17 Aug EveryBody, Yeah: Our Bodies In Improv
A guest blog from Rita Suszek
I’m not interested in how people move: I’m interested in what makes them movePina Bausch
Lockdown, day 7998375. My unruly body only accepts leggings and sweatpants; I eat my fears and try to moderate my information intake. Going for walks sounds both nice and risky. Face covering is now mundane.
And how are you?
The story doesn’t start here, but bookmark this moment: we’ll be back.
My relationship with my body has been compromised early on – to put it mildly. Bullied by peers and certain family members, encouraged to diet, mocked, what have you. I hated sports of all kinds, even though I was curiously a really good dancer: the foreshadowing of possibilities. But as a child, I simply thought that movement was Not For Me.
Is this familiar? Maybe substitute fastness for disability, an undiagnosed ailment or an injury. Maybe PE teachers were bullies, your body didn’t match your gender, your environment policed your body so much it took the joy right out of it.
I started performing early on, with community theatres and school groups: these were the days of scripts. Polish theatre tradition is very text-based and that was great by me! But a thing about the stage is that you have to show up on it with your body and that was, occasionally, a problem. If I poured myself into the text, I was fine; if I suddenly woke up in my then-hated, crouched body, performing would be a struggle.
Fast forward to university: I joined a performance art group that worked based on Grotowski’s laboratory technique. For the first time in my life, text was not God. Grotowski had cared deeply about the body as an actor’s instrument, so I was confronting my imperfect vessel directly, learning to move in different ways: flowing and sharp; jumping and crouching; gently and boldly. Ultimately Grotowski developed these exercises to create a disciplined actor, who could “self-sacrifice” themselves and achieve a “secular holiness”, a gifting of self: but those concepts were unachievable then and pretty remote besides. I was merely enjoying this new engagement with myself, so preoccupied with learning that I forgot to hate my body and also forgot to be smart and witty, because text was unimportant in the face of this sudden physicality. I realised that my imperfect body had a lot to offer and was not only a tool for performance, but also for beauty, connection and joy.
Following that, I’ve done lots of movement learning. Mime; dance theatre; Feldenkrais and dance; modern; popping. And then I came to London and my performance experience became about improv, where I met many people similar to me – people who were used to being somehow different and geeky, whose intelligence could be a boon and a shield both. People who didn’t necessarily arrive at performance via theatre school or dance classes and had a varying level of body comfort. People who were witty and talented, but sometimes showed up on stage like their bodies weren’t even there.
Here we are: where do we go now?
A business case for the body in improv is actually quite simple. We are physical beings and bodies are available tools of expression: it makes absolute sense to hone them. However, for many people engagement with the body means confronting hidden shame and unhappy memories and that makes them uneasy; bodies store our feelings, unhappiness included. But I believe that it is worth doing so, not only because it may make us better performers, but primarily because we deserve the joy that engagement with our bodies can bring.
Stuck as we are in our (post?) lockdown economies of anxiety, our bodies bear the brunt of it. Outside of regular routines, deprived of touch and movement, Zooming in and out in empty rooms. I know I’m not the only one whose body issues are getting stirred up right now – and perhaps it is easier to think about that than actually look at politics. But the important thing is that movement is here for us – and movement is for everybody.
Given my history, it’s something I need to remind myself of. But these are things I believe:
- Movement is for Every Body.
- Theatre theory is for Every Body.
- Joy is for Every Body
As improvisers, we create and maintain supportive environments. Let them encompass body training, too. As performers, we need the tools that it can offer – but more importantly, as humans, we could use a reliable source of happiness.
Rita is teaching the Nursery Elective online workshop EveryBody Yeah: Movement for Improvisers on Saturday August 22 at 2pm BST. Click here for more details and to book your place! https://thenurserytheatre.com/events/online-elective-22aug20/
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