Theatre

Self-esteem

You ask, “What do people think of me?”

I say, They are not thinking about you.

They are thinking about what you might be thinking about them.

At the end of the day, the only opinion of you which really matters is your own. Sure, you’ve heard that before. Yaaawwwwwn.

Let’s talk about Freedom

As children, we freely explore our surroundings and our own potential. We forge our way through a chaotic and unknown world by conducting experiments. We are not embarrassed to question, and we are not remotely afraid of failing. We experiment without any preconception of what is considered acceptable or not.

And External constraints

But we lose this freedom to the rigidity of our society. The world loses its magic as it gains names and functions.

“That’s a screwdriver Janine. And it’s for fixing things, not for brushing your teeth!”

“Lucas, there’s no such thing as a magic carpet! Now will you put the bath-mat back where it belongs?!”

Because External constraints become our internal, Self-imposed constraints

While we are being taught how to engage appropriately with the world around us, we are also being taught to judge ourselves harshly, and to curb any impulse for play or questioning. But play and questioning are fundamental to our identities.

Theatre practitioner Jerzy Grotowski theorised that our most profound emotional experiences occur when we are very young, and we experience these emotions with our whole body. But, as we our bodies become socialised (“Don’t slouch, Fran!” “Stop walking like an ostrich, Daniel – you are a human, not a bird.” “Close your legs when you sit, Lisa.”) these emotional experiences become trapped in our bodies. As we lose the fluid physical expression of our childhood, we lose our raw and honest experience of the world. Essentially, “growing up” makes us lose our capacity to feel. As we lose the honest experimentation of our youth, we lose our ability to act without judging our actions. But we externalise this judgment until we think it comes from others, when in fact it is our own, learned, judgment.

#Constraintsmustfall

As actors, our job is to unlock those emotions by rediscovering the physical freedom we experienced as children. Once we have done this, we are able to present these clarified emotions to an audience, and they recognise a long-lost, feeling self in our art.

And through this process, we can rediscover and take ownership of our true selves, and we learn to remove the hard mask we have learned to wear as protection against self judgments

I think you understand me now. This is not a journey only for actors who seek to be better actors. It is a journey for humans who want to remember their humanness, and cut themselves a bit of slack.

Come with me on this journey!

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The taboo of childhood: playing with possibility in theatre for youth

Suzanne Osten, pioneer and revolutionary in the realm of theatre for young people, sits in a circle of twenty workshop participants and bangs loudly on a chair. She is not struggling to get our attention; she is encouraging us to make instant emotional connections with sounds. The sound of a chair scraping on the floor; the sound of birds chirping; a sharp clap – which for so many of us evokes distant memories of violence. As children, we vacuumed up our environments and retain these stories in our bodies. Only when we can begin to unpack our own stories can we truly engage with children on their own level.

 

This small body has big experiences.

When I speak of children’s ‘own level’, I am not referring to a simplistic, two-dimensional view of the world. No, says Suzanne, the only difference between children and adults is their size. But their capacity to think and to feel is in no way restricted by the size of their bodies: they are thinking, feeling citizens, and it is our responsibility, as adults, to affirm the agency and three-dimensionality of these humans.

 

Childrening is just as hard as adulting.

The world in which we (all) live can be a scary, lonely and confusing place, and we need to acknowledge that it is so for children as well, so that we can make work which speaks directly to their hearts. We do not help our children by pretending that everything is fine, because ultimately, children see everything. They see conflict, violence, fear, illness, death, rejection, and double-standards, no matter how hard adults try to pretend that everything is peachy. And how are they to deal with what they see if adults do not accept that they see it, and open discussions with them about it? How can they learn through their confusion and fear if we refuse to acknowledge it? This is where theatre for youth has maximum power: it can provide a safe space to address otherwise-taboo subject matter, enabling children to grapple mentally and emotionally with these ideas, so that if and when they do encounter them in life, they are prepared. To resist doing this would simply be irresponsible. And yet so often, theatre for young audiences is over-simplified and dumbed-down, negating children’s complex understandings of the world.

 

Let’s go on a magic carpet ride!

Our aim, of course, is not to traumatize young people by exposing (or re-exposing) them to frightening ideas! Our responsibility, as theatre practitioners, is to use playfulness to create a more mythical, magical space, filled with possibility, in which frightening things exist but where the tools for addressing these ideas are also laid out. Theatrical techniques such as mask work, puppetry and pastiche can be used to create objectivity, so that the young audience can engage with these ideas from the safe distance of its ‘only’ being a story. This can open up valuable space for children to empathise, or project their own emotions into a space of possibility, so that their experience of these emotions is affirmed, and they gain a language through which to speak to their own experiences.

 

Emotions are ok.

So many of us “grown-ups” lacked this opportunity as children. We feel our un-dealt-with past trauma flinch within us as Suzanne Osten bangs on the chair – expressing the angers and frustrations we were not allowed to express as children, because our three-dimensionality was rejected.

 

Let us not pass on to our children the trauma of being unheard.

 

Want to book a play for your learners? Contact me right away!

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