Thursday, October 18, 2012

40 Days of Birthday: Day Twenty-Six

I’ve been preparing for tonight for over a month. In fact, when I wrote here that for one of my 40 Birth-Days I wanted to ‘Teach a Class’, it was already in the planning. Because of Tatwerk’s schedule, the date of my class kept getting pushed farther into fall. I’ve had some anxiety about teaching again so appreciated the additional time to prep yet was looking forward to getting that first scary session over with. What helped tremendously was observing one of Tatwerk’s other classes, like I did here. I got to see the lovely reality of the students I’d be teaching versus the judgmental, nightmarish ones I’d created in my head. Observing also helped me remember that I do know something about this art that I’ve been studying for over thirty years. I actually am a certified Master of Theatre.

I thought I’d be nervous today but it hit me that I had studied and prepared well. My class was on the training methodology Viewpoints, something I’d taught before and used with casts I’d directed. I was ready. I printed out my notes and put them into new page protectors, collected together with binder rings. I’ve tried to be more bohemian, scribbling my notes in a worn journal, but I like clean and organized better: Be regular and ordinary in you life, so that you way be violent and original in your work—a charge of Gustave Flaubert that I take to heart.

What was off today was how I was feeling. I stayed out too late last night and awoke with my husband’s sore throat. I was able to take a nap while Lennon was at Kita, but I just felt like I was dragging. I kept thinking about who I was physically in grad school, the last time I taught. I was in great shape, I only drank green tea, I ran all the time, I always got enough sleep: my body was a well-oiled machine. I’ve been thinking a lot about my body lately and wondering if it can do now all the things it did in grad school, post baby, forty-five pounds heavier, less fit. I’ve also been considering that I not wait until my body is a well-oiled machine again to engage with my art. Instead of not working because my body is different, or trying to conform to old standards, I’ll evolve my art to fit who I am now. This also means owning the physical shape I’m in and not apologizing for it, as I’ve done so many times in this industry.

My class started at 8pm and I was getting a second wind by then. Regardless, I told myself that I would teach “at sick” if I needed and not try to push beyond what my body was able to do. I learned this term, “at sick,” from my first Alexander Technique teacher, Catherine Madden. She suggested that when we’re sick and we must perform, our tendency is to push not only beyond what our bodies are capable of doing at the time but also what is true to the character we’re playing. We do this to overcompensate for our illness. Instead, she suggested that we play are character “at sick”—we’re still present and embodied in our role but not ignoring what is going on with us physically. By doing this we not only remain true to our work as an artist but we don’t damage our instrument for other performances.

In the studio and focusing on what I was about to teach, I was already feeling better. I had a small group. I sat them down before class and asked them something I’d been dying to know since I discovered Tatwerk: What were they all doing there? I was so curious what made these students want to train and what did they hope to accomplish with it. The overarching theme was they had a love for the process. There were no “stars” in my class—they just wanted learn, work, and create.

Because it was a small group, we flew through two days of material in two hours. They were all very focused and it was hard to gauge whether what we were doing was resonating with them or if they were just hard workers. With about five minutes left, I had them gather for feedback and comments. It was a relief to hear them be so excited about what had just happened. Surprisingly, they complimented me on the structure of the class and my knowledge of Viewpoints. Not that I didn’t believe my class was structured well, it just wasn’t the type of commentary I was used to getting from students. I took it as a sign of their astuteness.

On the way home I experienced a piece of U-Bahn theatre involving a homeless person, a beggar, and young woman who was either a martyr or needed psychiatric attention. I’m not sure the scene would make much sense if I retold it here, but please trust me when I tell you it was magnificent. The photo above is of the beggar, standing, holding the pink blanket that the young martyr/psychiatric patient had given him. She is the young lady sitting, with her back to the camera, her feet perched on the seat opposite her. I tried for a better shot but dared not disturb the unfolding of the story.


  1. Reading your accounts always makes me feel like I'm wrapping myself up in a richly textured and impeccably constructed quilt.