Sunday, January 27, 2013

Holy Shmeegulz Keegulz Batman

Wow. Having a mask on my face on stage is a WHOLE NEW experience.

Learning so much about that.

For starters I have to remember to OPEN MY EYES.

Then of course remember to feel the energy of the mask and translate it into my body.

Also I am working to breathe deeply and release tension knowing that any tension I'm holding in my body is magnified in mask.

With open eyes, channelling the massive power that the mask demands with a body at ease, the work just begins...

These are basic craft notes. Never mind the ability to engage emotionally and find the contrast and life of the character. How the character moves in space. What the character's appetite demands.

Oh boyeeee. Squirm be ruking and rowling in dis har hizzouuuse.

The Sweet Spot

Several experiences this week have brought back into the forefront of my mind the role of theater to heal and to provoke positive change.

First was when my teacher Ronlin suggested that because Commedia is a violent form of comedy, that there is an aspect of catharsis. Just as human beings love to watch football for its violent cathartic nature, there is a similar quality in Commedia. Commedia presents violent characters in violent pursuit of food, sex, and money. Ronlin implied that the act of watching Commedia affirms audience members very human violent nature and allows audience members to accept themselves in their most basic nature. Commedia takes the shame out of being human and allows for a sort of healing experience. The idea here is that by attending this kind of bawdy raunchy theater, where the goal is food, sex, and money and the outcome is never ideal, that audience members leave feeling a bit more human and a little less desirous to bottle up their violent nature. The counter here is that just like with football, I am not sure that this supports a more peaceful world. It could be argued that it may provoke in the opposite way and incite further violent appetites for food, sex, and money. Bertolt Brecht's major criticism of traditional theater was its cathartic nature. When we create a cathartic piece of entertainment we forget about the actual real-life injustices. We go to the theater to forget about the world. However what sets Commedia apart from traditional theater is that Commedia characters are never satiated. So this catharsis in Commedia is a different kind of catharsis. Interesting twist...Curious.

The second experience this week that inspired me to write about this subject was the current show at Dell'Arte Three Trees put on by three of my teachers. Three Trees was just superb. It is a clown show that deals with the horros of war in a SUPER funny format. It provided some healing for me on a personal level as I was able to feel like someone cared about things I care about having lost a brother to war. Seeing fellow actors address issues of war on stage through laughter gave me a sense of peace. I don't know why. I felt like, "Yah, they get it." Further than that, I am not sure how Three Trees offers healing. And I really do not think it provokes social progress much at all. In many ways I think its central purpose is to entertain. But I am not willing to close the door on that one. I am eager to talk with my three teachers in further detail about this. When it comes to the act of going to the theater, and taking in a show that then inspires audience members to action. I don't know. I simply do not. I think that is very very difficult to do. I do wonder what their intentions are with it. To simply call out the absurdity of war? What good is that? It certainly does not provide a catharsis to war. It is provocative. Do the audience members have a new perspective on war? Will they do anything differently in their lives now? What would a veteran think? Certainly it was beautiful. The show was full of images that will forever remain in my mind. There is great power in images...Curious.

The final experience this week that has me thinking so deeply about theater for social change was our second trip to the local nursing home as clowns. Returning to the nursing home was really meaningful in that the residents were really eager to see us. The staff told us that since we left in December they haven't stopped talking about us. A fellow friend said that maybe our work there was a sort of magical medicine. Certainly the looks on the elderly's faces as we engaged with them inspires me to believe this is the case. I felt like the smiles and laughters elicited were coming from people who were usually very deep in a state of hibernation  There was a sense of bringing spirits back into the present moment in joy.  We made some good headway with audience participation at the senior center on Saturday when we engaged with Playback Theater. When we would hear a story from a resident we used that opportunity to act out the story. In the compilation Current Approaches in Drama Therapy there is an article Playback Theatre: A Frame for Healing by Jo Salas where she notes, "All human experience, including extreme suffering, finds meaning when it is communicated in aesthetic form." To find meaning is a beautiful thing, does it heal?...Curious.

Like any good art form, theater does not support social progress in just a provocative way or in just a cathartic way. Clearly there are aspects of both available at all times. However when do we know which is needed? And are there more ways in which it supports social progress? Theater offers a chance to explore ourselves in so many ways. Theater provokes participants to think about the world in a new way. Theater agitates audience members to explore their opinions.  I feel torn by the actual use of theater to instigate action in the world. I think theater when used as a tool for non-actors to explore new ideas with their bodies, it can serve to support social progress. That is to say, there is a level of participation on the part of the spectators that is crucial to actually incite any lasting social change. Boal would call these then the "spect-actors."

I am still working to find the sweet spot of my role using theater for social change. No doubt it has endless potential but I am not sure where my talents, the world's needs, and my passion perfectly collide. The sweet spot. Might it have something to do with a circus truck? Might it?

Monday, January 21, 2013

Like Burnt Paper

"When we get out of the glass bottles of our own ego,
and when we escape like squirrels from turning in the cages of our personalityand get into the forest again,
we shall shiver with cold and fright
but things will happen to us so that we don’t know ourselves.
Cool, unlying life will rush in,
and passion will make our bodies taut with power,
we shall stamp our feet with new power
and old things will fall down,
we shall laugh,
and institutions will curl up like
burnt paper."

--DH Lawrence.

What a quote. I like to think that this is the kind of work and exploration we are doing at Dell'Arte. No mater how grandiose the idea. How to know when we've escaped the glass bottle that is ego? So difficult to say --the quality of that experience. Can one still conceive of self and be free from ego? There have been a few moments here that I have been able to free myself from this ego experience through art. One is when we were exploring elements and I found fire in my body. The other was when we did our Nature Day performance lab and we were performing waves crashing as a unit of bodies. There were a few fleeting moments exploring neutral mask and finding my Punch character Squirm as well.

It's a space where there is no mind and I feel like a receptacle for a creative energy. It is difficult to sustain and tricky to describe because in this space there is very little analysis happening. And these examples are not the only time I tried to reach this space of egolessness performance. In fact, it is about one in every fifty attempts at most. The other day in class I tried it and was mixing and speaking from all sorts of different characters and could not land on any. In that moment I needed to make a craft choice to commit to one perspective and play deep into it. That is craft there, more directly from the mind. The ability to commit to one perspective of a character. To make a choice of who gets my attention and then to listen. That is to say I think there is some necessary ground work before diving into egolessness.

I am understanding now more than ever why theatrical performance is an art. It is the merging of the infinite space with deep craft. And while one can perform with complete wonder without the deep craft, one cannot transform the space with craft alone. Craft offers for a closer connection and shapes the daemon.

And tying back to the last line of DH Lawrence's quote I can't help but wonder how does this process connect with institutions curling up like burnt paper?

Currently the main connection I find there is the idea that the institutions that once held such power in my head like my old universities or any NGO's...I see them as less powerful. They seem weak in comparison to the great power available in nature. However it is also with the understanding that these institutions were mostly formed from the seed of this power and then boxed and organized and compartmentalized and the magic and life of the original seed dissipates with time..something to think on further.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Somewhere Between Dead and Ridiculous is Alive.

Our voice teacher told us that good performance exists somewhere between dead and ridiculous  This relates very much to our exploration of Commedia as well. This week has been utterly confounding. It began with deep frustration surrounding my desire to be funny with a promise to myself to abandon all desire to be funny and simply be open to the process of being on stage free falling. So, as soon as I took on the unknown a character named Squirm blossomed. She is garrish and sweet. Ugly and deeply desirous of love. She is charming in this squirmish way. I started to discover her through out the week. By Friday I felt so sure of my "hit" on her and presented for our performance lab. It fell face flat. Squirm was not squirming. She was writhing and dying in Micael's arms. And it was completely obvious. The feedback after the piece was rather harsh. "What happened Micael? It was like you were performing through a wall? Where did all that good work you did this week go? It's like it should have been funny but it just was not."

And now I scratch my head in contemplation and am a loss. I don't know. I don't know how to remain consistently good with this work. How can something work one day and then fall flat the next day? And how much time do I give to exploring this? Why do I sometimes blow it? Maybe I was taking the work too seriously? Maybe I was dialing it in because it was Friday and I just wanted a beer? Maybe I wasn't listening to my fellow actors? Maybe I wanted it too bad? Maybe I was not remaining present? Maybe I was not listening to Squirm but rather just pushing? So hard to say....and the heartbreaking aspect is that I don't really know...and I am afraid to go back on stage with Squirm.


This is NOT easy. Am I cut out to do this? Man. Oh Man. 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Make Me Laugh

We're knee deep in the five week Commedia block and exploring the art of comedy. I'v compiled a top ten best practices list with only 8 categories and almost all of them start with C. Because let's face it top ten lists that have words all starting with the same letter are for schmucks. And I am not a schmuck. I am a young spring bird that was fed the meat of his fellow birds and has developed a mild mental disorder that allows me to type.

1. Communicate

The audience is your best friend in Commedia. They tell you what they want. When you enter the stage, take in the audience and react to what you feel in response. React big and react physically. When you have nothing, look to the audience and let them affect you. React to that. You will have something then.  Also, my clown teacher told me to be open to communicate and listen to the creative energy behind the humor.  I'm still exploring what he means by that. As soon as I get it, I'll write about that.

2. Cut

When devising a Commedia piece its going to be messy. Suffer through the messiness and find what works. Economize what works and cut the rest. Set up the story quickly to just ROLLwith it.

3. Contrast

Contrasto is the mother butt load lover of Commedia. When you've established a convention or expectation to one extreme, shift 180 degrees to the opposite. Pop it.

4. Coordinate

Sharp, well-timed, isolated physical movements are gifts from God.

5. Commit

Whatever you choose, choose big. Don't half ass this stuff.

6. Chaos

Commedia lives in the mistake and the improv. If you don't allow for the chaos in the play, you will have nothing.

7. Character

Character is god here. All action is motivated by the character. And these are extreme characters in extreme situations but the more real you can make them, the more the audience will be willing to play

8. Stakes

No middle ground here baby. All primary colors. Life or death. All motivation stems from a desire for sex, money or food.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Full force ahead

Back in the saddle at Dell'Arte. I am surrounded by a really talented crew of artists. I feel blessed by this and also completely overwhelmed. We're exploring comedy. How to be funny. What is funny. I think to myself  "I've got a real hit on something" and present it only for it to fall flat. Then another moment, when I least expect it, I have everyone laughing with no real rhyme or reason as to how I did it.

There is a real strong sense of support and camaraderie here but part of that camaraderie is not sugar coating. We are here to really reflect to whomever is on stage what we see. The audience here is one of the toughest audiences I have ever stepped in front of --my peers. And it builds character but it builds character through being torn down. Faking it or dialing it in can be smelled a mile away and so can pushing too hard. It's a dance. Literally and figuratively.

What's important to keep in mind is the phrase: hold on tightly and let go lightly. That is to say, when I take on an action or make a character choice I take it on with full force. I nail it to wall with full force or I completely wreck it with full force. And that, if, in fact, I do completely butcher it, that I have the knowledge to let go of it completely and move on to something else.

I find, if I'm not careful, that I really can beat myself up over a choice I made hours ago. I'll find myself hunched over my kitchen sink doing the dishes and just tearing myself apart for pushing too hard when I put on that mask and delivered that stupid fucking line. It hurts to be that self-critical, to that depth.

 And as far as learning from my mistakes. Much of that learning that happens is on an unconscious level anyway. So, really, much of my work here is making bold choices, failing and then getting out the way for my self to learn from them.  Marvelous. Confounded. Stupifying.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Open Heart

Today is the start of a new year.
2013 here we are.
Tomorrow is the start of our next block of work at Dell'Arte.
It has been an amazing journey so far.
Here is to starting again.
Here is to remaining present.
And open with no expectation.
Open to receiving all that the universe has to offer.
An open heart.
Happy New Year.