The Art of Listening…?

I was in grade 8. It was lunchtime. Hanging out in the classroom with my friends, I was eating my tuna and pickled onion sandwich (home made onions by my Mom) and launching into a story.

I can’t remember the story now, but I do remember suddenly noticing one of my friends completely interrupt me to talk about something. I was incensed. I stopped talking. Eventually, all of my friends noticed my silence. The girl who had interrupted told me to continue.

I refused. I dug in my heels and point blankly refused. “You weren’t listening, so I’m not going to tell you the rest.” And, I didn’t.

When I was even younger and hanging out with adults a fair bit (I was an only child) I used to ponder the magic of these big people. As I watched and listened to them, I marveled at how they could talk and listen at the same time, since their voices were often all going at once.  As a kid, I concluded that you gained an extra sense when you became an adult enabling you to listen and speak simultaneously.

Nope!

Listening. Hearing. Empathizing. Sympathizing. Understanding. Relating. Connecting.

In recent rehearsals for a play, our director would remind us to listen, really truly listen to the others. This advice was always valuable as it pushed a sort of “refresh” button. Anticipating the delivery of your lines and your fellow actors’ lines kills the life in a scene.

In performance, you must hear, and speak the text as if for the first time. If you trust your listening skills, the interpretation will then reveal fresh nuances . The result is a greatly satisfying experience for both the audience and the actor.

In real life, ineffective listening shows up chronically.

Wandering eyes, vacant looks, the chest rising with a breath that is ready to interrupt with their own thoughts that are quickly formulating in their head, or a polite nod, are all clear indicators of an unsuccessful listener. And, they never ask questions. (The good ones do the opposite!)

In business, truly listening to a potential client, and being curious about their needs will most likely be more effective than constantly “pitching” them. I know most of us get annoyed at those badly scripted phone calls from large companies trying to sell us something.

The other day I had one of those calls. At breakneck speed, a guy assumed he had what I wanted and pitched me over and over, using statements like “I want you to..” “You need this..” “I will sign you up today…”. He most certainly was not listening to me as an individual with unique needs.

I stopped him and suggested, gently, that his company should change their tactics to ask what the potential customer would actually like before they assumed they knew best! Their business would most likely improve!

Today, we communicate frequently via the social media (Facebook, twitter, etc..)  where some “interesting” listening is occurring. Some people seem to think that constantly giving people information is a “social” action.

In my mind, being social usually entails listening, conversing, and possibly mutually creating deeper value. The  successful internet socialites shine and are a great example.

What do you think?

What is your best or worst listening experience, and your best or worst “being listened to” experience? I challenge you to observe those around you, and yourself as the art of listening unfolds. I will join you in this venture… honest!

Let me know how it goes.

(Oh, and by the way… one of the most important listening skills to develop is listening to yourself, your instincts, your ideas, your dreams, your loves, your questions, and your ponderings.)

And, for your listening pleasure…..

As We Like It…. hopefully, “As YOU Like It”…

I have been busy in the last few weeks juggling fall preparations with rehearsals for Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” directed by Neil Freeman for First Impressions Theatre at the Deep Cove Shaw Theatre in Deep Cove, British Columbia.

I’ve been mini-blogging with twitter but have neglected my homey blog and I’ve missed this place!!

Today: a wee note about the show.

First of all, I can’t think of a more beautiful place to be driving daily, hanging out and rehearsing – Deep Cove, British Columbia. Across the street, there is the best coffee place with the most amazing café made donuts by “Honey’s” (“sinful”- a fellow actor deliciously described them-especially the chocolate dipped ones).

Down the hilly street is the cozy cove with all the gentle kayaks, & canoes drifting around. On this main street, quietly tucked in, is also the Deep Cove Cultural Centre that houses an intimate 130-seat theatre and its active gallery.

Deep Cove
Deep Cove

This is where we will be opening our show this Thursday, September 10, 2009. Just two days away!

Now with a few weeks of rehearsal under my belt, I can see even more how fortunate I am to have had the opportunity to jump on board with renowned director, Neil Freeman, a super fun cast of 23 to play two small parts (but significant …of course, 😉 ), and do some bouffon coaching.

Cast members embrace the bouffon process!
Cast members embrace the bouffon process!

The process has been sheer pleasure. (isn’t that what it should be? …or do we always have to suffer for our art?…that’s another blog post!)

We have been led beautifully with tight schedules that didn’t waste anyone’s time, and we were given liberty to play, to invent, to imagine all sorts of unexpected twists, turns, dances, faces, gestures, thoughts, songs and grow together as a wacky brief Shakespearean company.

Our version of “As You Like It” is set in modern times, with a few extra twists, but stays true to the “first folio” text. Shakespeare gives us great clues to how our text should be played out, and when we get out of our 21st century language habits, the text can carry all of us along nicely.

A peek from a back stage perspective
A peek from a back stage perspective

Love, the most classic, timeless subject ever is the main flavour of “As You Like It”.  The varied forms of love and the unexpected twists make this play high-spirited, & mischievous.

The set is beautifully clean with gorgeous lighting and the best looking tree ever (that’s all I’m saying!) and modern dress allows our costumer to pull from all sorts of colourful sources.

For me, I am looking forward to playing two very different characters (complete opposites!), and being part of the biggest (and coolest) team I have ever been with, and supporting our lead players who will be upholding the main energy.

We were warned that during rehearsals we were going to laugh a lot. We did but now our big wish is that YOU will too!

Come and have some frolicking fun with us from September 10 thru September 26, Wednesdays-Saturday evenings at 8pm in Deep Cove. Tickets can be purchased online or at the box office.

Permission To Play… reviving your inner kid!

When I was little, I didn’t want to grow up. The grown up world looked terribly serious and my instincts told me sub-consciously that there would be a drastic change.

One day when we were kids hanging out in the back shed lighting matches for fun (no we didn’t burn the place down), my little girlfriend told me that she couldn’t wait to get married and have kids. Wow. I thought she was nuts. I felt no rush nor desire for the same. None.

Now, gazillions of years later I know what my childhood instincts were telling me. There was going to be a lot less play in the grown up world and a lot more problems to solve. I just knew.

The other day on my walk, I watched an impish mix of  adults and kids playing soccer with abandon. It made me grin and I knew that nothing else could be on their minds. Too busy playing, they were in the elusive “now” where all the great contemporary gurus are telling us to be. (have you read Eckart Tolle’s book “The Power of Now”?) The soccer game was a perfect example.

Silly us adults frolicking for fun.. imagine!
Silly us adults frolicking for fun.. imagine!

Theatre, stage work offers this opportunity for me and I believe my journey to this world was an honest trek from childhood. I needed to keep playing. It felt like air, a serious necessity. Being a character on a stage, in a situation, with a live audience, if you are sincere with your work, will keep you divinely present.

When we get to witness, as an audience, a truly connected, compelling, and riveting performance in theatre we are privy to the players in the now. There is clarity and presence. And a strange truth.

To get to some of these great moments, I believe play is of the utmost importance. En Francais acting is called “l’art de jeu” – the art of playing. If we allow our grown up tightness to breathe and expand, we have an opportunity to experience extraordinary unexpected times.

We need to have the chance to discover and explore. I guess that is why I turned to Le Bouffon as a tool to get us all to our playful selves, and discover some gems in our work.

Bouffons in their element! Adults gone.
Bouffons in their element! Adults gone.

“It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child” Pablo Picasso

This idea of play translates beyond the theatre, musical and artistic world.

Who isn’t more productive when we have permission to laugh, or play in our working environment? A boss who reprimands employees who dare to enjoy themselves at work risks stymieing the worker and ironically losing productivity.

When I worked as a costumer in the film industry, I had a favourite designer who had a great sense of humour. We developed a wacky reputation as laughter frequently burst out of “that crazy wardrobe truck”! That laughter got us through the immense work and long grueling hours much more easily.

How is play in your grown up life? What do you do to nurture yourself in your working world? I’m curious. Do you have a situation to share where play proved to be the answer?

Despite my strong will to play, I still write to myself as much as to you, when I say that play is imperative. My bouffon students have heard me say, “I wish I could take my workshop!” as I watch them play wholeheartedly, forgetting about their adult masks, and discovering the sacred pleasure of the now. Their results? A freedom of expression that leads them to more.

I dare to wish that for everyone.

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” George Bernard Shaw

Create Your Own Door, & Open It…

When one door closes, another door opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” Alexander Graham Bell

Thank you for the great quote Mr. Bell.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about those opening and closing doors. I’ve been thinking about the doors that have opened in my life and the doors that have been kept tightly closed. I’ve been thinking about some doors I should have maybe NOT gone through. And, some, I thankfully did go through.

As much as I can, and as much as I remember, I try to pay attention to any dusty lights suddenly extending my way from open doors. Sometimes, I’ve walked into doors, forced my way through doors, and found some doors just way too heavy to open. (I got my finger badly damaged in a closing door twice in my life because I was still trailing my hand as the door closed…hmmm… “don’t linger while the door is closing behind you”?)

Recently, I’ve watched others fall back in shock as doors have slammed in their faces just when they thought they were almost through. (Quick…look behind you! Maybe another door is waiting!!)

Can you relate?

Or, maybe it looks like there are so many doors open in front of you and you have to choose which one is seemingly the correct one. This can feel like playing Russian Roulette.

Sometimes, we wait too long for doors to open. We wait, and wait, and wait. Especially as actors, or people in the arts in need of others for their work to advance. We hope and wait. We get that audition and we wait. We get the call back and we wait. We wait for the jury to jury. We wait for the interview results. We wait for someone to tell us that we can practice our art.

Frustrating? I’ll say! You give power to someone you don’t even know in order to do the work you are destined for or are hungry to do.

A friend of mine who is also an Oscar winning actress was seeking work and wasn’t finding it. (Yes.. even winning an Oscar doesn’t guarantee you work!) Finally, she decided to create her own one-woman play. As she put it… she needed a job! A long story short, the show became a huge success and was requested everywhere. She had created her own door, and opened it wide. More attention eventually came her way and, of course, she was offered more of the work she had earlier been pursuing.

I look to the those imaginative pilgrims who boldly stride forth, and fling their own doors open and not passively wait for others to do so.

With some resistance, I was forced to open my own door several years ago because of a back operation. I had been doing work on film sets in costumes to help fund my theatrical thespian adventures, but after a long period of rehabilitation, and some permanent nerve damage, I knew I couldn’t costume supervise any longer.

So, I got entrepreneurial and started my own business – Hot Scarves ‘n Stuff, a special scarf with heat pads that I had created on a film set. I learned all the “businessy stuff”, and even did a business plan, but most importantly, I learned that you must love and be passionate about the work, which keeps you going through the tougher times.

Hot Scarves on Display
Hot Scarves on Display

Well, I didn’t love my “scarfy” venture enough. Try as I might, I just couldn’t sustain excitement for a fleece scarf. (What WAS I thinking?!!)

But, it did lead me to another venture that I do love- my buffoonery workshops. I had to open one door so I could get to the second door, which I managed to open on my own. (Thank goodness for those ideas that come in the shower!) I am hugely rewarded during my workshops when I get to watch others blossom in their “bouffoness” and become freer beings having fun!

Bouffons in Action!
Bouffons in Action!

The next heavy door I’ve created and I’m slowly pushing open, and I mean slowly, is a theatrical piece I’m writing for myself. Fear is the weighty material of this door, but I know I have to do this, especially as you are witnessing this statement!

What about YOU? May I ask you if this subject stirs some deep projects that have been brewing for some time or are you already boldly throwing doors open for us to watch? (I guess we all open doors at different speeds.) Do you perform work that feels extraordinarily satisfying?

What do think? What is the door you need to create for you? (…buying a canvas, going to a poetry slam, playing at an open mic?) Are you waiting for something? What doors do you want to fling open?

I think I used the word door way too many times in this post, but, there are not too many synonyms for “door”! Wishing you well!

Do You Use Music to Enhance Your Creative Process?

Lately I’ve been thinking about the power of music and it’s presence in the creative process. Do you use it any way to help you with your work? Or do you need silence in order to create?

When I designed my bouffon workshop I tapped into a line up of music that supported each step of the way. At the beginning, I chose music to put participants at ease, to enhance creating an early safe place. I then slowly sneaked in primal sounds to inspire each bouffon to emerge. Eventually, faster pace music helped playfulness release, and then soft music brought everyone back to his or her humans. This, of course, is the readers digest version!!

At the end of most workshops, people request the CD titles as they have enjoyed the atmosphere, and their reaction to the music.

Another place where I have consistently used music is before performing on stage. Again, I listen to my instincts and choose a piece of music that suits what I, as an actor, need to hear prior to making my entrance. I have to say that some of my choices have been most surprising considering the type of role I was playing. I think the most extreme example was when I was playing a demure French woman (Agnes in  L’Astronome) who loved to knit (and opened the play knitting on stage) and who was in love with her psychiatrist. The music that came to me was the song “Shine” by “Collective Soul”. I needed to dance and “rock out” before I became that character! Crazy but it worked for me!

I am a social media enthusiast (this term I adopted from Kevin Knebl who is a musician & warm & effective LinkedIn coach) and you can find me scrolling around on twitter, looking for inspirational gems. I find them. I would like to share one with you now that relates to our discussion on music.

Vivian Nesbitt and John Dillon have a unique place online with their radio station: Art of the Song Creativity Radio. Their mission speaks clearly of their goals and desires for all of us creative types….everyone! I will let their words lead you to their website and their individual blogs. Explore, listen and get inspired for your mode of creation whether it is a play, a poem, a story, a song, a dance piece, a painting, an invention, or a great marketing plan.

“Art of the Song is a one-hour independently produced radio show with music and interviews exploring inspiration and creativity through song writing and other art forms. The program is heard on over 190 stations worldwide. Learn why songwriters and artists create, how they become inspired, and how you can tap into that creative source in every aspect of your life.

Art of the Song is not just for songwriters and musicians, as it explores universal truths common to all creative expression. We talk with writers of folk and roots music as well as novelists and visual artists.

Our mission is to inspire listeners to find and express their unique creative voices, and to connect and grow the worldwide community of creative people.”

I would like to thank all musicians, songwriters, and singers for bringing your sounds to me. I have always dreamed of being one of you but will have to settle for being an actor/writer/teacher for the moment. Maybe one day I will collaborate with a musician to put music to my words. (I can fantasize, can’t I?)

Thanks for reading!

(Here’s a little Collective Soul for nostalgia sake!)