Thursday, 30 July 2015

The Opportunity to Fail

by Lisa Cox

Lisa was the 2015 recipient of the International Creators Scholarship.  The scholarship provides the opportunity for an emerging theatre artist to train in theatre creation on an international level with SITI Company.  The Scholarship was created in partnership by Why Not Theatre and Theatre Ontario, and is sponsored by SDA Enterprises with matching funds from artsVest Toronto.

The SITI Summer Intensive began on a Sunday evening. The air in the JBK was filled with hunger, curiosity and nerves of course. We were all met for the first time. As we went around the circle and introduced ourselves by name, practice/discipline and point of origin, it was clear that I was going to spend the next month was an incredibly passionate group of artists from around the world. As the weeks progressed, the nerves came and went, but the hunger and curiosity only intensified as we dove deeper and deeper into our training. This training is not for the faint-of-heart: 90 minutes of Suzuki training, followed by 90 minutes of Viewpoints. Lunch was followed by two 90 minute classes of either movement, Speaking (with a sword no less!), dramaturgy and composition. Dinner and then rehearsal for 2 to 3 hours. The level of fatigue and exhaustion high – but what was astounding was that everyone pushed through; teaching us that that our personal limits are much further than we think.

The Importance of Rigour

Suzuki is a physical form of training that is as intense as you desire it to be, but you stand to gain the most by pushing yourself well beyond your perceived maximum. And then hiding it. Rigour is explicitly folded into the Suzuki training. Similar to classical ballet, we chase forms that are impossible to make with our bodies.

The Suzuki training is directly related to our work on the stage. Suzuki provides a perfect, unattainable, form. The performer's job is to strive for perfection in the form; to butt up against the form; which of course leads to failure. But it is within the attempt and this failure that we learn. 

The attempt requires a razor-like focus and conscientiousness. Moving with this kind of meticulousness sharpened my awareness and knowledge of my instrument – my body. Though the standard or form is perfect and unchanging – throughout the course we were asked to look for the specific challenges facing our personal instrument, to chart our own journey and develop our own language to face our personal obstacles. Each improvement creating new challenges that inform us about our instrument.

There is also something incredibly beautiful to me around sharing of obstacles, language and thought. Within the pedagogy of the Suzuki at SITI, students are repeatedly asked to watch each other. But it even goes a step further – to share what you saw (the good, the bad and the downright ugly) with each other. At times this was by watching with our eyes, sometimes it was by placing our hands on each other and once, literally carrying each other while executing the form. By forcing us to not only “watch” but share what we “saw” with each other, we were able to deepen our understanding of the form. We began to find the language to articulate our findings. It also made the pursuit less of a downer: It was less about continually failing and more about finding joy in the pursuit of perfection especially since perfection is an unattainable destination. A huge paradigm shift.

What became clearer and clearer to me as well was the implicit need for that same rigour in Viewpoints class. Can I really forget about the idea of being interesting and be honestly curious? Can I truly be in a state of working, and not performing, when I am up in front of my peers? Can I continue that state of work (and not think about what I just did or will do) when I am watching? Can I follow my own bliss and lead at times... Do I even know what that is?

These are questions that I will continue to ask of myself your years to come, perhaps and most likely forever. 

The teacher and the student

Another moment of beauty is that core SITI company members not only teach or lead all of the classes, but they also take all of the classes with us. Not only does this show us their dedication to training, but it also allows us to watch them work. And while this is inspiring, gorgeous and jaw-droppingly awe making, it also means that we get to watch them make mistakes. This was incredible. What are mistakes? How do these incredible performers navigate mistakes? 

Well, in Viewpoints, there are no mistakes. There is only information. If we are noticing, open and less wrapped in our personal psychology, this information leads us to discoveries (and not judgements) about our physical and vocal tendencies and the text we are studying. We need these discoveries. Once we are aware of our tendencies we can choose whether or not to continue to work in our habits, or to work on carving out new patterns. 

In Suzuki, while watching each other and sharing what we saw, we were learning to objectively articulate the needs of the form. When we were working with others and watching others, we the students, were learning how to teach ourselves. The instructors at SITI would remind us that, in others, we are all more likely to see the same challenges that we have ourselves. The major difference is in the articulation or the language we use. We are much kinder in our articulation to others than we would be to ourselves. By practising with others, we were shifting our self-talk to be more objective and on a basic, human level, kinder.

Constructive Collaboration

Oh Composition class, How did I hate thee? In 6 days or less create a 12 minute piece of theatre, following a laundry list of criteria. Create this piece of theatre outside of your 8 hours of class time with people from a variety of backgrounds and experiences, that you have never worked with or even met before… and GO!

The level of stress was unbelievable, but really, welcome to the world of theatre.  From a performance perspective, Composition Class gave us the opportunity to practise the mindsets and awareness that we were developing in Suzuki and Viewpoints in real time. From a creation point of view (most) theatre is created on the most ridiculously small budgets, in less time than necessary with people that you have shared limited time creating with. And the play/text has needs too! 

Composition Class was a concrete lesson in constructive collaboration. In team environments, there are four stages that a new team goes through: forming, storming, norming and performing. For creative processes, we stand to benefit from norming the storming stage. As a team, having the ability to supportively encourage and challenge each other’s ideas allow a kernel of an idea to blossom into practicality if not excellence.

I would like to extend a huge thank you to Why Not Theatre, Theatre Ontario, SDA Enterprises, and artsVest Toronto for the International Creators Scholarship. I am irrevocably changed by my time at SITI’s Summer Intensive. Filled with a curiosity that I haven’t experienced in years and full of questions, I return to the Toronto theatre scene with a language by which to speak about the work and an approach by which to bring my best instrument to the table.

No comments:

Post a Comment