THERE ARE MEMORIES
THERE ARE SPACES
A CONSTANT MOVEMENT
WHICH DOOR WILL YOU OPEN?
WHERE WILL YOU RUN
COMING YOUR WAY
BE A ROBOT. BE A SOLDIER
OBEY IN FEAR
BEDROOM OF NO SLEEP
DREAMS THAT STIR YOU UP
WHEN WAS THE LINEN LAST WASHED?
THE SOUND OF BULLETS
MEDAL OF HONOUR
WHO WAS IT THIS TIME?
SHALL WE TALK ABOUT IT OVER COFFEE?
SAYS THE OPERA SINGER
WHEN DOORS ARE LOCKED
OPEN YOUR MIND
THE GRAMAPHONE KNOWS
IT KEEPS RECORD
YOU DON'T SEE
THE SNIPER KNOWS EXACTLY
A GENTLE LULLABY, DISTURBED
HOW MANY TOYS CAN YOU CARRY?
LOOK OUT OF THE WINDOW
FOR A SIGNAL
SCROLL UP AND DOWN
FOR MISSING OBJECTS
THE DOOR KNOB TURNS FROM SILENCE
YET NO ONE ALIVE.
ALL OF US IN A PLATTER
MONK OR CAPTAIN
THE BULLET SENSES NO DIFFERENCE
FRAMES OF MINDS
CRACKS ON WALLS
NOTES - A REMINDER OF
ALL THAT YOU HAVE CARRIED
A FEAR OF THE UNKNOWN EXISTS
WHEN WILL IT BE YOUR TURN?
YOU HIDE BEHIND BARE BRANCHES
IS THAT ANY HIDING
YOU HIDE TO BE FOUND
TO STAND IN FRONT OF THE SNIPERS EYE
A WORLD OF LOSS
THE TYPEWRITER CAN KEEP
THE COUNT DOWN OF HORROR STORIES
LOOK FOR WHAT HAS NOT BEEN CAPTURED
WAR HURRIES PEOPLE TO FIND CLOSURE
HISTORY GETS MISSED OUT IN THE PROCESS
“When I was growing up, my sister and I would frequently fuss about eating our food. My parents and grandparents would take us to the porch, make us sit on the car bonnet, show us the moon and tell us stories - from the two boys who went out seeking adventures to the pig who got hit by the railwayman, we heard a different story each day. They would hand us toys or objects and we would move it around in the emotion of the story, creating our own play worlds, filled with babbles, movement and emotion. They transported us into another world and achieved their toughest task for the day - getting us to eat”
We all know the power of a good story. It’s compelling, sticky and moves people to action. We are all collectors of stories in one way or the other. From what we go through to what we observe, there is certainly a story to tell. Whether we are selling products or creating experiences, painting canvases or designing houses, our encounters have the power of become engaging stories. The questions we need to ask ourselves is: Are we cognizant of these moments as potential stories? Are we finding ways to tell them often?
Being a theatre maker and a performer, I've discovered a few interesting ways which I believe make stories more engaging and impactful.
1. Make it personal:
When we put ourselves into the story, it makes it more relevant to the listener. We need to believe that people are interested in what we have to say. Even if the story is not directly connected to us, there are ways in which we can bring ourselves in. For example, if you're narrating a story you read online that has nothing to do with you, consider including elements like "If I were her, I would have" or "I'm hoping I get to do something like that" or "I cant believe that this could ever happen to me." Personal stories build great connections and creates more reason for the listener to be tuned into what you are saying. Sometimes too much of "I" can also bore the listener and you may come across as a brag. So keep it personal, but remember to not keep it only personal.
2. Include your thought process
A very compelling aspect of storytelling is to tell your audience what you are thinking about what is being narrated. This automatically creates two voices within the story and makes it more engaging for the audience. For example, if you are narrating the story of the hare and the Tortoise - you could probably include your thought process when the hare decides to take a nap half way through the race. "Now I'm wondering why the hare is sleeping so long and why no one has woken it up. I mean where are the race officials?" This is also a way in which the audience can get to know you better as an individual.
3. Keep it short. Keep it crisp.
Take the audiences into the action as quickly as you can. Sometimes, people can tune off if they find the story too long. We usually do not get much voice space in conversations and we have to use our time well.
4. Create suspense mechanics
Ask your audience a couple of questions during the story. Let's say you're narrating your experience of visiting a bar the previous night and let's assume you weren't allowed inside because the bouncer thought that you were under age. As you begin telling the story, you could start off with "Hey, guess who was not allowed to enter Monkey Bar last night?" Now they obviously know it's you. So you have to move quick into action and tell them what you did about it. You decided to show them your driver's licence and realised that you left your wallet at home. "So, who do I call for help?" or "do you know how I managed my way through?" could be other hooks that keep that audience in the moment of the story and also creates interaction opportunities for you.
5. Immersive possibilities
Is there a way you can engage the audience not just through the voice and your bodily presence? Can you think of how you can bring elements of smell, taste and touch as part of your storytelling? For example, going back to the Monkey Bar story, can you show them something from the previous night? Like a photo on your phone or a tissue paper from the bar? Can you get them to smell your hand which still probably smells of cheese given how strong the flavour was in your pizza?
These immersive possibilities of storytelling really depends on the story and our creative efforts to tell them differently, but we must try and push ourselves to find more immersive ways to tell our stories. The more immersive your story is, the more retention it has. The more retention it has, the more people will remember to share it at any opportunity.
So pick a story, an event, an experience or anything you came across as interesting and find someone to share it with - In an immersive way.
- Aruna Ganesh Ram
A few months ago, I was facilitating a creative project for a school as part of their gender awareness initiative. Fourth standard students were going to do a performance that was based on the idea of sports. As soon as I asked the question “So which sport shall we make a performance on?” there was absolute chaos. Everyone wanted to work on their favourite sport. Largely, two games stood out. Kabaddi and Badminton. I was first glad that cricket was not one of them! Then I realised that all the girls were shouting Badminton and the boys were cheering Kabaddi. So I said wonderful. We’ll take both the games and the boys will make a performance on Badminton and the girls would make a performance on Kabaddi. That’s it! There was even more chaos! The girls did not want to engage with Kabaddi because their parents told them that it was dangerous and they wanted to engage with Badminton because they liked PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal. The boys told me that badminton was indeed a boring sport and started calling out name of their favourite Kabaddi league teams.
There comes Big B, making its way into classrooms and playing with the minds of Class 4 students.
I later noticed in that school that during the sports class that all classes were playing the sports that were most associated with their gender.
Boys were playing football and Girls played throw ball. Boys played under the sun and Girls played under the trees. Now here’s how the patterns begin and stereotypes get reinforced over and over again.
I grew up playing all kinds of sports and I played Cricket for the College University team. When I tell people that I was the opening pace bowler of my college cricket team, there is a sense of wonder+doubt+disbelief+a hint of mockery that I can immediately sense in their eyes.
This thought was echoed by a colleague who heads Diversity initiates in her organisation. As part of the sports day tournament, when cricket was being organised, the teams almost had no women in them, until she voluntarily signed up to be part of the team and well, she even got a wicket! It had not even struck the men that women could be part of the team as well. We have to acknowledge that our conditioning is so deep and our biases so ingrained that we fail to recognise them while we’re making decisions. The impact of this can be severe when we make business decisions.
When we see more women taking up a sport and making a mark in the field, it makes people believe that they too can. It makes families believe that their daughters can excel in sports. We need to be inspired by the successes of Mary Kom, PV Sindhu, Sakshi Malik and Dipa Karmakar and at the same time acknowledge the hardships they went through before they met success. We need to motivate youngsters to play the sports they are interested in, without looking at whether it is appropriate for their gender. We also need to actively create support systems that will create the right circumstances for women to excel. Be it a corporate CEO or a Olympic medal winner, they’ve all said that they’ve done it because their families supported them. This means CHANGE really has to start at home and this starts with our attitude towards gender, defined norms and how we can enable our kids to push boundaries, blur lines and really play.
In this #artforinclusion series, as part of my work with Interweave Consulting I am exploring unconscious bias and the many ways it creeps into our brains and spills over into our bodies: making us act, react and behave in ways we are not consciously aware of. Stay tuned and do share your stories to this post. It will add great value to the topic.
#artforinclusion #unconsciousbias #genderbias #Episode3
A few months ago, I was standing in my balcony and talking to my neighbour, 7 year old Angelina. Angel lives and studies in Bangalore. She is a bright, smart and energetic kid in the block and we are good friends. Angel was holding a scale in her hand and scraping it against the balcony grill. When I asked her what she was upto, she said she was readying her knife to cut Paneer. Just as I was imagining Kadai Paneer for dinner, she clarified that it was a game that they played in school. The game was about preparing a meal spread and the children cut up white erasers to make them look like paneer cubes and prepared a feast. I was pleasantly surprised and told her that it was amazing that the entire class came together to prepare Paneer. She was again quick to clarify “Not the whole class. Only the girls.”
“Angel, what about the boys?”
“Oh they’re always playing silly football games”
Hello 2017 and hello to boxing children into doing what is expected of their gender.
Our brains are used to working on auto pilot that we mostly just go with the flow. We end up doing things that have been the norm and continue to do so. Unconscious Bias or Big B calls the shots.
I am now going to ask you to recall the last time you gifted a child something. It could have been a boy or a girl and it could have been a birthday, a house visit or any other occasion. Think about your gift and ask yourself why you made this choice. Now spend a moment and ask your self if the gift would have been the same if the kid was of the other gender.
One one hand, there are traditional gender stereotypes that we end up subscribing to - That boys are good at sports and girls are good at the Arts or that boys play with race cars and girls play with Barbie dolls. So we end up creating experiences for them that reinforce these stereotypes, over and over again. Whether we’re buying birthday presents, toys and books for children or taking them out to watch movies, we’re creating moments of communication which influence and create realities for them.
I’m NOT saying DO NOT buy Barbie dolls for your daughter or Cricket Bats for your sons. Just be mindful about the kinds of experiences you are creating for them and the kinds of energies that they are experiencing. Are their experiences enabling them to be creative, strong, caring, nurturing, friendly, competitive and more? Are they experiencing attributes of the masculine and the feminine?
I often hear the statement “You are overthinking this. Why can’t you just let it be?” I think the problem is that we haven’t thought about this enough. Being mindful and being aware of your own biases is the first step towards fighting unconscious bias. Saying Hello to the Big B in your brain will make you ask the right questions and you will make considered choices and decisions going forward - from buying a gift to framing opinions.
Children are keen observers. My son, who is 14 months old is able to grasp gestures, tones and mannerisms. In a way Big B is already befriending young minds. So Pause, and look at your choices and decisions through the lens of gender. Ask yourself if your statements or actions box children into categories of what is ideal for their gender. Encouarge them to pursue things even if it pushes boundaries of gender norms that society, culture and the media have created for us. That's how you will be doing your bit for #genderequality.
Two months ago, my husband and I were visiting friends and their 3 year old daughter . I bought her a punching bag (Girls today need this!) and a mask painting set. When we presented the gifts, our friends was actually quite glad that this was a different choice from the usual pink toys and frill frocks that they received and even before we finished this conversation, the kid was already punching on one hand and had the paint brush on the other, all excited to explore :-)
Here is a letter from Lego that reiterates this thought.
Well, What was it like for you when you were growing up? What kinds of games did you play and how gendered was your growing up?
In this #artforinclusion series, as part of my work with Interweave Consulting I am presently going to explore unconscious bias and the many ways it creeps into our brains and spills over into our bodies: making us act, react and behave in ways we are not consciously aware of. Stay tuned.
#artforinclusion #unconsciousbias #genderbias #Episode2
We know this word. It is part of us and dictates our actions. The Big B leads, making us think and act a certain way. Big B makes us choose A over B. The problem is that we really don't know Big B and yet it controls so much of what we do. I think it's about time we confronted Big B.
Alright. Let's play a quick game. You need to basically choose A or B. Ready?
MK Gandhi or Mother Teresa? Mac Donald burger or Masala Dosa? Mercedes Benz or Maruti Suzuki? Mountain climbing or Mud Wrestling? Milk or Margarita? Money or Mindspace? Muscle or Machine? Mosque or Mandir?
We all choose. BIAS is part of us. It informs us of our likes, thoughts and actions. Now imagine that someone made every choice that you dint make. What is your immediate response? You think this person is SO unlike you. Very different from YOU.
Now is when Big B makes an entrance at a very subconscious level and starts deciding your attitude towards this other person, which influences the way you treat this person. You think you are doing everything right but Big B is steering all of it without you knowing.
Hello Unconscious BIAS
Every decision we make impacts someone or something. From what you wear to work to whom you promote, from decisions that are simple to those that are complex, can we be sure that our decisions and actions enable inclusion on all fronts? Are your decisions in the workplace free of biases of gender, caste, class, language, education, lifestyle and more?
In this #artforinclusion series, as part of my work with Interweave Consulting I am presently going to explore unconscious bias and the many ways it creeps into our brains and spills over into our bodies: making us act, react and behave in ways we are not consciously aware of. Stay tuned.
#artforinclusion #unconsciousbias #Episode1
Let it be a year of Stories. of personal stories. of yours and mine. of ours. of each others.
I have written a storyteller's oath that I intend to take very seriously this year. It's going to be a year of documenting personal stories, which can be starting points for many exciting things, including immersive performances. Here's the oath and I totally urge you to take the oath and keep to the monthly themes - Document your story and well find a way to perform them.
The Storyteller's oath
So, let's look at some story themes for the coming year. I'm going to be writing with this lens every month. There is no limit to the number f stories/moments that you can pen down. So will you join me in sharing your personal stories? Let's document them and let's find a way to tell them and perform them. Share your story with the #mystoryoath
JUMPY Jan - Moments and events that make you jump, that make your heart skip a beat.
FUNNY Feb - Moments that make you laugh so much that your stomach aches
MIRACLE March - Something unexpected happened to you
ADMIRE April - Things, people and everything you admire and why
MANIC May - Things that drive you crazy
JUICY June - What are you seduced by?
JOKER July - Did you make a fool of yourself?
ANGST August - What bothering you about the world would you want to change to make it better?
SENSORY September - You sensed something. You had a strong gut feeling about this one.
OSCILLATING October - Things that made you consider and reconsider, back and forth, indecisive to decisive, swinging to the extremes
NAUGHTY November - Document some mischief and mayhem. Did you do something crazy and shock the world, shock yourself?
DARING December - You went down a path that no one else took. You dared to do something. Something different.
So, now that we have some themes, let's look at every month with these lenses and see what we come by. Do share your stories with me: perform[at]visualrespiration[dot]com. We'll put some of them up on our blog too.
Alternatively, post it on any social media site with the #mystoryoath and we'll find it :-)
We'll see how we devise an engaging performance out of your stories - with your permission of course.
This post is the second part of my reflections after reading Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert
Persistence: Keep at it, keep at it, keep at it
We persist most when we are serious about something. Gilbert encourages us to take vows with our creative lives. It’s a kind of commitment. While we’re at it, we cannot be sure that it will be a breeze. This is where Gilbert talks about the Shit Sandwich. We’ve all had to deal with the shit Sandwich now and then, the so called grunt and the so called rejections. It’s part of the process.
She urges creative practitioners to take up day jobs in order to support themselves financially to be ale to continue their creative line of work. It’s going to take us time to be able to make a living out of our creative lives. Gilbert herself admits she did not quit her job until she had written and published four books, many of which even won national awards.
Here’s where I tend to think about it differently. I’d say, yes get a day job, but try and get it in an allied field of your work. This I believe can stimulate your creative life far more than a completely unrelated job that could physically drain you out.
Time is a very significant contributor in this whole process of creative living. People generally tell me that the work will change with time, for the better. Gilbert also illustrates that the audience will change over time for the better. The same person, who did not connect with your work four years ago, might suddenly find a new way to look at your work and like it very much. So keeping at it is the only way to stay in the game.
Trust: You’re not in it alone
Do you love what you do?
Do you believe that what you do loves you back?
This mutual love and trust is what is going to keep one’s creative spirit alive. Sometimes when we’re stuck somewhere, when we feel like an idea is just not moving forward, we get this feeling that creativity is pissed off with us. We end up blaming our creative paths for how bad our lives are turning out.
Two years ago, I was devising a play as a collaboration with a Lithuanian artist. One week before the show, we had no idea where the show was headed. We had created all these bits and pieces of work, but we had no idea how it was all going to come together. We were nervous and also blamed the devising process for letting us down. However, we just kept at it and rehearsed the bits that we had put together. And as we were doing that, slowly a narrative emerged and before we knew, we were able to see patterns between the various sketches that we had put together. Though we blamed the process, we just kept at it till the end and that’s what finally helped us. We trusted it and it decided to reciprocate.
Gilbert then questions how seriously one should take themselves and their work. Like most creative practitioners, I’ve also been told that real art comes from a space of suffering. Gilbert urges us to embrace what she calls the Trickster energy vs. the Martyr energy. This is captured beautifully in these two lines
Martyr says: “the world can never be solved”
Trickster says: “Perhaps not… but it can be gamed”
Sometimes, I am also left with this feeling that I take my work too seriously. But here’s where I am going to try and embrace the trickster energy a bit to see how it shapes my work going forward. This also comes down to style, I guess. If my style is not funny, then can it be playful?
I also feel that creative practitioners tend to be a bit too possessive about their work so much so that a full stop being removed can change the very nature and intent of the piece. Gilbert asks us to think about this in the light of change vs. opportunity. And what you would pick!
I’ve had a lot of trouble changing, editing my theatre pieces. When you look at it with a delete button in hand, everything feels important. A performance of mine called Re:play was part of the Kala Ghoda Festival a few years ago. Owing to time restrictions, we had to keep the performance to under 60 minutes, when it was actually 75 minutes long. 15 minutes of edit seemed like a lot of getting rid of. But I had to let go. And I felt that at the end of it, it was not as bad as I imagined it to be. The audience response was very supportive and I also felt a great level of engagement with the performance that evening.
Divinity: It will go around and come around
When the work travels, it morphs, adapts, changes and when it comes back, you look at it and smile. For the core has remained unchanged, unshaken. It’s still yours in some way and every way.
Thanks Elizabeth Gilbert for sharing your life story and inspirations. Thank you for Big Magic.
I often ask myself, "What is it that keeps my creative energies high?" My answers usually range from doing new things, taking holidays or eating a good meal or having an engaging conversation. After reading Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic, a lot of those ideas have been questioned. I've found myself folding the book and smiling knowingly, that I too am a victim of creative stops and blocks. In this article, I am going to share with you my reflections and moments of realisation as I read Big Magic (Article Part 1/2)
Courage: Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you?
In the opening section, Gilbert asks us if we have the courage to put ourselves out there, to put our work out there. Your work will be seen and it will be judged. Very often, I've found myself thinking about what others will think of my work. As a theatre maker, I certainly want people to like my work, but I've also been held back by the fear of someone not liking the work. If nothing, this has just chewed away more time and thought towards editing, polishing and sometimes completely modifying my own work.
I ask myself the things I am scared about. Sometimes it’s the audience, sometimes the media & critics and sometimes.. the list can be endless if I chose fear over courage. I tell myself that putting your work out there is like exposing your mind and body to a bunch of strangers who can see and experience you, your thought and your spirit. If you can dare to do that, you’re already in the game.
When I was in junior school, I used to be an athlete, competing in track and field events. Once, after running the qualifiers I came and told my mom that I don't think I will win the finals. Very casually she asked me why I thought so. "That girl who ran next to me has spiked shoes and I am running barefeet. I am scared." My mother smiled and said, "Dont worry about what's on your leg, think about what's inside" At that moment, it seemed like a one line super motivator. I smiled at my mom and went back and won that race. My mom had subconsciously removed my fear by telling me to look within rather than outside. Today, when I look back and think about this incident as I read Big Magic, I feel like I should be using this mantra in every bit of my work. To look within and find those treasures that are waiting to be unleashed. To not lose fear, but make enough space for it, so that it becomes a collaborator and you learn to work with it.
Enchantment: What is it that keeps you constantly enchanted about your creative living?
In this section, Gilbert pushes us to believe that the world is made up of plants, animals, bacteria, viruses and by ideas. This means that we could be breathing an idea every time we inhale. But we’re going to find it only if we let ourselves be enchanted by this creative living. She tells us the story of Ruth Stone, who would be able to sense an idea in the air and run to her house to grab a pen and a sheet of paper to write it down before its gone.
Well, when an idea flirts with you, flirt right back with it. Don’t try and use your judgement or your ego and reserve it for later. I’ve always believed that I am an ideas person and that I could churn them out one after the other. Once, I was telling someone that I have a set of very different ideas to make plays. My friend got interested and wanted to know more. As I started recounting those ideas to her, I felt like I was slowly improvising because I HAD ACTUALLY FORGOTTEN THOSE IDEAS. I had failed to make note of them and at that moment, it felt like my creative warehouse had just dumped me. Well, I dint really take good care of it, did I? Now, I document, document, document. Be it a story idea or a dream or anything, I jot it down in the nearest sheet of paper, because I am not letting them go J
Gilbert then talks about what it sometimes means to be weighed down by your own success. She asks why Harper Lee never wrote anything after To kill a mocking bird. Creativity is a muscle and one should keep it warmed up, through and through. When I don’t work on creating theatre for a while, I don’t really feel good about the break. I always feel like I am losing my theatrical eye and that’s a voice you don’t want to hear when you are in the rehearsal studio.
Permission: What are you waiting for?
We don’t need anyone to tell us to proceed or give us that green signal we’ve been waiting for. Sometimes, we realise, we’re the ones holding ourselves back. If we took great joy in the smallest of things we did, that’s already a sign of you living your creative life.
Gilbert urges us to look at authenticity over originality. Every idea you come up with could have been done before in some way or the other. But just that YOU are in it now, changes it, both for you and the audience. If we’re able to keep the authenticity and bring ourselves into the work, the work will be MAX authentic.
In my first week at drama school, we were asked to make a one minute theatrical presentation of ourselves. I wanted to make an impact, so I decided I would play with light and text to create my life story using the ray of light as a metaphor. I held a Par can in my hand and went in a slow circle talking to the people at whom the light was pointed. Somehow, at the end of it, though people came up to me and said they thought it was cool, I was not very convinced. While I was reflecting on my performance that evening, I realised that I was not being myself, but just being dramatic! Next week, we were asked to repeat the same exercise as part of another course and this time, at every moment of the piece I asked myself if I was being authentic. The performance ended up being a lot more personal and engaged much better with the audience as well.
To be continued in Part 2
Very often, almost every day we get asked “So, what do you do?” When we meet a new client or a customer or a new joinee in the department, this question is inevitable. And what do we say?
We either say “I work as an Analyst” or “I am a software engineer” or “I am in Marketing”. If we encounter this question so much, how can we create a compelling story out of this? How can we use this opportunity to begin conversations and create impact?
Stories can help make that impact for you. Spend a little time and think about your life journey. How have events in your childhood groomed and shaped who you are. For example, if you are an engineer, can you talk about how passionate you were about fixing gadgets or creating simple machines and how that was a start for you to pursue your specialization?
If you are Marketing FMCG products, can you talk about how you are changing and shaping a million lives? Can you talk about how you always were interested in customer lives and going the extra mile to deliver what is required? Is there a project you did that changed the way you looked at marketing? Were you inspired by someone? We go through so much and yet say so little. How can we communicate our experiences as stories?
In our busy routines, we forget to stop, reflect and embrace our own experiences as stories. We forget about the potential of a good story and how it can completely transform the environment that we are in. Stories are a great way to engage audiences and build connections through conversations. Imagine the possibilities of a good starting point. You can energise environments, build rapports and even communicate your ideas in the process. The best thing about a good story is that, it goes around. People will remember a good story and pass it on. You become more memorable because of your story. By sharing your story, you also reinforce your own values, which makes you a positive person.
Activity: What's your story?
Through this activity, we are going to try and find a compelling story for the question, "So, what do you do?"
You are going to need a small sheet of paper and pen for this activity.
Here are a few questions that I would like you to answer.
Now, we are going to try and sequence the answers to these in a story format.
Stories are always more impactful when they are structured in the following fashion.
1. Introduce the context: Where you are at present.
(You can talk about the work you do and specific areas that you manage within the organisation, including people )
2. Fill the story: What's actually going on? Some events from the past.
(Talk about how you got interested in this domain of work, what you care about and some challenges that you have encountered along the way)
3. Put yourself in it: What are you going through at this point, physically, mentally and emotionally? What are your observations about what's going on?
(Talk about your personal experience in this role and what you have learnt through time and what you believe is the future)
4. The conclusion
(Wrap up the story bringing it to what you look forward to)
5. The takeaway
(You can now ask the other person questions about their line of work to keep the conversation going)
Outcome of theatre based Storytelling workshop
In 2012, I was preparing for my first solo, an intimate theatre performance, where I was to share personal moments from my life with the audience sitting around me. I had my lines, my costume and I had rehearsed my act quite a few times. I was confident that I would have a great show. A few days before the show, I invited my mentor into the rehearsal studio to take a look at my performance and give me some feedback. Five minutes into the performance, she stopped me and said that my look was quite intimidating. She asked me soften my gaze and continue my performance. Little did I know that I was intimidating her with my eye contact
When we are busy thinking about what to say, to deliver the facts right, we are unaware about the signals we are sending people, through our body, voice and eyes. Our eyes communicate way more than we think they do. People can gauge the mood that we are in and also be able to predict our emotional state by looking into our eyes. Here's how theatre based training can help us make effective connections and communicate powerfully - through Eyetact.
Activity: Eyetact- focus and movement
Through this activity, we are going to understand focusing techniques and the way our eyes move to address audiences.
Step 1: Take a look at the image below. Pick one marble and focus your gaze at that alone for about 10 seconds
You will notice that your eyes are quite strained after the 10 second sustained focus. This is because, when we look at one particular point, our focus tends to narrow and our eyes widen. This is typically called hard focus and can be intimidating when you are in a one-on-one situation.
The outcome: People in front you can interpret that you are probably angry or irritated. If we kept our gaze in one fixed spot, while addressing a group of people, the others could feel cut off from the conversation.
Step 2: Now sit back and look at the entire image for 10 seconds without paying attention to any one thing in particular.
You are probably more relaxed and you surely notice more in the image than you did the first time. When we relax our gaze, we let things come into our sphere of vision and don't go in search of something particular. This way, we are able to get a better visual insight from what you are looking at.
The outcome: You come across as a relaxed, calm and confident individual. This kind of focus is called soft focus, a friendly, conversational approach to making eye contact. Soft focus is a great way to address a group of people, to inform or inspire.
Now that we understand hard focus and soft focus, let's look at how we can move our eyes in a fluid way to make effective connections with our audience.
Step 3: Relax the eyes and bring them to a state of soft focus. Take a look at the image below and move your gaze from marble number 1 to marble number 6. Pay attention to the way the eyes are moving.
When we are addressing multiple people, our eye contact can tend to be a bit jerky, shifting from one person to another. A simple way to make a smooth transition is to imagine a fluid thread connecting the people in the space. This will make the eye movement and transition smooth and powerful.
Step 4: Now repeat the movement from number 1 to 6. You will notice the difference.
*Note that it is also important to move your head along with your eyes. Keeping your head stationery and moving only your gaze will look disconnected.
Outcome of theatre based Eyetact training