Your Coffee Break

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If I can’t take
My coffee break
Somehow the soul no longer tries
Somehow I don’t metabolize
Something inside of me
Coffee or otherwise
Coffee or otherwise
Something inside of me
Dies!

Ring true?

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying made its Broadway debut in 1961, sharing the story of one man’s quick and inventive rise within corporate culture, filled with heart, big dance numbers, and lots of humor. The musical inspired a movie in 1967 and then went on to have two Broadway revivals, most recently starring Mr. Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe.

The show has had continued success because while offices have changed since 1961, human behavior has not, and neither have certain elements of the work culture.

Like coffee.

In the first act, one lone employee walks half asleep up to the coffee machine to find it empty, and while confusion is the first response, soon the whole office has gone into absolute hysteria.

No coffee?
No coffee?!?!

The stage fills with reaching arms and desperate pleas for that:
One chemical substance…
Gets out the lead

Ring true?

This past week I took an advanced theatre dance class with Choreographer Jeffry Denman. He was actually in the first Broadway revival of How to Succeed in 1995 and decided tonight we were going to dance to this comedic song.

Before the choreography began, we had several counts of improvisation to get us into place, a chance to basically embody the characters.

Most of us went for Night of the Living Dead, slowing moving forward like the zombie who feeds on caffeine.

Chuckles ensued as we all went glass-eyed with arms stretched out at odd angles, all heading towards the phantom cup.

We were all making the same choice.

Then Jeffry challenged us,
Do something different.
Do what no one else is doing.

I heard that and immediately began to run about the room, looking everywhere for the coffee, upending clothes and bags.

We did the dance several more times, and each time I made a new choice for the beginning. I stared at the mirror, I had hallucinations, I broke out into endless giggles, and I even prostrated myself calling out to God….anything that was a different choice than the first one.

And all of them served the same purpose, because everyone has a different way of expressing shock and withdrawal, right?

After class, the teacher came out to introduce himself to me and remark how much he enjoyed my choices.

Now THAT was different for me.

For most of my performance career, I chased after directors and choreographers, saying,
Look at me!

I felt like I was waving my arms to get their attention and while sometimes it worked, most of the time I just felt disappointed and unheard.

Didn’t they see my brilliance?

Apparently not, because I was too busy shoving it in their face.  I used to look around the room first and see what others were doing, or have a great idea but be too scared I would just look stupid.

So what was the difference?

When Jeffry asked us to improv and make new choices, I just did it. I knew what the song was about and started to have fun.

I opened my creativity.

What was missing?

Self judgement and a need for external validation.

Ironically, it was when I was just staying in the moment and the process that all the ideas came to me, and ultimately a connection was made with the choreographer. I wasn’t trying so hard.

Ring true?

We are all creative beings. We have tons of ideas and we want to connect with our audience. But when the ONLY reason we are creating is for the validation, the audience can feel that. They may not know what is off, but something just doesn’t seem right.

Something doesn’t ring true.

And if we can be in our bodies and allow the initial inspiration to just express itself, then we actually will connect with our audience, and it will be in a way where they will want to return. And return, and return.

What you bring to the process is what sets you apart.

So trust it, and don’t let that die.

Truth is, you aren’t a zombie. Thank goodness!

So how can you bring back the play in your creativity? Answer in the comment section below!

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The Creative Thread

Gift Bag

I quickly throw down my yoga mat in the front row, having just made it in time for class. With the best intentions to arrive early, the NYC subway had other ideas.

Facing my teacher Ali, I sit elevated on my blanket, folded over so my tight hips can release and my knees rest. I sweep my hair into a ponytail grabbing the tie from my wrist, and settle just as she begins to speak.

I need this today.

“So, I cleaned out my closet, which is great, but now all the bags of clothes are in my living room…”

She recounts the story of her mother coming over and trying to find a place to sit, compassionately saying, “You will move these things all in due course.”

As Ali looked at her mother unable to fully relax in her home, her answer came clearly.

“No”

Ali knew in that moment there was one thing she could do. She could take one of the bags that was set aside for a friend and deliver it to her. Or she could take one of the bags that was set aside for Salvation Army and drop it off.

So she did.

And she felt so good about accomplishing this simple task, she went to the grocery store to buy some rice, and smiled at another shopper who was having a bad day.

What happened for that shopper?

Maybe she went home and hugged her husband, or called a friend, or sat and played with her dog. She took the kindness that was shown to her, and passed it on. Ali not only touched a stranger, she touched all who the stranger came in contact with, and a chain was begun.

All this from a bag of clothes.

 

I remember sitting in the audience for the Tony award winning play The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. I was with a close friend and during intermission, we turned to each other, almost too stunned to utter much more than,

“I LOVE this…”

Curious Case w Ali

I was at an artistic buffet of collaboration, ensemble work, brilliant staging, and focused storytelling. I witnessed the bare stage turning into a grid the lead could literally draw on, sitting at the edge of my seat, giddy with discovery.

I felt I was seeing not only the creativity of the original author, but what each member of this production had brought forth.

The ensemble played different roles and created the environment. They were the chairs, the doors, and even the emotional states for the protagonist as he progressed through his fears. They lifted him and turned him upside down.

I walked out inspired. I walked out with a visual playing in my head, and a desire to create.

 

Months after, I was hired to choreograph the Zarzuela El Laurel de Apolo for Repertorio Espanol, and when the director began to speak about how we were going to turn Daphne into a tree, I felt myself sitting on the edge of my seat again.

The little seed that had been growing since seeing Curious Incident was planted in the minds of my director, lighting designer, and set designer. As I began to throw out ideas, their eyes lit up, and soon we were all throwing water and fertilizer into the pot.

It began to grow and take shape.

Our first rehearsal with the ensemble on forming the tree, I shared my vision, and invited the cast to play. They accepted with glee and gratitude, and their energy was high.

Now they were a part of the process too.

Our closing night of El Laurel de Apolo, we had to turn people away. The show was sold out, and the audience stood with vigor and joy, clapping at the end.

Daphne Tree

There was a brightness in the theatre, from the stage to the seats, a thread from the bowing of the cast and creative team, to the patrons.

I stood, looking out from the stage, acknowledging the audience, but also remembered clapping with the same vigor months ago at what began this journey for me.

I wonder what the audience members did when they went home?

 

We have a great opportunity as artists, to reach an audience with our stories, our songs, our paintings, and dance. We have the opportunity to connect and create a thread.

What if we approached our art this way, with one simple step?

What if we looked at the seed in order to create the whole?

Sometimes, it won’t be linear, and in fact may be a map going out in all directions, but the effect will be the same whether it’s what we receive from a smile or from the lights lowering as we settle into our seats. And the possibilities of how many lives it will touch is endless.

You actually possess a great power. Did you know you set so much in motion with one action?

You choose the beginning.

So, what is the one thing you can do today, and what can you receive as inspiration?

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