Tuesday, March 7, 2017

March 7, 2017: Breaking Barriers

It's been a while.

My last post was during the summer of 2013; I was in the midst of a divorce, had just closed a life-changing play, and (although I didn't know it yet) was about to undergo some of the most painful and transformative years of my life to date.

Now I'm a stepmother.  A massage therapist.  I've gutted and rebuilt a house with my partner, who is helping me learn daily how to be a better communicator, and bolstering my courage to let myself be vulnerable enough for true intimacy.  We were talking earlier today about the walls we build in social situations -- how they keep us feeling safe, at the expense of also remaining distanced and isolated, a condition I'm weary of existing in and working at diminishing.

But these are all posts in themselves.  What I want to write about today is a bit about my journey back to acting over the last few months.  Perhaps I'll write again soon about why I took some time off and what led me back.  Most recently, serendipity found me cast in the Bag&Baggage play Brontë in which I play Cathy from Wuthering Heights (a childlike dreamer whose decision to marry a man for money and status is slowly killing her) and Bertha from Jane Eyre (a mostly mute character who is denied love, locked in an attic, and driven insane).

For me, one of the most delightful things about these roles is how physically and emotionally free they both are.  The play tells the story of the Brontë sisters, and for the most part, each of the other actors plays real people in the sisters' lives; whereas I exist solely in the world of their books, and serve the purpose of expressing emotions they are unable to fully express in their real lives.  For me, it's equivalent to why we need art; there's a freedom and an expressiveness that art allows; that it demands.  So being that outlet for the characters in the play is doubly freeing for me.

At the same time, the experience has brought me face to face with some of my tendencies to build walls to keep myself safe.  Not in the play, necessarily -- I'm pleased, for the most part, with the unbridled expressiveness of both Cathy and Bertha -- but in the way I find myself relating with my cast mates.  They're lovely people -- all of them -- and talented, hardworking actors.  One of them was already a close friend of mine.  We work and play well, both on and offstage; we've created a lovely piece of art, something to be proud of.  I know that.  And yet, I've made a laundry list of little excuses for myself about why I "don't really fit in" with them.  Several of them are company members at Bag&Baggage and have worked together many times before.  Because of the last-minute nature of my involvement in the process, they all had more time to do research and role preparation.  Even though I am certainly educated and qualified as an actor, I can find a thousand reasons why they are "more so," and to feel intimidated by that.  And due to some ongoing health issues I've been dealing with, along with my continuing attempts to balance work and play and family life, I haven't included myself in the late-night post-rehearsal gatherings they've had that have facilitated further bonding among them.  All these little insecurities add up, if I let them, to build a sturdy little wall between me and them, keeping me feeling vaguely isolated even though in reality I am very much included, very much a part.

It's a sweet little exploration, really, of a battle that has been going on my whole life, but up until very recently, without my knowledge.  I've been more or less aware, for a long time, of this nagging dissatisfaction -- this longing for deeper connection, but unsure how to really feel connected.  I'm still not 100% sure how to develop the thriving network of deep connections I long for, but I'm beginning to recognize the barriers I put in my own way.  Maybe that means I can begin to break some of them down.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

June 12, 2013: Fool for Love

Seven weeks ago, I closed Fool for Love by Sam Shepard.  I played May, a bucket-list role of obsessive intensity that first got me truly hooked on acting during a scene study class when I was 19.  In that class, I remember rehearsing with my scene partner as our professor had suggested, exploring what happened to the relationship when we were physically very near or very far from each other, and how closing or widening the distance affected us.  This is a simple idea that is easy to explore, but for me it was profound.  There’s something so visceral about these characters that a physical exploration like that can’t help but illuminate their 

I have been agonizing over how to write about Fool for Love.  I need to reflect on the journey, to help me move forward and continue to grow.  But this particular journey was so wrapped up in my personal life that it isn’t possible to reflect only on the process of the play.  If I want to write about this honestly, I have to get personal.

I don’t know if I’ll publish this, but I need to write it.

Maybe I’ll work backwards.  I’m in the middle of a divorce right now, a process I instigated, and for which (among other things) I’m in therapy for the first time in my life.  Like a baby giraffe dropped 6 feet onto a rocky ground, I’m trying to find my feet and keep walking, because life doesn’t stop and wait for me to figure things out.

A dear friend of mine observed that every relationship is different, and unless you’re inside it, you can’t possibly understand the intricacies involved.  It can even be hard to understand those intricacies from the inside.  But there really is no room for judgment, ever.  This thought offers me some small comfort as I struggle to explain to people why I have ripped two hearts to pieces, or refrain from trying to explain and worry that everyone is judging me.

And, I try to remember, too, that the world really does not revolve around me as I was convinced it did in high school.  People are not constantly staring and judging.  People have their own lives, their own problems and joys.  There’s so much more to life than me.

And at the same time, my world begins with me: it’s what I have and what I know.  I guess I’m learning to know my inner compass, to listen to my inner voice (the one that’s deeper than the surface of my brain; the one that originates in my soul).  I’m learning to trust that there’s something profound in letting go and trusting myself.

Somehow, Fool for Love taught me all of that.  I had the joy of exploring the obsession of a relationship that was completely wrong, of pushing the extremes of feeling: love, hate, jealousy, desire, fear.  In exploring those extremes, I began to discover the elasticity of the human spirit.  We are amazingly resilient, and there is so much beauty in vulnerability and risk.  It is only through risk and vulnerability that we can connect deeply: with ourselves, with each other, and with something bigger.

My God is Art.  I didn’t know that until really recently.  I am overwhelmed and broken and terrified; and I’m also supported and grounded and deeply calm – because, I have Art.  I can create.  I can express.  I can explore.  The journey has no end, and there’s something deeply humbling about that.  Even in my brokenness, I know in my soul that there’s a long path ahead of me, a path that is connected to many other paths, beautiful in its joys and perhaps even more beautiful in its sorrows.

We live.  We love.  We fall down and we pick ourselves back up.  We ask for help.  We carry each other.  We collaborate.  We create.  We dream.  We discover.

Goodbye, May.  Goodbye, Eddie and Martin and The Old Man.  Goodbye seedy Mojave motel, and endless lightning storms, and desert sage.  Thank you for teaching me.

Friday, February 15, 2013

February 15, 2013: Cinnamon and Cigarettes, or, A Bit of Moody Brooding

Two weeks ago yesterday, I closed my first one-woman show.  But I don’t think it’s closed for good.  And I’m wondering, deeply, how the experience will shape my life and my career going forward.

I wrote Cinnamon and Cigarettes in three days at the beginning of December, right after I got home from a semester teaching and directing at The College of Idaho.  I had done the research I required during the summer and early fall, and then set it all aside while I focused on Pericles, Theatre History, and Fundamentals of Acting.

The play poured out of me, or poured through me, during those early days in December, with terrifying force.  I didn’t know if I could trust it, but I knew that I must, since I was performing the play at the end of January.  Six months earlier, I had signed up for a “fully staged production” of this piece to be performed in January, which I had only named and barely begun.

What kept me driving forward was a deep-seated need to tell, as fully and honestly as I could, the story of my first best friend, who taught me about loyalty and trust as a child and wound up a toothless, sometimes-homeless drug and alcohol abuser who died in a train yard before age 30.  I had been living (and still live) with a fear that few people would remember him, and those who did would only remember his mistakes.

I didn’t want to glorify his life, or make him out to be some kind of saint or martyr.  I wanted to tell his story because it was beating against the walls of my body to be told.  He lives inside me, and I wanted to reawaken his spirit.

I realize, as I try to enumerate the reasons I wrote and performed the play, that it isn’t possible to fully explain the story I needed (and still need) to tell.  And that’s why I need to tell it: I can’t explain it any other way.

This feels like quite a revelation, and I’m having trouble remembering exactly why I thought I needed to be an actor before these last few months.  I know I have a passion for it, or else I’d have to be crazy to keep plugging away at something so terribly competitive, difficult, and financially unstable.  I know the artistic heights feed some kind of fire within me, that is painful and crushing whenever I veer away from this art for something that might be “easier” (like actuarial science, for example).  And yet, only two weeks out of this experience of solo creation and performance, I am plunged into a depth of questions that may have no concrete answers.

I think Cinnamon and Cigarettes was some of the best work I’ve ever done, and I think I followed it with a couple of really mediocre auditions.  Why?  Is it because I’m a bad actor?  I’ve become lazy?  The work of solo performance took all my artistic energy and I don’t have anything left?  Have I always been a mediocre auditioner and I’ve just gotten lucky a few times?

These questions aren’t fun nor particularly helpful, except that they bring me back around to why I’m doing this in the first place.  How can I build upon the sense of pride and connection this piece of art created in me, rather than slipping back to some lower, unhealthy place?  I loathe the cycle of rejection that even good (and especially mediocre) auditioning creates: "I didn't get this role.  Maybe I suck.  Maybe I'll never get another role.  Maybe I shouldn't even go to any more auditions because I'll never get another role..."

I have entered the play in three fringe festivals.  Perhaps it will be chosen for one, and I’ll have the privilege of figuring out how not to lose my day jobs, as I also figure out how to raise the money for 10 days of travel and venue rental, in order to share this story that seethes with immediacy in my innermost being.

Maybe I’m just a moody artist.  Sometimes I’m convinced that’s true.  But I think I’d rather deal with the issues of being a moody artist than let the most important stories go untold.  Because in the end, I believe that the threads of our stories, when they’re shared with naked vulnerability, bind us together as human beings, saving us, somehow, from falling apart.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

November 13, 2012: Reflections on Pericles

I have just finished directing Pericles at my alma mater, The College of Idaho.  We are entering our second and final week of performance, and although I’m holding a pickup rehearsal tomorrow evening, I am aware that my work on this production is, for all intents and purposes, complete.

In the depths of the rehearsal process (as I worked 70-hour weeks and sometimes found myself forgetting what time of day it was), I imagined that I would feel relieved, at this point, to have a lighter work load and my evenings free again.  Instead, I find myself missing the onslaught of questions, challenges, and inspiration I faced working/playing/exploring with my cast and crew every night.  I miss the electricity of the collaborative environment.  I guess that means I’m doing something right.

I hesitate to explore this process in too much detail, publicly.  Dare I admit that my only previous directing experience was in a class I took my sophomore year of college?  That although I did my best to analyze the script, develop my “concept,” and clarify my ideas about what I wanted for the show before casting it, I’m certain I fell short?  I fell on my face 1,000 times since the beginning of June when I started working on this project, and especially over the last 7 weeks.

And yet… I’m so proud of the way the show turned out, and of everyone involved in it.  We’ve come together to tell an engaging story in an authentic way, and we’ve grown in the process.  And the show has been well-received so far.  We were adjudicated on Saturday night, and the respondent described my directing as “delicate,” and the acting, overall, as “natural and genuine.”  He said the play evoked in him a feeling of Eastern mysticism (which, in case you’re wondering, is in line with the concept of the production).  After the opening night performance, a student I’d never met was gushing about how she never knew Shakespeare could be so entertaining, and how she wished she had auditioned for the play.  The set is beautiful, and the lights, costumes, and sound all help to define the world of the play and tell the story.  What more could I ask for?

In the last 7 weeks, a lot of different people asked me a lot of different questions, most of which I didn’t know the answer to.  What I learned is that I didn’t have to pretend to know things I didn’t know.  There is a degree of freedom in admitting I don’t know all the answers, and in supposing that the process has something to do with mutual exploration around a theme or set of guideposts.  Perhaps the greatest and most humbling thing I discovered through this process is that a substantial part of my job, as director, was to give my fellow creative artists the space and support to explore their own creativity, as I attempted to provide a lens through which to focus everyone’s ideas. 

Next time I direct a play, I’ll be a little more knowledgeable, a little more experienced.  I’ll prepare different materials.  I’ll ask different questions.  It’s a process, and I’m intrigued about where it goes.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

May 9, 2012: Halloween in the Springtime


The other day, driving to class, I found myself caught behind a vehicle that I’m certain was exhumed from a retired little-known Disney Amusement Park ride.  It was a glittering gold VW bus with a makeshift second tier of windows cobbled onto the roof, creating a double-decker effect.  Adorning the roof and all sides were lively skeleton statuettes – grinning and dancing arm-in-arm, sporting top hats and canes, or draped in jewels.  The back of the bus (of which I caught the best view, driving behind it) was framed in smiling skulls, bones, and jewels, with the words “Never-Never Van” sparkling below the rear windshield.  I can’t imagine any practical purpose for such a van, other than taking amusement-park-goers through the Pirates of the Caribbean / Indiana Jones / Peter Pan / Haunted Mansion ride – and I hoped I might be caught, briefly, in the van’s magical tail winds and allowed to traverse the imagined Disney ride in my Honda Fit.

It didn’t happen.  But it did remind me that in my last blog entry a million years ago, I promised to tell two stories, the first about Halloween.

At the beginning of October, I saw an ad: “Actors Needed for Haunted House.”  Intrigued, I showed up to the Corn Maze at twilight for the auditions, where a group of about 10 of us limped, drawled, screamed, snarled, and wailed our way through a series of ridiculous improv games based around the Haunted House’s theme of zombies in the Louisiana bayou.  I was invited to join the fright crew the very next weekend; I think it was my character “Swampland Mary” (creepy, “undead,” on an eternal search for her lost frogs) that sealed the deal.

Excited to strike some fear into the hearts of adrenaline-seekers for one of America’s least wholesome holidays, I showed up for my first night of work 2 hours before the Maze opened to get into costume and makeup.  I was cast as a zombie, so the crew found me an Elvira dress and proceeded to tear it mostly to shreds.  I wore flannel pajama pants and a turtleneck under it because it was cold outside, and purple Doc Marten boots because it was muddy.

Some fellow zombie girls did my hair like theirs, ratting it up to oblivion and spraying it with enough super-firm-hold hairspray to asphyxiate anyone but the undead.  The makeup crew gave me a nasty hole in my cheek; and on my way out to my post, a guy dressed in a bloody butcher’s costume holding a 2-liter water bottle full of corn syrup, cocoa powder, and red food coloring spattered me in fake blood, head to toe.

I was entering the crew late in the game; a few zombies had dropped out, so I was a replacement.  As a facilitator led me to my place, I passed a slain bride, a giant spider web, a scarecrow that came to life, and a swamp monster dressed in camouflage and partially submerged in water.  There were two other zombies stationed near me, and I asked them about scare tactics as we were waiting for the first victims to pass through the maze.

Highlight:  Lunging out to scare a lone male, perhaps 17 years old, and causing him to scream and jump 3 feet in the air.

Lowlight:  Hearing a 4-year-old child approaching, crying, being dragged by his parents muttering things like “you were the one who wanted to come!” and “toughen up!”  When they reached my station, I didn’t jump out at them.  The mother caught my eye, stopped and knelt down to the wailing child, who buried his face in her chest.  “Look!” she commanded him.  “Look behind you.  Turn around and look!  This is what you wanted to see!  Look, she’s not even that scary!”  The child would not be consoled, and as he sobbed, the mother looked up at me and said, “he’s been begging to come here for weeks, and now he won’t even open his eyes,” at which point his father bent down, shook him by the shoulders and said “stop crying right now!”  I turned my face to the ground and inched backward, waiting for them to move on, and hid in the recesses of the corn row for the next few passers-by, trying to regain my own sense of morals in my monster-role.

Highlight:  Entering the Haunted Maze before it opened and hanging around all the monsters, joking and laughing, feeling safe behind the scary façade.

Lowlight:  Lunging at a pack of 10-year-olds whose leader sneered at me and told me I wasn’t scary, and proceeded through the maze jeering at the freakish, bloody, terrifying monsters, unfazed.  How does our world create such impervious, unreceptive children – and by playing a zombie in this funhouse, what was I doing to perpetuate this impassiveness?

Highlight:  Hiding in the theatrical fog, between the rows of corn, under a full moon, during a lull in the evening.  I felt simultaneously lonely, powerful, mysterious, and full of the night.

Realization:  I’m not cut out for haunting.  At the end of my second night, my feet were aching and blistered; my quads were burning from the short sprint/lunge routine I’d developed as my optimum scare tactic; my voice was raw from my experimentation with screaming and growling; and both my own morals and my judgment of other people’s morals (for scaring small children whose parents shouldn’t have brought them into this terrifying maze in the first place) were seriously compromised.

After only two nights of haunting, I resigned as Center Zombie #2.

This brings me to my second promised story, the day I spent as a “featured extra” for a promotional Nike video a few weeks later.  The audition called for women who “appeared high school aged” in “extremely good physical condition” to be on a women’s cross country team for the video.  The audition consisted of pinning a number to myself, saying my name, and sprinting down half a city block toward the camera – a feat which took all of 7 seconds.

I was hired along with 30 other girls; it turned out we were playing members of multiple competing teams at a cross country meet.  When we showed up at 7am on the day of the shoot (a morning in early November) we were given track uniforms (shorts and tank tops) and Nike shoes to wear.

Costumed and ready by about 8am, I wondered briefly if there was any chance this cross country meet would be indoors.  No such luck.  I followed the crowd outside and across a field, huddling in my coat, noticing my breath puffing out in misty clouds, my feet crunching through the frosty grass.

Soon, though, the cold became less of a problem than my realization that when they asked for people in “extremely good physical condition,” they weren’t kidding.  I go to the gym daily.  I run.  I lift weights.  I take physical fitness very seriously.  But apparently, not seriously enough to be a contender on a fake TV high school cross country team. 

We filmed in four separate locations around the field (which was actually a horse racing track, go figure), and each shot involved us sprinting from one point to another (around a bend; on a long, straight path; over some small hills; and through a giant puddle of water and mud).  At each location, they needed a variety of different camera angles, and they also needed to time the actors’ lines against the group of running girls – so we did about 25 takes at each of the 4 locations.

I would exaggerate for dramatic effect, but there is no need.  After the first 3 takes at the first location, I was no longer cold.  After 3 more takes, I decided my character would be a straggler – somebody the coach kept on the team out of pity because she could never keep up with the group.  I put on my game face and melted to the back of the group, shortening the distance I had to run by a few feet whenever the director would yell “cut!” and we would jog back to our starting positions.

By noon, I was exhausted, sore, and seriously wondering if this ordeal might actually kill me, not make me stronger.  On top of that, the shoes we were all wearing had unusually high arches that were bothering most of us.  I took mine off at lunch and could actually see bruises beginning to form in the middle of my feet.

My straggling technique paid off at the first location after lunch.  The director decided he only needed half of us for the shoot, so I sat it out.  Somehow I made it through the day, and the hot bath that night never felt so good.  I walked with a limp for a week afterwards.

I received a copy of the video, and after watching it, there appeared to be no evidence that I was a part of the team.  Most of the shots are from the front, so you can really only see the first half of the team before the camera cuts away to something else.  Determined to prove (if only to myself) that my hard work was not in vain, I scoured the shots for any sign of me.  I finally found, by pausing 17 seconds in, that I am visible for about one second at the back of the group, rounding a bend.  It was in our first location.  I could have left at 10am and their video would have been exactly the same.

I learned: that it’s not a good idea to break in brand new shoes by running in them for eight hours straight; that if you make a point of dawdling behind the action of a filming camera, you probably won’t be in any good shots; and that sometimes, the job of a “featured extra,” while not necessarily “featured” on screen, is still very, very demanding.

Friday, December 30, 2011

December 30, 2011: Change


I’ve been putting off writing my next entry until “things settled down” a bit, or until “I have a little more time.”  Now, one day before the end of 2011, I’m admitting to myself that things are never going to settle down, and if I’m lucky, I will never have a little more time.

I’m busy with a hundred things, and for this I am grateful.  As I move from project to project, during those rare transitional moments when reflection is possible, I begin to latch onto the idea that change defines me.  I don’t think I made that up.  I think I read about it in a Buddhism book while I was soaking up the Mexico sun the week before Christmas.  OK, so I guess I haven’t been that busy.  I was lucky enough to get a week’s true vacation, and for this I am grateful too.

When I Google “change,” the top five results are as follows:

1.     www.change.org, “an online advocacy platform that empowers anyone, anywhere to start, join, and win campaigns for social change.”
2.      www.dictionary.com, whose first definition of “change” is “to make the form, nature, content, future course, etc., of (something) different from what it is or from what it would be if left alone: to change one's name; to change one's opinion; to change the course of history.”
3.      Change.gov, President Obama’s campaign website.
4.      The Wikipedia page for “change” which begins by saying that “change may refer to the process of becoming different,” (yup.)


5.      Thinkexist.com, a webpage full of inspirational quotes about change, including (near the top) “what you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others” – Pericles, 495 BC – 429 BC.

I can’t quote the book I was reading because I already returned it to the library (it was Buddhism is Not What You Think by Steve Hagen, for anyone interested), but the author talked a lot about how we are in a constant state of change, and in fact change is the only constant in our lives.  He even discussed the philosophical idea that it is impossible to define ourselves concretely – for example, he said that he didn’t write the book I was reading, because the “he” who wrote one word was different from the “he” who wrote the next word.  He was constantly changing, so he could not say to me “I am the author of Buddhism is Not What You Think,” because the “Steve Hagen” who put the period at the end of the last sentence only existed for a moment, and then he changed.  I am a different person than I was when I was 5 or 15, or than I will be when I’m 65 – and truly, I’m never the same from one moment to the next.

I don’t know how important it is to contemplate this idea too deeply.  To meditate deeply on the idea of “no self,” because of the constancy of change seems a little counter-productive, at least to me at this point in my life.  However, the more I let the awareness and acceptance of change live in the back of my mind, the more I realize the simplicity of its truth.  Maybe that means it is, in fact, really important and relevant.

Setting aside, for a moment, the necessity of letting go the idea of “self” to let in the idea of “change,” let’s go back to my top five Google results.  We’ve got two platforms for social change (change is such a powerful word, in fact, that it carried our current president into office: “Change We Can Believe In!”), and a plethora of inspirational quotes dating back 2000+ years.  Change is powerful.  Change is constant.  Change may refer to the process of becoming different (!)

Over the years, my mom has offered me grains of wisdom that stuck with me.  One was that I should “create my own happiness.”  Another was that I should “embrace change.”  She used her parents as an example: they’re in their 80’s now, but rather than taking on the stereotypical old-person’s attitude that things were so much better “back in my day,” they change with the times.  They buy and learn the new technology as it comes out; my grandpa even has a Facebook account.  Rather than bracing against change and longing for the days when things were different, they go with the flow, and they are happier for it.  I think this is hugely important.

Being in school allowed me to have a single-minded focus, driving toward a concrete goal.  Achieving that goal, I was faced with the question “what next?” and the easiest answer was “well, I’m in a transitional time.”  And there’s nothing wrong with that answer, exactly, unless I use it as an excuse not to continue filling my life with purpose.  Every “time” is “transitional.”  We’re always moving forward, and what we’re moving into is different from where we’ve been.  My point, I think, is that although I’m no longer able to have the same single-minded focus toward a concrete goal that I had while I was in school, that doesn’t mean I’m failing.  It’s just a testament to the way life is always changing.

I have two stories I really want to tell, but they’ll have to wait.  One is about how I was a zombie in a haunted house at Halloween, and another is about being on a girl’s high school cross country team for a Nike commercial.  I’ll tell them.  They’re worth telling.  Hold me to it.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

October 9, 2011: Awareness; Presence; Empowerment; and Flow

I am a Fitzmaurice Voice Teacher-in-Training.  Over the last eight weeks, I’ve practiced teaching the technique to small groups of people, mostly actors.  Since the technique, in its early stages, centers around a physical exploration of breath in the body, students often experience unexpectedly deep emotion as they practice it.  This experience may be tied to a specific emotional memory, or it may be a response rooted in the muscles and breath, with no specific event memory tied to it.  Either way, the response is very real and often powerful, frightening, and difficult to handle, especially for new students of the work.

As I’ve begun to teach this sensitive practice, I’m struck with an important question: what is my role as a teacher of this work when a student encounters an emotional response, and how do I undertake that role with honesty, awareness, and compassion?

As a student of the work, I’ve experienced emotional responses in two very different ways.  The first, more common response for me, is one that takes me by surprise, overwhelms me, and causes me to step back from it.  I feel the emotion as it starts to overtake me, and then I sort of brace for it, wallow in it for a while, and then recover from it.  I leave the class feeling exhausted, like I’ve worked really hard.  The second kind of “emotional response experience” I’ve had feels more like moving through the emotion and stepping out the other side, transformed.   Here, I traverse a path through the experience I’m having, not knowing what will be on the other side but forging ahead nonetheless.  This kind of experience is a true emotional “release” and leaves me feeling open, enlivened, and empowered.

If my students encounter emotion through their explorations of the Fitzmaurice Voicework, I’d like for their experience to be empowering, not crippling.  I’d like to bolster their courage to move through their experience rather than being paralyzed and turning away from it.  At the same time, I know their experience must be uniquely theirs, and I cannot project my own experiences or expectations onto what they are exploring.  My task is a delicate one; but if I get caught up in the delicacy of it, I run the risk of sucking the joy out of an exploration that, while sensitive, should also be buoyant and playful.

Is there any hope for me?

Yes, I think it can be done.  I’ve been thinking about a number of principles that can help guide my journey.  They aren’t concrete answers, but in this question I don’t think any concrete answers exist.

Compassion.  Joan Halifax, a Zen Buddhist, anthropologist, ecologist, civil rights activist, and author, says in a speech entitled Compassion and the True Meaning of Empathy (www.ted.com/talks/joan_halifax.html):  “Compassion, which activates the motor cortex, means that we aspire to transform suffering; and if we are so blessed, we engage in activities that transform suffering.  But compassion has another component, and that component is really essential.  That component is that we cannot be attached to outcome. . . Any attachment to outcome [will] distort deeply [our] capacity to be fully present.”  As a Fitzmaurice teacher, it is my job to help my students transform their deep emotions (which may be frightening or uncomfortable, like suffering) to a feeling of empowerment.  But as I endeavor to help them, I cannot have a fixed idea of what lies ahead; I cannot be attached to outcome.  While offering my own strength, vulnerability, and presence in the moment, my job is to witness them honestly as they traverse their path themselves.

Presence in the Moment, or Embracing the Unknown.  Galway Kinnell’s poem Prayer says:

                Whatever happens.  Whatever
                what is is is what
                I want.  Only that.  But that.

In teaching the Fitzmaurice Voicework, especially as it relates to dealing with students’ experiences of emotion, there are elements of letting go and diving into the frightening, vast, and delicious unknown (“Whatever/ what is is”) with an entirely appropriate mix of careful compassion and reckless abandon.  There are times for both, and only attentiveness to the present moment will illuminate which is which.  In and then you act, Anne Bogart calls us to “imagine art as the space at the end of a breath before the next inhalation.  Time stops.  An actor knows that each inhalation can come as a surprise” (133-134).  Bogart invites us to discover our breath together, and the space between our breaths, as a doorway into letting go of expectations – which is also what the Fitzmaurice Voicework helps us do.

Attentiveness/Availability.  In Firstlight, Sue Monk Kidd suggests that “attentiveness is entering fully the moment you are currently in . . . and simply being present with it” (37).  As a teacher of the Fitzmaurice work, I seek not only to do this myself, but also to teach my students to do it.  “Such deep availability requires a hospitality that receives people as they are, without necessarily seeking to cure, fix, or repair their problems.  When you practice mindful availability, you are simply there with your heart flung open” (Kidd, 51).  Simple availability and attention to what is happening in the moment are important principles for teaching and practicing the Fitzmaurice Voicework.

Flow, or Being a Conduit.  During my first month of Fitzmaurice Voice Teacher training, several of the teachers talked about “flow,” and noticing the experience of transition.  Flow can mean a lot of things, but as I consider its relation to helping my students move through an experience of emotion, I realize that emotions naturally flow through us like waves; and in the natural course of things, one experience transitions to the next.  When we encounter experiences that are new or frightening, we might instinctively brace against change; but I would like to help my students explore change instead.  In order to do that, I must first experience my own sense of internal flow, and then offer my experience of flow to my students in whatever way is appropriate in the moment.  In a way, I am endeavoring to be a conduit of all the principles I’ve described, and as a conduit, offer these experiences to my students so that they may make their own discoveries.

All these ideas are well and good, but how, specifically, can I put them into practice?  I think teaching the Fitzmaurice Voicework is an art, and like any art I think it will take practice, time, study, patience, risk, failure, and gradual growth.  In time, I think I will begin to discover my own authentic way of offering what I have learned to my students, and continuing to grow with them as I continue to grow and change myself.  While that is true, I have some ideas about how to begin.

Introduce and reinforce the idea of empowerment.  When I realized my emotions could be a source of personal power, it was a huge revelation.  I can offer this idea to my students near the beginning of our work together, and reinforce it as that feels appropriate.  To me, empowerment means I can use my emotions to move into action.  I can express myself; I can live at the forefront of my own experience and move forward through each moment rather than being held captive by what is happening to me.  I think a discussion of this idea of emotional experience as a source of power can be a tool for my students to store away in case they decide to use it later.

Cultivate a sense of ensemble.  I do this by making the choice to engage openly and honestly at the beginning of each class, and (by example) encouraging my students to do the same.  I do this by mixing group games and partner work into our activities.  I do this by slowly, gradually, asking my students to engage with each other in ways that require trust.  I do this by remembering to lay out ground rules for our activities, and discussing their experiences afterwards.  By cultivating a sense of ensemble, I am helping to establish a safe environment where a student who experiences strong emotion will know that their peers and I are there to support them.

Communicate honestly, or “teach what’s in front of me.”  During my first month of Teacher Training, Catherine Fitzmaurice reminded us often to “teach what’s in front of us.”  I think this means I need to keep my eyes and ears open to what my students are giving me.  I can prepare with lesson plans and form goals for myself and the class, but I need to constantly evaluate and re-evaluate those plans based on what the class is telling and showing me.  I need to be honest with myself and them about what I perceive.  There is a reality that I am “the teacher” and they are “the students,” but there is perhaps a more important reality that we are all human beings with a wide, rich, and equally valid range of experiences, ideas, abilities, and strengths.  If I can recognize and cultivate the humanity in my classroom, that will go a long way.

Go for it!  In August I participated in a week of training with Shakespeare & Co., a program that brings Shakespeare to high schools in highly accessible ways.  One of the things they reminded us was “You Are Enough,” meaning by the time I walk through the door to teach my class, I can trust that I’ve prepared and learned enough to be there.  It doesn’t matter that I have a lot more learning and growing left to do; on that day, for that class, in that moment, “I am enough,” and I can trust that the class will be successful.