Last week, I was working with young people who were working towards a show, a culminating experience that showed all they had worked on in the past two weeks.  Dance, combat, scenes and monologues.  We had students from all over the city, many different schools, aged 12-18.  It was a very compressed experience but my co-teacher and I realized that we needed to cement the notion of ensemble with them.  That for this time they must be family, they must look after one another and they must work together to make magic onstage.

Saying this is one thing.  But, how to make it happen?

I thought about an exercise I did a million years ago when I was working with Peeling.  We would make two lines and each person would move down the line, telling the person before them what they appreciated about the other person.  I thought it would work especially because they were 12-18 year olds, so they might not be able to acknowledge each other in public, but when presented with another person one-on-one, and with the right prompt, they might be able to speak the truth.

So, I began the exercise and said, “You will have a minute to look at the person in front of you and tell them everything you appreciate about them in the work you’ve seen them do in the last two weeks.”  I watched as laughter erupted, as they leaned into each other and smiled or blushed at what others appreciated about them.  And as they moved down the line, a warmth filled the room.

One boy, at the end said, “I feel so loved.”  Another boy said, “You think people don’t notice you at all, but then you hear that they do see you.  They hear what you say.”  Another boy said, “You think you’re like, an invisible person, but then you realize that you’re not.”

That says it all, I think.

While my partner and I didn’t participate in the exercise, two boys came up to us and wanted to tell us what they appreciated.  One of them said, “I appreciate that you’re tough on us and really keep us on track, but we know it’s because you love us.”  I said, “You’re absolutely right.”

I realize that I must find a way to do this more in my own artistic and teaching practices–tell people all that they are and all that I get from having them in the room.

Holidays Alone

Is their chosen aloneness an incredibly decisive act of self-determination?

My TV is out tonight. Okay. So, I thought I might unwind and rest my head by listening to a podcast. Some radio.

You might have also listened to the November 17th version of “This American Life.” There is a story of a 79-year old woman named Maryann who walked into a hospital alone and died there. It follows the story of a young woman named Emily whose job it is to claim her things at the hospital, go through her house and figure out who to inform, how to find family or loved ones. This particular woman left nearly no personal items, but had a house full of things. She cocooned herself in this place.

They talk to her neighbors. They barely know her. The only clue is a 30 year-old Christmas card written from a man who claims he doesn’t know her until he realizes that she is in fact his great-aunt.

On her answering machine was the message, “This is a message from No Name, No Number, No Message, No Answer.”

I wonder if she was happy. I wonder if this was all exactly as she wanted it.

Then, there was a young man named Clevins who lived alone at 15. He spoke of the joy of being able to make up his own room after a nomadic childhood. After his mother got sick, he decided to not tell anyone about it so that he could avoid being put into the foster care system.

And I wondered, is this one of the last things that we can have any control over? Our home and when and under what conditions people enter our space. When we walk out into the world. And what the course of our path is. Is their chosen aloneness an incredibly decisive act of self-determination?