Living In The Questions

Theatre games have always been fun for me, mainly because I love being weird. I can’t help but laugh as I walk down an imaginary runway like an ape pretending to be a model, or make weird faces while having strange conversations using only odd sounds and my hands (I apologize in advance for the pictures below. Be thankful I didn't include a video). I will jump at the chance to play ninja, and look forward to trust falls and moments of weightlessness as my peers catch me.

I’ve always heard how theatre classes are supposed to emotionally push your limits and get you outside your comfort zones, however the type of exercises that I’ve done in the past have never made me feel all that uncomfortable. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve felt crazy and bizarre, but never “uncomfortable”. This week was different. I was pushed in new ways, and thought my head might have not registered I was uncomfortable, my body definitely did. The exercises we did this week weren’t anything I was completely unfamiliar with, they were just taken to the next level. Trust falls… just more intense.

One of the exercises we did was called “Circle of Trust.” One person stood in the middle of the circle surrounded by everyone else at an arm’s length of distance. Just like in a trust fall, the person in the middle closes their eyes and begins to fall. Once caught by whatever direction of the surrounding circle they fell towards, the center person was then pushed around the circle for a few minutes. This version of a trust fall isn’t too far off from the typical trust falls I’ve done, but the next variation on a trust fall was one of the most surreal theatre experiences I’ve ever have.

As luck would have it, I happened to be chosen to go first for this next adaptation, having no idea what was going to happen next. Once I heard the explanation of the exercise, I was definitely slightly nervous. It started with me in the center, with my peers putting their hands on me, and lifting me up so I was floating through the air. Yes, floating through the air. I did a double take when I finally comprehended our teacher didn’t mean metaphorical floating. Initially, I started in a vertical position, but quickly found myself twisting, rolling sideways, diving forwards, falling backwards, and even completely inverting. I felt weightless, fully supported by a sea of hands moving me around. I completely lost my orientation in space, and at one point felt like I was upside down when in reality my feet were only inches above my head. As a participant in the outer ring, the reality of what was being done to keep the center person afloat was total chaos. Ten sets of frantic hands grabbing whatever body part they could find in order to keep that floating person from crashing to the ground. But when you were floating, it was fluid and safe and supported, like you were drifting through outer space.

The uncomfortable part of the exercise for me came when we were asked to add our voice to this floating oasis. We’d been working with sound all week to explore our vocal range, which, as a singer, wasn't something that was unfamiliar to me. For both the trust fall circle and the floating exercise, we were instructed to create a sound and keep it consistently supported. Most of us choose a kind of “uuuuuuugghhhhhhhh” sound. This additional task might seem simple enough, but while being supported completely by my peers, my voice and breath betrayed me. Maintaining this sound was not too difficult while my feet were planted firmly against the earth during the trust fall circle. After my breath faltered a number of times while I slowly got comfortable with the exercise, I fairly easily was able to regain control and have a very resonating sound through the duration of the exercise.

However, the floating exercise was a whole different story. My sound was unsupported the entire time, and no matter how hard I tried to breathe more deeply and control it, there were clear breaks in the sound as my breath hitched from surprise movements. There was one point in all of this where I was completely upside down, crying from laughing so hard, and was completely unable to gain control of my breath. If not for the gasps and breaks in my sound, I wouldn’t have realized that I was uncomfortable or nervous. It was incredible to see how inadvertent body language can give away what we are feeling or worrying about.

This week was fantastically liberating. I’d been struggling slightly in theater class for a few weeks, mainly because of our instructor's teaching style. His training background is based in “living in the questions”. What does that mean? I'm still trying to figure that out, so don't ask me. But with me being the kind of person who learns best by asking questions to make sense of what I'm doing, this has been very difficult for me. I have been a scientist for the past six years, and a very logical thinker for the last 24. My thoughts are methodical and my actions are almost strategically planned out. My curiosity in asking multitudes of questions is always in pursuit of understanding the purpose/method and getting the most out of an exercise. For me, inquiry has nothing to do with a fear of messing up or wanting the right answer. But this is unfortunately what my actions often come across as. Living in the questions skips what previously for me was the most productive way of thinking. There is no logic or explanation, just... feeling and perception and more questions. This new thought process is not something I am familiar with and or something that is easy to adapt to, but I am valuing this new perspective on myself, and the challenge this way of learning is providing me.

By pushing me outside my comfort zone this week, these exercises allowed me to not need to find an answer or figure out “why”. When I felt comfortable with exercises, I was hyperfocused on figuring out both the purpose of the exercise and what I could take away from the experience. But this time, being uncomfortable was what I took away from the experience. So the purpose, whatever it was, was almost secondary. For the first time, I felt like I allowed myself to let go and just live in the questions of “Why can't I regain control of my breath?" and "What is this making me feel?” The answers didn’t really matter at that point, as long as I had questions, and I didn't feel the need to try to figure out what the purpose of the exercise was.

I try not to be too cheesy in my posts, but I thought it was important to outline what I felt this week has shown me. It was eye opening to me, being as stubborn as I am in the way that I think and process things, to finally open up and experience this very different way of learning. We are often told to step outside our comfort zones, and sometimes it's harder to do than you think, because we frequently define our comfort zone by tangible activities. So to all you readers out there, every now and again try to change how you’re thinking, or maybe even do some self-exploration to figure out the way you think as a way to step outside your comfort zone. It may be difficult and may make you uncomfortable, and you may not even understand why or how you're benefiting from it, but the end result can be empowering and eye opening. You don’t need to question why, just let it happen. And if you don’t think you can quite pinpoint where your mental patterns become weaknesses, go find a few friends and have them hoist you into the air. That certainly worked for me.

Sincerely, Circus Girl