This is a Blog posted to my own site: performingmonkies.com but is definitely relevant for us at ThreadBear. Much love,
Last Night Playback Saved My Life…
Tonight I have realised a lot of things. Things I have known for a long time. But it has become clearer over the last few months why I am why I am. To give you some context I need to tell you I am in the midst of a ‘transition’. I think that’s what it is, well that’s what people keep saying it is. I can tell you it’s not a pleasant experience, but it is revelatory. I don’t think I’ve known myself for a long time. That’s a big thing to admit, to think you don’t know yourself, to realise you’ve maybe been on the wrong path.
How do I square that circle?
That’s not easy to answer, but I’ll try. I think I square it with the life I’ve led. I think I square it with the experiences I’ve had, with the beauty I’ve felt but also with the harshest parts.
Tonight I had an epiphany. I’ve had it before, it’s like a recurring dream. I had it on Monday (today is Friday)... that’s the where this title of this piece comes from. Most Monday’s I rehearse and practice Playback Theatre with ThreadBear Theatre, this Monday I did. I’ve felt awful for months, probably years, but on Mondays I feel safe and held. This is a common feeling for us at ThreadBear, everyone of us have shared this same feeling at some point in our sessions… usually multiple times. So I want to think about why that is.
Well, Playback Theatre is a therapeutic form of performance, for the audience but also for the performers. I am living proof of this. ThreadBear is the only solid thing in my life- I think. Don’t get me wrong, my kids are solid and I love them without question, the same with my family and friends. But there is something different about the experience, in the midst of my messy mind. To be clear, I am clinically anxious. I feel it on a daily basis. It dibilitates me. It sucks my energy and destroys my positivity. I am a clown, but for so long I have been living a version of Smokey Robinson & the Miracles (2013), but with the sound off.
So last Monday, Playback saved my life, again. But tonight football saved my life. It does that a lot too. Just rocking up to football coaching my eldest sons team has saved my sanity on multiple occasions. My epiphany tonight was that they are both the same thing. It’s the interaction with other humans, it’s the process of helping others move forward. This all helps me move forward.
So, you’re probably thinking: “What the heck Duncan, why is this in your performingmonkies.com blog? Isn’t that for your research and business?”. And you would be absolutely right. It has everything to do with my research and business. Rather than chasing an impossible goal that I started over 20 years ago as a way of making a living I should be chasing what I really love, which by the way still includes performing. But what kind of performing? Well, improvised performing. Tomorrow (Saturday) I have a gig for a Tribute Show. it’s got me fully knotted up and anxious, but I need the money… I have three kids, I haven’t the money to say no. It’s a 38 page script, none of which has to be scripted (I used to do this a decade ago with another company- but we improvised it all). 38 pages!! Are you freaking kidding me? I’m getting £90 for the gig. I’ll say this again: ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME??
All this has added to the epiphany. None of this gig is really helping me, none of it is really helping anyone else, the anxiety is making it deeply unpleasant. So I’ve made a decision. I need to not do this anymore. But what should I do? Well I should do what I love, but use it to help others. As I said earlier I’ve had this epiphany before but now I know where I’m heading, maybe for the first time in a long time, and my research shows why it’s a good place. And I blame Tim Robbins.
Well, maybe not blame Tim Robbins. Perhaps it’s more of a nod to him, I’ll explain more later. I want to run workshops for people who could do with some of what ThreadBear gives me. I want to empower them through teaching them improvisation. Now bear with me when I say that I think everyone should learn improvisation. I know that not everyone in the world is a performer, nor have aspirations to become one. Neither have I anymore. But there are elements of improvisational training that everyone should experience. That, for me is the joy of play. We are all obsessed with being serious adults, or we are programmed from an early age to become so. I see it with my children’s education, I see the fun sucked out of their education as they rise through to secondary school. This adds to my anxiety, and has horrified me as a lecturer at colleges in Further and then Higher Education. There is an obsession with success and failure, especially the failure. Don’t even get me started.
Anyway, Tim Robbins. So he has started running workshop programmes using improvisation through Commedia Dell’Arte in California prisons (The Actors Gang, 2018). The programme has reduced recidivism (re-offending) by over 50% (NYMag, 2016) and it has been made clear by Robbins himself that it is not about making the prisoners actors because that line of work is not a good prospect for a good lifestyle, there’s a distinct lack of employment. “It’s about changing behavior.” (NYMag, Citing Robbins, 2016). But it’s more than that, it is about empowering people, it is about spreading goodness and support in our communities. Learning to perform has put me on the path to this but it didn’t actually help me achieve this in my life. I’ve had to work at this, find my own way and really find what my path is. I knew years ago that my path was not as an actor. I also knew my path was not that of an acting teacher, especially in a full time post in a school, or an institution. But by doing both I’ve learnt more than I could have imagined.
My path is to bring improvisation to people who struggle with their mental health. It has helped me, it has saved my life, it has clawed me back from the brink on a daily basis, it has made me laugh, it has made me cry, it has laid bare my failings, it has showed me my inner strength. I am not the only human who has this as an issue, and I won’t be the last. A lot of folk may scoff at this, my “Anxious Hug Monster” (BBC, 2017) and my brutal Inner Critic might well try to tell me I’m fooling myself. But to be honest they can Fuck-Off! I might have quite a good actors CV (Spotlight, 2018) but being an actor is a bit mince.
“It's a nightmare really, a self-obsessed nightmare of survival… and here was an opportunity to throw all that away and figure out how to help this dude and if you can get through to this guy. What an amazing feeling to be able to see someone change… Rather than chase Shawshank Redemption, which is not going to happen again, what else is there in life that you can achieve to create something new in, find some idea of achievement in?" (Bissell, citing Robbins, 2016).
I am not an actor, I am an improviser. An improviser who does more than improvise.
Addiction Helper. 2017. [Online]. [Accessed on: 26 January 2018]. Available from: https://www.addictionhelper.com/questions-and-answers/how-much-does-rehab-cost/
BBC. 2017. [Online]. [Accessed on: 26 January 2018]. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-42265920/my-anxiety-is-called-the-anxious-hug-monster
Bissell, K. 2016. [Online]. [Accessed on: 26 January 2018]. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-35786775
Indeep - Last Night A DJ Saved My Life (Official Music Video). 2010. [Online]. [Accessed on: 26 January 2018]. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GtfZbj4J71A
NF - Let You Down (Audio). 2017. [Online]. [Accessed on: 26 January 2018]. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0501BTnbrxg
NYMag. 2016. [Online]. [Accessed on: 26 January 2018]. Available from: http://nymag.com/vindicated/2016/11/tim-robbins-proves-acting-classes-for-inmates-work.html
Spotlight. 2018. [Online]. [Accessed on: 26 January 2018]. Available from: https://www.spotlight.com/interactive/cv/9652-6724-3828
'Tears of a Clown' - Smokey Robinson & The Miracles (info). 2013. [Online]. [Accessed on: 26 January 2018]. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t52YcxbVpOQ
The Actors Gang. 2018. [Online]. [Accessed on: 26 January 2018]. Available from: http://theactorsgang.com/prison-project/