Here’s my theory: life gets in the way. On a typical day, I wake up, grab a quick breakfast, wash off the sleep and head out the door. On particularly busy days, I’ll have my headphones on and will be listening to my lines to help me memorize them as I walk to class. Then there’s a day spent doing all sorts of work. Granted, in my field, it’s fun work! Basically I get to play, but when a certain pressure is added to perform, playing can sometimes get lost. End of day: walk home, scrape something together for dinner, do a bit more work, let my mind wander by watching a bit of the old telly, and sleep. Then repeat.
It sounds like I’m complaining, but I’m really not. I’m grateful for what I do and want to do nothing else. But when one of my classes was taken into the forest for the morning, I had to step back after and really consider how things are going.
It was my somatic movement class, where we look at how the body and mind are connected; basically how what we feel on the inside is reflected physically and vice versa, all on a subconscious level. The class works to wake our bodies up and become conscious of our inner workings. So we started class by just walking on our own, and arriving in the space. That alone was a breath of fresh air. I just walked among the trees and got lost. In Epping Forest, there are hardly any paths. You just walk and circle and hope you have a good sense of direction. So my mind started to wander. As I thought of nothing, my body began to relax and I just felt so happy. No pressure.
We all came back together after and worked on grounding ourselves. We lie on the ground and felt our weight just give in to the forest floor, all the while looking up at the sky and feeling how infinite the world really world. And with the ground firmly beneath you, you want to just reach up and keep reaching.
Then we ran. We were told to go on a journey of impulses: don’t think, just do. It was a slow process. Not really sure what the assignment was at first, we all went our separate ways. I found a fallen tree and just lay on it. I was trying to think of what I wanted to do. How do you think about your impulses? There’s a contradiction.
Then a scream echoed through the forest, and what sounded like battle cries. I sat up quickly. Katie ran through the trees into the clearing I had claimed. “Sam, run.” And behind her came a group of warriors. Some had sticks and were brandishing them like wands, yelling out Harry Potter spells. Others came barreling toward me yelling “wood ninjas!!” My impulse was to run away. Fast. Too bad I’m not that fast. I was quickly tackled to the ground, and claimed as part of the tribe, my land now theirs. And we were at war with the other tribe. We stalked them through the trees, looking for weak spots in their defenses and marked ourselves with mud tattoos. When we made our move, wizards met wizards, animals met animals with their antlers fashioned out of fallen branches, and there were a battle-dance-offs.
Then time was called and we all fell down laughing. We were kids again! Or had been. Now it was back to reality.
But that day was one of the most creative of my time here. When I went to rehearsal that night, I felt free to explore and was unafraid of judgement. That’s how kids are, really. When you watch them on a playground, they are so absorbed by the world they’ve imagined that they just play. They don’t act, they are whatever character they’ve chosen.
Here’s the challenge: how do you find that energy and freedom when everyone expects you to be a grown up? I’m 24. I look like an adult. I have responsibilities and am expected to meet them. That’s fine. But to then shift so drastically in a rehearsal room, where you still have some responsibilities to know your lines and meet your mark, is really damn hard. Kids are the best actors. I want to bring that energy to my work.
Rehearsal rooms are stressful places to be. The exploration is technical. You answer questions to make discoveries. You engage your back and resonate to make sure you can be heard. You bend your back and twist your limbs to create a physicality. Kids seem to do this organically: they make faces and fake voices. I’m hoping that things are still so technical for me because it’s early days in my training. But on the other hand, I’m a little worried that my training is giving me all of these technicalities. Before I started school, my characters would just emerge and I’d get out on the stage and just do it! Now I have so much to think about.
They say that all of the work of a play is done in the rehearsal room. On opening night, you have to forget everything and hope that it’s become second nature so that you can just be present in the moment. I’m so scared that I’ve become too responsible, and that I won’t be able to forget things. I’m the person who tries to analyze impulses. That’s not practical onstage.
Maybe I just need to get outside and play more. Down with my script, out with the rules of voice, and no more blocking! I need to find people who will continuously play Harry Potter with me in the forest.
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