Over or Around

Back in 2008 I was lucky enough to travel to Paris and study for 8 weeks with the Roy Hart affiliated Pantheatre. It was valuable training at a time when I needed a creative hurdle. And I definitely appreciate the specifics of what I took away in terms of approach to the voice in theater.

But also concurrent with the particulars of that program was an interesting personal exploration. Things I noticed while in this program:

–       I can spend an inordinate time alone

–       I am often content not to speak to people for long stretches

–       Without other distractions I implement an incredibly rigid and rigorous routine in almost every aspect of my life

–       If I give myself the task to do so, I will write a lot, and do so every day


These were not particulars to the work at Pantheatre. At least not intentionally. The habits I developed arose in part because I knew this was a time, the first in a very long time, in which my only task was to be in one place working on a skill. And because I really had total control of my environment and my schedule I slipped into extreme habits that I normally couldn’t.

I woke up early, made my breakfast and lunch for the day, took the metro to class and spent the next 6 – 8 hours there. I then would go home, buy groceries for dinner, workout for 60 minutes, listen to one of three podcasts while I ate, write for a half an hour or more, read a chapter of the book I was researching in for a new piece, and then go to bed at 10:30. On Wednesdays when we had only had half days of class I spent afternoons visiting a destination selected from a list of places I’d made before leaving the US. Saturdays I’d pick two. Sundays I cleaned my apartment from top to bottom and looked over my finances.

Every single day I cooked each meal I ate. Every day I exercised. Every day I wrote.

I pasted my schedules and lists onto the walls of my Parisian apartment so that I could be surrounded with order and structure. I took copious notes in class, ones that I still use today. I journaled about every place that I saw, dissected each moment and feeling I had. I didn’t really talk to a lot of people other than my classmates, and even them, just a few. I deviated just once or twice to go out with the group on the class outings.

And I when I write all this it seems a little lonely but in truth it was one of the happiest, richest times I can remember. I felt incredibly full, expanding in all directions. The work resonated in the tiniest spaces of me and the routine became a kind of ritual that I could dig a little deeper into each day. I tasted food more than I had in years. I was in tune with my physical being in a way that I had not been perhaps ever. All of my teachers noted that by the end of the program I seemed settled and happy and calm in a way that was remarkable given where I’d started. They all said that my performing became freer and easier than it had at the start. I felt that too. Something about the structure outside the room made me ready and able to tackle the wild challenge inside it.

As soon as I came back home, all of these habits vanished. In truth, I didn’t even really try to keep them going. I knew even before I stepped off the plane that there was just no way to be the same person here that I was there. And the kind of rigidity that had come so naturally, just wasn’t suited to the life I lived in the “real” world.

I think about this time a lot.

I think about what I should think about it.

It’s probably obvious that I’m a pretty introverted person when left to my own devices. There are a lot of things that come with being a theater professional that I find inordinately anxiety producing or difficult. I have often had to suck up this tendency and learn skills that are not always easy. I have also found ways to circumvent traditional ways of doing something. This is the perennial question: over or around?

I’m never certain whether trying to navigate a new path is cowardly or inventive. Am I simply giving in to fear when I try and do something in a more complicated but easier for me style? Or am I making a world where people like me can do things like I do them? Hard to know.

More on this tomorrow I think.


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