March 1, 2011

Bull's Eye

So many things happened this weekend that I have to say I’m at a loss for where to begin.  On Saturday alone I was presented with three different topics for awesome blogs, then the week just kept on rolling into more and more ideas.

Suffice to say The Public Theatre’s production of Timon of Athens is worth every penny (and more since $15 is almost nothing to pay for a theatre ticket).  That’s saying something with a play like Timon.  Expect a full review in the days to come.
The MA symposium went swimmingly and, thanks to a dear friend, I have a recording of my talk!  I will be posting it as soon as I get my hands on it, so stay tuned for that.
For now, I would like to share a self-realization I had the other evening when pondering the symposium itself.  This realization actually goes back a few years to when I was living and studying at Shakespeare & Company (the second go-round).

An integral piece (and, frankly, one of the best pieces) of the Shakespeare & Company actor’s conservatory is clown training.  Clown is a fascinating discipline for actors to study as it teaches so many useful skills.  I have brought my clown training into my daily life more times than I can count.  One of the primary clown axioms (“find the energy”) is something which I return to like a mantra these days.
The primary principle of clowning is that each of us consists of a series of “off-balances”.  These off-balances, or flaws, are usually the things that we feel the most self-conscious about.  They can be physical, emotional, or character-based.  A clown is simply a public celebration of these off-balances.  You find them, exaggerate them, and from them your clown emerges.  The clown lives within each of us, below the surface, waiting to be unlocked in this way.  One of my mentors, for example, always felt that his ears were too large for his head.  His clown wore a huge stuffed bra on his head, exaggerating the ears.  One of the girls in my clown class was extremely smart, had three degrees, and was worried about the world’s perception of her intelligence.  Her clown was a caveman who spoke in grunts and solved problems by clocking them over the head.

My entire life, one way or another, I have been pre-occupied with my body and how it moves through space.  As a kid I got teased a great deal about my weight (which, while being on the upper end of average, really isn’t that far out of the ordinary – but children are awful and will pick on the weak like chickens pecking each other to death).  I wasn’t exactly a graceful kid and I am certain that, for most of my life, I didn’t know how to carry myself properly (how can you when you’re not confident in yourself?).  I also suffer from chronic cases of am-I-smart-enough, am-I-good-enough, I don’t-want-to-be-alone.

My clown, then, turned out to be a young girl named Molly.  Molly could only speak in a very deep foghorn-like-voice that rarely said anything but sounds and her name (and occasionally echoed words that other people had said).  She wasn’t very smart.  She was not graceful.  She lumbered and lifted heavy things.  She also had a teddy bear that she was very attached to because she constantly needed a friend.  In essence, Molly was a bull in a china shop.

After the symposium, I was out having drinks with some friends and was trying to categorize the people we knew into academic “types” based upon their style of argument.  We know one girl who is a spider.  She will sit quietly and lure you into her web based upon a carefully composed series of questions.  One of our close friends is a bomb; he sits and sits and eventually his fuse burns out and he explodes.
It was at that moment that I realized.  I’ve always referred to myself as an academic pit bull; but I’m not a pit bull.  I’m just a bull.  I enter the ring, horns lowered, ready to gore whatever it is that I’m trying to prove and if anyone gets in my way, I shake them off as quickly and violently as I can.  If someone dangles a new red cape in front of me, I’m just as likely to turn and run full-speed for that.  I’m large and heavy, impossible to ignore, aggressive, dangerous, strong, and focused if easily distracted.  Without a target to aim for, I just stomp into the china shop and thrash around, doing as much damage as possible before either I get tired or someone kindly and gently removes me from the premises.

I then flashed to a situation which my colleagues and I jokingly refer to as “the Mutiny”.  We took a course last semester with a professor who was brand new to our program (and just out of his own PhD).  The class was in Romanticism.  There are a LOT of canonical Romantic texts on the Common Reading Exam list.  A HUGE reason we had all taken the class was because we wanted to study those texts in a classroom.  Imagine our surprise and disappointment when, upon receiving the syllabus, many of the texts were omitted from the course.

We decided that we should say something.  Not rudely, professionally.  We set up an appointment to speak with the professor as a group and let him know our goals and concerns about the course.  The day of the appointment, I happened to be running a bit late.  I got a text from aforementioned academic bomb asking where I was and reminding me that the Mutiny was planned to go off.  I told him that I was on my way.
I will never forget the feeling of entering that office.  My colleagues were already there speaking with the professor, but none of the individuals in the room were particularly aggressive (unless pushed into a corner somehow).  The Spider later described it as “…and then Danielle came charging in and it was like the cavalry had arrived”.  That is how I felt; heavy, powerful, bull-like.

When this stuck me, I had to laugh.  You have to understand.  Basically, I’m saying this:


 (the shot of Molly isn’t particularly flattering, but it’s the only one I have).
A person’s character will shine through in everything she touches.  With me, that just happens to be a wide range of things.  Still, the thought of bringing Molly to a conference is antithetically hilarious.  If ever I had doubts about my clown teacher being right, or my instincts being right, or my knowledge of myself being right, they are set to rest.  Bulls are pretty cool, right?  They’re majestic, strong, and they kill people who piss them off.  And hey, at least I’m not an academic lapdog. 

1 comment:

Rob Archer said...

Hey, self-realization is always a bitch. Good on you for accepting it. Have you ever asked other people how they saw you to see if it jibes?