A Simple Phrase finds its Glue
So then it was Saturday – a cute little half day. We started with this game where the 5 people in the ‘inner circle’ each said a word: the five words were born into a phrase, which were repeated, with a word added every time. The catch was that each word was to be charged with meaning. People were saying the words, the sentences, with intensity – but not yet with emotional meaning related to the words. I was in the outer circle, waiting…. Waiting to have a turn at the phrase – basically bouncing on my heels, internally saying “pick me! pick me!” Finally Mr. Jaibi said my name, and I repeated the phrase – after filling myself with the emotion of the phrase, and making it – not an elastic, but glue, stopping my words, choking me, making each word a deep and painful struggle, based on choices I had made on what this sentence could mean to me, every word loaded Not with gravitas, but with meaning and pain.
It worked. The sentence came out of my mouth, not like a random assortment of words, but like a revelation of a poisonous thorn that had been secretly piercing my side.
Mr. Jaibi seemed to feel we had acheived something here, so he changed the excercise: this time, I would walk in – 10 minutes late, after leaving a cryptic voice mail, that had everyone worried, and if it wasn’t enough urgency – he had told the class that the workshop was over if I wasn’t there in 15 minutes. I, meanwhile, had had a life and perspective changing event, culminating with this one phrase. I had to get there and somehow communicate this horrifying, life changing phrase.
Phase One: Choosing the Experience
I built myself the narrative:
last night I had had a dream, in which I was getting off the bus on my way to the class.
As I got off the bus, a man was sitting on the bench. Just sitting, just a man…. but something was different.
He stared, Into my soul. I felt naked, revealed, helpless – and with his eyes he told me, and I knew it was true, that something terrible was going to happen.
Then I woke up to a normal day. The morning happened as normal, and I had breakfast, and I got on the bus…
And then I got off the bus. And he was there. And he stared, Into my Soul, and he said …
The Phrase. That set of words. And I didn’t know what they meant, but every word was so loaded, so full of pain and meaning and dread, that the sheer emotion of his sentence blasted through my mind, blowing everything in it away like little pieces of paper – and there was only this phrase. What did it mean, what could it mean, from where did it get it’s awe-inspiring terrible power? The question filled my being, the words running through my veins, turning over again and again with horror and uncertainty.
And then, as I stood there in shock, he stood up and ran away, and vanished. Gone – no time to explain, to ask what the meaning of this phrase could be that he spoke as if dooming all humanity, and that shattered my every other thought.
And I trudged, mind reeling, everything I had ever known suddenly wrong, towards the acting class. I had my scenario.
Phase Two: Distil the Energy
What I managed to do was distil the elastic and distil the glue, until they were so strong that the thousands of little elastics of reality – all the little stimulus and motivations – were pulled into these two camps. The elastic, pulling me forwards: not only my love for my fellows in the acting class and desire to continue the class, but also the desire for normalcy, the desire to carry on and keep living life, despite this shattering phrase. The same subconscious desire that allows “Muggles” to avoid seeing magic in J.K. Rowlings’ world of magic.
My glue: the mind shattering experience that I had just lived through, pulling me backwards, back the way I came, back to the bus stop, back to that moment in time. Holding me there, making my steps fall short, stopping me from moving forwards – blasting through the normalcy and day to day, keeping me from moving on, like grief or shock. I found it, and I distilled it: as an image of that man that I filled with emotion, so that holding in my mind would freeze me in place.
I did this while walking down the street from five minutes away: by the time I got there, I had thrown away everything except these two powerful forces. My desire to move forwards, and my inability to do so.
Phase Three: Hold those energies, sit in them, and let everything else fall away
By the time I got to the entrance to the MT Space building, I could not even enter. I stopped outside, staring off into space, fixing the image in my mind. The result was a beautiful tableau of the other actors straining to reach me from their various motivations – of anger, of concern for me, of fear for what I had brought. I finally allowed them to drag me in, gradually – every step an ordeal. In my head, the elastics – to each of them, to normal life – and the glue, and nothing else. They got me into the room. They asked me to speak, to share, What Happened, MIKE WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU
I could not. The glue was too strong, the emotions to terrifying.
When I took a breath to speak, every elastic between the other players and I was tangible, their own breath catching in their throats, each so horrifyingly invested in my words. When nothing came out, the tension was like a ticking bomb.
Finally, piece by piece, the story came out. Simply, but painfully, every word drawn out of me by their concern, pushing its way past my shock and horror. Their emotions followed my words, solidifying, mounting, becoming as strong as my own. When the message was delivered in full – an incomplete sentence – their response was raw and heartfelt, from one actor who felt his own death prophecized by the phrase, to another who wanted to smack me and tell me to snap out of it, but was held back by the energy of the room.
With my message delivered, I felt my ties to them shattering from the news, as my glue became their own. Normalcy’s last ditch pull on me had been used: I felt myself ripping off my clothing and throwing it at them, showing them that I had given them everything I had. Wearing only my long underwear, I left them, silently, derision at the futility of their efforts in my every joint and muscle, and walked into the snow.
What an experience. A simple phrase, an inane one, made up by a group of randomly chosen words. But with the right blend of emotional ties, both from myself and from every other actor in the room – the experience was profound, changing.
How? What Happened? I Finally Shut up.
Talking was never my issue. Thinking of things to say was not my problem – every exercise I would make my role into a stupid exposition, but – like the line from Shakespeare, used by William Faulkner – it was a meaningless tale, full of sound and fury – signifying nothing.
Thinking of the right thing to say wasn’t going to get me to a deep place of emotion. What got me to a deep place of emotion was understanding Glue: understanding how powerful something could be to stop me from speaking, so that every word had to roll away it’s own stone to come into the world. The elastics became distilled by the glue, by being the only things powerful enough to roll those stones away. Mr. Jaibi’s first lesson had – after a week of trying to strip away my meaningless sound and fury – finally found a foothold.
Obviously I was elated by my success, by the visceral feeling in myself I was able to evoke, and by the feeling of having figured out a doorway into a new world of vast emotions that I could channel from imaginary stimulus.
I wish I could say it stuck – but such things are learned in short blasts, and it was time to take two steps back before we could step forwards
– as will be discussed in the next post, next Monday (ish).