starting to dig deeper

July 25, 2010 at 2:29 pm | Posted in creative process, creativity, Ensemble, Physical Theatre, Psychophysical Training, Theatre | Leave a comment
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Today is the fourth day of full time training. Each day we are in the studio between 7 and 8 hours. Already, unsurprisingly, everyone is exhausted. Bodies ache and are bruised. Muscles we didn’t know we had appear and start to complain. There are little twinges here and there. And of course, mentally, there is also, already, a sense of overload, of immersion in a raging current, of a certainly helplessness.

(As I sit and write this I have just left the studio after running 45 minutes of after-lunch warm-up and I am pouring with sweat. The performers are in there, working still and will be for the next three hours.)

Helplessness? By that I mean that there is a stark choice when faced with the beginnings of a deep tiredness: either give up and walk away, or work through the tiredness. Of course, giving up and leaving the project is an option for anyone – no one is a prisoner. But to do so would be to admit that we were deluding ourselves when we said we wanted to be physical performers, that we wanted to use at bodies at a peak level.

In fact, this is not exhaustion – it’s tiredness. It’s first-level tiredness, the tiredness that tells us that we have gone as far with our bodies and our minds as we usually do. We are at the edge of our habitual use-of-self. That is not the end point, it’s only the beginning. For our work really starts when we break from that first level energy into something deeper, into the intensity of concentration and body use that lies on the other side of our daily exertions.  So generating deep tiredness – both through pushing the endurance of muscles and cardio-vascularly is a necessary prelude to the starting of the real work. It is also the process through which each individual proves to him or herself their own seriousness-of-purpose.

It is in the act of breaking through from a first to a second level – from habitual body use to extraordinary body use that each individual learns to pay deep and detailed attention to what her body is communicating: ‘is that a good pain?’ (carry on with the work) or ‘is that a bad pain?” (stop, or do it differently). It is about learning personal responsibility for lovingly treating your bodymind as hard as possible!

There is of course also a psychic side to the pursuit of work-beyond-tiredness. Too many performers whip themselves into harder and harder uses of their bodies – then seem surprised when they break. They think that the way to move beyond tiredness is to force suffering upon themselves. Too many directors think that they have the right – even the duty – to drive their performers beyond what they can endure. Too many young artists are broken through this process.

I don’t drive anyone. I work with people who drive themselves, not through suffering but through the disciplined, rigourous and unflinching pursuit of their own deep pleasure.

I suspect that’s the subject of another post though.


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