So begins that much-esteemed classic of hip-hop, the Beastie Boys' "Flute Loop," off of, of course, their momentous album Ill Communication. It's permanently lodged in my memory, as are many other things that happened to me between high school and college, simply by merit of having been introduced to me at such a sponge-like moment of my life. There's another spoken bit off that album that has rent control in my brain, which begins "...if I'd known it was going to be this kind of party...", but that one doesn't segue nicely into what I'm writing about today. (Lucky you.)
I have a few workshops coming up teaching commedia dell'arte to movement students. Not dancers (thank goodness) but actors and other generally untrained movers. It's an interesting opportunity, both for the ways in which I'll need to adapt curriculum to suit it, and in the ways that the dynamic will be different when I'm teaching solo. I haven't done this in awhile. My usual teaching partner, Friend Heather, is tied up in performing Brilliant Traces in Scranton, and frankly I didn't feel a need to call on anyone else to fill the gap, like Friends Patrick or Todd. I'm excited for the opportunity to teach by myself, and by what I'll learn from it. Fortunately for me, I'll be teaching college-level students, so they should be relatively attentive. More energy will go into the teaching than the wrangling.
I really resented my movement classes in college. They were mandatory and, in spite of my agreement with the idea that actors need formal movement training, I mentally fought this (I was way too obedient then to actually do anything about it). Part of what made them so infuriating was that they were taught solely by dance instructors. I would take advantage of that now, but at the time it seemed negligent of the skills we truly needed. Out of about four, I only remember one teacher who seemed to actually understand what might be useful to the young actor. When I occasionally reunite with my fellow performance majors, we still make inside jokes about carving our way through an enormous, imaginary watermelon. Watch out for the seeds!
What's suddenly quite strange for me to consider is just how pivotal (har har) movement became in my work, and how significant a factor it is in my work history. I mean, highly physical theatre is what I do. It's like my calling card. Strange then that I began with such a resistance to the work. Perhaps it was the teachers, or just my obstinate teenage mentality, but it all started to turn for me toward the end of my sophomore year at VCU. That was when I was reaching the end of my mandatory movement classes, my emotions reminiscent then of reaching the end of mandatory Phys. Ed. in high school. It was also when I was trying to figure out just why theatre was important to me, and when I auditioned for my school's production of The Three Musketeers. In that audition they tested our ability to learn fencing and used various scenes from the play to evaluate players for the callbacks. In one such scene, I played d'Artagnon stepping up to his first challenge of a duel by immediately tripping and pratfalling directly onto his face. It was a move I wouldn't even contemplate now, but old hat at the time, hearkening back to my elementary-school antics, and I'm fairly sure it's what got me the part.
Three Musketeers had a lot of influence over my self-perception in that it got me a lot more comfortable with the idea of myself as a mover, and since then, well -- it's all been downhill pratfalls. I made broad physical characteristics for differentiating a couple of summerstock characters, latched onto the Suzuki training at my next summer gig, got involved with the circus crowd in New York and finally became a founding member of a contemporary commedia dell'arte troupe. Now there's no question in my mind either about my ability to use physical choices to fill out a character, nor about the importance of that work to theatre. Theatre is the only place where an actor has that much influence and exposure to use his or her entire person to tell a story. It's exciting, really. Movement is ever-changing ideas made concrete, tangible and visceral. What's not to love?
Now that I'm the one teaching various ways of using one's body to perform, I just hope to bring that sense of permission and ability to any student with whom I cross paths. For years and years in my youth I loved slapstick and admired action movies, but assumed that because I wasn't good in P.E. that such enthusiasms were at best fantasy, at worst envy. Now I know that everyone has a physical performer in them. It's as natural as being alive, and as emotionally affecting as any word or song. Move me!