Friday, October 15, 2010

It's called a play for a reason

This photo is a production shot from 7 Minutes to Midnight, the show I developed and directed at Bellevue College about the invention of the atomic bomb and the Doomsday Clock (as well as the Greek story of Kronos who devours his children).  In this section, they're balancing badminton rackets (badminton became a metaphor for the bomb).  This was one of many playful exercises I had them do in rehearsals and I ended up incorporating this one into the show.  

The activity reminded the actors to stay focused in the present moment, to react to others in the space as they moved around, but also, most importantly, to have fun.  Games are not just idle warm-ups.  The sense of child-like play should always be there.

The point today is:  it’s called A PLAY for a reason.  Actors used to be called PLAYERSIt may be the most serious drama in the world, but at the end of the day its still actors playing pretend.  It’s not much more sophisticated than when I used to play G.I. Joe with friends in the backyard. 

Okay, maybe theatre is a little more complicated than that.  Usually.  As theatre artists, we should embrace that child-like sense of play (most actors already know this, but same goes for writers, directors, and designers).

When I was around eleven, our family would pile into the station wagon and drive between Reno and San Jose.  We had just moved up to Reno from the bay area and would travel the fours down to visit family for the weekend, then drive the four hours back on Sunday night. 

On the drive, I usually ended up in the very back of the wagon, lying down. This was before seatbelt laws, fyi.  I would put on the headphones of my walkman (yes, a real Walkman) and play a tape of music as I stared out the window.  We drove a lot at night and I remember staring up at all the stars while the dark shadows of the trees of the Sierra Nevada forest whizzed by the car.  As the music played, my mind would wander and images would appear.  Those images became stories, like little movies playing in my head. 

I’ve never been able to read or write anything while in a moving car because I get nauseous.  So I created my own stories and some of them I thought were so good, I wanted to write them down, only I couldn’t.  So I replayed them and rewrote them in my head, burning the images and story into my mind.   This was my own mental version of playing G.I. Joe.

Yes, I know.  I was a strange child. 

Now, I can still find that “sense of play” although some days its harder to get there than others.  I don’t always have to be there and I don’t have to wait for inspiration—in fact, I’ve done some great work even when I wasn’t in that state. 

Until someone invents a pill that we could take to instantly get us to that kind of playful state, we will just have to find our own ways of getting there.

For me sometimes it’s listening to music.  Or it’s sitting quietly with my eyes closed.  

So what are your ways?

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