I’ve been struggling the last few days to remain open and communicative. I’ve found talking little and risking little to be an easy, seductive habit, surrounded as I am by people I don’t think I can please, be they my extroverted fellow participants or the professionally accomplished faculty upon whom I’ve confirmed high status, indeed. I’ve been moody, a quiet darkness in the room, at times, a vapor of foreboding. I’ll come out of it for an hour or two, here and there, but slide back again. It’s been frustrating—no, enraging—to me. I’m here to act, not sulk. So what if stage combat and clowning don’t come naturally? That I feel clumsy dancing? That working on text with faculty members leaves me feeling stupid? All that’s why I’m here. Why it’s called a workshop.
Yesterday, I went through the first two morning sessions—body awareness and voice—on auto pilot, low energy, exhausted, pliant as possible—I just held on, which wasn’t that difficult, considering that in Body Awareness we spent most of the time giving each other massages--We’ve been doing that a lot, lately, opening up muscle and space for breath. But then, in Movement with Eliza ________ (I’ll get last name later. She’s Margaret Jansen’s girlfriend,) something happened. We started the session with a form of massage. One actor would sit on the floor with crossed-legs, spine erect. An other actor stood behind him and pressed down with as much weight as possible on his shoulders, “elephant walking” back and forth, from neck to outside shoulders. This was terrific. When done, I found that my huge, trapezoid muscles had eased their grip enough to leave me feeling open, light, unconstrained by the constant neck strain to which I’m accustomed. After these massages, though, we got to the interesting part.
Eliza then had us place two, moderately hard rubber balls on either side of our spine, just below the shoulder blades, as we lay with our back on the floor, relaxing arms to the side, feet flat on the ground, knees in the air. This hurts like hell—really, you won’t believe it until you try—and for many people releases powerful emotion. There was crying and laughing all over the room, as we allowed these balls to press in against our weight, and then moved ourselves up the floor to put them on successively lower points on the spine, under the buttocks, hamstrings, calves, and feet, our weight always pressed down, especially as we moved the balls from one point to the next by lifting our pelvises off the floor to really push the buggers in. We also rolled them around the back of the shoulder blades up to the neck, then placed one ball beneath our heads, to allow our neck to relax it’s job of holding them up, for a moment.
As I say, people were crying and laughing all over the room, though I wasn’t. The first position at which we placed the balls, just under my shoulder blades, hurt like hell, and moving them down my spine by lifting my pelvis was even worse, but I didn’t feel such emotion. However, in each position, the balls felt great, as they dug in, stretched and loosened muscle. When the exercise was over and I stood up I felt remarkably… physically and emotionally balanced, more open to the world, more wanting to communicate, more firmly rooted. Usually, when I stand in one place, I sway a lot, or fidget, and in a hundred other smalls gestures throw myself slightly off balance, internally and externally, so that to watch me is exhausting in itself. I never quite come into focus. But, after this exercise, I was like a tree trunk, rooted, unmovable, without any visible tension in my body. It felt… fabulous.
Which was just in time. Because, in the early afternoon, Rob and I had a coaching session with faculty—Tory ________ from my Basics Group and Steve Boss—to run the Friar Lawrence/Romeo scene. I was anxious and angry at myself as we went into it. I felt I couldn’t do what I was asked to do. But, I was physically balanced and rooted, which helped me just stay with it. Tory, in her marvelously loving way, helped me finally to establish a sense of space—which I’d been unable to do in earlier sessions with other faculty—and gave me permission to let my anger rip. I singed the atmosphere with my rage as we worked through the scene a few times. Tory and Steve kept encouraging me to stick with the shame and fear I feel about not pleasing authority figures—them, in this case—and hung in there with me. By the end, I began to feel some hope for the scene, though we were still a long way from seeing it’s shape, I thought (Rob has been more sanguine than I, thank God.)
After dinner, we had another session, this time with Toddy __________, the Alexander Technique and movement teacher. At the top, I told her that I was going to let the anger rip, the scene’s finer points be damned, just to get rid of it. That was cool with her. We ran the scene. I found that the anger from earlier in the day had shifted a bit, settled in, had fallen into the traces and service of the friar’s love for Romeo, and God damn it to hell, we finally had something with which to work. To my surprise, Tody immediately had us bring the scene up to speed—that is, to getting the text out at “speed of thought,” which I didn’t think we were going to get to for another couple of days. Wow. Yum. Toddy also helped me give back the friar a spine of dignity that he’d lost through my work with other faculty, as other faculty had stressed the friar’s potentially selfish motives and intellectual dimwittedness, as he’s a stolid thinker and poor strategist. Toddy reaffirmed the Friar’s moral strength, purposefulness, and love for both Romeo and Juliet. I needed this. I could like the Friar more.
Breakthrough. At last.
In the evening, we had a long session with Eliza, in which she had us work on our own, with our respective scene partners, to use the various techniques of the last few days to ply and stretch and break-in our text. Especially helpful to me were the “body worlds,” of organs, muscle, bone, respiration, nerves and fluid. The elements were good, too: earth, fire, water, and breath. After running text through these worlds and elements, one after another, I find a new emotional center that adds color and weight to the others. The work was exhausting, after a full day, but Eliza pushed us through the exhaustion, getting the work into our bodies, past our minds, past resistances. By the end, I came away with a greater sense of the Friar’s status as a physically grounded, sensual center of action, in him. Good.
By 11:00 p.m., in bed, asleep. Dreamless and undisturbed.