"I love the performance. I hate the after party." - Katie B., Improv instructor
“It is better to strive in one’s own dharma than to succeed in the dharma of another. Nothing is ever lost in following one’s own dharma. But competition in another’s dharma breeds fear and insecurity. - Bhagavad Gita
Previous to this post, I have blogged about being a somewhat introvert, which can run contrary to my chosen careers, which involve interaction with and being in front of people on a regular basis. I then wrote about the perils and joys of judgment and embarrassment. I spoke of immersing myself in situations and circumstances to invite discomfort into my life, in order to be less judgmental and fearful.
Well, after seven weeks of improv classes(thank you, Curious Comedy Theater!), I not only conquered fears and enjoyed myself immensely, I have decided to re-enter the theater world with a vengeance! I am auditioning for several theater productions this summer and fall. Whether I get into those productions remains to be seen, of course, but the mere act of preparing for the auditions is changing my whole feeling around who I am and how I can merge these two worlds. In fact, I feel one of the first places I started asking the philosophical "who am I?" question, was not yoga, but in my early years of performing and theater. It was yoga, though, that helped me start peering more deeply into this question and to become more of myself OUTSIDE of performing or teaching or being in the public eye. The mistake I believe I made, initially, was that the two could not co-exist. That to be a performer (which does, in fact, require a sense of embracing the ego to a certain degree), I could not be a yogi, a "sadhaka", a person seeking "non-attachment and discernment." One directly opposed the other.
Often in the "yoga world", and this is entirely me putting my own projections out there, I have felt overly theatrical and loud. The very nature of yoga and its tendency towards silence, asceticism, and "being zen" can directly conflict with my tendencies to sing, be expressive, find comedy in strange things, and enjoy some cursing now and then. On the other hand, I also don't feel incredibly comfortable with the "theater crowd." You know the ones - they can't seem to turn it off once off the stage/away from the cameras -who always feel the need to be the center of attention? Yeah, them. Around them, I feel shy, meek and incredibly self-conscious. So, often, like an immigrant who has been in their adopted country for a long time, I often feel caught in between the two worlds: too loud for the yogis and not loud enough for the thespians (look that word up, if you're unsure!).
I think that is why I enjoyed finding Bhakti yoga, and in particular, Jivamukti in New York City and Laughing Lotus in NYC and San Francisco (and of course my beloved Bhaktishop here in Portland!!). Here was a place where artists, dancers, and theater people were delving deep into self-inquiry, but also playing fun music, creating sequences with their bodies, moving and having a really fun time doing it!! This wasn't sitting in a cave in a mountain (though that is still appealing at times), this was fun, theatrical yoga. It was a place to be creative, but without judgment. It was a place to feel expressive, but not obsessive. And I absolutely fell in love with it and love it to this day. I still prefer to teach this way, though some days call for a quieter practice, or less theatrics than others. And I still get the odd look from someone not used to my classes. I am not performing in my classes, by any stretch (nor do I wish to), but I AM encouraging students to take themselves less seriously, enjoy the process and be themselves. And I am enjoying all the colors that yoga can bring into our lives. I am being more myself. I enjoy the stark, disciplined yoga classes as much as the colorful, expressive vinyasa play houses, and my teaching seems to lie somewhere in between the two.
All of this has made me start to think there IS such a thing as "mostly introvert with theatrical and expressive tendencies." As the quote above suggests, there is a difference between someone who enjoys theater and performance and one who loves being the center of attention in all situations. In theater, there is a separation (the "4th wall, as it's been called) when performing AND you are not you, you are embodying someone else. Some actors are ALWAYS someone else -even when being themselves, if that makes sense. That doesn't work for me. I have to be myself when not performing. And that self often prefers alone time to after parties (or even to eating lunch with co-workers). That self often prefers retreating back stage to take a few deep breaths and reflect, rather then expend more energy on "schmoozing." Even still, I believe even an introvert like me can love/be good at performing. So, I choose to accept and cultivate my theater and performing roots, wherever that might lead.
I know there are challenges ahead (damn, I'm really embracing those these days!). I know I'll continue to feel conflicts between my yoga practice and path and my performing endeavors. The important thing is, I am embracing my theatricality. Being theatrical and a performer does not make me less of a yogi. In fact, in embracing myself fully in this realm, I feel I am more in line with the Union of my small and big selves. Yay to that. On with the show...