Rituals that help us on the road
PRIZE FIGHTER 2018
Pacharo Mzembe, Todd MacDonald (DIRECTOR), Marcus D. Johnson, Rati Mambo, Margi Brown Ash, Daniel Sinclair (T0UR MANAGER/STAGE MANAGER), Gideon Mzembe, Mandela Mathia
Prize Fighter, a powerful play written by Future D. Fidel, is about to finish its national tour. This year we have travelled to Darwin Festival, Logan, Newcastle, Geelong, Melbourne International Festival , Bunjil Place (a glorious new venue just outside of Melbourne) and Wollongong. Last year we were part of Sydney Festival (at Belvoir St) and eighteen months before that we were part of Brisbane Festival (La Boite). This iteration has again been a splendid and rewarding journey, with overwhelming responses from our audiences and formidable responses from reviewers:
“This is knockout theatre in every sense. From fight choreography so visceral (thank you Nigel Poulton) you’ll feel every blow to writing that packs an emotional punch, Prize Fighter ducks and weaves with astonishing grace” (Melbourne International Festival)
“Prize Fighter is, in every respect, theatre that matters” (ABC Arts)
“Prize Fighter stares into the darkest corners of the heart and finds a nimble, muscular drama that weaves between two worlds-and two faces of violence-with visceral precision” (The Age Arts)
“This is a powerhouse production. Performances are committed, forceful, moving, true” (Daily Review)
“Taking up the role of Isa, Pacharo Mzembe’s expert acting left the audience with goosebumps, and his storytelling was immersive and powerful. Joined by a cast who played an array of characters, the performance was moving and forceful. It was no surprise that at the end of the show almost every person in the room broke into a standing ovation” (TheAuReview.com)
Gideon Mzembe, Marcus Johnson, Pacharo Mzembe in Prize Fighter
We often have Q and A (or as we like to call it, qanda) and a regular question asked by many is “How do you prepare for such a gruelling performance?” It’s easy to answer.
We as an ensemble realise the importance of self-care, particularly due to the subject matter of this play. It is violent, dangerous and exhausting for those who are in the boxing ring, and taxing for those on the sidelines. Every member of the team engages in aerobic activity each day: either weights, running, shadow boxing, walking, swimming, etc. We are mindful of what we eat and what we drink.
But to stay healthy, we knew we needed more than just physical fitness and nutritious food. We decided that we needed to embrace a protective process to ensure we finish the tour perhaps not as injury free as we would have liked (this sort of physical show is prone to sore feet, knees, or the occasional bruise), but certainly emotionally and spiritually clear. The Prize Fighter team committed to embracing group meditation each evening before beginning our aerobic and voice warm up.
Our process is simple. At 6pm (for an 8pm show) we find a space, either in the Green Room or if large enough, one of our dressing rooms. We lay down our mats or towels, turn the lights off and breathe together. Most times we place our backs on the floor and our lower legs on a chair, a modified Viparita Karani or Legs up the Wall pose (https://www.doyouyoga.com/6-benefits-of-legs-up-the-wall-pose-48440/).
We focus on our intention or dream for the session (sometimes I repeat my character Luke’s line from the play “Unless you have a dream you can’t achieve anything. Before you take a first step you must have a purpose” (Fidel, 2015), something that can also be transferred to the stage in a few hours. We notice our breathing, we scan our bodies and notice what parts of the body are needing a little more help.
We then lie fully on the floor and engage in a Yoga Nidra session. Yoga Nidra is a process that people have been engaging with for thousands of years, focusing on different parts of the body. We move from our right thumb all the way to our big toe and back again. The body does not move, you just notice the parts of the body being mentioned.
Here is a link to a fine book that will explain in detail our process.
(https://books.google.com.au/books?id=_yZICgAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=yoga+nidra&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwicz8DW1qreAhVMYo8KHXlLDZQQ6AEISjAG - v=onepage&q=yoga nidra&f=false).
Last week, I chatted with three of the cast who engage in our daily ritual and their responses included the following:
“Yoga Nidra centres me, heightens my senses, slows me down. I know where I am right now. I know where I can be…I feel like Yoga Nidra is the bridge giving me a clear vision. Yoga Nidra opens a door to see potential and safety. Everything is clearer. My mind is slower. A perfect equilibrium of who I am and what I can be” (Rati Mambo)
“Before I do anything I like to be calm, centred and focused. Yoga Nidra allows me to do this. It allows me to understand where I am at. What I am about to do. I leave the baggage at the door.
I centre my breathing. I notice my thoughts. 50% of my voice preparation comes from Yoga Nidra” (Pach Mzembe)
“Peace of mind…whenever I am about to start the show I find myself rushing, panicking, my mind is all over the place. When I come to Yoga Nidra…after 5 minutes…I drop in…calm down, relax mentally and my body falls onto the floor without me trying to relax…it’s a mental thing. Not trying to relax but just relaxing; “be in it”; my mind sometimes wanders…when I started out first it was hard to bring my attention back to the present …the more we did it, the easier it has become” (Mandela Mathia)
As a participant, I too find that Yoga Nidra is a powerful centering tool. We come together as a group about to engage in an important performance ritual. After we have shared this quiet space together, we seem to be more open to offers, more appreciative of each other, more able to listen, to respond and to grow the space between us. To have a conscious intention for each performance means that every time we perform, we move closer to whom we are becoming. Sometimes my intention is to listen with more compassion, sometimes it is to use every opportunity to move this important story forward so that each audience member hears it clearly with compassion. Sometimes it is more subtle, like being present, and all that entails.
We are about to begin our final week of performances for our national tour. We will gather in the Green Room, or in one of our dressing rooms, and we will meditate together, thickening the space between us in preparation for the best performance we can give. For that is our purpose every evening. To make a difference. Every night we thank Future D. Fidel for gifting Australia with this story. And La Boite and Artour for producing this gem. And all of our creatives. In particular, Nigel Poulton for his splendid choreography that seems to connect with our audience in a powerfully viseral way.
I hope that we get to take Prize Fighter internationally, because it has a huge message that is relevant to the entire world. I think the message is simple: “let’s not judge our fellow man before we have an understanding of their story”. Simple yes, but profound. Difficult to do. But not impossible.