Once more, with feeling
It is 9:45 Monday night. I am emotional, and I am doing my best to listen to someone I trust…
“I am not belittling what you’re feeling,” they say, “I’m just sharing; I’ve observed you always feel this way on the last night of The Lab…”
Everything inside me wants to resist… Nonsense. Nothing impacts me! I ammm stoic! But that’s bullshit. I know it. They know it. You’ve figured it out now, too.
“On the first night, you’re self-critical,” they go on, “you’re a wreck! You think everything’s a disaster and no one will ever come back. Then they come back. And the second, the third, the fourth nights, you love what you do. Then the last night comes, and you’re a wreck again. You are scared there won’t be another cycle…”
Oof. I have been seen, and I feel all kinds of squirmy. It’s not untrue. That is my cycle through The Lab’s cycle.
So, last Monday, when The Monday Night Acting Lab reached the end, I rode the waves.
I felt buzzy with pride for initiating this community of curious, courageous, explorers. It moves me every time because The Lab has connected me with my tribe. Working with my tribe stirs potent, wonderful, terrifying stuff in me because real learning goes both ways…
If they grow, I grow. I feel stress when they despair. I am warmed when they shine. We lift each other. That is part of why it is so valuable…
I have witnessed this. I have seen it again and again. But it doesn’t matter…
As soon as Monday’s session wrapped, my euphoric high deflated like a pierced balloon. The voice of my mind rumbled up: What makes you think you’ll ever do this again?
I have to collaborate with the fear. If something didn’t matter to me, the fear wouldn’t be there.
“After a rare snowfall in Florence, Piero de Medici is alleged to have commissioned Michelangelo to make a sculpture in snow. It was said to have been his greatest work, but you had to have been there to have seen it – it was as frail and as ephemeral as a theatre performance, living on only in the memory.” (Richard Eyre and Nicholas Wright, Changing Stages).
Like making theatre, the cycles of The Monday Night Acting Lab are also fleeting bursts of intensity for me. I feel so grateful for the participants who have come back for years… Every cycle feels so different, because every cycle the people in the group change, at least a little. The fact that participants bring kindness, curiosity and bravery makes it all the sweeter. And then it ends...
The paradox is that while an individual cycle may wrap, the work—my part of the work, the work I am trying to do—never actually stops.
I work with actors because I am passionately curious about how to empower them. I will always have another question.
Actors do difficult, vulnerable, emotionally rigorous work, and they make the world richer because of it. They deserve support. I can’t stop trying to be supportive. They’re my tribe.
My tribe is not a stagnant, single-minded entity… My tribe is breathing, moving, evolving and rippling all the time. They are alive… Trying, looking, questioning, hunching, seeing, playing, and working all the time…
There are more what-ifs to chase. More obstacles to solve. More serendipity to marvel at.
It is what I’ve found to be true for artists in general, not just for me… There is no ‘there’. There is no point of arrival, no mountaintop to look from and say “I’m here now… I have arrived. I am complete. It will all be easy from now on.”
One part of my work looks like facilitating The Monday Night Acting Lab, or directing a play, or exploring an obstacle with someone one-to-one... But that is the tip of the iceberg. What lurks below is learning to ride the waves and not give up on the question: what can I do to do this better?
So, the next cycle of The Monday Night Acting Lab begins in just a few days. I’ll start from scratch, again. I’ll be a wreck, again. But, as The Lab has taught me, all the doors worth opening are on the other side of vulnerability.
So I’ll ride the waves, like I hope to do, again, and again, and again…
© Jeffrey Puukka, 2021
PS. Thank you to all of you who emailed me stories and memories in response to what I wrote in last week’s thought bubble. Your sharing those things with me makes the work I try to do feel all the more worth doing.
PPS. The next cycle of The Monday Night Acting Lab is enrolling now, and runs Mondays, 7:30P-9:30P (Pacific Time) from 26 April to 24 May, 2021. You can learn more and register to be part of it here. The Lab is facilitated on ZOOM. Join from wherever you are.