This is a blog recording some of my experiences and thoughts as part of the Performer’s Playground Nov ’18 - Feb ’19. At the request of the survivors, I will be referred to hereon-in simply as JJ. Out of respect for the dead, the rest will be told exactly as it occurred.
This blog is a document of an ongoing journey. I’m mid way through the course now and my body is still vibrating with the after effects of each triumph and each death and each revelation. This may seem over the top but anyone who has done a workshop with Mark and Alice will probably understand what I’m driving at. To the rest of you I strongly advise you do so.
I’m doing my best to give this blog some sort of coherence so it’s not the electronic equivalent of daubed shit on a jail cell wall. Even as I started drafting this I noticed that it read like I was Trying To Get It Right (TtGiR), a habit it’s all too easy to slip back into, even when you know it’s fucking boring and is of no use to anyone. I’m going to have fun writing this and getting things wrong and allowing you to delve into the murky, cowardly depths of my lonely, fucked-up being and hopefully I will imbue this sacred blog with the same anarchic spirit of the Performer’s Playground workshops. But if it’s structure you’re after then go shove a conclusion up your ASS.
First a little about me so you have some context. I have acting experience in an amateur capacity and this year finished a 2-year part time course at the Independent Centre for Actor Training. This is where I first met Mark who led a module touching upon some of the points that are explored in greater depth in the Performer’s Playground.
I remember those five weeks being in turns tiring, anxiety inducing, and frustrating but ultimately illuminating, inspiring, and lots of fun. I returned with the experience of a two year part-time acting course and two years on the open mic circuit (performing character comedy) under my leather belt. Even with this experience I still find myself nervous prior to the first day and still managed to spend a good portion of it inside my head in a feedback loop of negativity.
On the first day we did movement exercises and played games based on impulse and finding the pleasure to be on stage. During many of these I found myself repeatedly getting drawn back into Trying To Get It Right. I found myself forgetting the fun and therefore not taking any risks in the game. Fun is the most important thing in performance, and this is not exclusive to comedy. This idea is slowly seeping into my pores. There are other important things of course, and you don’t want to be too indulgent with it, but making this little shift in approach has been seismic. When you place the pressure of trying-to-be-good on yourself it will most probably stifle you and render you unable to take any risks out of fear of failure.
Mark (or I should say Winny- more on that later) pointed out a moment during a game where we had to swap chairs with another person and not be caught out by someone else trying to sit in our chairs. He noticed a moment where I took pleasure in running like an idiot. Not in a wacky forced way but in a way where a slight change in my physicality suggested my care had flown out the window. Recapturing that childlike sense of fun is the aim. Sometimes it happens naturally but there are ways we can access it.
We can see its elusiveness through certain exercises where the natural response seems to be fear and terror. There is an exercise in which we explode out of a chair onto the stage with a huge impulse and as long as the audience is enjoying what you’re doing, you have the permission to remain on stage. But the problem is you have little to no material to work with. Occasionally we were able to remain for a few seconds garnering a few titters but more often than not, we withered and died painfully.
During this first day we spoke about the importance of dividing yourself into 2:
-Who I am (myself, my personal life)
-What I do (my performance, my professional/creative life)
This change of mindset allows you to take risks during performances/ workshops, fall flat on your face and dust yourself off with your ego intact. I know the feeling of doing what you deem to be a horrible performance, and confusing that performance with yourself as a person. ‘That was shit, that performance was awful,’ becomes ‘That was shit. I am shit. I am awful and untalented and my parents are ashamed of me and I’ve wasted my entire life pursuing this stupid fucking childish fantasy, why can’t I grow up, I am a foolish ape that eats and shits and masturbates and I should read the news more often I wish I was a muscular man then all my problems would be over, this carpet’s filthy, I should clean more, but not now, I want a beer and cigarette…’ etc etc.
Every time we do something in a workshop that falls flat we are encouraged to take ownership of it and laugh about it through Winny’s playful needling. Because every time this happens, everyone in the class learns something. As previously mentioned, Mark’s alter-ego Winny leads workshops more often than Mark himself. The lazy twat. Winny appears to be from somewhere in mainland Europe, we’ll go with France, and also appears to be a bit of a bastard that enjoys ribbing you when you fail spectacularly. I can only speak of my own responses to this and I half don’t want to because I think everyone processes it slightly differently. What I will say is that from these workshops so far I’ve learnt in a visceral way that in life it is okay to eat humble pie. And as a performer it is beneficial and positively nourishing, and here you are given the opportunity to gorge upon mountains of rich, sweet, delicious humble pie like a gout ridden aristocrat. There is also a feeling of camaraderie when you’re being torn apart and you catch the eye of someone you laughed at 2 weeks before when their idea was met by tumbleweeds.
I won’t go into toooo much detail about the specifics of exercises because you really need to witness them in real time, to take part in them and observe them. They work on you in a way which is personal to everyone, they might expose parts of you as a performer, or even as a person, which are slightly vulnerable, or they might provoke you into discovering something you never knew was in you. These workshops are not only amazing opportunities to grow as a performer but they can’t help but make you grow personally. That may seem like it contradicts what I wrote earlier about the separation of self and performer but erm it doesn’t.
Speaking of growth. Instigated by Mark and Alice, we have all agreed to spend 5 minutes each day on something to improve ourselves in an area that needs work. For some it might be admin, for others it might be meditation. I chose to work on lower back exercises as it is something I need to take care of which, if I’m being honest, I really can’t be arsed with. Another thing we’ve agreed to is to make sure we take about 30 minutes to an hour per week to have what we call an ‘Artist’s Date.’ This is something we do on our own to enrich ourselves creatively that is separate from our work as a performer. It might be reading for an hour or it might be watching a film, or it might be writing. I will speak more on this at a later date.
And I will return to blog some more when some more vibrations have percolated into thoughts that are half ready for consumption.
Eric Davis on A Fool’s Idea podcast
David Bridel on A Fool’s Idea podcast
Spencer Jones on the Comedian’s Comedian podcast
Charlie Kaufman’s BAFTA Guru speech: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eRfXcWT_oFs