We are a culture of screen sitting. Ask yourself: how many waking hours do you spend sitting in front of a screen- smartphone, TV, computer, movie big screen, gaming, tablet…? What about the people around you, your children, parents, siblings, friends, coworkers…? Often, even while moving we are in front of a screen at the gym or in the airport. In front of our screens we are living away from our bodies and in our heads. Mostly our screens are thinking and we are passive. Our bodies are there to move our heads from place to place. Our bodies are often a nuisance that needs to be worked out – so we go to the gym or to yoga or run – not so much for the intrinsic joy but more for the necessity – our culture tells us the health benefits so we abide. I am seeing my students, from five year olds to adults, losing real connection with their bodies.
I have been working with actors, singers and dancers this summer (and for years) on finding body knowledge and listening to body information: cues, impulses, patterns, etc. This bodywork is very traditional theater practice but is foreign for most people. There is a discomfort often, a denial sometimes, and a real challenge for studying performers. Even as the stage is all about bodies, the disconnect with would-be performers is huge. As well, the disconnect between audiences and performers is a problem, see this http://mobile.nytimes.com/2015/07/11/theater/theaters-struggle-with-patrons-phone-use-during-shows.html?referrer= .
Our bodies are communication vehicles- even the words we utter need a body, but moreover the nonverbal communication of body language and gesture are primary body actions. Even our thinking of what we want to communicate is itself body – embodied – in our bodymind as the neural/cognitive scientists and practitioners, especially in the theater, call it these days.
Our minds are our ‘brains at work’ says Dr. Joe Dispenza. Our brains are physical, material, and real. Our thoughts are fired by real electrical impulses and release real chemical substances and emit and radiate real energy waves. Yet we still think of our thoughts in our heads as non-real, abstract, invisible, and not to be found. It is hard to wrap our minds around our minds as real things. But embodied we are. We are in a body and
the body is primary in that the body is our first frame of reference, our first place of experience, and houses the original truth of our living actions. Yet the mind is a part of this bodymind system- it is never away. Truth is, our cognitive system is both body and mind and our physical actions are both mind and body. In performing our bodymind is our instrument, we work to develop and craft it into a fluid instrument of the highest quality: the Stradivarius BodyMind as it were.
The body work is challenging for performers these days, especially older ones – the older we get the farther from the body we absent ourselves. Our early educational practices steer us toward passive bodies at desks thinking hard without our bodies. When are we asked to listen to the body’s impulses? To express what we are feeling in our bodies? To locate where in the body a feeling exists? To locate tension in the body? To move our bodies in absolutely impulsive ways? To let the body lead us? To follow the body’s impulses? To listen to the messages from the body? Theater work asks us these questions and points us in these directions.
Hardest of all is for students to ‘not know’. When we are in a place of
‘not knowing’ we have great opportunity in front of us. But fear overcomes our uncertainty and we lean into our default actions and thoughts and we lose the opportunity to change and grow. Yet when we really don’t know, the body will deliver if we can trust it. The solution, answer, action, or resolve ‘will appear’ to us if we can wait long enough doing nothing – a very vulnerable situation.
Performers strive to be alive and vibrantly spontaneous while performing. To make it look easy and effortless, without tension or too much thinking. But our heads interfere: we feel our attention on ourselves and we become self-conscious- the death of performance. It is hard to stay focused on our outer environment and partners where our reactions become so real and authentic through impulse and action. But this kind of generosity is what makes great performing- staying focused on others (on stage and in audience) and genuinely giving.
Young children get this. They instantly jump into their bodies (if they’re not already there: some children live in their bodies, and often have difficulty in school classes thereof) and follow their impulses. It is fun for them. Of course they cannot often articulate what they are doing but doing it teaches them what it is. I keep steering my older teens and adults toward this embodied approach to performing but their heads often interfere with fears, intellectualizing, and wanting to use psychology to figure things out. Yet if the seeds are planted, and allowed to be in the required darkness for a period, a character will emerge spontaneously from the truth of our bodymind and will always be perfect as it is: it came from the source, the muse, the matrix…