“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 www.4change.com.au ). 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