Category Archives: Theatre

The Dark Truth of Healing

In the wee small hours of the morning….While the whole wide world is fast asleep…..

Frank Sinatra’s soft, smooth voice wraps around me and warms me from the outside as the toasted walnut tea hugs my insides.  My daughter gave me this CD on a September afternoon six years ago, just after I’d been pushed off the end of my world and was desperately looking for something to hold onto.  Something to keep me breathing.   I would light my forest of candles and listen to Frank over and over and over again.

“Once upon a time, not so long ago and not so far away, there lived a King and Queen in a huge beautiful palace.”  So begins the second half of Slumming, the play I’ve just finished as part of the Vancouver Fringe Festival.  I tip toe into this 30 minute almost monologue as my character, Grace, eases away from Britney, the young street worker who has just been raped.  Britney has asked for a ‘made up story’ and Grace is looking for anything with which to give comfort.  The play has suddenly taken a turn into darker territory.

I begin the play as an obviously unstable street person, yet one who is just as obviously not used to living on the streets.  Throughout the almost monologue I slowly lose the tics and characteristics of Grace “the street person” and grow to become the Queen within the fairy tale.  The words I speak hold great power.

The fairy tale is a story of great betrayal and an even greater, darker revenge.  The very last words of the story strike like MacBeth’s dagger and kills any remaining comedy.  The coda of the play leaves many in tears.  There is such power when Truth is carried with strong intention and conviction.

Several days pass and I receive an email from the writer and director of the play.  She writes, in part, “Writing the fairy tale in Slumming — and then watching you render it so wonderfully — has been cathartic for me.  I no longer feel anger towards_____; in fact, I feel nothing.  I feel free.  I keep waking up saying “Free at last!  Free at last!””

 I am so gratified and so grateful to have been given the honour and opportunity to play a part in her healing.  It has also been an important step in my own healing and journey towards forgiveness.  I’ve been working especially hard this past year to come to a place of complete compassion and forgiveness.  To remove the thin sticky threads which keep me from giving and receiving open-hearted love.

The brilliant and mystical Larry Moss says, “The imagination is bigger than anything you can remember from your own life.”  I manifest the truth of this when I play the character of Grace on stage; when I stand over the sleeping King in the fairy tale and raising MacBeth’s dagger on high, “stab the cheatin’ bastard in the heart!”

Throughout the run of the play I greet many friends and relatives at the end of the performance that give me hugs of congratulations and words of “well done.”  Some are wiping tears from their eyes and some chuckle knowingly, “I guess you didn’t have to go too far to find the emotion and motivation for that, did you.”   They’re talking about my own story of betrayal.

And here’s where I’ve stepped into a magical discovery.  As I weave the story of the fairy tale, casting a spell of make-belief, I come to realize that my own painful curse has been broken.  As I speak the Queen’s words of her wounding betrayal I am no longer able to use the power of my own story to drive the performance.  I try and try to envision my used-to-be husband and my own Other Woman, but they keep disappearing into the vapour of the spell, and the engine of the performance threatens to choke and sputter.

Instead, I call upon the incredible power of my imagination and use that to fuel my words.  Instead of the face of my own betrayer, I see the man who betrayed the playwright.  It is he who appears amidst the smoke of the spell I am casting.  And just like that, I discover that I’ve forgiven those that have wounded me.

I have healed my own wound of betrayal so well that now, as an actor, I must use my imagination instead of the tool of substitution.  What remains behind are great gifts; the intricate, delicate and subtle shades and tones of my emotional pallet that I can now use to colour my performances.  This is where my own Truth comes out to play, and instead of wounding it comes out to help in the healing of others.  What is in the One, is in the Whole.

And so, as I sit behind the wings and listen to the gathering audience laugh and talk before the lights darken, I close my eyes and go within.  I ask that my heart remain open and vulnerable and that I paint the words of the play with the blood of my own healed wounds.  I ask to be used as an agent of healing and to honour the words of the playwright.  May I dwell in the breath of the Truth.  May my healed wound touch one within you and so begin your own healing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Betrayal, forgiveness, Theatre

Balancing In The Sea of Creativity

I find I am unable to focus on multiple projects at once.  Multi-tasking between creative platforms seems beyond me, and so while I’m immersed in the world of acting, my writing becomes the forgotten child crying for attention.

It feels like I’ve been in rehearsal for forever, there are so many characters living inside me, like multiple personalities, that it’s beginning to feel a bit over crowded.  It’s a high-class problem, but my writing child is crying louder and louder and it’s getting harder and harder to put her back to bed.  I’ve got one more play, one more character to bring to life before I can slip out the backstage doors of the theatre and bring my writing child out to play again.

Finding balance is always a challenge for me.  Living a creative life can be exhausting instead of fulfilling.  As an actress I never know when the next gig is going to come, each job feels like it might be the last, each opportunity too good to pass up.

I’ve gone from Queen Margaret in Henry VI and Mistress Page in Merry Wives of Windsor, to Blanche DuBois in Streetcar Named Desire, to Annie in Alan Ayckbourn’s The Norman Conquests.  Great characters, all of them!  And now I’ve been given the opportunity to bring a character to life for the very first time in a two-hander written by a wonderfully gifted playwright friend of mine for the upcoming Vancouver Fringe Festival.  Grace, in the world premiere of Slumming, written by Barbara Ellison.

I’ve gone full out since early spring doing what I absolutely love, and jumping with both feet off the highest cliff into my deepest fears and my biggest, thickest blocks.  And I really feel in need of a deep rest.  This month of rehearsals and production meetings, heading towards our opening night September 6th, I’m working to find balance.  Giving myself permission to sit quietly and read out-side, surrounded by my over-run garden and allow my physiological, spiritual and creative batteries to recharge.  Finding balance.  Creativity needs some alone, quiet time.  Simmering time.  Meditation.  Balance.

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Filed under Meditation, Spirituality, Theatre, Writing

Freeing The Voice From Within

By the time I walk up the flight of stairs and into the room I’m working to shake the uncomfortable feeling that I’m late and the built-up frustration over finding the place in the first place.  I unzip my favourite short, red boots and leave them at the door and walk into the room, glancing around as I take off my raincoat and hang it up.  I see a slim man sitting yogi-like on a square brown cushion, his back against the wall, and he looks so at home that I wonder if he’s an assistant.  I have no idea what to expect with this weekend voice intensive and I have more than a bit of resistance and fear.

I just lied.  I do have some idea of what to expect, and that’s exactly why I have some resistance and fear.  I’ve taken more than my share of voice classes, and by this I don’t mean singing classes.  Although voice work benefits singers and complements their practice, let’s be very clear – this is NOT a singing lesson.  I mean voice work as in finding your natural, true and honest voice in all its powerful, resonant magnificence and vulnerability, whether through song or spoken word.  It’s the ‘powerful’ and ‘vulnerable’ part that creates the spark of fear and resistance within me.  And also because I don’t yet know how ‘safe’ this room will be for the exploration that is to come.  I’m taking steps into the unknown.

A man strides towards me, holds out his hand and looks me in the eye, “Hello, I’m Noah.  Welcome.”

“I’m Terri,” I smile back.  I recognize Noah Drew from his picture on his website and feel a bit of the fear slip away.  I look at the others gathering in the room, and am comforted by the same look of unknowing on their faces – we are in this together.  This eclectic little group of us, four women and three men, plus Noah and his assistant, Melinda, who is a kind looking woman slightly older than I am, NOT the cushion sitting yogi man as it turns out.

Noah’s website says, “Fitzmaurice Voicework is a highly physical approach to vocal training, that helps you communicate your thoughts, intentions, and feelings, with a free, flexible, and potent voice.  The work combines classical voice training with adaptations of yoga, shiatsu, Reichian bodywork and other body-based meditative practices.  It aims to increase freedom of breath, resonance, power, spontaneity and emotional connection – the full range of humanity that can be expressed in the voice.

The Destructuring phase of the work involves freeing body and breath from chronic tensions and “programmed” patterns, to allow deep spontaneity and presence.  In restructuring, we channel the wild impulsivity stirred up by the Destructuring into an open, healthy, supported voice.”

I’m always fumble-mouthed when it comes to describing to others what it is we do in voice classes.  My non-actor friends always assume I’m learning to sing.  I wonder, would I notice that I needed voice class if I weren’t an actor?  For me, the scene study and character study work that I do as an actress is what points the way to the inner Self work that I am called to do.  I don’t want any of “my” problems, tensions, blocks to get in the way of telling the truth of the story, in honouring the playwright’s words.  I need to get out my own way to let the truth come forth through my body and my voice.  And sometimes that means doing some heavy excavation work.

I’m playing Theresa in a scene from Shelagh Stevenson’s “Memory of Water”, a play with high-stakes, high energy and intense emotion and I can feel the front of my throat constricting at the height of the scene.  Instead of the beautiful potency of the emotions coming through, my voice is instead coloured with a shrill crawing, closing out any of the soft, underbelly tones of vulnerability.

I allow myself a moment of frustration, but only a moment.  What before might have derailed me for months, now guides me to my next task; more and regular voice work.  Through years of inner work I’ve learned that an expression of powerful intense emotions, especially anger, causes a constriction in my throat.  The ‘flight or fight’ response kicking in. After many years living with an emotionally abusive and unavailable husband, I learned that strong emotions are never to be expressed.  They were the sign of a very unstable individual, namely me.  Despite the years of inner emotional and spiritual work I’ve done, my body still re-members.  My body is telling me that I now need to do some physical ‘destructuring’ and ‘restructuring’ – to learn another way of being.  A more balanced and truer way of being.

So I say thank you to my throat for protecting me for so long, but it’s safe to let go now.  You can rest.  I spend the rest of the weekend surrounded by the courage and compassion of our little group of intrepid voice explorers as we each work to free the electrifying honesty of our voices.  We lie on mats stretching and moving and voicing all manner and shape of sounds.  Bringing breath to parts of our body that have long been starved of oxygen.  Here, in this small studio there are no ‘ugly’ or weird sounds.  We move about the room voicing and babbling and sometimes bringing forth our chosen song or monologue.  Seeing, hearing, breathing, exploring.

Noah leads a class in a destructuring exercise. Image from his website.

It’s the last exercise on the last day and once more the fear begins to slowly spread tentacles throughout my diaphram, threatening to squeeze my breath up into my chest.  A boa constrictor wrapping his way up to my throat.  We are sitting comfortably on the floor, some on cushions, some stretching out on yoga mats.  I take my water bottle and notebook and set my meditation cushion against the wall beside Steven my brave new yogi sitting friend.  I need to feel the support of the wall behind my back as Noah describes how to approach our last performance.  We each have fifteen minutes to explore the stage area.  We are in complete control right down to ordering our fellow class members to not pay attention to us if that’s what we want.  We choose when to be the intrepid voice explorer, listen to our bodies and step onto the stage when we feel the electric impulse to move.

I wait until there are only two more of us remain, moving before the fear can paralyze my muscles.  When I am performing in a play or on set acting in a film or TV series, I might have a flutter of butterflies flittering through my body but I never feel fear.  This, however, is entirely different flock of flying creatures because I can’t hide behind a character.

“No one pay attention to Terri!” Noah calls out as I unfold from my cushion and walk to the middle of the stage area.  I walk slowly and turn around to look at the bowed heads of rest of my classmates.  A couple are writing quietly in notebooks, several more rest their heads on their arms.  No one is looking at me.  I turn my back to them and breath deeply down into my belly, swinging my arms and jumping softly up and down.  I glance back at my still inattentive audience and am amazed at how relaxed and free I feel.

I stand facing them, close my eyes and start voicing, gliding up and down, becoming a roller coaster starting deep in my abdomen and soaring up to the roof of my soft palate.  I close my mouth and hum, imagining the sound vibrating behind my eyes, out the back and top of my head, the back of my throat, filling the satellite dish behind me and bouncing back out to the front of the room.  I play with a few lines of my monologue.

“Who can find peace in such extreme times

Ah, wretched man! Would I had died a maid”

“I want Gordon to pay attention to me.” I demand, and smile back at Gordon as he raises his head to watch me.  I notice a frisson of heightened excitement in my chest and bounce on my toes and shake my hands to let the feeling run through me rather than get stuck.  I try a few more lines.

“Ah, wretched man! Would I had died a maid

And never seen thee, never borne thee a son”

Before I know it I’ve spent fifteen minutes playing with my voice, my body and with the attention of my audience.  I have just the men pay attention, then just the women, sometimes all of them and sometimes none of them.  I ask them to see my heart, to find something in me to love, to find a piece of joy in me.  I crouch and whisper, I stand back and become loud.  My throat opens to allow the anger and love of Shakespeare’s Margaret to stream out.  I feel completely relaxed and at home.

“Can I work with you?” Noah asks, and with my happy “yes” he offers me small suggestions.  He brings my attention to when I lean forward at the waist for emphasis, which causes my voice to constrict, then to the slight forward thrust of my chin.

“You are the Queen, make them come to you,” he advises.

I move to the far back of the room and begin again, moving my hand to the base of my head to remind myself to keep pulled up and not thrust out.

“Who can be patient in such extremes?

Ah, wretched man! Would I had died a maid

And never seen thee, never borne thee a son,

Seeing thou hast proved so unnatural a father

Hath he deserved to lose his birthright thus?

Hadst thou but loved him half so well as I,

Or felt that pain which I did for him once,

Or nourish’d him as I did with my blood,

Thou wouldst have left thy dearest heart-blood there,

Rather than have that savage duke thine heir

And disinherited thine only son.”

I have no problem finding the breath for Shakespeare’s long stanzas, in fact I don’t even think about it, it just happens naturally.  I can feel my voice vibrating in my eyes and my throat remains open and relaxed right to the end of the angry, emotional speech.

“Wow,” Noah says simply, “what a powerful voice.”

I can feel the power of the vocal vibrations throughout my entire body as I performed my monologue.  It feels like release and complete freedom.  Release and freedom from that internal, oftentimes unconscious, internal Judge that constantly passes sentence on every word that comes out of my mouth.

This is what voice work does for me.  It offers liberation from a lifetime of constriction and brings breath to parts of my body that have been long starved of oxygen.  It loosens and dissolves the mask of protection that has become so a part of me that I’m not even aware of its tight restrictions until it’s gone.  It allows my truth to be spoken without impediment.  It offers a path to awareness and healing.

 

 

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Filed under Archetypes, Theatre, Voice

Happy World Theatre Day!

There is nothing like good theatre.  Watching a good film is a passive activity, in theatre the audience is one of the characters, breathing the same air as the actors on the stage.  No performance is ever the same.

Oscar Wilde said, “ I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.”

Challenge yourself to watch one play this week in honour of World Theatre Day – you can do it!

From John Malkovich’s International World Theatre Day Message: “May your work be compelling and original. May it be profound, touching, contemplative, and unique. May it help us to reflect on the question of what it means to be human, and may that reflection be blessed with heart, sincerity, candor, and grace. May you overcome adversity, censorship, poverty and nihilism, as many of you will most certainly be obliged to do. May you be blessed with the talent and rigor to teach us about the beating of the human heart in all its complexity, and the humility and curiosity to make it your life’s work. And may the best of you – for it will only be the best of you, and even then only in the rarest and briefest moments – succeed in framing that most basic of questions, “how do we live?” Godspeed.”

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March 27, 2012 · 9:21 pm

I Will Not Go Gently Into The Night – Shine The Light on The Vancouver Playhouse

I’m sitting in a state of shock and sadness.  Last night, after 49 years, The Vancouver Playhouse had its last curtain call.  One of Canada’s longest running regional theatres and a very strong part of Vancouver’s cultural fabric is dark.  I still can’t believe it.  None of us in the theatre community can.

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My sadness is coloured with so many other emotions.  The red fire of anger burns against the cold blue of despair and I fight against sinking into the black gumbo muck of hopelessness.  I’m tired of fighting.  I long to rest, to be appreciated and valued.  It feels like I’ve been kicking against the current and treading water for so long and then, just when I think I can see a bit of an eddy, along comes a massive wave that pushes me under and tumbles me about.

It is so hard to be an artist of any kind; to be driven to create, to paint, dance, act, sing, write.  To open my heart to the world, show my soft, vulnerable, bleeding underbelly to the masses. To dip into the swampy swill of my wounds and paint a picture with my blood.  The empty page and the theatre stage become my battle grounds and I work hard to get out of my way to let the Truth of the story shine through.

I’m driving home from a difficult audition or an emotionally exhausting rehearsal and pull up to the stoplight in front of the Ambleside Starbucks.  I turn my head and watch the people coming out, coffee cups in one hand and cell phones in their other hand held against their ear. Civilians.  How I sometimes wish I were drawn to do anything but act.  I watch the woman in the navy blue peacoat and imagine her life to be free and unencumbered by the need to mine her inner depths until she bleeds.  I imagine she’s meeting a friend for coffee, to chat and laugh about how she fell three times snowboarding, or the book she’s reading for book club.  She’s not looking forward to an evening connecting with the emotional pain of losing a child, to memorize the words of the playwright, to animate the layered wounds and needs of a character.  All with the intent to honour the truth of the play so that, perhaps, one person in the audience will feel a subtle niggle of recognition and maybe, just maybe, nudge open the door to healing just a wee little bit.

Stella Adler says, “The word theatre comes from the Greeks.  It means the seeing place.  It is the place people come to see the truth about life and the social situation.”  When will our society value the Arts?  When will our society value creativity?  As one mourning sign posted outside the closed doors of the Playhouse theatre says, I want Chekhov AND the Canucks.  Why can’t we have both?  Why can’t we value and support the Arts as well as sports?

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A cup of tea will not make this better, but I wrap my hands around the mug my dad’s hands formed and I feel a bit of his strength flow into me.  We cannot give up now, not when the city needs us more than ever.  We cannot let The Vancouver Playhouse go gently into the night.

*Read The Vancouver Playhouse press release here.

*Read Max Reimer’s (Playhouse Artistic Director) response to City’s assistance of the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company, September 2011 here.

*Sign ipetition to Save the Vancouver Playhouse here.

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Filed under Theatre