“Empathy: Our Greatest Guide (in my humble opinion)”

The above tweet (twitter term) came to me last night while I was having the privilege of witnessing a conversation about writing between an experienced screenwriter, and a newer one who was asking some pertinent questions. I mostly observed and then offered a couple of my thoughts.

Two things happened: one, it reminded me of how twitter can be such a valuable tool if used correctly (don’t worry… this is not a post about twitter, despite the fact I probably could ramble on for a length…), and secondly, the dialogue gave some valuable story advice.

Especially as I dive further into writing a piece for me to perform.

Last night’s discussion touched on emotion and its usefulness when creating effective scenes that will reach an audience. It reminded us to review the people for whom we’re writing, and in the possible ways they could see themselves in the story.

I was reminded of the importance of empathy, and to feel what someone is feeling, to place myself in their shoes. This is an almost impossible feat to do entirely – but one worth exploring if you are going to deliver something with substance…don’t you think?

And, speaking of feet, I wear a plastic support on my right foot as I have drop foot. The “AFO”(ankle-foot-orthoses) goes under my foot and reaches up my calf in an ugly way becoming my best friend so I can’t trip. (I draw on the plastic in the summer so it at least looks funky).

It looks like I’m digressing but it’s related, I promise.

In a rare moment, I met a man my age, the other day, who was also sporting an AFO. It was an instant empathetic moment. We understood so much without even saying anything. We knew in a flash some of the pain, discomfort, and challenges the other one had.

Empathy.

That was a direct one on one moment.

What about mass empathetic moments as a result from a play or a movie?

In our art, or even just our every day life, isn’t it better to work hard at trying to understand a person, a group, a movement, a tragedy, a joy, in order to reproduce a story, a character, a plight, a reason…

Of course it’s impossible to truly understand, & completely empathize, as we are such individuals with such a variety of experiences. But I think that empathy serves well as a guide to a deeper place of truth whether it is for performance, or just relating to a stranger or a close friend.

“I know how you feel.”

As we write, or give life to characters already written, as the twitter conversation implied, we must put our own tears where we want the audience to feel tears, we must feel our own joy in order to pass on the same emotion, and be in our own excitement in order to take others there.

What is my point of this blog post? I guess it is my attempt to remind others as I was gratefully reminded last night that to give “good art” empathizing with your audience is a good stage from which to dive.

I’d like to thank @JBMovies (John’s site) & @vivspace (Vivienne’s blog) for allowing me to watch your valuable twitter conversation unfold.

Enjoy some good musical art from my favourite album on human nature. “One Giant Leap

Merriam Webster’s Online Dictionary’s meaning of empathy:

The action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.

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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!