.
The first week has passed. It has been physically taxing and equally so in a mental, social, and spiritual way. Lots learned. Lots. One phrase I find particularly relevant to this work is by Frederico Garcia Lorca
"The imagination is limited by reality: one cannot imagine what does not exist. It needs objects, landscapes, numbers, planets, and it requires the purest sort of logic to relate those things to one another. The imagination hovers over reason the way fragrance hovers over a flower, wafted on the breeze but tied, always, to the ineffable center of its origin." This work is about finding the way our bodies naturally move through space. It is about getting out of the way and letting the body do its job.
Two days into Dell'Arte's Professional Training Program and I'm really enjoying it. We have already covered so much. We are doing lots of walking. Exploration of walking. On the first day we must have walked around the room for almost three hours straight.
I'm hoping the stamina will kick in soon enough but these are some long days on my feet. Full of amazing stuff. But my body is feeling it. My mind is struggling to stay present and alert.
The pedagogy is that the first few months are really designed to create an awareness of ourselves in space as actors, as humans. This acute awareness allows us then to add layers of character within the space of theater. A bonus is that we may, if we remain open to it, transform as human beings as well in our relation to the world.
One thing we've explored over the first few days that I find real translatable into real life experience is the idea of the three realms of personality. The first realm is the place when you wake up in the morning and are sort of on your own. You are not in a state to engage with others, you are maybe contemplative, and very much focused inward. The second sort of realm of being is the place where you engage with others in a present and open place. Where you are open to both give and receive. The third realm is the second realm but on crack. So, the third realm is the place of aggressive pushy conversation that leaves little room for listening but just wants to share share share. The idea here is that in life as we engage with others and when we engage as artists on the stage, it is ideal to be in the second realm where we are neither closed in to ourselves (first realm) nor pushing too hard (third realm).
So tonight was the opening ceremonies -if you will- of the 2012 class of Dell'Arte and I just can't tell you how amazing it was. The MFA students in their second and third year put on quite a show. As a newbie, I stood awkwardly outside the main building waiting for an escort to the building with my new comrades. We were waiting for the MFA students to escort us to the Riverview campus building to put on our performances we had created over the course of 24 hours. We are all new and nervous. Just outside the main building is this funny little bar called the Logger Bar. All the sudden the door swings open and a man is thrown out into the street. He was being thrown out of the bar. He was dressed in a tail coat with a top hat, thick side burns and dark coal rimmed eyes. He was shouting at whoever had thrown him out of the bar. As he stood and dusted himself off he noticed the group of us and sidled over. He was clearly not in good spirits having just been thrown out of the bar but nevertheless began to tell us about his family the "Picadildo" Family Circus -not to be mistaken with the Picadillys -of course. Just then we hear a ruckus over the hill. The family had arrived. A man complete with a body of tattoos was pulling a huge truck that then pulled a cage with a half human animal. The truck was stuffed full of a family of circus freaks. It was quite a sight for sore eyes. A woman was covered head to toe in warts and she was obsessively cleaning the car. Another woman had greasy hair, dark circles under her eyes and was passing out tickets and talking a mile a minute. A woman was dressed in a wedding dress. I think her brother and new husband was driving. He had a whip. Unfortunately I didn't catch any of their names.
They herded some of us into the back of the truck, and some into the cage. A few of us were even tasked to help pull the truck down the road. This was just the beginning. Once we reached the Riverview campus, the night just got even better. It was filled with song and dance, ridicule, applause, laughter, a magic wardrobe. I was forced to eat vomit. It was magical. I just couldn't have dreamed up a better beginning.
Tomorrow is the first day of clown school. Been a long road to get here, to get hear. I hope to have open ears, eyes, and heart. A healthy body and a patient mind. I hope to leave my ego at the door and bring my creative spirit with me. I hope to meet good friends. I have lots of hopes.
Some ideas I hope to explore over the course of the year are: paradoxical curiosity, color, storytelling through movement. Telling stories of beauty and truth. Good music. Masks. Flips. Getting more specific with my artist perspective. Learning more tools to create more powerful theater. Connecting these tools to engage a community to tell their story and through this story telling create stronger community ties, stronger channels that sustain. Oh I hope to really explore laughter. Laugh, laugh, laugh. And more and more.
When life sucks. How do you laugh through it? Without ignoring the pain. Meeting the pain at the door. Saying hello, listening to it, swimming in it, and then finding laughter there. That. That is good stuff.
For the past six years I've studied and worked in an around theater as a tool for social change. I studied with August Boal and immersed myself in Theater of the Oppressed. I attended workshops for it and classes as often as possible. I did a Fulbright Fellowship with it, I taught classes in DC with it.
After about three years, I started to get disillusioned. So much dissecting of the pain and anger and focus on asserting oppression with very little practical approach to transforming it in a constructive way. And just generally kind of depressing...
I started to get into clowning then and really fell in love with the art of play. I loved the way movement and physical expression in and of itself can heal. I did it out of a frustration with the social change community and their intense anger. I wanted to bring some lightness back into it all.
As I study the art of clowning more and more I cannot get enough. I literally want to run away to the circus.
And I probably will.
But not for the sake of doing so. There is so much more to learn here to bring into theater to educate.
I've been toying and teasing over the past year with this dynamic of what I like to call "clown forum". The trip down to the peace protest last year was interesting. OccuPIE DC was certainly a cool experience/experiment as well.
This Friday was the first time I was able to explore the merging of these worlds in a teaching environment.
I had the chance to teach a class at Sitar Arts Center with my colleague Joelle Thomas. The kids were aged 12-17. They were a group of inner city DC kids with an interest in the arts.
We taught a silly clown exercise where you create a chorus, with a beat, a phrase, and choreographed bit. Then the singers peel off one by one and improv over the chorus line, saying something completely un-rehearsed regarding the chorus line. The song we made up was about funny, fancy, forks. Totally silly. Lots of fun.
Then we moved directly into a free association of words that come to mind when we say "peer pressure". I was shocked to hear the words the kids used. They were surprisingly experienced. Sex, weed, and lonely were some words thrown out. We split the kids into three groups and one person from each group shared a story that came to mind around these words. After everyone in each group thanked the person for sharing and I personally acknowledge how difficult these things are and in that same vein to think for a moment about what was absured there. Not discounting the difficulty of the situation but rather looking for the humor in it. Looking for the play.
We then asked them to go back to the original clown song exercise. This time rather than singing about a funny fancy fork, we asked them to write the chorus for their song using the absurd idea/part of the peer pressure story. What resulted were three incredibly honest funny performances that poked fun at the difficulties of being a teenager. One was about peer pressure around smoking pot and some wet matches. Another was about how silly the notion is that it's "dumb" to be smart and the third song was about girl fights and the weird things girls say to each other. They were beautiful messy bits of sweet theater created on the spot about real shit. The kids loved it. So did I.
Great article in the Guardian about the neuroscience of creativity and the way Bob Dylan received insight. The theme is a similar one I wrote about in the post on Robyn. The articles speaks again to the theme of this muse/spirit. Bob Dylan called this muse/spirit a ghost. When speaking about writing music, he noted that he just need to trust the ghost.
Quote from the article:
"But then, just when Dylan was most determined to stop creating music, he was overcome with a strange feeling. "It's a hard thing to describe," Dylan would later remember. "It's just this sense that you got something to say." What he felt was the itch of an imminent insight, the tickle of lyrics that needed to be written down. "I found myself writing this song, this story, this long piece of vomit," Dylan said. "I'd never written anything like that before and it suddenly came to me that this is what I should do." Vomit is the essential word here. Dylan was describing, with characteristic vividness, the uncontrollable rush of a creative insight. "I don't know where my songs come from," Dylan said. "It's like a ghost is writing a song." This was the thrilling discovery that saved Dylan's career: he could write vivid lines filled with possibility without knowing exactly what those possibilities were. He didn't need to know. He just needed to trust the ghost."
For the past three months I've been forming a clown show with two friends and the show is really coming into its own. The less I think about it and the more I trust creativity in the moment on the stage, the stronger the show is. I will remember the words of Bob as I continue on this clown journey, and trust the ghost.
I consider ego a central component to creating art. I also see the process of serving as a vessel and channelling a muse to be equally if not more powerful to creating art. There are works of theater, music, dance --a mixture of all, we like to call art, that grab a hold of something inside of me and rip, pull, massage, touch, awaken and energize while at the same time satiate and calm...agitate the space of nirvana that continues to elude, creaks open the door and dances with it... It gets underneath that back corner of that secret part of my spirit that rarely gets filled. That sounds dirty but I don't mean it to be.
And some art touches me in this way and it does not do the same thing for others. And that's beautiful too.
The other night my friend played me this music video Call Your Girlfriend by Robyn. The lyrics are poignant, yes, but the music video has so much more than that. When I try to dissect it and point to say, "that, that's what makes it magical", I can not. I can only reference back to the selfless ability to channel this artistic spirit. This spirit finds the artist but the artist also has to invite it. And the spirit visits only the most lucky of us. There is no real rhyme to it and I wonder if the artist in touch with it deserves some credit, but really very little. To commune with this spirit is dangerous. It requires great courage and humility.
But one must not only be open to it, one must also be prepared. One must be dedicated enough to learn the dance moves, to write down the music, to rent the space, to hang the lights, to practice again and again. To take another cut. To fail and ride the failure and let it be part of the art.
As I continue to create the Travelling Elmer Troupe clown piece with my fellow clown colleagues and explore and create the character Gultekin Ayshen Gulmeli Shey, I draw inspiration from Robyn's courage when she dances in this music video. I've probably listened to it twenty times in the past 48 hours and I think I'll listen to it again. And then...eventually...the music video will slowly stop holding that same power, for me....just fascinating...where does it go?
As a spectator and I am so grateful for Robyn's selflessness. As a performer I am so inspired.
Just walked out of the the show Astro Boy and the God of Comics created by Natsu Onoda Power. The story is a reverse chronology story of the life of comic book creator and genius Osamu Tezuka. Sitting through this one hour long piece of art reminded me the reason theater should exist. This show had it all. The aesthetic was breathtaking. There was humor, there was politics, I felt connected to every character on the stage. The use of multimedia was freaking brilliant. The actors were an amazing ensemble cast. I literally felt like I was living inside a comic book. Just such a delight.
I want to create theater like this. I want to create theater that takes the audience on a creative journey but that also has a soul. The story of Osamu Tezuka and his life growing up through World War II in Japan was just so well crafted. The atomic bomb event was handled so beautifully. I didn't feel beat over the head with it, and yet also felt the utter poignancy of the way this event shaped Osamu Tezuka's life. Just. Awww.
I walked out of there and couldn't help myself making this low moaning noise like Slingblade. For like five minutes straight randomly. I kind of chuckled to my friend because I could not help it. This noise just kept coming out of me. Such satiated feeling. God. Man. Good theater. There. Is. Nothing. Like. It.
On April 13, Clowns Without Borders hosts Black Ties, Red Noses, an event at the Arts Club of Washington. It's going to be epic! The night includes Acrobatics, Hand Balancing, Fire Performers, Burlesque, a Clown Show, drinks, and a wicked dance party all night. Ticket includes a free drink, a red nose (for the first 100) and a dance party unmatched.
We'll be showing the soon to be released documentary Send in the Clowns trailer as well which you can view at http://www.clownswithoutborders.org
This year we plan to take trips to Haiti, Indonesia, Peru, Brazil, Burma and continue to do work in DC and Baltimore!
Ticket cost is $35. All donations go directly to the mission of bringing laughter to zones of conflict.
Get your tickets here: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/234900
I was listening to a presentation yesterday given by NPR's Jay Allison. Chemonics (the organization where I work) had a big leadership conference and invited him to come speak. Jay Allison gave a presentation on the power of story and in particular the power of voice in story. He spoke of the fact that sound is the first sense to begin as a fetus in the womb and the last sense to leave you before you die. The power of sound is an incredible thing.
He also talked about one point in his career when he asked his audience to pull out old recordings and share them on the radio. During this exercise, most people who came forward with some old recording to share did not have old music but rather had saved recordings of their loved ones. While a picture is somewhat removed, the sound of someone's voice is something that reaches your heart and soul in a very precious way.
I loved this and of course immediately thought of Jason and the mounds of video that has been sitting in my dresser for the past three years, collecting dust. Since Jason loved film, the last few years of his life were pretty well documented. Our family is so lucky to have this reservoir of not only Jason sound but Jason video. It's such a treat and yet also so hard to watch that I must admit I rarely bring it out. But Jay Allison inspired me.
And so last night I went through some of Jason's video. I'm sure I've seen all of it already, so none of it was particularly new but it felt so good to share some time with Jason again, and to get to hear his voice and see his smile.
This particular clip I pulled from a much longer video he had made for my sister Carise. The banter in the clip back and forth about Jason's beautiful sister I wish was about me, but alas it's about Carise. Sigh, she always was the pretty one. ;)
So, as you watch this, I hope you can find the magic of sound and how lucky we all are to get to have Jason's voice with us for the remainder of our days.
Twenty nine years ago my younger brother Jason was born. I spoke with my mom tonight on the phone about this and that. Half way through the conversation I said, "Today is Jason's birthday" and she responded, "I know." A calm sad silence took over the line and we launched back in to our weekly conversation. What else can be said?
I bet he would have been a very good looking twenty nine year old man. Maybe he would have grown his hair out and gotten a beard. Maybe he would be in school for documentary filmmaking and would have met a sweet girl in one of his classes. Maybe he would have melted her heart and fallen in love with her. Maybe we would be on Skype chat right now and I'd be teasing him about his beard. That's something I'd like to think may have been.
Happy Birthday Jason, whereever you are. Know that we are thinking of you today and missing on you.