Something about dropping lots of weight down onto your ribcage makes you think you can handle anything that comes your way. There are days when you lift your top weight with no problem. There are days when it hovers down over your chest and someone needs to rescue you. And then there are days when you get it to somewhere in between, you call on your sleeping back muscles, you push with your quads, you growl, you spit, and, well, there's nothing more you can do.
Last night at Degage, the homeless shelter where I've been teaching theatre, I drew on all my resources but got the bar only halfway up. First, let me tell you about the morning.
Last week only Sarah had shown up; and again this week, she made a specific effort to come, even riding her bike because she was out of bus passes. Two other women and three men joined--none of them repeats from the previous three weeks--and things went well. The room was stuffy but the people agreeable, and I led them in a mix of both standard theatre exercises and traditional Theatre of the Oppressed games.
The great thing about TO games is that they do what they propose to do. With other acting games you may or may not really get the point, even despite your enthusiastic participation--you may play catch with an invisible ball and work to keep the weight, size, and shape of the ball consistent, or you might just appease whomever is in charge by pretending to make a good catch.
But TO games, well, once you're in, they start working on you.
With the morning group, I led them in a game called Columbian Hypnosis. You keep your face level with the palm of your partner's hand, which stays in motion. You move together deliberately, fluidly, not too fast.
The game made Tanya angry.
Tanya's been bothered lately by the way everyone assumes that if you're homeless, you're an addict. It's not true! she told me. Test me! Sometimes life just doesn't go the way you want it to. When she was asked to follow someone else's lead, then, she got mad. She was tired of somebody else telling her what to do and who to be.
Even though you knew Brenda wasn't out to get you? Yes.
And what about when you took your turn as leader? I didn't feel right telling others what to do.
As you can imagine, this led to a lot of discussion. Ricardo suggested that instead of seeing it as a power play, perhaps this was like a relationship--sometimes one or the other takes charge for awhile. Others said their partners were good leaders--easy to follow, trustworthy.
I told Tanya that though my intent was not to upset her, what she was feeling was exactly the sort of thing that was supposed to happen: we'd do theatre, and it would get us talking about life.
After the session, I was making sure Tanya was in a good place--she was--when Jesse approached me.
"That was really cool," he said. I looked at him. Young guy, a bit mischievous, but on some level you trust him. Still...
"You messin' with me?" I asked him.
"No, that was really different. It was awesome. Thank you," he said, and walked away.
It was a good morning.