Welcome to Day 3 of the series on life lessons from the theatre! If you missed the first two posts, you can find Life Lesson #1: Show Up With What You Have and Use It Well HERE and Life Lesson #2: Everyone Matters HERE.
The Good, the Bad, the Ugly, and Everything in Between
This photo, folks, is of yours truly during a recent performance. A selfie was written into the script and one of my lovely fellow actors was kind enough to send this to me after we closed the show. I had no idea a photo was actually being taken each night, so this face is not staged. My fifteen year old aspiring actor self would have been mortified to see this. Back then, being an actor meant always looking beautiful and graceful, never silly. One of the first things I was taught in college about acting is that you can not be afraid to look ugly or awkward. In fact, the more you try NOT to look awkward or ridiculous onstage, the more likely it will be that you will.
Try watching a Saturday Night Live or Jimmy Fallon skit and notice which actors are truly funny and effective in their roles, and which ones don't get as many laughs. I can bet you that most of the time, the actors that aren't as funny are trying too hard not too look silly. You have to be vulnerable when you perform, whether you're doing a drama or comedy and this often this means letting your hair get messed up, your voice crack, or taking a risk.
I have always harbored a secret fear of warm-up games. I have always understood their purpose in breaking the ice, getting to know your fellow actors, and even finding a connection between the games and rehearsal. Still, I must confess that I have long harbored a fear of making a mistake or being perceived as "being bad" at the game. It's hard trying to be playful when you become physically and emotionally resistant. And let's be honest, as a wise friend once said "You better get used to making mistakes. You're going to make a million of them." It's true, striving for perfection is a maddening and impossible task. And in the theatre, perfection can be boring.
This time around though, I fell in love with our warm-up games. It was so refreshing to make a mistake, share a good belly laugh with everyone, take a deep breath and try again. And again. And again. In fact, it was downright cathartic to make a mistake, acknowledge it, but then just move on! You won't get struck by lightening or be ridiculed out of the theatre when you forget to hop like a bunny in a warm-up game, and you might even find you feel more open with people after you share a few rounds of "Yee-haw!" or "Bippity Bippity Bop" (find instructions for versions of these games here and here). After this play, I will never skip warm-up games in any rehearsal or workshop I teach. Children need to be taught that it's ok to make mistakes from an early age, and we adults need that reminder all over again.
So what does this willingness to be playful and laugh at yourself have to do with anything besides theatre, you ask? I think it's interesting to think of the possibilities for infusing our lives offstage with the humor and resilience we use in a rehearsal and performance.
What would happen if I was more playful with my family or my co-workers? No, I'm not going to break into a game of "Yee-haw!" at the office, but could I learn to be more resilient when I make a mistake? I think there's a lot of opportunity to be more forgiving with ourselves and not look at every mistake as the end of the world (I need this advice more than anyone). I could try to be gentler with myself after a miss and be willing to breath and move on without hammering myself with too much blame.
We need play every day, and research is now catching up with this idea, proving the need that children and adults have to do something that is purely FUN. I'm even interested to see if I can be more playful with tasks that aren't as much fun...can I put on some music and make a game out of sorting clothes? I'm not sure, but what's the harm in trying?
What's your playful activity of choice? If you need help getting started, here's a couple of good resources:
The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron HERE (one of my favorite books of all time for sparking creativity)
The Artist's Way for Parents by Julia Cameron HERE (she's also got a brand new version for parents!)
The importance of play for ALL article in NY Times HERE (that's right, there's proof we need play!)
Next up tomorrow is Life Lesson #4: Give Yourself What You Need To Do Your Best