From Strangers to Colleagues
During our welcoming event to this workshop process I am now deeply engaged in, a student of the LNCT college at which we are staying asked how an actor feels if he works so hard but doesn’t achieve successful in the film business. The implication being that the highest achievement for a performer is to make your name in films. This implication applies beyond India, of course.
I look around my accommodations at this rural college as I write–rudimentary, sparse, not fully equipped with ‘comforts’–and I wonder at this question about success. The simple answer is, of course, that each of us can, and I would suggest should, define success in a way that relates to what we, individually, are interested in and enjoy doing. Yet the implication of the student’s question, and a little embedded in human nature, is that there’s always someone doing more, achieving more, receiving more than us. Maybe we’ve done well in our life and experiences, but have we really achieved ‘success’ if not every one knows our name?
This workshop I am a part of here in Bhopal, Madya Pradesh, India has helped me think a little deeper about the concept of success. I feel as though success is about connections. When an experience allows us to share moments of discovery, learning, laughter, joy, sadness, loss and/or inspiration, we have created a connection that brings us closer together — a truly human experience. As I invite the artist from Nepal or Sri Lanka to lead an activity with our multi-nation group, I feel a deep sense of joy. Our creative moment has brought us closer together as an ensemble and as humans.
On our fourth workshop day, I started the morning by shaking everyone’s hand and simply saying each person’s name. Just the afternoon before I could remember the names of two of them. This because they are a large group of people new to me, but also because the names are also new to me. So that fourth morning when I was ‘suddenly’ able to remember nearly all of the names (save two!), the group burst into applause. Of course the moment was simply a trick of repeating names silently and matching them to faces and personality, but for me that moment was one about connections. There was momentary joy in the abrupt change from strangers to colleagues, from a gathered multi-nation group to a working ensemble. That, to me, felt successful. Not because I spoke their names, but because of the value of learning those names and becoming colleagues on a shared journey.
Late one evening following that, I was told that the Sri Lankan group, while out wondering about Bhopal for a little relaxation, was deeply engaged in a conversation about suicide. We are exploring the topic of suicide through theatre in our workshop and the success of this spontaneous conversation stemmed from the fact that our conversation that day centered around consolidating personal knowledge and understanding of this topic in modern, local life. By cultivating the workshop participant’s connection to the subject, it inspired deeper thought and conversation. It moved from being simply a topic into a more stimulating exploration.
This whole workshop, in fact, is about connections, I have realized. Connecting artists, connecting humans, connecting to ideas and strengthening connections to our own creative selves. I was informed today, after mentioning that I didn’t want our workshop to impinge on the participants’ evening free time, that often they are calling special rehearsals together on their own. The devised performances they are building are ‘owned’ by them. They conceived of the idea. They cast themselves. They structured the story and they actually discovered that the plays would be primarily pantomimed in order to bridge the language gap. Their ownership has grown the more they have worked, such that they are inspired to continue the work outside of our workshop hours.
The local student’s question about success as an actor inspired me to connect with my own definition and understanding of the possibilities of what success can be beyond personal achievement. In fact for me, at this moment in time, I find greater ‘success’ in standing back and watching the many connections that happen during this workshop process than in them looking to me for ideas. My success is how they are enriched and inspired by the connections they make. If ever I find a way to make a film about that, then I will be happy to be in film.