Why take acting classes when feeling stuck in life?
Updated: Apr 16, 2021
A year and a half ago, I felt lost. I just wasn't feeling fulfilled, especially not from my job. I know this is very common, but it doesn't mean that we have to accept it.
My gut told me I needed to find my voice. So I literally did. The first workshop I did at the HCAC was the Kabaret workshop. I created a character called Luci La'Luz who sang Maybe This Time. Yeah, maybe this time I'll win. Or maybe there's no winning, just ... whether you like the process. I quietened the part of my brain that kept saying in a tinny voice "but you have to think of the outcome...what do you want?" Honestly, I still can't give a concrete answer because it's still being formed. But a direction I do have. I want to be more empowered in my life. One way I defined that for myself at that time was to just be quietly confident in my choices, trust myself more than others, and be comfortable with uncertainty. What's new? These are the same things I decided I wanted seven years ago. So I still want the same things, but perhaps now was the time to try a different approach to try and get at them.
To trust yourself, you need to know yourself. The first level acting class aptly reminds you to "Know thyself." Know yourself, so you can personalise the character you're trying to advocate for. The cliché that actors don't know who they are, and that's why they chase other characters, feeling more comfortable in someone else's life, owning their dreams, taking their blows, is not an accurate one. True, some of us are undecided about who we are, but that's not to say we don't know ourselves. We are artists, and tend to reserve judgement because we recognise that we're dynamic, ever-changing. Besides, how boring to make up our lives about who we are so quickly. Most of the magic in life is in surprising yourself. And Kamil does invite us to surprise ourselves. Sometimes I do, in the skin of another character.
They say listen to your body. But a lot of us are disconnected from our bodies. We've learnt to ignore what our body tells us. So we have to rebuild that connection. That Mind-Body connection that has Heart as the interface. (What is the feeling of joy in our body? Every atom feels alive. I know what that feels like. Both it can be indistinguishable from a dopamine hit from satisfying an addiction.) As an actor, our body is literally our instrument. That connection is not only necessary, it's crucial.
So almost two years on, where am I on that journey?
Produced Nervous Laughter as part of a global participatory theatre response to the climate crisis
I'm training in and building a community of consent-based arts and performance practitioners
Dipped my toes into the cold water of past struggles with loneliness and depression, exploring what home means to me in a solo performance piece
Created a 30 min improvised scene with strasbergs improv
Performed 2 monologues
Become part of the Haque Collective
Started writing spoken word and performed at a few open mics
Written 2 one act plays
Written a bunch of comedy sketch scripts
Created a zine about producing virtual theatre during lockdown
Been part of a benefit show for the HCAC to raise funds during lockdown
Explored a lot more dance and movement based disciplines
Obviously I was just stupidly lucky and to have had the energy to do all that, not to have had other commitments or limitations. But most important of all, I wouldn't have done any of that if I'd been doing it alone. I've come into many of these things because I wanted to do this with the people I've met. And somehow that energy and magic has extended beyond the realm of HCAC and theatre and I've also embarked on other creative pursuits with other people in life. I'd been a part of the Interseed.co community for the past 3 years and it almost seemed too obvious that Irsyad and I would host a podcast together featuring founders and funders of impact start-ups. It's definitely not a coincidence that other channels have opened up because I've first unblocked that mind-body-heart channel with simply allowing myself to have and keep the faith in expressing myself in my own unique way.
And community is of utmost importance. We're a bunch of Neo-generalists, Renaissance people, multi-specialists, whatever you call it. And that makes all the difference. Instead of people constantly questioning why I'm taking acting classes and me wearing myself out explaining, instead of saving my energies for the intensive work that is actors' prep, I am surrounded by people that see the value of lateral learning, self expression, and doing what you love. And it's immediately apparently that the studio is impregnated with love.
I wouldn't have thought I'd learn problem-solving skills by doing theatre, but it is actually all we ever do! What is a story but a protagonist trying to achieve an objective while having to overcome challenges. Our characters are interesting when they're trying to solve problems. The protagonist is the one who has the most problems to solve. We hone our critical thinking skills creating and solving problems. We're also called to solve real life problems all the time. Finding a rehearsal space (resourcefulness), working with others (collaborating creatively), trying to tell a story the best way we can with what we have (innovation). And on the stage, we have to listen intently not only to our scene partners but to our audience. Active listening is the bedrock of any good team member and leader (and simply, human).
Do I feel less lost? I think I do. It's not like I know what's at the end of this, nor do I need to know. But I feel surer of my choices, and this reminds me of what my therapist had said to me during one session when I talked about feeling unable to make any decisions. Making decisions is a muscle we have to flex for it to grow stronger, and in some way it makes sense in my head that I am flexing that muscle every time I am in the acting studio. For your talent lies in your choices.
"There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open." - Martha Graham to Agnes de Mille.