Saturday, October 5, 2013

theater everywhere

A few weeks after moving to Paris, I started attending personal development sessions offered by my employer.  These sessions took place in the evening once a month in a studio located in central Paris, and lasted about three hours each time.  I remember the first time I showed up.  The room was filled with 20 to 30 people, all colleagues with the exception of the instructor.  I felt completely out of my league as the newbie in a crowd of French speakers in familiar territory, even if my French was decent.  Besides, I was reserved and discreet by nature, with the body language to prove it.  In spite of this, I kept up with the sessions over the next five years that followed.

The reason why I kept coming back was because it was so much fun trying out new ways of being.  And the person responsible for this was Corinne, the instructor.  Not only did she propose fun games for us to play in a group as a warm-up, she had a way of enabling us to perform to the best of our abilities during improvisational sketches and script performances.  Her enthusiasm was always present and very contagious.  And whenever helpful or necessary, she never hesitated to use her professional expertise as a actress to inspire us.  And what a beauty it was to watch her perform.  Mesmerizing, in fact.  I was in love with Corinne and with her sessions, and sometimes that emotional high was just enough to block out the awareness of feeling different.  I even jumped on board when she informed me of the theater classes that she was teaching at a conservatory near the Eiffel Tower, just so that I could have more opportunities to explore the actor within me.  Each class followed a structure that was very similar to that of the personal development sessions, but the work was more formal.  In any case, the whole thing was a self-discovery adventure that I enjoyed to the fullest.

The latter of my two years of theater classes with Corinne culminated in an end-of-year special, during which the three other students and I performed excerpts from several French plays at the conservatory before an audience of about 30-40 people.  A few days after the performance, I could see how I had progressed from someone who was afraid of exposing himself to public scrutiny to a person nearly capable of losing himself in character.  In conjunction with the personal development sessions, which also ended at the same time, I felt more at ease allowing any unpredictable silliness that I had to manifest itself and speaking a French that some people could have trouble understanding.

Then again, I found it difficult to sign up for next year's theater classes.  I was nowhere being close to a professional actor and thoughts of more intensive classes had crossed my mind, yet the desire to invest more of myself was not strong enough.  In the process of figuring out how to continue the adventure that had brought me much joy and a certain self-confidence, I had an enlightenment.  Each theater class occurred once a week and lasted about two hours.  That's two hours a week at most to explore new ways of expression in everyday situations with virtually complete freedom.  That's great, but the amount of available time (time spent awake) in a week is much more than that (let's say 100 hours for example).  Why wait each week for a period of two hours to let everything out?  Why not partake in theatrical endeavors beyond the classroom, and at anytime?  I was fascinated by these questions, after five years working with Corinne.  I certainly would not have envisioned such a thing during my early involvement in the personal development sessions, which I saw then as an opportunity to learn how to live normally, like other people around me appeared to be doing, in order to find my place in French society.

In some ways, the more social of my operations play with this idea of creating theater beyond the classroom.  I know some people who also have taken to doing new or unusual things in public situations, just for the sake of it or as a personal challenge.  A friend who gave me the idea of this blog once told me a story in which she burst suddenly into song while awaiting the metro on the platform.  Another friend also recounted to me how she once entered a boulangerie (bakery) in the guise of an English-speaking star (with accompanying paparazzi!) and remained in character during her visit.  Even the folks at Improv Everywhere make this playfulness in public a key part of who they are; their purpose is, in their words, to cause scenes.  Since 2001, they have pulled off an immense variety of "missions" to the joy of the unsuspecting public and Internet viewers alike.  You might be familiar with their Frozen Grand Central mission; my own favorites include Say Something Nice, High Five Escalator, and Meet a Black Person.

And the truth, whether we are theater amateurs or not, is that we all have this potential to express ourselves in new ways.  The culture in which we live offers a wealth of resources from which each of us can always draw inspiration to create our very own theater.  There is a wealth in language (words, meanings, accents, figures of speech), a wealth of information (movies, books, songs, television shows, news articles), a wealth of gestures (handshakes, smiles, screams, jumps), a wealth of environments (home, work, supermarket, subway, mall), and most certainly a wealth among people, each person with ideas, experiences, and skills that are unique, as well as a wealth that you possess ‒ yes, you ‒ in your own ideas, your own experiences, and your own skills.  Imagine if we spent more time combining some or all of these resources in order to produce something new.  Without a doubt, our souls would be more creative, our lives would be more exciting, and we would perhaps want to embark on an adventure to prolong the joy of living that came from exploring the actor within us.  I know I would.

To those looking to feel more comfortable with themselves wherever they are, or even to spend an enjoyable moment with other people, I suggest theater classes (Corinne as a wonderful instructor, by the way).  But don't limit yourself there.  The world around you is a stage that is always available.

Réveille l'acteur qui sommeille en toi.

(Wake up the actor that lies dormant in you.)

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