So smile and feel free to be a little bit awkward.
You walk into a party and the host takes your coat, slings a drink into your hand, introduces you to a few people – makes you feel comfortable, gets you prepared for what the night has in store. Theatrical experiences should be no different. You are already prepared to enter another story for the evening – best to ignite the senses the minute you walk in the door.
The best example I have seen lately was the interactive wonderworld before a performance of The Nether, a show dealing with the danger and imperceptibility of the digital realm and its communities, at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.
Upon arrival, guests were immediately invited to create their own “avatar,” the ideal virtual version of themselves that would represent them for the evening. There was a pinboard to select your favorite character from a variety of games and online communities. Large glass bowls were set out with titles such “I met someone that I only had ever spoken to online,” and “I have friends that I only know through the internet,” with a bowl of round markers in front that guests could drop into whichever corresponding questions matched their own truths.
Most notably, there was a wall hung with clothesline and a large stack of cards entitled “nobody knows I dream about.” Over the course of the evening, the wall quickly filled with secrets more often left unspoken.
Each game and activity eased you into the experience of The Nether which asked audiences to consider the ways in which we communicate now and notice how the digital world has swiftly become meshed with our own. It offered a stark warning for the future, and most importantly made us feel welcome as we prepared for an entirely new storytelling experience.
James Rhodes gave up the piano for 10 years, trading it in for the promise of the City and searching for some sort of security. Then decided his dream of becoming a concert pianist trumped all.
From the Guardian’s recent article:
“What if rather than a book club you joined a writer’s club? Where every week you had to (really had to) bring three pages of your novel, novella, screenplay and read them aloud?
What if, rather than paying £70 a month for a gym membership that delights in making you feel fat, guilty and a world away from the man your wife married you bought a few blank canvases and some paints and spent time each day painting your version of “I love you” until you realised that any woman worth keeping would jump you then and there just for that, despite your lack of a six-pack?”
Image before editing: Alan Cleaver
“Are you in earnest? Seize this very minute! Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Only engage, and then the mind grows heated. Begin, and then the work will be completed.”
– Jean Anouilh
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I have to admit I have a penchant for exhilarating set design – the kind that stops in your tracks, turns cliches and tropes on their heads and makes you instantly feel as though you’ve entered another world entirely. Whether that’s a multitude of “found objects” lining the walls or chairs suspended in shadowplay, the inventive possibilities are truly endless. Just take a look at the sampling below of sets that pinprick the imagination with their visual intrigue:
STRATA is one of the newest pieces of interactive explorative theatre to hit the U.S. scene, specifically taking Pittsburgh by storm as of August 2012.
Turning the traditional model on its head, the creators ensured that the main character was the audience and required them to unmask their anonymity to become “participants” in the experience. As one reviewer Sean Collier explains: “When you buy admittance to STRATA – the Strategic Training Research and Testing Agency – you’ll receive an email with further instructions, including a questionnaire to fill out, directions to a rendezvous point and a stern request not to look at any birds. From there, the STRATA team will guide you through a “refitnessing,” in pursuit of “iConsciousness”…you’ll be sent on a personal journey through a hidden downtown locations, mostly alone and intimately involved in the story that unfolds…Depending on how your journey progresses, the experience can be touching, disturbing, shocking, affirming, inspiring – but no matter what, it’ll land like a knockout punch. It’s a very unusual thing to find yourself wandering around through a world catered for you and crafted down to the smallest detail. if you ever wanted to live out a waking dream, this is your chance.”
Early in their marketing development, the creators decided to cultivate an anti-campaign to pair against the STRATA’s Gate Corporation pro-iConsciousness movement. This campaign helped to give the Gate Corporation its depth, for it would have had to exist for a number of decades for a resistance movement to develop. The “Anti- Gate” marketing movement would distress the hundreds of posters from the show that popped up everywhere downtown. And a fictional campaign leader “Rob Clifton” led an anti-campaign on Twitter with such succinct messages as “don’t believe the lies.”
The result is a theatrical experience that unnerves but enhances, that pushes its participants far out of their comfort zone and into deeper realms. And with such inspired marketing to match, it makes you curious enough to want to check out STRATA for yourself.
Welcome to STRATA.
“Truly fertile Music, the only kind that will move us, that we shall truly appreciate, will be a Music conducive to Dream, which banishes all reason and analysis. One must not wish first to understand and then to feel. Art does not tolerate Reason.”
– Albert Camus
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We’re all guilty of it. Self-sabotage is one of the easiest games in the book. We reprimand ourselves for embarrassments long gone by or tell our instinct to hush up because we “couldn’t possibly be right.” We come upon an idea and as soon as it begins to take shape, we shoot it down because of a fear of reproach, inability to follow through, potential reactions from those around us, the list goes on. But how to escape this recursive cycle of not-so-supportive thoughts? The first step is to recognize that two little voices are competing for stage time in your head: that of a dreamer and that of a downer. The trick is to be able to distinguish which voice has the mic when the self-talk starts up and to learn how to balance this duality.
The Downer Voice
It is important to see that the “downer voice” is not a bad one. Its job is self-preservation. It’s seen every misstep you’ve made in the past and wants to avoid any and all conflict. It would prefer that you stay static if it means that you’re free from the possibility of being hurt. Its voice is one rooted in fear and doubt, but it is a sensitive realist at heart. This sensitivity to pain is key. If your self-talk is filled with anger (e.g. “how could I do such a stupid thing?!”) check in and see if that lil guy is actually sad about the situation (e.g. “I really wanted to do that well. Now they all think I’m foolish”). Sadness is like a slip-n-slide ride down to anger. Be careful you don’t water the slide if you don’t want to wind up at the end of it.
The Dreamer Voice
An eternal optimist, the “dreamer voice” wants the world for you. It would love to see you enjoy every little bit of your life. It does not know fear. It remembers pain but doesn’t harbor on it. Sometimes it stays quiet – it’s obedient, child-like. So if you shush it, it’s liable to stay mute until you allow it to speak again. It’s the part of you that gets excited about ideas and knows how to get back up after a fall. Let it play every once in a while to replenish your energy when reserves are low.
Striking the Balance
Let the dreamer reach out to the downer when it starts to scream for attention. The downer brings up concerns that the dreamer can address. Where one sees problems, the other finds possibilities. Allow the dreamer to work in tandem with the other voice, not against it. Instead of ignoring the murmurs of the sensitive one, accept the fears that it brings up and choose to face them proudly. Invite the idealist out again if its been a while since last you spoke. Let it put a little love in your heart.
“Don’t let the fear of the time it will take to accomplish something stand in the way of your doing it. The time will pass anyway“
– Earl Nightingale
We are a culture of wanting, a generation of impatience. Without instant answers we let muddled, hurried thoughts lead us to frustration – “if not now, then when?” – and subsequently abandon the path before reaching its first curve. We want the results without the work. How can we ensure that we reach our goal when the clock on the wall seems to show time zooming by at a frightening pace?
1. Train your mind in patience. Start small, set little boundaries, challenge yourself. Promise yourself to do an extra set of crunches, try 24 hours without social media, or put your favorite guilty-pleasure food at the edge of your desk, and see if you can go 8 hours without touching it. Little successes add up to big ones in time. Each step is significant.
2. Make a list. Of 10 things you would do if time were no issue, if no obstacles stood in your way. Look again at the list. Realize that each one of these things is possible – the obstacles are the excuses we make for ourselves. Pick one and commit 30 days to getting closer to that goal. You reach the end of a month and it’s still not done? Well, you’re 30 days closer than you would have been had the idea just stayed on paper. Put time into it, get something out of it.
3. Refrain from patting yourself on the back. Studies actually show that if you tell everyone that you’re planning on doing something, you get the same emotional response as if you had actually completed the task. Ex. if you say “I’m going to run a marathon,” and everyone gives you a thumbs up and says “great” before you’ve even bought a pair of running shoes, this little convo can stop you from following through with your initial plan; you already received validation. So be hard on yourself. Keep chugging along whether or not others cheer you on. The reward comes from the journey itself, not only the result.
4. Acknowledge those who doubt you, but don’t let them slow you down. There will always be people that think what you are doing is crazy/not worth your time/impossible/silly/whatever – but that’s why it’s your dream, not theirs. Use any concern and skepticism as fuel. Just like a drill sergeant who whips you into shape, let their words ring in your ears just long enough to light a fire under you. Then go. Do, create, be, and never look back.
5. Keep going. No matter what. Even if the path does not take you where you expected it would, you’ve learned something. And your brain thanks you for it, I’m sure of it.
Recently came across this wonderfully inspiring YouTube project: I Am Theatre. Their mission is to capture pivotal moments in the lives of theatre-makers over the course of 50 weeks.
This video I found particularly inspiring since Mallory is a woman who had to reconsider her dream. Watch to see how she was able to turn the craft that she loved into a fulfilling career.
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Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
– Samuel Beckett
What is it that stops us from doing exactly what we want to in life? Most of it can be chalked up to some sort of fear – of failure, of reproach, of uncertainty. Here’s a quick list to help determine if that big risk of yours is worth trying.
1. You can’t stop thinking about it. The idea pervades your thoughts. You smile every time it crosses your mind. You’ve already worked out the best-possible scenario in your head, and you think you have the tools to make it work.
2. You’re unhappy with the status quo. Remember that little voice in your head? The one that reminds you when you’re feeling down and that now is the time to do something about it? Yeah, listen this time.
3. You’re willing to put in the work. No doubt what you’ve been dreaming about will require you to put in some effort. But that’s what has made it so elusive thus far right? It’s up to you to decide whether you want to live a life where you look back and say “I’m so glad I tried that” or one where you admit “I really wish I had done that.”
4. You’re clinging to an illusion of safety. You’ve created a false cocoon of security in a world where no such thing actually exists. “But this way I don’t get hurt!” you convince yourself. Well, newsflash: you hurt yourself more by holding yourself back than by mustering up the courage to change. Do what you actually want to do. Be who you actually want to be.
5. You want to. Passion is the number one ingredient in making a dream a reality. And ultimately the decision is yours, and yours alone. If you’re taking the leap solely for the reason that it will impress someone else, reevaluate.
6. You attempted to before but it didn’t work out. As a baby, did you give up on walking after the first few times resulted in a happy marriage of your forehead and the hardwood floor? Nope. You pushed yourself and tried again. Somewhere along the line, in our efforts to grow up and act like adults, we learn to stop “trying again”. We rid ourselves of the spirit that allows us to tackle anything in favor of one that promotes mental barriers and excuses. Chances are you learned something from that failed attempt. Time to put those lessons to good use.
7. It completely terrifies you. Good. You will grow 1 million times over if you look that fear in the face and mutter through gritted teeth: “bring it on.” Who knows, you may surprise yourself. And what beauty there is in such surprises.