Listening with my Little Toe...
Our senses are so much more powerful than we realise. But far too often they are functioning on 'auto pilot': letting the brain pre-empt sounds, sights and sensations, instead of truly realising their surroundings. Our brains are very good at picking out chunks of sensory information and associating it with another stimuli. This is most obviously seen in reading. It doesn't matter what order the letters of a word are in, as long as the first and last letter are in the correct place, then the brain will still be able to read the word (tkae tihs for eaxmlpe!)
Listening is at the heart of OBRA's practice. A form of listening that pulsates throughout the entire body. In this state there is no hierarchy: the eyes are no more important than your left foot's baby toe, which can also sense danger, notice temperature changes and feel the hard wooden floor. When you find this state it is like waking up to the world. You realise how much of your life has been spent 'sleepwalking' in a zombie-like state: going through the motions but missing the moment. All too frequently I travel to work and have no real memory of how I got there. I can remember the route but it lacks detail and colour: Who was I sat next to on the bus? What could I smell? How did the air feel?
Now I'm not suggesting that your senses always need to be superhero sharp. (This would probably be particularly unpleasant on a crowded tube on a warm summer's day!) But when the world overwhelms- or underwhelms- us, our basic instinct typically tells us to retreat inside of ourselves, dulling our senses and numbing our experience of the world. Of course there are times when this is necessary- for example, to read- but it is useful to notice when this happens unconsciously and mechanically. Like robots we switch off on the commute, bored or frustrated by the tediousness of it (a prime example is the 07:09 train from Letchworth to London Kings Cross!) Whilst mobiles are a great way of passing time- don't overlook the world of stimulus beyond the screen. There will always be something to engage your senses, you just have to unlock your curiosity for the world around you. When you do, it is like switching the TV from black and white to colour mode: everything becomes more vibrant.
OBRA's work cultivates curiosity in every sense, allowing you to engage on another level. And if an exercise starts to become boring or tiring, director Kate's mantra is "find a way of making it interesting for yourself." This sounds so obvious and yet it has never occurred to me before. We all have the answer within because we all used to be a curious child. A child who noticed everything, asked a million questions and found so much joy in jumping over pavement cracks. Whilst the latter might not be practical on your walk to work, it highlights the stark contrast between the curious child, who finds fun on the floor, and the bored banker, wishing away the time. Which must be, in part, due to conditioned behaviours, paralysing our inquisitiveness.
I'm lucky because as a performer, 'play' is part of the job description. Yet I don't believe you need to be lost in an indulgent plot to truly live from your senses. You don't even need a story line because story is all around us. All of the time. OBRA theatre explores story through the senses: the fundamental impulses, which give each and every one of us character and life. This focus on the senses facilitates a life on stage that surpasses any other practice that I have experienced before. (I would perhaps catch a spark of this 'moment to moment' stage life, but it would rarely sustain itself because the work would motivate the mind - and not the body- to take centre stage, working separately from the senses.) OBRA’s system starts from the senses and builds from there. Only when we have cultivated a real ‘sense’ of the text in the body, do we start to work with language (when everything is already ‘bubbling’ beneath the surface!)
However, what has become apparent is that OBRA's practice isn't only applicable for performance because outside of the sessions I am hearing more, seeing clearer and noticing the little details of everyday life. Yesterday I appreciated the sound of tooth brushing, which reminded me of the comforts of home. It is also something that I have seldom noticed before- at least not consciously- so I can tell I've become more 'tuned' to the world around me. Sensing with my senses, instead of moulding with my mind.
N.B. The photos below are of the beautiful Au Brana Farm. And we were fortunate to be joined by some fledglings in the rehearsal space!
-Obra Theatre Co.: http://www.obratheatre.co/home/
-Au Brana Farm: http://www.aubrana.com/