Surrendering to Resistance - Part II: The Shift
This is all you need to know right now:
Our artistic director proposed an idea: Theatre for One. A theatre piece made for one person. He wanted to explore this concept, and do a mini version as a trial run, at a two day company retreat. I was totally on board, and eager to get started, with plenty of ideas fueling my desire.
We did some individual prep work before the retreat. Moments before our first meeting, I realized I had been interpreting the idea of Theatre for One somewhat differently that what had actually been proposed. I thought it was supposed to be a piece made for one specific person, but performed for many. In actuality, it was to be a piece made for one person and performed for one person.
"Ummm..." The instant this other interpretation clicked in my head, I could feel the bratty 8th grader skeptic rise up in me, furrow my brow, slant my hips, and brace my whole body into the, "Are you serious?" stance. I won't bore you with her rant (Not in this article, anyway). Suffice it to say, I was resistant. To the point that, despite my effort to be diplomatic and adult about my thoughts and intuitions, I could tell that, I was coming off as...a little childish? When compromises were offered, I turned them all down. As if to say, "No, it's fine. I mean, I'll do it or whatever, but just know that I knew before we started that this was a bad idea." Later, I recognized I was in that state where I want this to be a problem and I don't want anyone to fix it. I'm sure I didn't come off quite as childish as this (at least, I hope not...) but it is how I felt that night after the meeting. To the point that I couldn't sleep.
When a reaction is that strongly defensive and reflexive, when I'm not looking for a solution and am just looking to be told that I am right, I have learned that it usually means I am scared of something. And fear intrigues me because, when listened to, it usually leads to something juicy--not always pleasant, but juicy. So I dug in. As best I could, I tried to coax out this hesitant, hurt, and potentially vicious animal, without judgment, but patient curiosity.
Ruminating and writing in my journal, I realized that my body tensed up and my brain kept side-stepping the closer I got to imagining the performance itself: Just me performing for just one person. "Hm. Okay. I'm getting closer. Why am I avoiding imagining that moment?" Thinking about it, I realized that I've always dreaded performing for tiny audiences, particularly for loved ones. Growing up, I loathed practicing monologues for my parents or friends. It always felt fake, like I had such a high responsibility for the space, for the moment --which is fair, because, as a performer, you do-- but why didn't I feel the same dread when there were many audience members?
"Because I cannot hide!" Talking to just one person, making eye contact and opening up, offering myself to one person is extremely intimate. Particularly when you are performing, because the whole point is to reveal (More on performing and revealing vs. hiding will come later). With more people, it is less intimate. More people creates anonymity, in a way. As one of many in an audience, you become one of a group rather than your own person and you share responsibility among many, meaning it is easier to shrug off personal responsibility. The less you have to listen, pay attention, stay awake--essentially, the less present you have to be. I mean, why do so many people prefer to sit in the back of a small theater? At the same time, as a performer, I feel less of a responsibility for you as an audience member the more of you there are. Precisely because you have become more anonymous. (More on what I mean by "responsibility," of an actor and an audience in theatre will come in a later article.)
Talking to just one person, making eye contact and opening up, offering myself to one person is extremely intimate.
This revelation, this break-through, which was significant both on a personal level and on a project/theater level, led to a night of little sleep. My brain and body and spirit were off to the races with this epiphany, and it, in fact, became the subject of the piece I created for my audience member for the next night. And there it is: the shift.
The results of these explorations and the performance that subsequently was born are fodder for another article (Look out for Part III: Intimate Strangers, which will then be followed by Part I: Theatre for One--I have a lot of articles to write).
Because I allowed myself to notice and acknowledge that I was being rather stubborn, because I surrendered to my resistance, I came to know myself, and the subject, in a new way. Rather than shaming myself for that obstinacy, and rather than holding tight to my opinion without budging, I decided to question and patiently listen to that resistance--which was actually fear. As it turned out, that fear had some pretty good ideas.
I would be remiss in not mentioning my ensemble mates, for it is in community, in being together as a whole and as individuals, that we learn who we are. If the proposal had not been made, I might never have thought of "Theatre for One." If the difference in interpretation had not existed, we might never have seen the many possibilities within one proposal. If my ensemble mates had immediately said that I was right in my interpretation of the proposal, in the hopes to avoid conflict, I might have never struggled to see another side, and therefore learned something new about myself and my community. And if they had immediately dismissed my interpretation as wrong and forced me to accept the proposal as it stood, then I may have spun off into simply being indignant and resentful. Instead, they allowed me to speak, listened with patience and genuine interest, and encouraged me to move forward with the plan, with my struggles. It is in this balance of rigid flexibility within a structure, in this balance of functioning conflict, that we grow and live and create in community.
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