When I was a kid, I dreamed of being an actress or singer. I held the hairbrush up to my mouth while staring into the mirror, imagining the TV show that would be centered around my life or my tour on Broadway. Outside of a camp production of Wizard of Oz and my role as the Scarecrow, I have rarely been onstage. I had the wonderful experience of attending George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan production by Bedlam at Duke University’s new Rubenstein Arts Center. It was a mesmerizing show that, at several points, had us literally sitting on the stage. In fact, there was no real boundary between the stage and the audience. It got me thinking. Isn’t that how life really is? We are all on the stage but just don’t realize it.
Here are some thoughts about stepping onto the stage:
Disconnect. Part of the experience of attending a play is disconnecting from your device. One of the actors walked across the front of the room with his device and asked that we shut off our devices. I had already turned mine to airplane mode but when you actually turn off your device, it’s not as easy to get connected again. I don’t do this enough. Completely disconnect from the distraction of the latest text or email or Facebook update. There is peace in disconnection. I can’t imagine one of the actor’s pulling out their phone in the middle of the performance. So why should you?
Borderless. There was no border between the action of the actors and the audience. In the second and third acts, there were chairs on what would normally be viewed as the actual stage. But we were all essentially in the same room without any delineation between the actors and the audience. Life is really like that. You never know when you might be the leading woman or the villain. I attended a meditation last week and a woman took the chair I had set out to sit and to meditate in. For a moment, in my mind, she was the villain. At the end of the meditation, she apologized for taking my chair. People walk over our borders and then back out again. Life really has no borders. We try to buffer ourselves with a bumper, a border, a wall. They are all an imaginary construct.
Roles. There were only four actors in the play covering 24 characters. At several points in the first act, three of the actors were swapping roles. It was sort of mind blowing to watch three guys switch accents, body language and chairs. They were exchanging roles like the passing of a baton back and forth. It’s amazing how at work or at home I can get enmeshed in the role of “mother” or “fixer” or “devil’s advocate”. What if I relaxed and let someone else take on that role? What if I found a role that I don’t usually play? Perhaps the heroine or patient listener. Have you switched roles lately?
Presence. There was a point where we were a couple of feet from two of the actors in the play. I was there. In Orleans, feeling Joan of Arc’s passion for the fight against England. I could see her tears on her cheek and the spittle of the antagonist as he called her a heretic. Taping into the actor’s energy and really being present made me feel as if I was there in 1429. I didn’t know what time it was or what the weather was outside. I was busy hoping that Joan could avoid the stake. Rooting for a change in history. Willing a change in destiny for this powerful heroine. What if I brought this presence to the rest of my life? To be there now.
Impact. At the end of the play after Joan of Arc has died, we see the impact she has had on her detractors and supporters. She speaks to each of the characters on her journey and we realize the impact she has had on each of their lives and thereafter. How often do you take stock in the effect you have on the people in your life either past, present or future? I am not the heroine that Joan of Arc is but I know I have had an impact. Taking stock in the clients I have transformed through coaching, teams I have aligned through facilitation and, most importantly, my children that I have supported to achieve their dreams is humbling and fulfilling. Take stock in the impact you have had on others and yourself.
In a life full of screen time, whether it be binge watching The Crown, surfing the internet or obsessing over an unreturned text, all of that takes you off the stage and into the audience. Not at arm’s length. Embrace the experience of being on the stage. Everyday. Show up and be.