An Overview of a Victim Turned Courageous (She Hopes, She Tries, She Can)

This is an overview/reflection paper I wrote at the conclusion of my Theatre Movement class. This class has changed my life in more ways than one, and I wanted to share a snippet of that journey here online.

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The semester commenced in its usual, creeping, quiet way for me. Beginning another set of classes is a phenomenon—or rather, lack of phenomenon—I’ve dealt with for nearly fifteen years now. People always mistake me to be the academic type because of my quiet nature and my initial lack of energetic projection. While I do love learning, I am not fond of the academic structure. In this way, I always start classes off quiet, and I remain quiet. This is part of my introverted nature, but it is also my fear of opening up.

Theatre Movement started much in the same way. I introduced myself, didn’t think much of it, and just stood there, spacing out. Then we had to carry each other across the room… every single person. I will never forget the significance of that moment: not only was I entrusted to take my peers across the room, but I also trusted them to take me. I remember Hoejeong sitting on my back as I walked on all fours, bearing her weight, across the length of room 172. My knees screamed at me by the time I got to the other side of the room, but the look Hoejoeng gave me, and the shoulder squeeze, made it all worth it. And from that moment on, I decided to keep challenging myself.

The beginning weeks of Theatre Movement really solidified my ability to allow my body to relax and stretch through yoga and through the games we played. I could feel my mind turn off in certain moments, where I was moving with my body and honing that ability. This is a continuing challenge, as the mind can never really be turned off completely. Some days are easier than others. In the beginning, it was more difficult but also more exciting to practice that. I found myself noticing more and more how I walked and stood. I decided to breathe and allow my shoulders to fall down, to rest naturally instead of scrunching them up, tensed. I did my yoga almost every day, and tried to make up the days I didn’t do it, and I worked on walking more aligned to what my body is rather than what I think it is.

One of the most significant exercises we have done for me is the one where we must go back in time, see our old selves, and once we get to the beginning grab hands with our younger self and move forward, continually holding hands with all of our younger selves. This broke me, and to this day I am not sure why: I broke in a way that meant I could heal, I could understand who I was and who I am and where I wanted to go. Every other Alyssa has led me to the Alyssa that is here right now. They are all the same and also not. It was an almost poignant moment for me, to look back and see how I had forgotten how to play, how to really experience, and instead succumbed to try and grow up much too early, like many people do. There is still playfulness in me, but anxiety had twisted with it, making it impossible to discern whether playing was appropriate or not for me.

Now, I understand: playing is so important, not just for the art of theatre but also for my life. It makes me feel alive, it reminds me of who I am, and I feel more confident when I play, when I give up everything to the game or the scene or the moment. I do not plan on pursuing professional acting, but I see this training as significant in the way I appear to others and, above all, to myself, as well as for my writing. The question, then, is how did I come to this conclusion? What was it that altered my line of thinking from the prototypical societal robot (okay, this is hyperbolized, to an extent)? Why have I not realized this before—or, if I had realized it before, why have I not done anything about this until now? The answer is quite simple when I think of it now. It begins with my work in this class, but especially the stickwork.

Lying on the stick, as well as rolling out the knots in my foot on it, was challenging for me, in part because I feel as though I had lost touch with certain parts of my body. I allowed my body to suffer at the expense of my head and the thoughts in it, both good and bad, without recognizing the consequences physically. As I wrote in my journal entries, I am afraid to let go of the tension when I lie on the stick and when I roll my feet over it. It is excruciating to do so because the tension is all I have ever known for years, and I think that says a lot about the way we allow society to surround and often suffocate us. The tension was a way to create more of a barrier, so I was less vulnerable, but in the end I actually made myself more vulnerable than I would have before then by allowing the tension to take control.

In addition, the stickwork, as well as the yoga, help put me into “the state.” I can feel my tension release, as well as my walls go down, after I perform the yoga routine or the stickwork. Getting into the state, or being present, is a challenge for me. However, as the weeks have gone on in this class, I have found myself more able and, rather, more willing to put myself in a vulnerable place in order to experiment, to perform, to remain truthful to the environment and character, if there was one, or just remain truthful to myself. The floorwork assigned to us has become a way for me to become more in touch with myself, as well as with others. I find myself more flexible not only in my body but also in my spirit and general demeanor. I still lapse back into fear on occasion, but now I feel as though I have tools to combat it, so then I don’t have to succumb to it. This is applicable both to my work on the stage, as well as how I live my life. The release of tension through yoga and the stickwork is not only beneficial but also rewarding for me. I very much want to experience many things and interact with all different sorts of people, but I must remain open to do that, like I must remain open should I play a character on the stage in that same fashion.

At my mid-semester meeting, there was something you said to me, Paul, that really stuck with me: “You play the victim sometimes. Do you know what I mean?…But your courage serves you well in class.” At the time, I didn’t quite understand what that meant, at least beyond the surface level. I was taken aback, but it stayed with me in the back of my mind. And I thought a little bit about it everyday. At first it worried me, but then I decided to accept it, and that changed even how I further approached the work in class.

Accepting instead of shoving everything down, instead of packing it all in, has allowed me to play even when the play itself becomes dangerous, whether physically, emotionally, or mentally. Lying on the ground with my eyes closed and going back in time is a good example of a dangerous sense of play, as it released a bunch of, well, stuff from within me. I do not mean this in a bad way, but I think that moment may have actually broken me. After that activity in class, in my personal life I found I could not longer pack down my anxiety and whatever else I bottled up like I used to be able to: it would resurge often, so often that I realized I needed a new way to approach my anxiety and its frequent attacks. My previous techniques no longer worked, and it was getting harder to live the life I wanted. I wallowed for a little bit, but then I decided to just throw myself into the work in Movement class, my work in other classes, my work in my relationship and friendships, my work in taking care of myself. Looking back, I can see that taking that time for myself, even taking time to play, helped focus me more and realize more about who I am and where I want to go, both metaphorically and literally.

“We are designed to find fulfillment and creative growth through play” (13), and that is exactly what I desire to discover and experience. Partially—or maybe wholly, but that’s a frightening notion—losing my sense of play has shown me how difficult people, including myself, make things for themselves by ignoring these impulses and slowly, bit by bit, forgetting about them. This semester has been about evaluating my play deficit to see how I can grow into myself, my true self, again. Little Alyssa is much different than who I am now, but at the very core of both of us is that same desire to try, to play, to live. We are the same “authentic self” of Alyssa (107) when we play because we like to play in nearly the same ways.

I enjoy acting. I may not ever be a professional actor, but I am still a Storyteller. I rely on my imagination in all aspects of my life. As a child, I loved to read and to write my own stories, to experience something through words. I love watching movies and plays and creating these works of art because I love to be in the story, immersed in it, or even drawn away from it with an analytical eye: I love to be involved in storymaking and storytelling. I love “experienc[ing] the thoughts and emotions of the characters in the story” (70) because it makes me feel whole, it excites me, and it inspires me for my own writing. As a child I also loved dance classes, gymnastics classes (whoever says gymnastics does not tell a story is lying), listening to lectures, and, of course, acting. Even today, I love writing and am eager to write stories, plays, poetry, what I think, and just about anything, really. Writing papers—though sometimes a drag because they are assignments—is also strangely fun to me. Whenever I have played Monopoly or other games—whether when I was nine or now at twenty—my goal is never to win, but to always have “an exciting match” (70). Whether I win or lose at whatever I do, I love the excitement in actually doing it, in telling a story of some nature. I think this Storyteller part of me is what led me to theatre and what made me want to stay with it these nearly nine years and counting. Theatre is a means for me to tell and listen to stories, to understand, to experience. To exist.

Theatre Movement has been more than a class to me, as cheesy as it sounds: it has been a story. Like climbing the mountain, like playing each game just to make it fun, like doing yoga and stickwork, it has been a journey, and a beautiful one at that. I look forward to where I, as well as my classmates, go next.

 

Work Cited

Brown, Stuart, M.D. and Christopher Vaughan. Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. New York: Penguin Group. 2009.

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Copyright © Alyssa Cokinis, 2015. All rights reserved.

Published by Alyssa C.

Writer & theatre artist from Iowa. Currently quarantining in the Pacific Northwest. MA in Intercultural Communication Studies from Shanghai Theatre Academy (expected 2021).

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