Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Where I'm Going, and Where I've Been

In 1995, I traveled alone to York, England, to spend a week with Riding Lights Theatre Company. I had responded to an ad. Two lines at most, tacked on to some newsletter I regularly received. A little angel sat whispering those lines, with a British accent, on my shoulder until the day I announced to my husband of two years I was headed overseas. With no website to reference, I had only my instinct, which said this: Go.

In the apple orchard of the camp's estate, on the stone roads of York, a can of Boddington's raised high, my soul, and my theatre knowledge, grew. I had left my husband tearfully at the airport gate only to call a week later and say, "You'll have to come here, because I'm not leaving." My sixth sense, which appeared and often still does as impulsive, began its good track record.

I did return home on schedule, and would come to take more trips based on good hunches. In the years after York, I traveled to theatre or writing conferences across the U.S. These trips tapered off with the birth of my children, until one day, in the early 2000s, I opened the book Games for Actors and Non-Actors, by Augusto Boal.

I'd bought the book secondhand about five years prior with a vague sense of its place in the drama canon. In the intervening time I hadn't done much theatre but had begun a new hobby: exercise.

I picked the book back up again to read while my son finished a class at the Y, and the setting couldn't have been more fitting; had I not been coming to the Y regularly, Boal's work, highly physical in nature, wouldn't have spoken to me. I was not yet ready to read that book back when I bought it.

Reading Games convinced me I had to study this man's work thoroughly. At home, after a quick search, I learned Boal would be travelling from his native Brazil to Manhattan, right around the time I'd be teaching in Philadelphia. Just a train ride away. I adjusted my travel plans and went.

For three years I travelled to the West Village for Theatre of the Oppressed workshops. The second, as it turned out, was the last that Boal would hold there; he died just before the next was to be had. I'm privileged to have met and studied with such a wonderful man, who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Such a sweet soul who did so much good.

Again, the instincts: buying the book before I was ready for it; opening it in good time.

And a theme: the level of physical involvement began to match the intellectual. Many of those early conferences entailed sitting in a room and listening, taking a coffee break, then finding the next room in which to sit and listen.

Riding Lights had us traipsing all round a gorgeous estate (catch a glimpse of it on their postcard here), but I didn't do much acting; I focused instead on design and directing, with the great Sean Cavanagh teaching me as much in an afternoon, with a table and 3 chairs under a tree, as a semester's worth in college.

Boal's workshops were highly physical, certainly. I've written here about one of his Image Theatre games, during which my partner, not hearing the part about "flowing, gentle movements," manhandled me to the ground. That outcome, as with any TO exercise, was used to illustrate power imbalances, but all I learned was that this man had issues.

2012 sees another trip being planned, one that follows the same trajectory of instinct and physicality. I'm going boxing for three days in Brooklyn. Never have I taken a trip that will require as much from below the neck as above it.

And where does instinct fit in? I'm operating on faith in the face of some question marks on my health. But I'm ready. The opportunity to compete presents itself on the last day, and though the prospect of having my first fight streamed live over the internet is somewhat appealing, I doubt I'll take the challenge. I'm headed there to learn and enjoy a vacation. This time, though, with my head and all the rest of me.

Take a peek around Gleason's Gym here:

3 comments:

  1. What very interesting travels you've had! So glad you're picking back up as your children have gotten a bit older and more self-sufficient. They will have a wonderful example to follow as they continue to grow. You're doing it for yourself, but you're also giving it to them in a way.

    Can't wait to hear all about the boxing clinic!

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  2. PS: I *LOVED* watching that Gleason's vid. Thanks for that...

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  3. Interesting that there are so many women there!

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