Tim Miller and the Body Maps Workshop

My beloved middle nephew who, like my beloved oldest and youngest nephews, has a highly developed comic sense (and don’t think I haven’t encouraged them to make use of it and take acting classes) has taken to calling me Ms. Blogs a Lot and to giving me hints as to which “juicy details” I should include in my blog posts. It occurs to me several weeks into this endeavor of daily posting that there may be some truth in that wry riposte of his. But I will not be stopped! At least not yet when I still have so much more to say about the Tim Miller and Body Maps Workshop.

Who is Tim Miller, you ask?

Part of the answer is that Tim Miller is an award-winning, California-based, solo performance artist who tours his performances throughout the country and the world. He is the author of such solo performances as Democracy in America, Stretch Marks, My Queer Body, US and most recently, Rooted. Several of his earlier pieces are published in his book Body Blows and a later book, 1001 Beds contains several more of his performances. Part of the answer is that he is a performance artist who was part of the NEA 4 in 1990. Remember the NEA 4? They were given National Endowment of the Arts grants and then the NEA rescinded the grants causing a furor over the state of freedom of speech in the US. Part of the answer is that Tim Miller is the co-founder of the tremendously important downtown theater space, P.S. 122, where so much solo performance work has had an opportunity to incubate. Part of the answer is that, in addition to possessing considerable acting talent and cojones, he is a teacher and he brings his considerable skills in workshop form to a variety of college campuses. He possesses the heart of a teacher and I cannot emphasize enough what a profoundly generous teacher he was meeting with us for close to four hours a day, six days in a row, AND emailing us nightly with detailed feedback. But, the answer that feels more on the mark, especially after working with him for a week, is that he is one hell of an amazing human being.

What is a Body Maps Workshop?

I had no idea at the start of the venture which was probably just as well, but I was soon to find out that it had everything to do with bodies, bodies, bodies. Moving the body (well, I’m not as young as everyone else, but I can still move my body), thinking about the relationship between language and the body (more on my brain freeze when it came to this kind of thinking below), drawing the body (oh no, I thought to myself, another instance during which I will be definitely well outside my comfort zone) and telling the story of the body (my body has a story?). Right from the beginning, in his early emails to us, Tim Miller started talking about his approach to the solo performance as being a meeting between story and body (after all the storyteller is on stage and the storyteller does have a body) and how the best stories come from our bodies because it is our bodies that give us the stories that NEED to be told, investing them with urgency and passion.

Who were the workshop participants?

I met daily with eight fabulously interesting, committed and talented participants. Not only could they all act, but all of them could do lots of other things too, like break out into amazing song at a moment’s notice or talk about their inspiring community-building work or discuss their innovative theater therapy work. All of them had to work at other jobs, but all of them were absolutely committed to the work they were doing each day that we met and never, ever once did they look at their smart phones!!! This is an especially important point because all of them were in their 20’s (perhaps one or two were in their very early 30’s). So something else that I knew all along was also demonstrated to me that day. Theater’s energy IS more powerful than the smartphone’s. Together we made up nine participants and eight of them were trained performers, coming out of university theater programs. 6 of the nine were male and three of us were female. There was A.E., Yel, Adi, Kris, not one but two Dylans, Brandon, Alexis, and me. Our group represented an array of gender diversity (and here I mean more than the binary of male and female), of sexual orientation, of ethnicity, of race, and thanks to me, of age. In terms of acting training, I was definitely the outlier of the bunch, but they welcomed me into their reindeer games immediately.

What was the first day like?

A little bit exciting. A little bit nerve-wracking. A little bit unknowable and unknown. Walking in, I was feeling decidedly outside my comfort zone. I figured at the very least I would be miming and improvising and generally doing things that I don’t do. BUT as soon as I heard the words, “Even something as simple as walking is a performance,” I relaxed and even rallied. Because not only do I walk, I walk A LOT and when I say a lot, I mean multiple miles daily. YES! I knew it all along. I CAN BE a performer and clearly I must belong in this workshop. We began with introductions which were pretty intense since Tim began with talking about the #MeToo phenomenon that had just re-ignited (I say re-ignited because as Amy Goodman reminded us on Democracy Now, it was originally created by the activist Tarana Burke nearly a decade ago) which meant that the neutral introduction I had planned had to go right out the window and as said beloved middle nephew likes to say of me, I got “all fired up.” We all got fired up and thus we were ready to start thinking quite seriously about how indeed our bodies DO tell us what stories need to be told. After the introductions, we played with the notion of how walking can be a performance. Then Tim turned our attention to how the language we speak all the time whether as regular humans or as performers, embodies the body. He reminded us of all of the body metaphors with which we litter our speech, encouraging us to add to the list. For example, saying that we have butterflies in our stomach, or that we have a broken heart or a chip on our shoulder or are having cold feet about a situation or name-calling people with phrases like four eyes or pizza face. You would think that since I teach English literature, I would have been able to join in the fun and add lots and lots of body metaphors. No such luck. Apparently when I am asked to think like an actor, my English expertise goes right out the window. I was willing to sacrifice that expertise, however, because by the end of the first day I was hooked and ready to fully embrace the “adventure” (Tim’s word) that awaited me over the next five days. More of what that entailed in the next post.

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