Body Work: listening to, seeing, and performing our bodies

Over the next few days, Tim Miller was intent upon making sure that we listened to our bodies and the stories they had to tell. So, we had to pay considerable attention to our actual bodies throughout the six days. We moved around A LOT over the six days getting in touch with our legs and arms and heads, but also with our feet and the shoes on our feet and the way that our feet and shoes interact with the environment around us. I was familiar with many of the various movement exercises, but under Tim’s guidance, nothing was ever just an exercise. Take the shoe exercise, for example. This involved taking our shoes, placing them on our hands, moving them into the center of the circle in some way, putting them down in a configuration of our choice, and, finally, speaking out by finishing the sentence “These are the shoes of someone who.” Participants came up with really interesting ways to finish that sentence such as “I am a quiet Latino who is tired of being in a cage,” and even the seemingly obvious statement “These are the shoes of someone who doesn’t want to track in dirt” resonated. Then, and here’s the pièce de résistance, we had to take someone’s shoes from the pile and recreate all of their actions and statements (memory don’t fail me now!!). But that wasn’t all because then Tim spent the next 20 minutes or so reminding us of the deeper meanings of shoes and suggested that shoes are part of deeply meaningful rituals. Sounds a little wacky, you say? Well, perhaps for a second I thought so too until Tim started talking about his visit to the Holocaust Museum in D.C. and then an explosion of synapses occurred in my brain as I instantly realized that Tim was going to create a connection to the thousands and thousands of shoes that have been gathered together to make visible and call attention to the bodies that no longer fill them. And I thought what an awesomely inspiring and humane connection to make.

In addition to moving our bodies around the stage space and enacting various mini-plays using our bodies, we made DRAWINGS and drew our bodies onto a large piece of paper (drawings we had to save and share with the audience on the day of the performance as a kind of introduction to the performance). This was our body map that we would use to build towards our final monologue. I am DEFINITELY NOT AN ARTIST so my drawing was what you might imagine, but once again I strangely didn’t care and sort of went at it abstractly. Since one thing that is fairly easy to draw is hair, I started with my hair. And then because I leave strands of my hair behind me everywhere I go, I started drawing squiggles descending from the hair, sometimes vertically, and sometimes horizontally. Then because I wanted folks to get that what I was drawing was hair, I had to attempt a torso of sorts. When that torso ended up looking fairly fish-like, I became a kind of mermaid swimming in a sea of hair. Then, of course, I had to create a face of some sort so I drew glasses as my glasses are another prominent feature on my body. Tim then asked us to look at the map and to think about one of the body parts and the story it would tell and then to think of an action for that body part. I didn’t yet know what my story was going to be but I was still sticking with my hair so I just started shaking my head and my hair which meant that I was saying no, but it also meant that I was actually watching the process of strands of my hair falling to the ground. Then Tim asked us to turn the piece of paper over to the other side and to start writing the story of one of the body parts depicted on our map. So I picked up a crayon and started writing “This is NOT the story of my broken ankle and This is NOT the story of the scab on knee and This is NOT the story of my breast biopsy” which is how I ended up with the line that I would eventually use to generate my final monologue: “This IS the story of my hair.”

Of course since this was a Tim Miller workshop, our body maps didn’t stay on the paper. Because the next day we drew ON our bodies. We had a plethora of washable markers (well, sort of washable, and only after many minutes of hard scrubbing, and even then the ghost of the drawing remained for days afterward) and plenty of body parts to draw upon. Participants started pointing to their backs, their bellies, and their sides, asking their scene partners to draw away. I bared my arm and since what kept coming up for me, in addition to my hair, was voice and amplification, I asked Brandon to draw a megaphone. As I mentioned, I am most assuredly not an artist so I was happy I didn’t have to draw the megaphone and that what Brandon wanted was a heart with lots of colors radiating out of it which was something I could actually more or less do.

And, finally, came the day when we were asked to think about everything we had done with our bodies and to let that generate a 5-minute monologue. Tomorrow I talk more about the birth of a monologue.

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