Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Social Acupuncture

Hi Gang,

So sorry for the long delay since my last communication with all of you. It has been a hectic few weeks. I just closed a fantastic run of "The Producers" and have been trying to get caught up on everything. :)

I have logged on a few times in the past few weeks and must say that I am really enjoying the conversations and writings I have encountered. It is so wonderful to be part of this group.

The talent, thoughtfulness, and mind expanding is running amok on our blog - this is GREAT!

Tonight I will be posting a few of the essays I wrote around some of the readings we have been exploring.

Please feel free to give me any feedback (if you desire - no pressure - just as Darren O'Donnell sets up his audience interaction).

I hope that you all are doing well and that your "packeting" goes well. Let's keep up these fantastic conversations.

Here's my essay on "Social Acupuncture":

Poking and Probing Social Acupuncture

Darren O’Donnell’s work Social Acupuncture is an excellent source for theatre practitioners looking to communicate and connect with audience. His experiments actively explore ways in which to engage audience and community in meaningful discourse while not focusing on the need to dramatize or “create” theatrical situations.

I find O’Donnell’s work quite inspirational. I have been struggling with the way in which to engage audience and collaborate in a dialogue that transcends the theatrical event. I have been stuck at a fork in the road of creativity. I have felt bound to a traditional practice that is dying to be set free into a more meaningful, experimental practice.

When I started reading the words of O’Donnell I felt immediately connected. I felt aligned with the need to use my artistic abilities in a way that could engage. I asked myself, “How can I achieve this lofty goal of promoting social change through my artistic practice?” “Why do I want to engage in dialogue or expose my audience to issues that are important to me?” “What is the payoff in this kind of artistic expression?” and most importantly, “how do I challenge the way things have been done in my formal training of representational theatre?” “How can I innovate my practice to find open and honest dialogue and collaboration?” “How can I make this practice not about ‘me’ or my ‘craft’?”

That last question seems to resonate the most with me right now. Being that theatre is an art form that can and a lot of the time does promote self-centeredness and an over abundant ego, it can be extremely difficult to get to a space where you can remove self-indulgence from theatrical practice.

I think the reason for this is, as theatre practitioners we are taught methods of interaction and falsified realism through our art. What can happen is that when we get really good at this, we can sometimes struggle with shutting this ability off; or, on the other hand, we receive so many accolades in response to our refined skill and craft that we let it get to our head.

How’s that for self-indulgence? By no means am I saying that my craft and/or skills are better than any other theatre practitioner; I am trying to frame a sensibility that I find rampant and problematic with the collective theatrical craft.

I think perhaps this is why I have been interested in working with inexperienced performers. I have found from my own experiences that the more inexperienced performer is more open and willing to take chances. My collaborations with such actors have afforded a deeper connection and collaboration than I have had with some more experienced performers where the ego gets in the way.

At times I have been able to find a collective honesty while working with these actors. I know this all sounds like a lot of generalization; and it probably is; however, I think there is some truth in this. This is not to say that I haven’t had amazingly open, effective, honest, and devoid-of-ego experiences with more tenured theatre practitioners – there is just a rawness that is appealing to me when working with performers who have limited experience. I think this is why I am interested in collaborating with diverse communities and creating work together.

With that being said, I have often struggled with how to approach this. How do I step away from the traditional ties that bind me within my art? How do I get away from me (the traditionally trained actor longing to be in theatrical dialogue with community) and create completely openly, honestly, and collaboratively?

I found many of these answers in Social Acupuncture. O’Donnell’s work has opened a gateway to a world of possibilities for my artistic practice. His framing of theatrical expression through the metaphor of Chinese medicinal practices makes so much sense. This Eastern way of healing and O’Donnell’s use of the art as an apparatus for probing social wellness and discourse is exciting!

O’Donnell writes, “What theatre is really about – like any other form – is generating affect and that’s it.” (O'Donnell 19) This notion reminds me of the driving force behind what makes me a theatre practitioner – I want to feel, think, and bare witness to how others feel and think. The only way I know how to do this effectively is through my art. It is a gateway that opens a door to understanding.

What I have questioned frequently within my practice is how to keep this dialogue alive. How can we keep the candle of interest lit? How can we truly make a difference? Until I read of O’Donnell’s techniques of Q&A and The Talking Creature, I was feeling stale within my technique.

I have used my formal training in theatre; a training that embodies created characters that recreate emotion and react to predetermined situations. Though I have found that the traditional practice of theatre has opened a dialogue; I have often pondered how I could take a step further and move into a deeper space and dialogue.

I got very excited when I read of O’Donnell’s engagement with his audience. I felt that his way of interacting and getting to know his spectators was a brilliant way of breaking down the fourth wall. By engaging in conversation with the spectators he was able to bring a personal connection to the performance.

The gentleness of his interaction was something that resonated with me. His audience does not need to respond. His audience is in the driver’s seat and can either take the driver’s or the backseat in his theatrical vehicle. Wow! What an innovative way to mitigate vulnerability and gently encourage the dialogue and interaction. This is the power of theatre in action!

O’Donnell writes, “…the need to divide the experience into ‘part of the show’/’not part of the show’ reveals the desire to keep art locked securely in a category that is ‘not life’.” (O'Donnell 55) I think that this singular statement is the heart of his artistic philosophy. Art should be a breathing, living entity that serves all participants. Art is life and life is art. As basic as the notion sounds, it rings much truth to my practice and me.

O’Donnell partners traditional Eastern medicinal theory to a contemporary western theatrical practice that finds its roots in traditional aesthetics. By reframing and articulating these artistic metaphors and practices, O’Donnell is challenging the way in which we communicate through our art.

He has successfully created a practice of life-infused art that encourages us to look deeper and maintain connection through our theatrical sensibilities. These socio-theatrical experiments and practices have inspired me to branch out in the way in which I use my craft to encourage dialogue.

O’Donnell has opened a can of artistic worms for me; one that encourages me to branch out in different directions and actively explore community through a socio-theatrical and engaging practice. This new facet of practice will continue to open doors and bridge the gaps between life and art.

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