On Power & Beauty

Taught a class this morning. 90 mins to share the immense amount of truth, beauty, and wisdom I’ve learned from amazing teachers who have changed my life.

Why talk about power? The participants in the class are on a two week workshop exploring acting as a profession. None have had formal training yet. Many talked about being East Asian and not having the confidence to participate. These two things may or may not be linked for all of them but they are linked for me, and for many others.

I have written before about how, in England, in the UK, we don’t talk about beauty or art without some apology. Today I was teaching a room of east asian folk with little professional acting experience and I wanted them to feel powerful. Not just as actors, but as people, because c’mon, if I had to choose, I’d much rather be a great version of a person more than I’d like to be a great actor. (And I know that I’m an egotistical, idealistic, recognition-seeking actor, maker and writer.)

So, here are some thoughts from my notes for today’s session:

On confidence and identity. We are bodies in space. We take up space, we influence the temperature around us, change opinions via body language, rhythm, tone, words – the how much or how little we say.

What is the difference between acting for theatre and for film? How to access your audience. It feels that in many ways, if you’ve got stagecraft nailed, it may be easier to scale it down for screen. Scaling up feels way trickier because opening up may feel much more dangerous than scaling down to do delicate work. Not to say that theatre work isn’t delicate. It is often the most delicate work that travels the furthest, to the gods.

Gaulier’s Melodrama class is, by far, the most useful class I have ever done for stagecraft and learning about your relationship with the audience, despite their condition, the state of the playing space, the HORRIBLE text. If you can move people to cry out, to weep, you have immense power.

In order to wield power, you need to train your body, your voice, your imagination. Elena Olivieri, a teacher from my time at Gaulier, shared The Four Brothers:

  • ease – are you at ease with yourself, your play partners, the audience? In the space?
  • form – be aware of the shape you take, the 3D space you take up in the room/universe
  • beauty – everything you do is beautiful. Every form you make is beautiful.
  • the whole – the acknowledgement of ease, form, beauty, yourself, the room, the universe. All is one, the room to the mountains.

Having an audience is a privilege. Acting is a humble but assured gift held up for the audience to take.

Your body – man, oh man. A simple arm warm up (thank you Adrian Gillott) shows you just how much we hold in our bodies and how much we can release and thus use. We can access so much more if we keep our bodies well and fit. It’s hard, no one is pushing us, but that’s one reason why I am so keen on support groups, community, networks. On workshops, practice sessions, and ongoing training. The latter is expensive. It’s hard to train on our own. Let’s stop

  • being lazy
  • avoiding success
  • being floppy
  • making excuses

and just hang out, support and push each other. No one is ever going to look after yourself as well you can look out for yourself. And surrounding and shoring yourself up with likeminded folk is a practical and logical way to keep going. This business is a lonely, frustrating one. There is power in having people, a community.

Ah. which reminds me. I don’t really feel as though I have the community I want. I have been working on it for years. Is there something about London that keeps us apart? It is definitely something people from overseas or from outside London seem to notice. Meet for coffee? Let’s get our diaries out and oh, how about next month? On the subject of being of east asian descent, is it a given that I am supported or that I support other east asians? I thinking here of things in terms of longevity, purity, joy. I want to be with people who really see and value me. I want to be with people who inspire me. I have been hurt by folk or groups who I thought “should” support me but who don’t and I now know they’re just not the right ones. Trickier to be ok with when it’s to do with industry stuff – the industry being so small – but really, life is short. I do believe that, in recognising what we value and what we are curious about, active processes which require work, we are led to the best people for us. We have this power despite it feeling like a terribly lonely road sometimes, especially if what you value or what you’re interested in isn’t the easy stuff. I know there’s folks out there who know what I mean!

How do we give the gift of a beautiful story? How can we think of ourselves as a gift? Bear in mind that difficult political pieces and grotesque pieces, comedy and musicals, all these can be beautiful. I am talking about shared humanity stuff. Inexpressible joy stuff. Work that makes us feel and live better vs work that is cheap and means nothing or work that shuts us down because the artist is wanking, or having a laugh, or being small and mean.

I didn’t get to all the exercises I could have introduced to this group today. 90 mins. What can you do? Barbara Houseman, voice coach, taught me to draw people in, instead of pushing sound out. A very simple exercise helps us feel this.

Imagining the sun in your chest, radiating, or imagining your heart in your hands, imagine your body extending beyond its physical edges, each footstep leaving a glowing, golden imprint as you move through space, your voice caressing the ears of your listeners like lapping waves. These sensations are receivable, tangible. Even if you’re playing the village idiot you can do many extra things to make you fizz. It is wonderful to be your audience if you, actor, in some way imagine yourself like this.

I wanted to try out Elena’s Lake of Pleasure exercise, where you move from warm to cold (or vice versa) water, vocalising and imagining the sensations but ALWAYS opening. Again, no matter what kind of character you play, if you’re wide open, we will see you, and that is the only way we will love you.

Power and beauty. This malarkey takes a lot of work and most of this relates to being courageous. We are on our own paths and if we go at our own pace, we are being our authentic selves. How do we fit into the pace of the industry? How do we fit into a system which includes people who have hugely different value systems, priorities, rhythms? What does success mean to you? How do we keep open and brave enough to acknowledge truths, trust blindly, keep going? Who can we rely on? Who is a friend and who is a colleague, the latter not a bad thing at all.

Keep asking questions. Follow your curiosity. This is some kind of power and beauty.



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