Zen, Performance and The Art Of ..well just .. Being!

“Passion can transform the mind, body and spirit…
Passion can align you with the wisdom of nature and the power of what is in your heart.” ― JoLynne Valerie

I love all aspects of performance, but my favorite part is when you get on the floor after the first few readings to work on the character.

To start with you have the basic outline in the script, but the fleshing out to make a character “ real” and believable happens when you start working physically with your team through exercises and scene work on the floor.

The process of bridging the gap between the writer’s fantasy and the director’s vision is the actor’s job.

I see the Writer is the architect who has designed the house, his vision is the foundation of the house, he lays out the basic plan of action, he answers the where, who, what and when of the story. The Director is like the manager on site; making sure that the plan fits and the building comes up on schedule, encouraging everyone to their best and ensuring everyone is kept happy doing the work. The performers make up the house; the walls, windows, doors, floor etc are the blanks that you the Actor fill in; finding the character through your body, your voice, from your memories and in your emotions.

It’s like this fabulously complex jigsaw puzzle and the clues can be found from the landscape of your life, your experiences, your perceptions or from the way you choose to experience yourself and the world around you.

For me this is the most exciting part…the excavation!

The journey of discovery is not about the end result but the process you open yourself up to, which holds the opportunity for transformation and growth.

“The body is wiser than its inhabitants. The body is the soul. The body is god’s messenger.” ― Erica Jong

We usually do this through theatre exercises, which also include breathing techniques, movement, dance, voice exercises, guided visualisations, improvisations and group games.

As simple and fun as they sound and indeed are, it’s also a rigorous and exacting process, not just physically and psychologically but also emotionally.

To get to the core of your character’s essence and to be able to embody that truthfully, one has to strip away any and all conditioning that interferes with.

For e.g. If you are playing the role of a prostitute that then requires you as the actor to get extremely comfortable in your body. It’s not just a physical thing; one also has to come to terms with any of your prejudices and judgments about the profession or the character’s choices and motivations. The body doesn’t lie, if you are squeamish about sex or sensuality it will shine through and the audience wont believe you.

“Standing here
The old man said to me,
“Long before these crowded streets
Here stood my dreaming tree.”
Below it he would sit
For hours at a time
Now progress takes away
What forever took to find
And now he’s falling hard
He feels the falling dark
How he longs to be
Beneath his dreaming tree
Conquered fear to climb
A moment froze in time”
– The Dreaming Tree – Dave Matthews

I think one of the greatest diseases in our times is loneliness.

The dictionary defines it as “ being without companions”; I don’t mean loneliness in the conventional way.

I see it in the world around me, as this very quite dull ache, an insidious energy that is the motivating force for a lot of people’s ambitions to “Be Somebody” and

“Get somewhere” to somehow “Be More” by buying and owning more.

It shows up in so many different ways, the endless search for a soul mate, fame, and money, success or even notoriety; in addictions be it for food, drugs, sex, shopping or alcohol.

When I look at loneliness as energy, I see it as disconnect; being disconnected from the fundamental truth of who are, from spirit or source, from the power that connects us to everything, to the earth, ocean, sun and sky.

Its what keeps us feeling empty & isolated, an incomplete fraction looking for that elusive thing that will make us whole.

One of the ways that I find can fill the gap, the missing piece and the connection is through the arts.

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

What I love about theatre and (I think this is the reason that in spite of TV, Film and the Internet it has survived so many centuries) that its real; whatever happens on the stage between you and the audience, you cant fake it, either the piece works or it doesn’t, there is no editing or ‘Photo-shopping’, dubbing, or ‘special effects’.

In the end it’s you (the team that puts up the play) and the exchange of information and energy with the audience in that moment.

No re- runs or out takes.

Its all about the here and now.

To be able to generate and deliver that experience all performers have to develop a certain level awareness, transparency and presence.

The key word being – presence, the ability to be fully present in the moment. To be fully who you are, accepting and owning the traits you deem good or bad, in the body that you have; tall or short, fat or thin, using all of your talents and abilities. When I look at some of the actors most admired say Marlon Brando, Meryl Streep or Amitabh Bachan, Ive found that they all have this in common; a certain indefinable quality called charisma, I see this as presence. It’s a level of self-acceptance, mastery in the way of just BEING!

One of the key attributes we work on through group exercises is to remain centered, fully present in your body in the moment. Using age old yogic breathing techniques help you develop the ability to be alert yet calm, connected to your body yet also responsive to what is going on in your environment.

During workshops & rehearsals, irrespective of whether the participants are performers or not, all exercises that focus on learning to be fully present are the ones that I’ve found to have the most long lasting effect for them even after they are done with the workshop.

If there were one thing I could add to the curriculum of every learning institution would be this subject and these exercises. You couldn’t score them on a report card but they would be an invaluable tool for the school of life.

“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”
― Oscar Wilde

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