Power & Disruption – TEDx UCLWomen workshop Pt 1

For the second year running, I was asked by the incredible team of TEDx UCL Women if I would talk about my area of expertise. Because I am primarily a performer and an agitator, and because the theme for 2018 was DISRUPT, I thought that instead of talking at folk, I’d share some practical tools from my acting and performance career combined with my general life mission to stop being/feeling invisible as a smallish, yellow, young-looking, immigrant woman. So I ran a VERY quick practical intro workshop.

The “real world” tells us via the beauty, lifestyle and fashion industry that we need certain things. We are told as soon as we pop into the world about femininity and masculinity. We are treated according to what we look like – male/female, big/small, able/disabled, white/poc, old/young etc. We are then treated as powerful or powerless. I wonder about disrupting this by

  1. exploring what we FEEL like
  2. using this knowledge to FILL and FLOURISH in the space we already occupy, and maybe grow more powerful

Here are some of my notes from the workshop plus additional thoughts.

What did I set out to do? Here is the description of the session:

Warm Up for a Future of Disruption – Start the day with a physically gentle, but imaginatively radical, warm up. No matter the shape, size, age, or movement capacity, our bodies are full of power. I shared some simple exercises to explore, experience and reconnect with our bodies. If you’ve been thinking about standing your ground or taking space, exploring presence or finding your voice – especially if you think you’re an introvert – come along!

What makes me think I’m qualified?

As an actor, performance maker, activist and introvert, I have a pretty neat career and have performed with the likes of Judi Dench, Kenneth Branagh, Benedict Wong, and Salena Godden. I studied human culture at Oxford and was particularly interested in how humans ascribe meaning and value – power – to things and people, how we expressed systems of power, and how the world around our bodies and the information we are bombarded by shapes our world view and self belief. I left Oxford with MA in Archaeology & Anthropology, then trained as an actor at The Poor School and Ecole Philippe Gaulier. Recently, I co-authored The Good Immigrant, a book giving voice to immigrants of colour in the UK, and I have a long history of generating disruptive art across various media and nurturing disruptive creatives. I have a soft spot for folk marginalised due to race, looks, age, sexual identity, gender, or sheer outside-the-box thinking. 

What’s my problem? What makes me gnash my teeth and despair?

That I don’t mean anything in this world, I don’t belong anywhere, and nothing I do means anything.

I routinely disregarded, dismissed, underestimated and ignored, especially by people in power because of the way I look and sound, and because of what they project onto my smallish, weirdo, female-looking, Chinese-looking, young-looking, body.

Is this true? If it isn’t, then I need to stop feeling so awful in my body. If it is true, I still need some strategies to stop feeling so awful. Perhaps there is a way of feeling more powerful.

Some questions:

What’s wrong with being invisible? Can’t I just get on with my own life and ignore what people think of me?

Do we need to be at the table/in the room to make a change?

As individuals, are we responsible for generating change? How? Where could we start?

How do we stop living in fear? Artist Stacy Makishi told a group I was in that paralysis-inducing fear doesn’t ever disappear, but our love (for the project, idea, ourselves, etc.) can envelop us and keep us grounded, creative, and forward-moving

Caution: when moving, you shouldn’t feel any sharp pains. You will feel some discomfort if the moves or sensations are unfamiliar. You are responsible for gauging your ability and looking after your existing injuries.

Warm up 5 mins:

  • Do everything that follows with naughtiness. Isn’t it OUTRAGEOUS that we have to warm up in order to make the world a better place? Are you the naughty kid? BE THAT KID!
  • Starting from top to bottom, or bottom to top, and rotate all your joints and bendy bits. Don’t forget your elbows, rib cage,  fingers.
  • Shake it all out. Be sure to make weird shapes and sounds if you want to.
  • Warm up your face and voice. Say OW and WHY alternately. Like, “Ow! WHY did you punch me?” Include your eyes – make them big and squeeze ’em.
  • Imagine you’re a gerbil in a see-through ball. Stretch both your little gerbil arms to try and reach the ceiling and sides. Up, down, between your legs, behind you, across your body. You’re waking up your spine and sides. Now stretch with one arm then the next. If it feels awkward, you’re ON THE RIGHT TRACK. Wake up, wake up, wake up!
  • Wake up your feet! walk about on tip toes, walk on the outside of your feet, on the heels, on the inside.
  • Stick out your tongue and hum up and down from high notes to low notes.
  • Roll down towards the floor and hang there – this releases your back and neck and your face gets a bit of a break from looking polite. STOP BEING POLITE.
  • While upside down, wriggle around a bit.
  • If you can, hold on to something and swing your legs
  • Massage your jaw – we hold a lot of tension here. Be firm – you won’t hurt yourself! Move on to your entire face and do your hair and scalp as well. Don’t forget your upper lip and do pull on and pinch your ears.
  • Warm up your mouth – imagine you’re chewing gum, chew it on one side, then the other. The gum gets bigger and you’re still chewing! You can’t close your mouth, CHEW WITH YOUR MOUTH OPEN, make smacking noises with your lips.
  • Squeze your butt. Hold it tight! BE A TIGHT ARSE! Release. Do this a few times. You can do this while sitting down, lying down, or while giving a speech. It helps ground you, tightens your bum, and regulates your breathing if you’re nervous.
  • If you have access to the floor, lie down on your back and wriggle around. What feels nice? DO THAT.
  • Shake it all out.

End of Part 1 – intro and warm up. Coming next – how to feel BIG.





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