I am here, this is me and I am fine
As we come to the end of another year I find myself reflecting on what ‘has been’ and I’m thinking about the future – taking it one day at a time.
It is useful to look back sometimes and remember what you have done in order to make sure you never do it in quite the same way again – always trying to keep things fresh. However there are some guiding principals amongst past projects that keep me going in the same direction and, recognising what those are, is helpful.
It is also important for me to acknowledge my past teachers and to remember the lessons I have learnt over the years. Yoshi Oida started me on a path and he continues to be a source of inspiration to me today.
The Invisible Actor
I came across Yoshi Oida’s book ‘The Invisible Actor’ again. I had worked with The Peter Brook Company from Paris in 1992 at Northern Stage and Yoshi was in the company. They presented the work “The Man Who …” based on Oliver Sacks’ bestseller “The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat” .
I will never forget the images of Yoshi shaving just one side of his face in the piece, one of the most memorable performances I have ever seen. He explains the process in his book.
“I had the role of a patient who had lost the ability to perceive the left side of his body. In one scene he was requested by the doctors to carefully shave his entire face in front of a mirror. So he did. But since he had no awareness of his left side, he shaved only the right half of his face. He was absolutely convinced that he had shaved it all. Meanwhile he was being recorded on video. The doctors then asked him to turn and look at himself in the video monitor. Whilst, in the mirror reflection, the patient’s left appeared on his left, on the video screen it appeared to him on his right and he could see that half of his face was still covered in shaving foam. At that moment he understood that his brain was damaged.
In terms of staging, I had to look at the video screen and then back to the mirror three times, in order to compare the two images of my face. Each repeated turn of the head had to develop the situation. The first time the man turned was when the doctor asked him to look at the video screen. The second time, the man couldn’t comprehend what he had seen, so he had to verify the image on the screen. The third time was desperation. Three steps. In order to give the appropriate development, I changed the tempo each time I turned my head. It sounds mechanical, but each time I actually performed it, I found that I genuinely felt sadness. I don’y know why. I wasn’t looking for the emotion. But because of the tempo and the interior connection, I discovered I had tears running down my face.
In fact, the whole of my performance was constructed through tiny physical details. Turn to the screen at ‘this’ tempo. Next time stop a little bit on the way. Tilt the head very slightly to the right. And the emotion emerged.
The Peter Brook Company led workshops with the then emerging Northern Stage Ensemble and they were clearly seminal moments in the development of that company.
There is another passage in the book that I think inspired me to start working in the way that I do. In the very first chapter he talks about making sure that the space is clean and ready for work. It is assumed that the performer would do the cleaning and they would do it as ritual with no other thought than concentrating on the job in hand.
“In ancient Indian Buddhist philosophy, there is a concept called ‘Samadhi, which refers to a level of deep concentration. In a sense it is quite simple. When you read a book, you just concentrate on reading the book. When you go fishing, you just focus on the movements and quivers of the line itself. When you clean the floor, that is all you do’.
More about Yoshi’s work here
My major interest in theatre is working with the performers. Wherever and whoever I work with I like to try to find this kind of authenticity. My view is that audiences like to see ‘who you are’ first and then, secondly, ‘what you do’. I believe, in the beginning of a theatre making process, that performers don’t need to do anything more than to just be before us – completely and sincerely – exposing their natural presence, beauty, strength and vulnerability, without words or movement.
In their mind they are simply saying to themselves:
“I am here, this is me and I am fine”
Whether they are young, old, a professional performer or amateur actor or community participant or someone dealing with a chaotic life style or personal difficulties or from a different culture or a different skill set – if they are able to say to themselves “I am here. this is me and I am fine” then we are starting to create something beautiful. Once the performer discovers that they can be in front of people, doing nothing except being there completely – only then can we start to make the theatre that I find inspiring.
I am in the process of creating a new company, an ensemble of equals, all of whom come from very different cultures, knowledge, experiences and lives and who don’t feel intimidated by being themselves in front of others. They are not showing off, they are not interrupting or giving meaning to something, they are just there, doing nothing.
The Performance Ensemble
The Performance Ensemble is a group of performers from different cultures and backgrounds, working in the space between professional and community art, and coming together over one year to create a new contemporary performance piece of the highest artistic standard.
It has taken me 40 years to get to this place – from Harrogate, Loughborough, Birmingham, and Dundee – making work in The Ukrainian Social Club in Doncaster, The Pathhead Hall, Kirkcaldy, The Damajuana Bar in Jerez, Cebu in The Philippines, Cluj Napoca in Romania, Copenhagen, Paris, New York, Barcelona, Mafra Texas and Newcastle upon Tyne amongst other places.
A long way to travel just to be able to understand the power of being alone on a stage, doing nothing and saying, completely, sincerely and with concentration –
‘I am here, this is me and I am fine’