R E A C H I N G
O U T
Connecting. Discussing. Bringing awareness. Artist health. Self care. Reaching out.
There’s a big bang happening inside my head
an imagination exploding forever outward
becoming a map maker - charting an idea that sprouted up in the emptiness - a string of islands that emerged new continents - I started creating may own world.
- Sean Koyzcan
Here is a space for the insightful things to gain life.
Here is a list of things that can help you stay resilient. The life of the artist can be very
stressful, so make sure you incorporate some of these things below:
1. eating regularly: little snacks in your bag eg. Nuts, fruit
2. sleep: yes its hard, but try to get your 7-8 hours as often as possible, of course
excluding bump ins!
3. Two glasses only of wine…and a couple of alcohol free days.
4. Exercising: walking, or finding the exercise that you love to do; walking five
times a week
5. Quiet time: meditation; creative visualisation; dreaming on the clouds;
6. Starting from where you are at I think is one of the most healthful and helpful
things we can do for ourselves.
7. Optimistic thinking the glass is half full; if you think it half empty be aware
that there is another way of looking at it…with awareness comes change.
8. Finding what is greater than yourself and dedicating yourself to it: the spirit of
theatre; the spirit of community; and if you believe in God, then God.
9. Seeing challenges rather than problems.
10. Building on your own strengths as well as other people’s strengths.
12. Asking for help when needed.
13. Artist Date: each week make sure you go on a date with yourself to a gallery,
or park, or theatre: somewhere you are nurtured (this is a hint from Julia
Cameron, and her “The Artists Way”
14. Julia Cameron also suggests morning pages, but they could be any time pages
(in the hand out I mention a drawing a day book. Twenty minutes of depicting
either in words or image what is happening for you right now. No editing
15. ADD YOUR OWN
WHEN THINGS GET TOUGH:
QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF
• Am I doing more than I should be doing in the time required
• Am I starting where I’m at?
• Do I have resources around me to support my actions (eg. Am I suffering from
an illness, reduced support network, tired, grieving, etc.)
IF YOU ARE : tired, difficulty falling asleep, restless, drug dependence; feeling
helpless, inadequate, fragile, vulnerable; confused, difficulty in making decisions,
memory blanks, difficulty concentrating; loss of meaning:
TALK TO THOSE NEAREST TO YOU
Self Care Strategies for the Artist
Nigel Brennan was the keynote speaker at this year’s WorkSmartConference for Office Professionals, a yearly national conference for all of the professionals who keep universities and health organisations going…primarily women, we gather to share stories, learn new skills and nurture the soul. Some people only meet up once a year at this conference. This year we had 170 delegates, and I had the brilliant task of being their MC. We had six workshops, covering office skills, social media, workplace technologies, health and wellbeing, career progression, practical office tools, and the art of paying attention.
And we had Nigel as our keynote:
” Nigel is a photojournalist, an author, a consultant, a public speaker and an ex hostage. in 2008 the Australian photojournalist was held hostage for 462 days in Somalia. During his hostage ordeal, Nigel suffered both mental and physical torture at the hands of his captors. After an escape attempt in January 2009 in which he and his colleague were both recaptured, Nigel was chained around the ankles until his eventual release–ten months later.
Nigel’s emotional story is one of survival, resilience and hope. His life is a testament to the strength of the human spirit and the unyielding love of a family.”
(a quote from the WorkSmart program, 2015, page 13).
Nigel’s story was very moving. No, it was more than that. In my opinion it changed the course of the conference. It was an invitation to reflect on connection, on family, on decision making and on acceptance. Nigel told his story, a story that you can read in his book “Price of Life”. This is how Penguin Australia describe the book:
“Captured by terrorists, kept in solitary confinement, guarded by men with AK47s and little respect for life.
Could you survive it?
Bundaberg photojournalist Nigel Brennan travels to Somalia with Canadian reporter Amanda Lindhout. They are abducted by a criminal gang, that puts a price of US$3 million on their heads. If it’s not paid, they will be killed. And the Australian government does not pay ransoms.
After more than a year of stalled negotiations, Nigel’s family takes matters into their own hands. They go against government advice, scarifying their livelihoods, their houses and personal lives to bring the hostages home. Meanwhile, the kidnappers are losing patience. Brutalised, shackled, not knowing when or how the situation will end, Nigel faces the fight of his life.
This is a story about what it takes to survive, and how far a family will go for freedom, whatever the price”.
(copied from Penguin Australia).
It was a rich opportunity to hear Nigel’s story and then begin two days of workshops. What continued to come into my mind throughout both days was: “What is important?”
Nearing the end of his presentation, Nigel gave us a list of ‘take aways’, and I copied them down because I thought we would all benefit from them.
He talked about the importance of family, friends, community.
He talked about forgiveness being the highest expression of love.
He talked about working from a place of love, not fear.
He talked abou this mantra, “and this too shall pass”.
He talked about every action having a consequence.
Finally he talked about traumatic growth phenomenon.
Throughout his talk he had different quotes, and the one that has sat with me is from Martin Luther King:
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in a moment of comfort and convenience. But where he stands in times of challenge and controversy”.
Martin Luther King.
Many of us are so comfortable in our world. We have built walls around us, just like Oscar Wilde’s Selfish Giant and we do not invite play or creativity in. We would rather do as the Giant did “my garden is my garden. I will allow no one to play in it except myself” (Oscar Wilde). Nigel alerted us to the importance of love despite fear. Of every action having a consequence. Not just on the one who is stepping into the action, but on the whole community, something that we all need to remind ourselves whatever we do.
After this delicious morning of deep experience, we began the rest of our conference. Perhaps my most memorable experience was listening to Martina Sheeham who talked about The Art of Paying Attention. It was a valuable session and my take away was putting the mobile phone down, lifting my head up and allowing those moments of idleness full rein. We know that creativity requires space. I think that creativity may be a friend of idleness. Thanks Martina for such a sharp session.
So we finished the conference with a panel of women discussing how we hold the whole glorious mess in our hands, meaning, how do we work, play, mother, nurture and look after our own selves while staying sane. Some fabulous responses: the whole WorkSmart conference community had things to say, pulling on their recent experiences over the last two days. We applied our new knowledge and came up with some marvellous resolutions:
I’m getting myself a cleaner! I am going to embrace idleness a little more! I’m not going to vacuum!and Google calendar is the answer says the vivacious Yvette Adams, business guru! Block out me time!
Thank you WorkSmart team. It was a splendid two days. The accommodation was excellent (QT on Sunshine Coast, a funky hotel!), the dancing was brill, food wonderful and the team, well you all rock.
Work Smarter Conference
Introducing Dr. Jean Housten
“In our time we have come to the stage where the real work of humanity begins.
It is the time where we partner Creation in the creation of ourselves, in the restoration of the biosphere, the regenesis of society and in the assuming of a new type of culture; the culture of Kindness.
Herein, we live daily life reconnected and recharged by the Source, so as to become liberated and engaged in the world and in our tasks.”
One of the best protective factors and motivational tools that I have engaged with in the rehearsal room is The Entelechy Exercise, taught to me by my mentor, Dr. Jean Houston. When I did this exercise with the actors, they seem to become bigger, stronger, more daring. One of my co-creators did the exercise with us and commented “Wow, why don’t I become that guy!”) and I totally agreed. We so often operate in the zone of the ordinary. We forget that we are capable of the most extraordinary things, if only we dare. If only we bring risk a little bit closer. Jean Houston’s entelechy exercise encourages the participant to step into their future self, fully developed, fully formed, fully alive, fully functioning: the exquisite creator of an exquisite world. The best of the best. This wise one can answer questions, can journey along side you, can become you, is you.
A celebration of Wesley Enoch's 5 years of leadership
“Everyone must leave something behind . . . Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go . . . It doesn’t matter what you do, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away.”
― Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
I am thinking of legacies this morning. What do we leave behind when we go…it could be going to another city, another job, another world. As Ray Bradbury says in Fahrenheit 451, everyone leaves something.
Friday 23rd October 2015 was the day that Wesley Enoch left Brisbane. Perhaps not literally, but officially it was his last day at Queensland Theatre Company before he heads south to lead the Sydney Festival. He has left us after five years of leadership.
When I think of Wesley, I see a young man. I met him when he taught in the Metro Arts building way back when, with Contact Youth Arts. He taught my oldest daughter drama and I saw a young man of passion and joy.
Fast forward twenty or so years, and Wesley is a middle aged man, still full of passion and joy, with a determination that has changed the Queensland landscape. He came to QTC and woke Queensland up. Programs grew, opportunities flourished. The Green Room became the common room for the artists of Brisbane, with young people drinking milo, actors learning scripts, meetings, coffee, quiet reading corners.
International Queensland actor Bille Brown donated his vast library of theatrical books to QTC after his death, and they line the walls, a constant reminder of our connection with the greater theatrical family across continents and generations. The benches are covered with bright green fabric and the little kitchen services the whole building. Staff eat in the Green Room daily so the arts community and the staff know each other well.
These changes were just the beginning. Wesley managed to weave enormous magic into the arts community, creating a strong connection between the independent arts sector and the state flagship company. He believed in community and all of his actions supported this. He saw the performances that greater Brisbane had to offer as often as he could. He had genuine conversations with people about art, about food (he is a foodie, cooking for the company some Friday afternoons, bowls of exquisiteness), about connection, about community.
Wesley Enoch changed the Brisbane theatre scene from a somewhat disconnected array of people who occasionally trod the boards at QTC, to a dynamic group of artists who proudly embraced multiple ways creating, moving seamlessly from their independent work, to the state theatre company and back again. He invited independent artists into the building to create, to share their work. He changed the office architecture so that we could have two extra rehearsal rooms and finally he created the Dian Cilento Studio, a tiny theatre that sits next to the Bille Brown.
In a word, he invited us home. When I heard about Wesley’s new appointment to Sydney Festival, I wrote to Sue Donnelly whose title should be The Extraordinary General Manager of QTC, stating how important it was to consider the legacy that Wesley was leaving, that of community, equality and connectedness and to ensure that our new leader would embrace these values.
Wesley’s legacy includes many things, but the things that resonate with me are these three values: community, equality and connectedness. He has created opportunities for many people. He has actively created stories that embrace indigenous themes, something that was so needed, so crucial to the development of our greater community, not only our audience but also our fellow artists. He has created a terrific opportunity for young people to thrive in the Youth Ensembles that grow from strength to strength, not only in downtown Brisbane but also in Logan, where he grew up. He has invited women artists to participate in a series of plays this year under the title Diva Series, where women have presented their own work with QTC’s support. He has encouraged women directors to work in the state theatre company, reaching parity in next years season. He has grown the touring side of QTC to ensure that the whole state, indeed the whole country, get to share these stories.
I will miss Wesley. I will miss his cheeky smile and his steely commitment to change. He has been a leader I respect and cherish.
Wesley has not done this alone. He has attracted around him powerful allies who have made sure that his vision has been executed. A leader never operates in a vacuum and his team has excelled, accepting and growing the challenges presented to them and at the same time having the insight to continue to develop the themes of connection and communication within our industry. I’m thinking they may need to sleep a wee bit once Wesley has left. I do not know a team that works so hard. Hey maybe I do. There is a team across the river who has deep connections with Wesley. Katherine Hoepper has just taken up General Manager of La Boite, after working for years with Wesley and Todd Macdonald has just taken up CEO/Artistic Director of La Boite after being Wesley’s Associate Director. I have a feeling that Wesley’s legacy is alive and well in the cramped rooms of La Boite. Their green room may not be as large or as grand, but their spirit is every bit as inclusive and expansive.
I am proud of our State Theatre Company. I am proud of how the State Theatre Company has impacted other companies. And I urge those people who have worked with Wesley and have loved what he has done to keep in mind these values of connectedness, of community and of equality. I know that La Boite has these values firmly in hand. Wesley, you have left your fingerprints all over the state. Thank you. Your soul is imprinted in all of us.
I will finish where I began,
“Everyone must leave something behind . . . Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go . . . It doesn’t matter what you do, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away.”
"Say their name, bring them beer and rasin cake, as long as we live, the dead shall live"
Queen Isis visits the land of the dead. Her husband Osiris is Lord of the Dead and she shares with her villagers the news that there is another place where the dead go….she has seen it. She has been there. Er, in Plato’s Republic, also knows there is life after death. He goes to the underworld by mistake and witnesses what happens before the dead return to earth in a new life.
Death sits around us. Each day one of us hears about a loved one dying and our hearts shift, our understanding of the world moves and we sit in that land of the unknown for a while, trying to adjust to this new way of being.
I have spent a few years trying to reconcile this unknown continent where we go after living rich and impactful lives. I was talking to a close friend and his question was “What’s it all about? Why are we here?” I cannot answer him, but I believe that there is an afterlife. Is it as the Egyptians believed? Is there a World of the Dead? Is it as Er witnessed, a place where we get to choose a new life (after penance when required)?
I am working with young people at the moment, 22 aspiring actors who have just started out on their creative journey. I am using the scripts of my three shows that make up The Belonging Trilogy: Eve, HOME and He Dreamed a Train. These scripts include the Isis and Osiris story as well as the Myth of Er. We are finding mythical threads that lead to a deeper understanding of our lives. An acceptance of life after death, an acceptance of multiple stories and multiple interpretations of those stories. We are here for a wee while. We grow, we connect, we influence and we teach others how to flourish in this world. For if one can tap into the flourishing and vital life energy, our time spent on this earth is a worthwhile one.
One of the most flourishing and vibrant, vital and adorable women in my life has just passed. I was sleeping in another city and she gently moved into the underworld. This woman was a role model for many: full of love, of vitality and of hope. When my first born came into the world she wrote a card that read “Welcome to this wondrous world little one” and she believed it. I didn’t at the time. I was young and anxious to make a difference to our conflicted world. But my friend accepted the world as it was, and saw the beauty so clearly that you could not help but smile when you were in her presence. She helped you see the little things. She created my wedding cake, and years later my daughter’s wedding cake: hours of work, creating the most beautiful edible flowers, leaves…that was her art form. Creating edible art for people to enjoy. For she felt that love was spread in multiple ways, and one of them was through hosting. Oh how she hosted! She cooked and she created sandwiches that cannot be surpassed. She cooked pies and cakes and tarts and scones and…
My friend enriched my life. She gave me opportunities to reflect and to dream. I didn’t have to be next to her to feel her presence. All I had to do was think of her, what would she do…and then i would move forward. I am not alone. My friend was a mentor to many people. She was an example of someone who was not well known, was not famous, was not ‘out there’. No, she was ‘in there’, affecting everyone she came across. Sharing smiles, and love. A nod here, a twinkle of the eye (yes, her eyes did twinkle) and her glorious smile that lit the room…a cliche? Oh no. Anyone who met her would agree. Her smile lit the room.
“Coming Home”, a performance that was described as beautiful, heart aching, whimsical and lighthearted has come to an end. Simon Tate, the head drama teacher at Queensland Academies of Creative Industries, where we were artists in residence, described it like this in his facebook post
"I’m just going to come out and say it – all my theatre friends should come and see Coming Home. I just love it so much I want to share it with people that will appreciate the storytelling, the simplicity and the empowerment of 21 young artists who are completely present – because they want to be, rather than because they are trying to prove something, or are suffering to be intense, or any other pretense. They just want to tell the stories they now own as a means of writing their own. Well played Margi Brown Ash – you can now fart, drop the mic and walk off stage to thunderous applause."
I love the irreverence that we all embraced while creating this show: we broke what rules we could break safely, we swore like troopers (just joking, Education Department), laughed, cried, yelled, danced and meditated. We reflected, we dreamed, we evoked the Muse of Theatre to come and visit us, we met and engaged with our Entelechy. Dr. Jean Houston, my mentor from Ashland, Oregon, teaches about how our entelechy can enrich our process: just as the oak tree is the acorn’s entelechy, our entelechy can be evoked to help us achieve our potential and possibility.
Six weeks of working in class time and two or three afternoons a week, we created a collage of texts from my The Belonging Trilogy, including Eve,HOME and He Dreamed a Train.
We adapted the performance so that 22 beautifully passionate 15 year olds could work the stage. They moved as one, stepping into role and stepping out again. We began with a list of scenes that the young folk really liked: we read the scripts and chose the scenes that resonated with us. The selected scenes did not dramaturgically belong next to each other, but our team (including Ben Knapton and Travis Ash) had faith that there was an underlining connector, all we had to do was wait for it to present itself. It took five weeks to find the path to re-map the core of all three plays. The core of the play, or the spine of the play finally became:
“How do we deal with, or how do we re-story long term grief and loss so that we can move on in our lives?”
Depressing theme for teenagers? Not in the least. The joyful exuberance that the young folk brought to the stage ensured that we did not tip into melancholy. The intense dramatics of the theme of death and dying also matched the drama that sat within these potent beautiful young actors.
I learn so much from young actors: they reminded me why I have stayed in the theatre profession for over 40 years. They reminded me of the importance of schools such as Queensland Academy of Creative Industries (QACI), a performing arts senior high school that embraces creativity and accomplishment. They reminded me of the power of relationship. The power of story.
So after four performances, the show has closed. But there is big take-away. At the same time as we rehearsed the chosen scenes, we also learned processes to keep the actor safe and healthy. Why? Because acting is the only art form whereby the artists’ instrument is their body and their emotions. The brain does not distinguish between make believe and reality. Sadness is sadness. Anger is anger. The actor has to learn ways of de-roling after a show so that they can return to their world clear and lively, not weighed down the psychology of the character or the limitations of the world of the play.
How do we stay safe as performers? One way is embracing Relational Impulse Training (RIT). I devised the training a few years ago now (there is an article about RIT on this website ). This postmodern training is based on collaborative therapy principles, focusing on relationships, the space between, the multiplicity of selves and the multiplicity of stories. This is where the magic lies. We are relational beings and as such are altered by what is happening between and among each other. There is never just one story. There are multiple interpretations of everything that happens. For the young person to gain an understanding that their story is not necessarily THE truth, just A truth, will stand them in good stead.
The acting training also includes frameworks such as The Four Agreements, by Miguel Ruiz, four ways of being in the world:
THE FOUR AGREEMENTS BY MIGUEL RUIZ, ADAPTED FOR QACI YEAR 10:
1. Don’t take things personally: there are always multiple perspectives and multiple ways of interpreting.
2. Do not assume anything: stay curious, ask questions, stay alive to other interpretations outside of your own.
3. Use impeccable language: for us that meant we needed to be positive and affirmative when talking about others, always with the thought that they could overhear what we are saying and not get upset.
4. Always do our best and keep connected to the space between me and my fellow actor.
Simple principles that make a whole lot of sense… the actors leave the whole theatre making process with a deep understanding of self and others and how they fit into the scheme of things:
1. They leave with a knowledge of ritual and its importance within the creative cycle. They understand the creative cycle, the ebbs and flows, the ‘I am drowning/I am waving’ syndrome…one second it feels like you are drowning and the next second it feels like you are rejoicing, the highs and lows of the creative process…
2. They leave with a very fine experience of what it is to be an ensemble. That it is not all sweetness and light. That there are difficult times, difficult relationships, difficult decisions to be made. But, when the young actor looks into the eyes of her/his fellow ensemble member, they see themselves:
“I am only as strong as the smallest and frailest within the ensemble, so it is my responsibility, my duty to help my fellow actors achieve their potential”.
Only then will my ensemble thrive.
Our FORCE OF CIRCUMSTANCE team is hoping that this experience is the basis of a prototype which could be taken into senior schools as an Artist in Residence model, where the young folk choose the passages from The Belonging Trilogy and create a new story about grief, loss, re-dreaming their own stories and at the same time recognising their own resilience, joy, healing and friendship without the judgement that we so often witness in our culture.
The ensemble did thrive. They understood connectedness. They understood what it was like when they stepped out on their front foot, rather than leaning back waiting for things to happen. They understood the need to listen, to remain curious and to leave judgement at the door. To avoid what I label “car park gossip”, the talking about someone behind their back…a most damaging cultural practice that needs to be modified.
Here are some of the things that the ensemble wrote in “My Book of Myths” that they presented to me on our last evening together. It is a beautiful, handmade book and I will treasure it for a long time:
I have read my new, highly valued Book of Myths, beautiful personal stories about transformation, re-generation, learning and love and connection.
Here are just some extracts, the ones that will make sense in isolation.
Things our ensemble learned from the Coming Home experience. Sometimes I have changed pronouns so that it reads more easily:
1. “To believe in myself”
2. “To be generous with our performance”
3. “To be generous with our voice”
4. “We have so much potential, we are so much bigger than we thought we were, both on and off the stage”
5. “This experience has completely altered my existence and my views on everything”
6. Our ensemble is “stuck together with superglue, spirit and brilliance”.
7. “I made a promise to myself…that I would put all of my ideas forward so that I could grow as a theatre practitioner, and as a person, an individual”
8. “…permission to be alive and real in this space”
9. “Accepting constant change means it is far more difficult to hold onto the things that hold us back”
10. “I am a multi-faceted individual with tens of thousands of stories to tell”
11. “This is where I belong”
12. “The arrows are not what I thought they were, they are really seeds growing out of me”
13. “It was such a beautiful experience seeing everyone become a big and happy family and be able to show people our passion towards art”
14. “Car park gossip is damaging”
So another show closes, but the resonances and reflections continue on and on, because
Aren’t we are work in progress?
Aren’t we every story we’ve ever heard
Every place and time we’ve ever been
Every person we’ve ever met
Every myth we’ve ever dreamed
Our lives, my darlings, are huge
Who shall tell the stories
What stories shall we tell
Ben Okri writes for us. Writes for you
BEN OKRI WRITES FOR US. WRITES FOR YOU:
“POET, be like the tortoise: bear the shell of the world and still manage to sing your transforming dithyrambs woven from our blood, our pain, our loves, our history, our joy. The lonely and inescapable truth simply is that this is the only kingdom you will ever have. This is the home of your song”.
It’s either early or late…I’m up. Reading Ben Okri’s “A Way of Being Free” (1997). I am searching for connectors for the collaged play I am directing “The Belonging Trilogy” a combination of three of my plays written over the last five years. They belong together as much as they belong apart and this opportunity to bring them together is a way of understanding the wholeness of one’s life in art and how this wholeness speaks to other poets, other artists, other beings. The wholeness of the poet in all of us.
So I turn to Ben Okri. And what I read awakens me. He writes
“The poet needs to be up at night when the world sleeps, needs to be up at dawn, before the world wakes, needs to dwell in the odd corners where Tao is said to reside, needs to exist in dark places, where spiders forge their webs in silnece near the gutters where the underside of our dreams fester. Poets need to live where others do not care to look (page 1). “
I then write:
The light is not here yet…strain for the bird sounds that soon will erupt. Not yet. A car goes by. But only one. No indication of what time it is. It could be 2. It could be 4. Will I get up and make a cup of tea?
I’m searching for the link required to make sense of this play.
And I do. I get up and I make a cup of tea. Two cups of tea. And two pieces of toast. My dog sits at my feet. I return to Ben Okri:
“Poets…remake the world in words, from dreams. Intuitions which could only come from the secret mouths of gods whisper to them through all of life, of nature, of visible and invisible agencies. Storms speak to them .Thunder breathes on them. Human suffering drives them. Flowers move their pens. Words themselves speak to them and bring forth more words. The poet is the widener of consciousness. The poet suffers our agonies as well as combines them with all the forgotten waves of childhood. Out of the mouths of poets speak the yearnings of our lives” (page 3)
And I am moved. I realise that I write, I communicate through poetry. And so whatever I need to solve needs to be through poetry. Poetry will solve it.
Poet be like the tortoise… This is the home of your song
- page 12