It's day three of our rehearsals in Helsinki, and whilst the days have been filled with reading, writing and creative meetings, we've stayed strong in our "physical theatre practitioners' mindset" and decided to start each morning with physical work, namely active meditation.
What this type of meditation invites you to do, is to commit to your body's impulses and quite simply, do what feels good. The body aids the mind to let go, and whilst each thought that comes to your mind during the exercise is welcomed, it is also sent away. The body as a leader helps us to let go of any oppressive and restrictive thoughts or to plan our movements, and consequently block listening and spontaneity.
Listening to my body's moods these three mornings – and asking it what feels good – I've dived into the contemplation of pleasure. To do what feels pleasurable feels incredibly empowering; you listen to your instinct, and suddenly you're absolutely confident and careless in anything you do, whether it's jumping around the room and climbing on the walls or lying silently in the corner of the rehearsal room. And yet we are so often made feel guilty for acting upon what's pleasurable.
I remember "pleasuring" first time in a theatrical context, taking part to Yorgos Karamalegos' workshop in Lamda, London. He invited the whole group into a long improvisation, which consisted of submitting to pleasure, and pleasure only. Apparently he had borrowed the concept from Lorna Marshall, and later developed it into his own practice. I loved the idea, but couldn't help but constantly feel like I wasn't doing enough as a performer; that I was being lazy when not pushing myself into the uncomfortable areas. Yet, when minutes passed, suddenly the whole room was playing, testing their boundaries; bubbling with a huge amount of risk-taking.
So I think this is the key: as actors, we are constantly being encouraged to "go out of the comfort zone" and to "push our boundaries", yet as a plain instruction this can make us take risks out of fear, not will, and start judging ourselves based on daring, not commitment and artistic expressivity. An alternative way to really reach authentic and informed actions, is to listen to our bodies and their need for pleasure: when the body is ready, it will naturally jump into taking risks and sudden changes, following its pulsations. The body knows, and the mind pushing it to show off without its will, can easily lead into injuries, or simply "empty actions".
Reflecting further on the body's will, pleasure and the actor's agency, Hélène Cixous' concept of jouissance came to my mind. For Cixous, jouissance is an orgasmic feeling of pleasure, which works on physical, spiritual and political levels and is the source of woman's (or a person's) creativity. She describes it in the following words:
explosion, diffusion, effervescence, abundance...takes pleasure (jouit) in being limitless
Sounds familiar? The moment when you think you're flying. It's comforting to know that it has a name (multiple, I'm sure). Cixous' explanation gives somehow a confirmation for the value of pleasure. It lifts the idea from selfish enjoyment into a creative force, and an apparatus for reaching new hights in artistic expression.
Let's follow our bodies and keep pleasuring! We only need to listen.