Monday, June 2, 2008

Suzuki: Day One

(WARNING: These entries will end up being more personal. Unavoidable.)

Got into the space and felt Old. So OLD. And that seems silly at twenty-three years and almost-but-not-quite eight months. All these undergrad students, most it looked like hadn't gotten past twenty yet, all friends, all these familiar greetings ("There she is!") that I remember when I took the intensive with my friends three years earlier. The sense of solitude hints at my feelings about grad school a little too well. I'm the only one from that session to return, and know no one, save the instructors, who I was flattered to discover actually remembered me--one teacher came over and greeted me, and it made me feel much more at home in what is now a foreign environment.

The work was the same, but getting my body used to moving that way again is just as difficult as it was three years ago, though I like to think the yoga experience has actually helped in at least understanding balance a little more, specifically the work the whole body is doing in order to maintain it. But my habits are still my habits, and I'm still working on them: letting go of the tension in my jaw, working but not WORKING!!!, maintaining a far focus (which I find harder as time goes by and the nearsightedness gets worse {still no glasses or contacts}), and ceasing judgment of myself and others (fucking judgmental mind...).

Last night we did a warm up, kind of a dancey-yoga, and then worked on marching as a whole, and then split into three separate groups. My group gathered in an upstairs rehearsal space that is separate from the large hall where we start the evening, and worked on extending ki, weight on the underside, and relaxation. Let me try to explain for those not familiar, and for the sake of myself:

  1. Extending ki is essentially taking the focus off one's self and extending energy outward. Steve, one of the teachers, said this great thing: "Seeing in successful looking." We experiment with this by standing, just standing, and having some one push us slightly. Usually a person just standing will waiver. But the next step is to take a focus, look across the room, see some small detail--the dust on or shape of a pipe, whatever. Some one tries to push you again, and suddenly you barely move. Because your focus is off yourself, you're more actively engaged, and instantly you're grounded. This is obviously something you need as an actor, and as Steve reminded us in class, the other person in the scene is usually the most important. We do the same exercise by holding one arm palm up, extended straight out and having someone try to bend it, or palm facing the ground with a person trying to push it down. Your focus is usually coming from a sense of center, and sending energy up from that place, passing through the arm, extending to the point you are seeing. Here we often experimented by having the subject (arm-holder-upper) focus on a person standing across from them. See a specific detail about their neck, and you can keep your arm straight. See how they're noticing your hair, and suddenly with the focus back on yourself, your arm bends. It just happens. (Unless you're really good: There's actually one student older than me, Heath, probably in his late thirties, early forties, who has actually taught Suzuki. We are in the same group and he was my partner {the two fogeys}, and he was good even when he was supposed to be bad. In those instances, he would work to stand "STRONGLY," and that effort usually worked to unground him enough that he would waiver.)
  2. Weight on the underside works on grounding and balance. Have some one focus their weight on their heels, push them, and they'll start to fall over. Have them readjust their focus to distributing their weight to the center of the foot closer to the ball, and they'll be steady. With the same idea, have some one sit on the ground, have them focus on the tops of their legs, and when you push them they'll move. Have them stay in that same position, but think about the place where their thigh touches the ground, and they're steady. Same thing works on a chair, or in variations from moving from standing to sitting, or sitting to standing. This is actually the place where the yoga has helped me the most, as we often have to move one part of the body while keeping another part stationary, maintaining a wide, steady balance the whole time, making that action possible. So being aware of where your weight is in order to do that helps in this exercise.
  3. Relaxation is not about releasing entirely, but maintaining energy that isn't taxing or restrained. If you release entirely, that's just flaccidity, and nobody ever seems to want that. Steve's example: "Relaxing entirely on stage is essentially this (falls on floor in jumbled heap)." You can't act like that. But it's important to know where you're holding tension in your body so you can release it and make yourself more available to act/produce an action. It also frees up your body to do character work--there are only so many physical choices and shapes you can make with your shoulders up to your ears, or pushed down as far as they can go, for that matter. And of course, a relaxed body makes breath more available.

The three ideas are linked, in that if one works they all will: if you extend ki, you'll relax and have your weight where it needs to go, and so on. So if you can just do one, you're still doing a lot.

Aside from watching myself work last night and marveling how far I've come and not come, I mostly found myself noticing the kids, and laughing at what I saw--not in mockery, but in familiarity. There's this one girl who was decked out in Lululemon. I didn't notice her really speaking to other people, and in all of her work, you could tell she was trying Real Hard. She reminded me of myself in a way, and it made me both smile and feel a little sad. "Let up a little!" I wanted to say. "Find friends here!" Another girl was obviously there more concerned about how she looked, moving with intended body language, but I couldn't figure out who she was putting on the show for. This girl bothered me--"Don't focus on that! It's not important and it doesn't last, and here is not the place!"

And then there's this third kid, Jake. Jake is not the same as my friend Jake who did the GPS play with me, but one of the many MMC undergrads at this function. He seems like a pretty cool kid. We're in the same sub-group, and had a chance to work together. Every time something clicked for him, his entire face just lit up, like it was the coolest thing he'd ever experienced. You could see him gaining the confidence and the wonder all at once. And it was totally infectious. No wonder older people are often attracted to younger ones: watching their discoveries is wonderful and reminds you just what is happening around you and how lucky you are to be a part of it. It's like really seeing again, instead of just looking. And there's something about the lack of fear and self-censorship about Jake having that reaction--I'm totally guilty of always trying to come off professional and end up having very cerebral reactions to what happens to me in art and discovery (this blog could make that argument all on its own). But here is some one who can just celebrate the really amazing change you experience in discovering this work, and really enjoy it. I miss that--just letting myself enjoy something, not having to qualify it by examining WHY I like it. That's what my therapist is for, anyway.

Being around these kids (I keep calling them that, but it's really because I feel SO OLD, not because of any pretension {at least not conscious pretension...}) makes me also think about how I had wanted to teach at one point, and think I still do...someday. There is something, though, the responsibility that comes with teaching that I'm afraid of. What if I get it wrong? What if my students hate me? What if I become one of those teachers I hated, who got into it only to hear themselves talk, not because they wanted to help minds develop? How to be sure? I guess you never can be. But I might risk it for a student like Jake. Maybe.

He also complimented my mis-matched socks, which gives him another point in my book.

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