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!

The Roles We Play On Stage & Off Stage…

Some of the roles I’ve played onstage are waitresses, a Welsh woman, pregnant hired help, Italian brothel lady, lost “can’t have baby” southern “old maid”, unfaithful preacher’s wife, uptight British wife, drunken British wife, free, flirty British wife, a French widow, a French suicidal punk, a mother trapped between her daughter & her mother, a mentally challenged comedic princess, a serious author, a new kid on the block, a bisexual Goth, a Jacobean lover, Booboo the clown, Madame Rouge the bouffon, Matriarch of a large family, a whip wielding trainer, an incestuous mother…

Some of the roles I’ve had offstage are waitresses, daughter, lover of many types, supportive partner, mistress, heart breaker, horse lover, mentor, guide, surrogate aunt, friend, drunken friend, actress, ESL teacher, drama teacher, businessperson, costume designer, costume set supervisor, driver, cook, milliner, scarf maker, poet, writer, student, groupie, photographer, painter, clown, bouffon, driver, listener, patient, woman, surrogate sister, partyer, dancer, traveler…

On stage, my role is clear, defined, if I have done my homework. I feel good, focussed- present. I figure out my objectives for each scene, for each line, and for the whole play. I listen, respond, and remain open to possibilities. I look after myself, warm up my voice and my body, and give trust to the team of people around me. In the wings, I breathe deeply, listen to my music, and prepare to plunge forward leaving the critical voice behind. Out there, I feel the presence of my whole being, and the audience. I feel alive, strangely truthful, and, myself as I consciously play my role. Of course, there are those times when I just feel “off” and the flow isn’t there. You re-group, try not to beat yourself up, and you try again in the next performance.

What about all the roles we play in life? What about the different masks we wear for each of these roles, and our own judgement of how well we play each role? Which of the roles is most truthfully “me”, and which ones take more effort than the others? Where do you feel YOU?

The topic of “role” comes up frequently during a therapeutic sales course I take (oxymoron, I know, but true). The instructor always asks us from 1-10 where do we see ourselves? I know the answer is supposed to always be 10, but our judgment of ourselves on any given role, on a given day tends to alter the number. I may have given myself a 10 as a businessperson one day, but a 3 as a lover or friend the same day. The trick is to know you are a 10 no matter what. I’m still working on that.

Is our truth, our personal truth only true when we are alone? Or does it exist only in our art – our creative ventures? Maybe my answer for successful role-playing in life is in my theatre rituals.

Again, this isn’t a new topic, but maybe just another version. What are your roles? How do you view yourself within these roles? After all, isn’t “all the world a stage”?

Have a listen to Verve’s song where the lyrics include the line “.. I’m a million different people from one day to the next..I can’t change my mold, oh no…”  Plus, it’s just a great tune!

The 2009 World Theatre Day International Message by Augusto Boal

All human societies are “spectacular*” in their daily life and produce “spectacles” at special moments. They are “spectacular” as a form of social organization and produce “spectacles” like the one you have come to see.

Even if one is unaware of it, human relationships are structured in a theatrical way. The use of space, body language, choice of words and voice modulation, the confrontation of ideas and passions, everything that we demonstrate on the stage, we live in our lives. We are theatre!

Weddings and funerals are “spectacles”, but so, also, are daily rituals so familiar that we are not conscious of this. Occasions of pomp and circumstance, but also the morning coffee, the exchanged good-mornings, timid love and storms of passion, a senate session or a diplomatic meeting–all is theatre.

One of the main functions of our art is to make people sensitive to the “spectacles” of daily life in which the actors are their own spectators, performances in which the stage and the stalls coincide. We are all artists. By doing theatre, we learn to see what is obvious but what we usually can’t see because we are only used to looking at it. What is familiar to us becomes unseen: doing theatre throws light on the stage of daily life.

Last September, we were surprised by a theatrical revelation: we, who thought that we were living in a safe world, despite wars, genocide, slaughter and torture which certainly exist, but far from us in remote and wild places. We, who were living in security with our money invested in some respectable bank or in some honest trader’s hands in the stock exchange were told that this money did not exist, that it was virtual, a fictitious invention by some economists who were not fictitious at all and neither reliable nor respectable. Everything was just bad theatre, a dark plot in which a few people won a lot and many people lost all. Some politicians from rich countries held secret meetings in which they found some magic solutions. And we, the victims of their decisions, have remained spectators in the last row of the balcony.  Twenty years ago, I staged Racine’s Phèdre in Rio de Janeiro. The stage setting was poor: cow skins on the ground, bamboos around. Before each presentation, I used to say to my actors: “The fiction we created day by day is over. When you cross those bamboos, none of you will have the right to lie. Theatre is the Hidden Truth.”When we look beyond appearances, we see oppressors and oppressed people, in all societies, ethnic groups, genders, social classes and casts; we see an unfair and cruel world. We have to create another world because we know it is possible. But it is up to us to build this other world with our hands and by acting on the stage and in our own life.Participate in the “spectacle” which is about to begin and once you are back home, with your friends act your own plays and look at what you were never able to see: that which is obvious. Theatre is not just an event; it is a way of life!We are all actors: being a citizen is not living in society, it is changing it.

Augusto Boal