Tuesday, May 19, 2015

What is Creativity -8

Here's an idea that's new to me, so consider what follows an exploration.

I used to teach the difference between comedy and tragedy as a matter of distance - that is, for comedy one distances oneself a step further away from the emotions expressed in tragedy. I have a young student who auditions often, so we're often preparing new monologues. She can give you goosebumps with tragedy, but comedy was not going so well.

In a All's Well that Ends Well monologue, her character discovers she's caught in what seems to be an impossible dilemma. Of course, that play is a comedy, and the dilemma is happily solved for everyone at the end. But she was playing the part as though she were caught in a web that she'd never escape. My distancing method had no effect. I tried asking her to keep a smile in the muscles under her eyes during her frustration.

That's how we recognize a smile - in the eyes, not in the mouth. You can be ranting in supposed anger, but if the muscles under your eyes are loose and curved, anyone watching you will know you don't mean what you're saying because "there was a twinkle in your eye." Conversely, your lips may be stretched into a curve, but if the muscles under the eye haven't let go, anyone watching you will know you're "putting on a false front."

Using the eye-muscle approach soft of worked, but it required learning how to separate the eye muscles from those around the mouth, and that takes time. And we had to get ready for another audition with a monologue from Taming of the Shrew, another comedy. This character was foot-stamping furious, and that's how my student was playing it. When I prepared for the next lesson, I noticed that when my eyes smiled, my internal body felt warmer.

One of the ways we communicate is through temperature. There's a measurable temperature effect on the skin when it senses rejection or affection - cooler for danger, warmer for safety. The skin is picking up on "a cold shoulder" or "a warm welcome" given off by someone else. A few months ago, I sat next to a man who was growing increasingly angry and the chill coming off his back was like a refrigerator door had just opened. We all know what "being in heat" feels like.

The warm-body idea worked. The student could recognize the line where she lost the warmth under her anger. We no longer feared her anger, we could be amused by it.

I encountered a different aspect of this phenomenon in my writing critique group. A member had submitted four chapters of a young adult novel that involved a couple of wizards, magic wands, and the like. In Chapter 4 we were deep in fantasyland, but Chapters 2 and 3 were set in the real world, and the effect on the reader was disconcerting. We're young when we believe in fantasy. Our bodies feel lighter, almost giddy, unburdened by the knowledge that real life is tough, and that closing our eyes and saying "Open Sesame" doesn't work. My guess is that the author needs to maintain that light, young feeling in his body when he's revising those other two chapters.

What if we noticed the physical sensations in our bodies when we knew we were being creative?

To be continued.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

What is Creativity - 7

The Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County was established in 1949, the first local arts council in the country. The National Council on the Arts was established by law in the mid-60s, and by the mid-80s nearly state and every county had its own arts council. During the 80s I was living in Middlesex County, New Jersey, where the Executive Director of our arts council was a tiny dynamo of energy.

She told me, "I believe that we are all creative, and that we all need to express it. I don't care if it's a man coming home for working in a factory and going out to work in his garden, that's creativity. And that's my job. To see that every person in this county has an outlet for that drive. Because when it's repressed . . ."

The details that we retain in memory, and those we lose are a mystery. I don't remember her name, what town we were in, what conference we were attending. I do remember we were walking on a glass-enclosed bridge between buildings, because I can still see the tree-tops behind her. And I'll never forget her passion.

To be continued