Waiting for Approval

I’ll know by Monday whether I can leave for India after New Year. I’m waiting for funding. For permission to take a very short leave of absence.

I haven’t been excited about it. I have sent emails. Checked to see if my vaccinations are up to date. But I haven’t hoped really. I’m still waiting for approval. Waiting for someone to say: this is a good idea; this you should do; this you can do. I am trying to sort all this out in my head – how my suppression of enthusiasm is related to everything else in my life.

I blame all those mailers I got in college saying I was “pre-approved” for credit; a kind of freedom/privilege and a god-awful pressure to meet expectations as a consumer. A glowing letter of recommendation opens a door but demands a tap dance.

What if I don’t learn anything in India? What if my head just keeps spinning and I interrogate every bit of inspiration to root out potential cultural appropriation as an exercise in avoidance?

I just gave a brief lecture to the students last week about procrastination and the theory of immunity to change. How we would rather take an incomplete than a failing grade. Even when failing is the only option for a second chance to pass.

That is the daily dose of naval gazing.

The Process Journal

I have six more scenes to write for the students. We did a read-through of the first two acts yesterday and I’ve never had a class so skilled at improvisational translation. I’ve never had a class approach one of my scripts with such trust. The characters they created are my puppets at this stage. I am very curious about how this project will turn out. We talk about working outside/in or inside/out as actors. Which (in my opinion) isn’t a real thing anyway. Here the students and I seem to be playing a game of tennis to make the characters come to life. They give, I give. I am not sure why this year, this project, seems so different. More collaborative in spirit, though not in fact.

After New Year, they’ll begin to work to embody the characters. Some scenes will be Brecht-inspired (as is the entire play). So embodied in the way that a sock puppet is embodied by a hand. In other scenes, I will ask them for an abstraction of the character’s movements where the essence of the character is disembodied. And in some scenes, I will ask for more. I will ask them to invest in “physical action” until it they begin playing the way a professional tennis player handles herself on the court. Flowing seamlessly between the mind and the body. Maybe one could say in this case the minds and the body.

That’s a lot put on their shoulders.

The thing is: how you do give someone pre-approval without creating daunting expectations?

Something Warm

Kristin Berkey-Abbot has an urge to knit.

And I get it. She says that there is a factory that will produce better socks than she could ever knit, but that she has a “yearning” to knit. And, boy, do I get it.

This year I am teaching master classes in the Movement for Stage courses. Using the techniques I learned from Jeff Corey long ago – rooted in method acting, but much saner than pulling your teeth. At least as I teach them as I have come to understand them working with students over the years.

I talk about how words are often rendering of what we want to do. Stanislavski broke it down into thought actions, speech actions, and physical actions. And while I don’t believe these arise in any prescriptive order, physical actions are what the body understands and “feels” regardless of whether the actions are implemented.

I make the students stomp their feet while they say, “NO!”. Repeatedly, then without stomping. The physical truth of the action still lives in the body and the voice as energy. As impulse. It is still communicated.

Right Perspective, Right Speech, Right Actions. In acting, we may not aim for “right” but we aim for “true”.

I tell a student to punch (the hand of) her partner while saying her lines. Then we hold the student back so she isn’t physically able to punch. She uses the words only.

I tell a student to hug her acting partner while saying her lines. We tell her that her partner is inconsolable and the stakes are high. We come with specific scenarios of isolation and despair. Then we literally hold her back from her partner and say, “Hug and comfort them – and say your lines!”

Oh, how we want to hug a whole nation of people right now! Wrap them in soft socks and blankets and give them a cup of hot cocoa and press our cheek into the hair on the back of their heads.

An impulse that bypasses thoughts and words, that first arrives in the body.

“I am here for you.” Though I am not.

So I get it. There is a spot on my body, somewhere near the solar plexus, that rises up in recognition of the urge.

I wish I could knit.

Instead, I will hold this urge and try to let it guide me in whatever I am able to do in the world. And I will not give in to helplessness or misdirect my frustration.

And I will try to acknowledge the truth of my (non)involvement. My ambivalence regarding war. My cowardice regarding violence. My fears for my own nation and family on a cutting edge of the Russian state.

Maybe right now the truth is that I have an eye on Sweden and am saying let’s build a blanket fort right here, we’ll invite Finland and pretend none of this is happening. All of the monsters are locked in the closet. All of the energy disperses through my fingers typing too quickly.

I know that’s not the Right Perspective at all. So I squirm in my chair trying to find a different angle on the situation.

There are those guerilla artists who cover trees in yarn.

Let’s cover Ukrainia in yarn. And Europe and Russia, and the whole bleeding world while we’re at it.

Hug, Squeeze, Pet, Nuzzle, Embrace, Swaddle, Clasp, Cuddle… Hold.