Begin before beginning
LAST MONDAY brought with it the return of The Monday Night Acting Lab.
With every cycle, The Monday Night Acting Lab is slightly different because of the people in it. Everyone brings something. As the people in the group come, go, and return, the shape of the Lab’s energy, focus, and journey through the cycle changes.
After introductions, we opened with some conversation about relaxation.
the state of being free from tension and anxiety.
Chatting with the people in the group, it is clear that most of us know well enough what helps us relax as individuals.
“Driving the back roads in the country…” said one participant.
“Spending time with horses…” said another.
However, when we cannot rely on our tried and true methods, which often engage something external or situational? When we cannot go for the drive, take the bath, light the candle, or put on the music, but rather have to find it in ourselves, through ourselves, and by ourselves?
That is the sort of moment where relaxation becomes a skill. That is the sort of moment when relaxation exercises become useful…
We may not always be able to pet a horse… but we can almost always take three to five minutes, wherever we are, whatever we’re wearing, whatever we just came from, whatever we’re about to do next, to engage a few simple steps, breathe, and come out with a deeper reservoir of patience and energy for ourselves and others.
This benefits us as humans, but it is useful for actors, who are counted on to be such imaginative, emotional, and communicative acrobats. To put it into context, not only for actors, but anyone who works in expressive and communicative mediums: relaxation eases tension, and tension is the enemy. Tension restricts the mind, the body, the voice, and the imagination. The goal of relaxation is not to become floppy like noodles. Relaxation is a useful starting point because it helps boost our concentration, memory, choice making, and our ability for positive thought.
Actors are collaborative artists. For performers who care about what they bring to the collaboration, and to the space in which the collaboration happens, it can be liberating to develop a personal process for pre-work relaxation. A way to begin privately, before beginning publically… What works best for you as an individual is up to you to discover, but take responsibility and go exploring. Empower yourself to arrive in your collaborative space with more available neutrality, openness, freedom of spirit, and agility of skill for whatever work comes next...
It will help others, and it may empower you to find more joy in sometimes difficult work.
Notes from the field
Wednesday and Thursday brought with them the fourth and fifth rehearsals for This Random World,by Steven Dietz, which I’m currently directing. The word that keeps bubbling up for me is masterful. Dietz’ script is masterful. Perfectly subtitled The Myth of Serendipity, Dietz’ script is funny, heart-wrenching, heart-warming, and—for me—magical without being corny. So much happens, but it unfolds with the grace of a flower.
Wednesday we looked at the opening scene between siblings Beth and Tim, discussing their Mother. It worked on me in ways I hadn’t expected. When rehearsal closed, before I could even get into my car, I had to connect with my sister and my Mum.
Thursday we looked at the airport departure scene between Scottie and Rhonda. There are so many sections of the script that delight me, but the departure scene offers a gentle observation that, for me, is absolute magic…
“You haven’t grieved yet. You’ve been too busy fighting with your sister, haven’t you? Forgive me, Rhonda—I don’t know you…but when we lose someone we get very sad and very angry. And we know everyone is watching. And so sometimes we pick fights and lash out—we start to behave our pain—we start to perform how bereft and distraught we are. And we call that feeling ‘grief’. That is not grief. Grief doesn’t want attention. Grief is a hand on your chest. A hand no one can see.”
(Seven Dietz, This Random World.)
One of the things I appreciate about Dietz’ script is its gentle and often humorous ability to just wink at the fact that as humans, we grieve so many things… Ideas which are no longer useful to us… Beliefs which are no longer true for us… Chances that were real, but are passed...
It’s a witty, haunting script that makes me want to hug everyone I love. I’m looking forward to sharing our work with our eventual audience—whatever form that audience may take in this precarious period of Covid-19.
And until next week, I will leave you with the words of my late mentor…
Serendipity is real,
. . .
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© Jeffrey Puukka, 2021