It's not a theatre camp.
No, I've spent the past four out of five weeks with the Make Trouble theatre intensive summer program. That essentially means after four weeks of twelve hour days, six days a week, I have not only grown as a performer but as a person. Theatre is an art form, in the most general of terms, born from mimicking Life, so it makes sense to use what's done in the rehearsal room in said Life as well.
So Thadd, Amanda, and Jim (the biggest Trouble Makers and most brilliant instructors a gal coulda asked for), this one's for you!
Here's some life advice from those who spend their lives trying to recreate Life.
1. Everything starts with breath.
We all forgot how to breathe. Seriously, we as a society still think our ribs are cages and not wings. We need a full tank of lungs to not just survive but actually do, so try to take a good and sound breath before you do your next thing that needs doing. Act on your breath, and things will change for you. There's something about fully using your stock of air that changes the quality of your work, I promise. Same with group tasks; especially for group tasks! Life happens when we breathe, so breathe.
2. Act from the crisis.
Put yourself in situations of crisis. Those moments of self-inflicted challenges are when you realize you can do so much more than you thought you could. Same thing if the situation isn't self-inflicted. When Life is just hammering us down is when we grow into thriving. "Do one thing a day that scares you" and sit in it. Your brain will beg you to stop at all costs, but it will ultimately thank you for strengthening yourself in the long run. We do a physical training here called Suzuki, which is literally standing in positions biologically impossible for the skeleton.
The training is the worst pain I have ever fathomed, and I had an organ removed, and yet, sitting in that deep squat with my tailbone tucked in and my heels off the floor is one of the most gratifying experiences of my life. Finally getting to release and sit in the realization that I not only survived that third Charlie Horse but improved in my form is too good of a feeling to not go back and do again the next morning.
3. Don't look at the floor.
We cannot fix our problems, let alone society's problems, when we, personal or communal, refuse to hold our own power and look people in the eye. Don't be submissive. Don't look away from what's happening in front of you.
4. Don't leave your scene partner.
Don't leave anyone behind because you got uncomfortable with the reality of the situation. We go on stage together, we come off stage together. We are all human beings, and we must care for each other as such.
5. You need less than you think you do to survive.
Wake up early and stay up late, your body can handle it. Milk every second of living out of each day. You can work for 14, not see your family, live off of frozen chicken breasts, and still THRIVE. So whatever worries you have that "you can't make it because of (blank)", stop thinking like that- because you absolutely can.
6. Be okay with being seen and heard.
You literally occupy space on this earth, so let it be known! Rip the band-aid of self-consciousness off and just be seen. Your life is a gift passed down by years and years of ancestors, don't insult your relatives' strife by shying away from the gift of being right here, right now.
7. Kinesthetically respond.
Don't regret anything. If you have the impulse to do- then do it and do it to the fullest extent of your capabilities. Stop trying to stifle your urges to act because it is in the action of that urge that life happens.
8. Give in to your body.
Just scream. Get it out. Life inflicts so much, and our bodies take that beating and spit back out a cacophony of emotions. Let them out. When we don't, they just clog up our bodies into numbness. Empty yourself, you will be so thankful for it. All huddled on the floor, our directors called to us to "Let it out!", all the emotion we had just conjured up that brought the eight of us into this dog-pile, to just set it free. I will never forget the sound. NaSwana did just that, and the room was changed. She gave in to what needed to be released and it created a certain magic in us all. Your feelings are valid, so validate them.
9. Do things out of love.
Acting out of love is always so much more interesting than acting out of hate. Think back, who is someone you aspire to be that didn't act out of love? We don't aspire to be like horrible people, nor do we want to surround ourselves with nor emulate such atrocities. Life gives us plenty of shit to deal with anyway, so stop contributing and cut out those who do. It's so boring to be mean nowadays, innit though? It's so much more compelling to see someone take Life's blows and still carry on, unbeaten.
10. Put what you like to see on stage.
Create and embody the things you admire. Don't just be a fan anymore, literally be it. Life is so effing short, so why not be who you want to be?
11. Don't be an audience.
Be present. This is your life right now. You have the choice to react to your situation or enact a new situation. Stop waiting for the time to tick by until you're somewhere else. Honestly, are you happy with how you're spending your precious time?
12. Cherish the very littlest of things.
Listening to a song with the windows down, sneaking out of rehearsal to see that pinky-blue sunset, hearing your roommate Jaimee hum that shitty emo song you've been playing all week in the car, getting knocked off your feet three times by sticky salty ocean waves and jumping back onto your feet- triumphant. This is living. Go live some more.
13. Realize Life finds a way.
Your town does not suck. Your attitude to your location sucks. Go and really explore and find where the life is, who the life is born from, and how you can put them into your life. Life will find a way to thrive, it's just a matter of you finding it or creating it.
In any way that you can. Stretch. Breathe. Sit in silence. Seriously, when was the last time you just smelled the air after it rained? Or give in to a tear-jerking belly laugh?
15. "Life happens when you stretch before bed."
"Five minutes of downward dog a day. Does miracles." -Jim Senti
16. You need to be ten percent "Fuck you, Ann."
Or "Fuck you, (Insert Any Person Who Asks Things of You)." You don't actually have to listen to anyone, but you do because you don't want to lose your job or get a divorce or whatever. Just keep your wits about you and know when you're being asked too much of or what's being asked of you isn't okay.
17. Play within your boundaries.
With "Fuck you, Ann" in mind, even though you are supposed to live within certain rules or requirements, you can always find a loophole in what you're allowed to do. You were told to drop your hand on a ten count, okay, so how can you play with your voice during this rehearsal? Your boss put you in charge of the boring PowerPoint presentation, so how can you make it not suck this time?
18. Put on your Beyoncé body.
Habitualize the strength of the human existence. There is power in your footstep, so make that stomp be known. Your hips are biologically meant to swing. It's not being provocative to have some Beyoncé sway to your walk, it's necessary. And yes, you are actually a few inches taller. You were subconsciously taught to be small and take up little space, but just put your shoulders back and pick your head up and you'll feel that Knowles power resonating through you. Exude the power and confidence you have the right to exude.
19. Don't be scared if you're the first of your kind.
Everyone was the novice at some point in your life. Even though it can be incredibly scary being the first to walk such a path, there is honestly no greater joy than seeing that path be walked. One of the great joys of these past few weeks is hearing my ensemble member Eli speaking his Shakespearean verse in his molasses-like North Carolinian tongue. Rapier is "Ray-peer" Tybalt is "Tih-bahlt" and Rosaline is "Rozz-leen" and it was pure magic to listen to.
20. Say "yes"
Why not say yes? Things happen when we agree to the new situations we're put in rather than ignore the gifts Fate has bestowed on us. Heck yes, I'm going to see a drag show at a gay club this weekend even though I have a 12-hour rehearsal the next day. Heck yes, I drove all the way back to the Arts building to kill a spider that was on Erin's car because she was afraid to do it. Why not?
21. Don't act anything.
What's the point of faking things for people? If you're not happy, don't put on a smile. Stop spending your precious time pleasing others and hurting yourself by putting on a front for the world. Be honest with yourself and with your world.
22. Act with intention.
By intention, I mean "what you want." So don't waste any more time/resources/energy doing things that don't help you achieve "what You want." We like to live in complacency because not making big changes is safe, but why not cut out everything in life cold turkey that simply isn't helping you better yourself?
23. That's the play now.
When something unscripted happens, roll with it. Stop trying to control everything, shutting down when things "go wrong," or ignoring the (they're not "problems," they're…) new situations you're in because life doesn't rewind. You simply have to roll with what you're dealt and let what happened in the past not affect your present.
24. Give yourself permission to give a shit.
We are all trained to not care and to be critical and to be hateful just because "that's the way society runs." Theatre training is all just a means to strip away that cynicism and get back to the purity and raw emotion of when we were three. There's no honor in being the only one who didn't "cave" into crying at a sad movie. If something affects you, let it fully impact you. Try to actually start caring again.
25. Stop commenting.
Self-deprecation and cynicism are defense mechanisms like it or not. Own that you just "failed" or did something "weird." Don't waste time trying to protect yourself by telling everyone that to you it did fail or sucked or was weird. Change your mentality from negatively commenting to silently celebrating you actually tried at all.
26. Don't tell me about it, show me.
Stop dreaming about your Million Dollar Ideas or your ultimate fantasy. DO IT! Stop telling everyone about your little daydream of an apartment in Paris and work towards paying for that flight and first month's rent!
27. If it matters to you, then it matters.
It doesn't matter if it is the most embarrassing, ridiculous, ungodly act of whatever, as long as you do it with all of your everything, people will support you. Don't waste anyone's time anymore doing things halfway. If you believe in it and act fully in that belief, whatever you do will be meaningful.
28. Do a self-diagnostic.
It's fine that you aren't the ideal of perfection. Just give yourself a little time every day to check in to yourself and know who you are today so you can figure out how you can roll with it.
29. Discomfort is different from pain.
Sit in the discomfort. You honestly most likely don't need to take a break, or stop, or need to postpone this any longer. Fight through your discomfort and great things will come. You will realize your strength and steadfast will and all the panic and pain will have been worth it.
30. Be okay with contact.
Physical contact, eye contact, company, and community. Let people in. Every moment of contact should be that of literal connection. The next hug you get, don't be the one to break it off. Just sit in that fantastic moment of connection a bit longer. Breathe with them. Feel their heartbeat. The fact that we as a society fear connection so much is why horrible humans get away with treating other humans horribly. Re-engage with your sympathy for the world by re-engaging with your human contact.
31. This is the work.
The training to be our best selves never ends. It's a constant, daily, effort to improve. There will always be obstacles in your way, always something or someone preventing you from everything you've ever wanted. Get them out of your way. At all costs, no matter what it takes, never give up on getting them Out. Of. Your. Way.
And most importantly... Make trouble.