So, guys, I did tell you I am godawful at keeping up with blogs. I've had a helluva year in London, though, so I think my priorities have worked out to my benefit. I wanted to check back in with you, now that I'm off to do a bit of research for my MA and then heading back to the USA for a bit to finish my dissertation, to let you know what this year's been like. I hope you enjoy my short but sweet reflections.
This year in London has been a massive year of growth. It's been exciting, full of opportunities, and full of love and care from friends new and old. Since my last blog post in October 2018, I've gotten to intern for the HeARTs Project - a public health study which explores the impact that participating in community arts programs have on people's physical and mental health. In January I got to devise for and perform in "Babylon: Beyond Borders" at The Bush Theatre, which was absolutely thrilling and groundbreaking - as it combined live-streaming with live theatre, and connected 4 countries on 4 different continents, in 4 different time zones. I created and benefited from an incredible community of friends, from Europe, Asia, the UK, and America. I travelled around England, and went to Europe to visit Spain, Austria, Greece, and France. I learned the pleasures of spending full 5-7 hour days in the library (breaking for snacks, lunch, and Facetimes with Mom, of course). I finally made it to the British summertime (after weathering the dreariest January - my birthday month! - I've ever seen), and celebrated June 21st (the longest day of the year) outside at a cookout (burgers in England! It's crazy!), watching the sunset outside my window at 11pm.
This year was challenging and confusing at times, but incredibly rewarding. Staying indoors to read and do critical summaries of dry academic articles when I wanted to be rehearsing for a production, or in a dancing/singing class? It was torturous at times to be out of my comfort zone. However, it all paid off. I have read and wrote more often and more widely (across many genres) than I have in years. I'll be glad to get back to a more active job and lifestyle once my dissertation is over, but there is such benefit in having your brain muscles thoroughly stretched and strengthened. I've grown intellectually in really important ways. I'm a better critical thinker, armed with a shiny new vocabulary, and I'm even more aware of how much I have to learn about the world and the many people who live in it. It's true that the more you see, the less you know - but it's a great feeling to be humbled by how much there is to explore. For me, a good feeling accompanies letting go of the idea that I can ever really know everything. That reminder to let go and stay humble has been an added blessing of all this studying.
One of the reasons I went back to school for a Masters was to find my "why." Doing theatre and performance just for my own pleasure and benefit was not cutting it for me. The drive and determination it takes to build a great career as an artist needs a "why" that can push you through the hard times, when performing isn't fun, when money is tight, and when jobs are scarce. I've had a hard time, throughout my performance training and career, pinpointing my "why." I would always write something down on my application - for camps, for colleges, for apprenticeships - but they never really rang true.
I am still in the process of finding my "why." I think of it like an archeological dig, where a scientist digs and then tenderly brushes away dirt from the individual pieces of dinosaur skeleton she finds, so that all those pieces can then be fitted together to create a full T-Rex or Triceratops, and the full picture can be experienced by humanity. Digging in my own heart and mind means exposing myself to different realms of knowledge, different experiments done, different experiences had by laypeople, scholars, and professionals, so that I can get a full picture of what theatre's job is in this world. Why has such an old artistic discipline, that of live storytelling, survived for so long, and delighted so many? Healed, and strengthened so many? For me, answering this question will help bring into clear focus the part of my "why" that has to do with serving other people.
In my research, I'm taking a look at what the work of theatre-makers in Northern Ireland is doing to help heal communities fractured by conflict. There is research that supports the hypothesis that effective applied theatre arts programming supports the self-efficacy and collective-efficacy communities need to re-cultivate after civil conflicts so that they can move forward towards health. Basing my hypothesis on this research, I think that I'll find that the result of 20+ years of community theatre and applied theatre practice in Belfast and Derry is a population that is well poised to become healthier and more whole. I'll be looking at the work of the Playhouse Theatre in Derry/Londonderry, the Theatre of Witness project, and the work of a number of excellent theatre makers who've helmed a number of independent projects since the 1998 ceasefire.
Mental health is incredibly important to me. The fact that theatre has been helping many people in post-conflict zones to become healthier, and to decrease their symptoms of PTSD and depression, really lights a fire in me to know more. I am doing research that will inform my "why," and will hopefully shed a light on one of the many important purposes theatre serves in this world.
I say my time in London has been a time of growth, because saying that "it's been amazing" wouldn't communicate the depth of this experience. I've really grown and changed as a result of all the unique and brilliant people I've met, the things I've learned (from experience and from books), and the challenges I have met and overcome. I'm closer to understanding the reason "why" I am a theatre-maker, and a performer, and I am closer to being the person I want to be. I am who I am at the end of this year partially by design (because I did what I planned to do), and partially by accident/surprise. This is how a lot of my growth has happened. And I think I'm starting to really like it that way.
Thanks for reading my extremely brief blog. I hope the pictures communicate some of the great moments I didn't get the chance to write about!