Sunday, 11 November 2012

On listening to your inner child...

This week in the studio we've started staging rehearsals for our first opera.  My character is - wait for it - a pre-pubescent boy.

In case you're not so familiar with opera, I should probably explain that it's not unusual for a female singer to play a boy.  It's a common convention, known as a trouser role.  As a mezzo-soprano, I play a lot of trouser roles.

To be honest, in terms of costumes, it kind of sucks.  While my soprano friends get to wear all kinds of gorgeous and elaborate gowns on stage, I'm usually stuck with... well, trousers.

Or in this case, dungarees.
Yes.  Dungarees.
But playing a little boy is also really fun.  In this production I get to run around, play games, climb and jump, kill imaginary monsters, and make silly faces.  I get to be a little kid again!

Aside from being really really fun, it's a massive learning experience.  Not only am I practising my craft, singing and acting on stage, but I'm connecting with my inner child.  And I think there's a lot that we can learn from children.  For example:

1. Children are curious.  Children always want to know who, what, how, when, where - and most importantly, why?  They're not complacent.  They don't settle for the way things are.  If they feel they're missing out on something or are somehow in the dark, they won't stop until they've figured it out (and asked you a million annoying questions in the process).

2. Children are imaginative.  When's the last time you made up a story about a purple spotted unicorn?  Exactly.  Children are always using their creative little minds to come up with things.  And they never worry if their idea is weird or silly or even stupid.  They just let their mind do its thing.

3. Children are fearless.  Remember when you used to climb ANYTHING and jump off of ANYTHING?  Sure, sometimes it ended in getting stitches, but it was fun, right?  Kids don't let fear get in the way of trying new things.  They're always exploring their limits.

4. Children are free.  Well obviously they're free.  They don't have jobs and mortgages and pensions to worry about.  But that's not what I mean.  I mean they're free from inhibitions.  They're free from self-consciousness.  Just look at this girl:

She doesn't care what she looks like.  She doesn't care what people think.  She isn't even worrying about what will happen at school tomorrow!  She is just living in the moment.  Running.  With bubbles.  And making a ridiculous face.  Now come on, isn't that a little bit awesome?

We all start off this way - curious, imaginative, fearless and free.  But then something happens to us.  We grow up.  And we learn things.  Some things we learn are good, like how to tie a shoelace or how to spell "alligator".  But other things we learn aren't so good.  We learn to be cautious.  We learn to feel guilty.  We learn to worry what other people think.  We learn to put up walls and to follow rules and conventions.  And bit by bit, we start to close ourselves off.

Now I'm not exactly suggesting that we all move to Never-Never Land.  Of course everyone needs to grow up.  We have to face our responsibilities, do our chores, pay our bills, go to work.  We can't all just play on the tire swing and make daisy chains all day.

Although.  That would be amazing.
But don't you ever feel like something's been forgotten, something's gone missing as you got older?  Don't you ever feel like you've stopped really looking at the world?  That you've put up walls where perhaps walls weren't needed?

Speaking of walls.  In this week's rehearsals we were introduced to the most daunting part of the set: The Wall.  It's 2 metres high and only slightly wider than me on a fat day.  Along with the other "boys", I'll be spending a lot of the opera on this wall - climbing on and off of it, sitting, standing, walking, fighting, and striking poses on top of it... I have to be comfortable with heights and really trust my sense of balance.  Not so easy for a klutz like me!  Just to give you an idea of how clumsy I am, within this first week of rehearsals I have managed to twist my knee, stub my toe, and get punched in the nose (that last one wasn't entirely my fault).  Now, 2 metres might not sound very high, but trust me, when you're up there, it feels pretty damn high.  Oh, and also, I'm a big scaredy-cat.  So when I first climbed onto the wall I looked like this:

Actually, this isn't so much a scaredy-cat as a scaredy-llama, but you get the picture.
I only managed to sit on it for a few seconds.  Everyone else managed to stand on it, but I was far too scared.

I told my mom about The Wall in an email, and do you know what she said?  She wrote back "You used to be fearless and dance on rocking rocking chairs. You can do it!"

And you know, she's right.  When I was little I used to do all kinds of crazy things.  Before I learned to be careful.  Before I learned to be scared.  Now that I'm older I'm much more sensible.  But there is such thing as being too sensible.

The great thing about kids is, they don't think "what if I fall?"  They think "wow, it'll be so cool to be up that high!"  They don't think "what if I look stupid?"  They think "this is fun!"  And they don't think "those are the rules".  They think "what if I tried this?"  That's the kind of attitude we can learn from.  Yes, rules are there for a reason.  And we hesitate from taking risks because we know there might be consequences.  But sometimes we let this "being a grown-up" thing go too far.  We let ourselves be closed in by ideas of what's right.  We let ourselves be paralysed by fear - fear of what might happen, or what others might think.  We let our regrets and worries take over and stop living in the moment.  And it's at times like these that we need to let go of some grown-up ideas and start thinking like a child again.

You CAN fly!
Not literally.
Once upon a time, I was very anxious to grow up.  I worried about looking stupid, so I didn't take let go or take risks when I was performing.  I worried about making good money and having a nice place to live, so I went for all the wrong jobs.  I thought constantly about the future and I didn't notice the present as it was slipping into the past.  Where did that kind of thinking get me?  I ended up completely ignoring the person I wanted to be.  I ended up in an office job, when I really wanted to be a singer.  And all because I was so caught up in "being a grown-up".  All because I was too scared to take a risk and chase my dreams.

Now that I'm here at the opera studio I'm so grateful to have a second chance.  I thank my lucky stars every day to be spending my time in rehearsal instead of behind a desk.  And I'm determined to make the most of this opportunity.  I can't let my dreams pass me by again.

So ok.  I've made it this far - I'm here at the studio, being a singer.  But I'm still letting self-consciousness and fear get in the way.  I'm still too caught up in following the rules and making things "perfect".  I worry far too much about what others will think.  If I really want progess and develop as a performer and an actor, I know I need to let myself be vulnerable.  I need to let go of my ideas about what's "good", "correct" or "dignified".  I need to be more like a child.

This kid's got it all figured out.
Friday night, at the end of a long week, I was packing up to go home.  As I was turning to go, I looked up at The Wall and made up my mind.  I would conquer this.  With some help from the director, I climbed to the top, and eventually I worked up the courage to stand up.  I remembered what it felt like to be the little girl dancing on a rocking chair.  Not afraid of falling off, not worried about what might happen.  Just enjoying the thrill of being up so high.  Just living in the moment.

A lot has changed since I was that little girl.  But despite all my delusions of grown-up grandeur, I still have a lot to learn from her.  To let go of self-consciousness.  To be brave.  To ask questions.  To play.  To sprinkle some fairy dust, think a happy thought, and remember that I can fly.

1 comment:

  1. you are so right! now I understand why I am so happy with my role - I also think about a child, that is Papageno for me - grow up but he stayed to be a child. and its so much fun, to let this child out!
    as I so you at the rehearsals, I really forgot that you are Brynn, I HAVE SEEN your inner child, really! that because I told you, I like your boy))