If you missed any previous posts in this series, you can find Life Lesson #1: Show Up With What You Have and Use It Well HERE, Life Lesson #2: Everyone Matters HERE, and Life Lesson #3: Be Playful and Laugh at Yourself HERE.
This play was the first production I've done while working full time in Boston and it was a huge learning experience, to say the least. I tried all kinds of new tricks of the trade to try and allow myself the sleep, food, and rest that I needed during the rehearsal and run (see post on surviving teach week HERE). My intentions were good, but I definitely fell off the "maintain balance" wagon more than a few times during this process.
One thing I was pretty strict about though, was eating and drinking enough to keep me going onstage. The thought of putting on a corset (they're not as comfortable as they might look) and working out my diaphragm with nineteenth century speak in front of a full house without having drank any water all day was a thought that was very effective in motivating me to keep my water bottle full during my day job and make sure I was hydrated. Similarly, I was borderline obssessive about making sure I had a banana and protein bar in my bag at all times, so if I needed a quick bite half an hour before curtain, I'd have something to reach for.
What else does an actor need? A good physical and vocal warm-up, some reliable deep breathing exercises, and as much sleep as you can get, not to mention a good imagination and solid training. If you were missing any of these elements: food, water, warm-ups, sleep, imagination or training, you would expect your performance to suffer. It seems logical that to be our best onstage, we have to give ourselves what we need to try to accomplish that.
But what about life offstage? Why is it that as an actor we won't skip a warm-up, but as a human being we are willing to go weeks without giving ourselves what we need to feel our best? It's like we are baking a cake and forgot the eggs, and then we stop and wonder "Hmm, I wonder why the cake didn't turn out right?" This is an oversimplification for sure, but I think it's worth reflecting on.
In my mind, a "life diet" consists of the sum total of physical nourishment, creative endeavors, social interactions, and spiritual practices that we faithfully incorporate into our daily routines that help us to feel like ourselves. I find that basic physical needs like food, water, and sleep are not enough for me to feel like I am thriving--what about the things or experiences that feed my soul? When we give ourselves permission to listen to our favorite music, watch a movie we love, or even bake the chocolate cupcakes we've been craving, we do ourselves a huge favor. In not depriving ourselves of one ingredient that we know is crucial to our most content and joyful selves, we actively participate in the creation of our lives.
I know this from experience. I've gone through times in my life where I feel wretched, not just physically but emotionally, creatively, and spiritually. What's wrong with me? I rack my brain trying to figure out why I haven't been feeling much joy or inspiration. Then it dawns on me: I've gone a couple of months without reading a really good book. Seriously, that's all it is sometimes. For me, having a really good story to get lost in can make all the difference in the world in terms of how I feel. Once I start to try to reincorporate some like a book back into my "life diet", I usually start to feel things get better. It's like prescribing soul medicine for yourself.
At this very moment, the top ingredients I need to put back into my life diet are:
1. unscheduled time with my husband on the weekends
2. taking the time to cook and eat homemade meals
4. re-watching some of my favorite film versions of Shakespeare
5. more time walking around the city without having a place to go
If you feel so inclined, share the top five ingredients of your "life diet" in the comments! It's different things and proportions for everyone, so it's not about using a cookie cutter recipe, but figuring out what yours is. It's impossible to include all the ingredients, all the time, but perhaps this weekend, we can give ourselves one that's been missing lately?