When I was a kid, there was a room behind our garage that my parent’s called the “play room”. It was an office for the original owner of my parent’s house, a bookie called Rocco Capozzi. It was a rectangular room about 8’x12’ with built-in cupboards along the narrow end, a built-in desk and door leading into the garage on one of the long sides, another door leading into the backyard on the other narrow end and two small windows high up on the other long side with a blank wall below them. The floor of brown linoleum tiles was cold to the touch year round.
Until I was 13, my brother and I shared an unfinished attic bedroom in our house, which stood about thirty feet from the garage. Then, I asked my parents if I could move out into the “play room”. In hindsight, that room and the solitude I gained by moving there set me on the path to becoming an artist. Thus began my 1st artist residency in the “play room” which later morphed into a profession in the theatre.
For many people, “play” is about eating, drinking, and watching TV or movies, listening to music, reading a book, or masturbation. Most of which is ultimately not very fulfilling.
But what is this need we’re trying to fulfill—this “play”? Is it a respite from “work”? Is it some need for restoration, some kind of taking “in” of energy and life?
If so, then TV and food and drink should suffice, but we know they don’t. Yet we keep trying the same approach toward satisfying our needs, expecting a different outcome than the boredom, ennui, or overweight that results from our repetitive compensatory patterns.
What are we compensating for? What if real “play” involved risk, fear, adventure and that was where life and energy came from? What if “play” is adventure plus risk, life plus fear, energy plus freshness?
We keep trying to repeat those 1st experiences of “play” we had when eating, drinking, or a TV show were fresh, alive, and new. But repeating a previous experience is death—comes from the so-called reptilian part of the brain—that area that needs safety, predictability, order, and black-and-white realities.
Nothing could be further from aliveness, vitality, or “play” than these futile attempts at fulfillment that often lead to addiction, boredom, or require higher and higher doses of familiar activity to reach the momentary goal.
It’s curious, though, isn’t it, that that’s the truth about “play”: it’s a moment, not a thing. It can happen anywhere. It has those characteristics I’ve mentioned like risk, fear, adventurousness, energy, life, vitality, and freshness. And it has something ethereal and spiritual at its core: presence.
This moment, right now, is full of the potential for “play”. Not the next one, or the previous one, or the ones we’ve tasted before, but this moment right here. How we attend to this moment determines whether it’s “play” or slavish boredom.
This is exactly the kind of dilemma playwright’s grapple with when writing a play. Whether comedy or drama, the plays we put on stage are stories that must create an experience of “play” where we drop all habits and expectations and are invited to be in-the-moment. Theatre is organized in terms of optimal levels of arousal. What better place to play than in the “play room” for adults?
Ah! The joys of live theatre in an intimate setting… This was the most difficult one: someone in the front kept falling asleep and snoring! The audience was starting to think she was the show! The host forgot to unplug the phone and it rang and this huge body in a bright yellow blazer went racing past me to unplug it… I didn’t flinch or drop a note. Had to improvise and include all of that into the performance.
It’s life, isn’t it? Every relationship has these moments when we’re not sure we’re able to cope, to integrate what we’ve just experienced, to be present, and sometimes that moment challenges us to the core. Theatre is life, life is theatre!
As a performer, I’m making moment-to-moment choices with lightning speed. Should I drop my voice here; should I hold the silence a little longer; should I look directly at that audience member? All the while, I’m trying to stay connected to the truth-in-the-moment. And what is that truth?
It changes moment-by-moment, night after night. The only constant in live events is change and a kind of presence. It’s a high-wire act and the script and your skills are the safety net. You fall, you bounce a few times, laugh and dust yourself off, and climb up to the high-wire again… and hope the audience took in that moment of our collective folly and grace and presence… or hope they missed it altogether!
When I was a child, my family’s form of intimacy was gathering nightly around the television and watching other families interact in ways that we found to be funny or dramatic or otherwise fulfilling. Mind you, I was a child. At that time, I could not foresee what the psychological or social implications of this family ritual might be or into what future it might lead our family.
My sisters became wedded to heartthrobs, my mother became enthralled by sexy torch singers on variety shows, my father found buddies in the nightly adventures of cops and robbers and war heroes. And me? Well…I welcomed them all as friends, given the lack of friends I found in my family and in my everyday life.
But television is a bit one-sided. The characters talk to you but you’re never really able to get to know them. And they don’t listen very well. They only exist in your imagination. It is, after all, a bunch of dots on a screen.
And that’s why I love intimate theatre: these are real people. I can smell their body odor; see the sweat beading on their upper lip. And if I’m lucky…I can talk to them after the show in an after-performance “talk-back”.
They may not become my friends. They will never be intimate family members. But I can learn so much more about how to be intimate with a person right there in front of me than I ever can in my imagination. Don’t you think?
It’s a common sight these days: a man or woman walking down the street, hand covering their ear, talking to someone not present, on a cell phone. Or a couple out walking the dog, with one of them chatting to someone—again someone not present—on a cell phone, while the dog tugs at the other arm and the spouse walks along in silence and the day passes unnoticed.
I’ve asked myself, “What’s is happening here?” Surely this is a symbol of our deep need for connection, for intimacy. But often it comes at a time when we’re presented with the possibility of intimacy right here and now and we miss it because we’ve answered the cell phone in the check-out line, the airport, or on a subway, ignoring the present moment and whomever is standing right beside us.
This is where theatre comes in and offers us what film and television never can: the here and now experience of intimacy. It’s possible with theatre to create a present moment experience of being understood, seen, and heard; to create the preciousness of interpersonal safety that a person might feel in a therapist’s office, while in a social context; to satisfy in a real, visceral, present moment way our deep need for connection and intimacy and thereby effect social change; I dare say, to heal like the rituals of old.
This is the model of theatre I’ve been exploring for the last 10 years. A model that’s coalesced under the aegis of the work of Acting On Impulse Theatre Company and especially, under the guidance of Jerry Levy: we’ve melded the sociological and the psychological into our performances and the intimate settings of those performances. Come explore yourself with us.
April 29th 2012 performance:
“Thomas Griffin is a fine actor and his performance complemented a very well written play by Michael Harding.” C.P.
May 5th 2012 performance:
“I was easily swept up in the character’s life and perceptions. The story is still vibrating in my mind and stimulating conversations.” R.F.
April 25th 2012 performance:
“It is dear, to those of us who appreciate good theater, to have the opportunity to witness a performer craft their character with the grace and sensitivity necessary to truly illuminate the artistry of the playwright, and this is precisely what Thomas Griffin has done in his superb performance of Michael Harding’s “The Kiss”. This work is an exquisite example of intimacy and refinement, capturing the rich imagery and the character’s subtle shifts of thought so eloquently, that one feels wooed by the introspection and finds the silences palpable.” Jess