[this short essay was originally published in Theatre, Dance and Performance Training Blog in 2016]
During a second encounter with John Britton and Duende in 2014 at AuBrana
Cultural Centre in Southern France, I made one of the most significant discoveries in
my professional theatre life. It is a very simple discovery, yet it has had a profound
impact on how I view myself as an artist and how I view my work.
I discovered the significance of giving yourself permission to do things…
In order to begin to deal with the challenges of theatre making and performing, like
insecurities or lack of confidence that often create blockages, or fear to do what you
really want (this fear mainly arising from the belief that you are not good enough to
do it), you have to learn how to forgive yourself (and, as John often says, smile),
welcome mistakes, get out of your own way and give yourself permission to just be
and do. This lessens the pressure and tension which comes from a need to constantly
achieve. It opens up your awareness to your inner life and others around you. It
makes you more present in your work and your life.
During my stay at AuBrana in 2014, which lasted only a week, I re-learned how to be
with myself, how to trust my creative instincts and how to allow myself to truly enjoy
the work that I do. I saw others, their wonderful performances and their struggles
and I saw myself through the others’ eyes which allowed me to rediscover my artistic
self, as a whole: with its strengths, weaknesses and quirkiness. Since then, I’ve begun
to learn how to view myself and my work with a lot less insecurity, judgement,
sarcasm and a lot more assurance.
The act of giving yourself permission can be incredibly powerful.
I believe it made me braver, both personally and creatively, and spurred me towards
some significant professional decisions and changes: to continue on the creative path
despite only just embarking on a research PhD; to gather a group of incredible
female performers together which led to the establishment of Foxtale, an
international theatre collective; to find time for training and making creative work
even when things get very busy or financially difficult; to make a solo performance;
and to, most recently, leave academia and make a living as a theatre artist.
Prior to really giving myself permission to do things I want to do, I was struggling.
My artistic confidence, instinct or spirit, while fully trained (physically and
intellectually) and seemingly ready to create, was injured. On a number occasions,
throughout my professionally formative years, at times explicitly, at times only as a
passing remark, at times not even verbally but through a certain attitude, I was told
that I was not good enough. That what I did was not interesting enough. That what I
showed was not as original as what somebody else just showed. That I should
probably go into organising theatre festivals instead of making theatre or
performing. That, just a moment ago, I seemed to find something special, but then I
lost it. No longer worthy. No longer good enough. Maybe I will never be good
I have nothing against criticism or pointing out mistakes. These are necessary, even
crucial, when making any form of art, including theatre. We learn from our mistakes.
We are hungry for constructive, critical feedback. We want to improve.
However, as artists, our awareness is usually heightened. We are very open. Open to
others around us, to the space around us, to the colours of nature, hum of the city,
fragility of inner life… And because we are so open, we are sensitive, vulnerable,
more easily affected by others’ words. At times, criticism, even the honest one, hurts
deeply. At times, especially if it becomes repetitive, so deeply that it injures the
artistic spirit, cripples it and leaves you feeling worthless.
And that’s when ability to give yourself permission becomes crucial.
After my first solo performance at AuBrana in 2014, John sat me down and said:
‘How did that feel? Could you feel the attentiveness of the audience? How you held
their attention?’ It was probably one of the most important performances I have ever
done. Not for its aesthetic or creative value, but for its revelatory value, revelatory to
me. I find it very difficult to express the experience in words. It was not a rational
experience. It was a gentle yet powerful peering through the veils of self-doubt and
lack of confidence. A gentle yet powerful permission to drop these veils (at least
momentarily) and see the world around you and yourself anew. It was liberating and
intoxicating. It was deep-reaching. It was pleasurable. It shook my whole being
awake – very joyfully awake. It gave me very intense dreams afterwards. It was some
of Duende’s principles, which John shared with us through practice and
discussion for a few days prior, that accelerated my path towards giving myself
permission: to make work, to perform, to seek stronger presence, to seek self-assurance, to be with myself through being with others and to deepen my training.
And when life gets tougher and I am battling against outer or inner demons, the
memory of this experience and my other encounters with Duende, the decisions I
made afterwards, the deepened understanding of creative process and how I want to
do it, the memory of people I met through Duende and their stories, all of this
continuously reminds me to give myself permission… at times, the permission to
simply allow my shoulders to drop and breathe. And smile.