February Actor Theme: Beginning
Whether we are beginning something we have not experienced or “beginning again,” getting back to something we’ve done in the past, very often the first step is the most difficult. The unknown of what lies before us can be intimidating, daunting, paralyzing. We can experience even more setbacks if our memories of trying in the past are not pleasant ones. Rather than take the first step we spin our wheels about the many possible first steps, expecting a definitive direction and forgetting that we can always make adjustments along the way. When a infant ventures into walking, there is a certain amount of wobbling and falling that is expected and understood as part of the process. And yet there is joy and intense curiosity of a new possibility that fuels the infant to get up and begin again and again. The first step is after all just one step. When it becomes two, and three, a possible pattern emerges, a possible direction presents itself, and the fun of connecting the dots takes over. Pick a dot, any dot. You can always adjust later.
Life story: I was a volunteer working in the motor coordination unit of a State Hospital. Many of the hospital residents has reduced hand-eye coordination because of the medication they were taking. One of the residents had a therapy of removing the pegs from a pegboard: about fifty wooden pegs that fit into snug grooves. I used to fill the board and he would remove them. One day, the supervisor called in sick and I had the unit to myself. After filling the board twice, he came to me with the pegs and board a third time. I was overwhelmed with the other residents and I said to him. “I bet you can fill that board yourself.” He shook his head “no.” I said “I’ll make a deal with you, if you can put one peg in that board, just one, I’ll fill the rest of it for you.” He struggled, the peg wobbled and skipped around the groove in his fingers, until he found the groove and the peg slipped in. When he saw that he could do one, he himself picked up another… and another… and another.
Work Story: Working with director Anne Bogart and playwright Paula Vogel at the American Repertory Theatre was an opportunity to watch and participate in exemplary collaborative process. Developing one of Paula’s new scripts, Anne would offer it to the actors to find our intuitions, then take those impulses and shape them, and offer it back to Paula to make any adjustments she saw fit. Some of the most exciting work was on composition. Anne would give us a game with a few simple elements as a framework. And then give us a gentle nudge to get things going. This kind of work was entirely new to me, but I remember as my mind was racing trying to “get things right,” Anne’s confident voice impelled the action with a simple but firm verbal reminder that “we’ve already begun.” That was freedom. That was permission. That was the first peg slipping into a groove and looking at the many places where then next peg could fit. All we needed to begin was the reminder that we had already begun.
1. Doodle. Just put the pencil to the paper and start moving it. See where it goes and what it does. Or make a few dots and connect them.
2. Plant a seed. Or better yet, a few seeds. Could be anything, an orange pit, a seed from a commercial package of seeds, or one from a plant that you walk by every day that might have its own seed pods. Put it in some soil in a sunny spot, water it and be patient.
3. If you don’t already have a journal or a place to jot your thoughts, start one. Maybe even a blog!
4. Pay attention to the “firsts” of your day as they happen in the moment: your first move, your first thought your first sip of coffee, your first “hello.”
5. When you go to bed at night, write down something that you want to read immediately when you get up.
6. At the end of the day list 5 beginnings that you had this day
7. Go for a walk and realize that you’re already walking.