It's All in the Experience

September 23, 2016

In finding my way around the Triangle arts community lately, I stumbled across the Women's Theatre Festival - sent to them during a conversation with a colleague over coffee. Lo, and there I saw an opportunity to see this same respected colleague in action - in a workshop setting, and on a subject I've considered for a long time: writing.


Mia Self, Assistant Director for University Theatre at NCSU, in her workshop "Women's Forms: Experiential Writing" introduced us to the concept that writing can be playful, too. Clearly well-versed as a theatrical scholar, she communicated with us (forgive the smash-up) intelli -gently - there was no threat or pressure, only a gentle guidance towards exploration and risk-taking combined with her deep understanding of the theory, practice and history of theatre, and of women in theatre in particular. She lead us through a series of games intended to loosen us up and to get us out of our monkey-brains, interspersed with sessions of writing, limited to a few minutes each time.  The experience was intense, focused, and demanded a lot of creative energy from everyone in the room. We even played with a lot of stuffed chickens (don't ask).


During the workshop, I have to admit to realizing how many smart people there are - and to being a little intimidated by the depth and quality of writing I heard. This is due in part to the fact that we had only minutes to write each exercise, and in part to my experience with creative writing being limited at best. My attempts seemed pale in comparison to some of the truly creative ideas I heard. Many writers shared joyful, thoughtful ways of exploring, and spoke about what it is to be human, female or male, how it is to be young these days, how one can feel a part of and yet separate from one's cultural heritage, and that being part of the world is harder than it looks. I even heard what I would call "seeds of inspiration", and have no doubt there will be new works from some of these writers in the coming months and years.


But I also saw the value in working away from a desk or computer, in taking a break from what can be a drudgery of "trying to create". Many is the time when I have been stuck on an idea that a walk, a change of environment, a change of thought process, or even a simple chore or task completed will reopen the flow of creativity.
Ms. Self's ultimate goal seems to have been to remind us of this, and to encourage us as writers to engage in physical play -   what must seem at first to some to be a distraction or an avoidance tactic.


The truth of what she taught was this: Getting out of your head is a good thing. Playing games is a good thing, too - and we've forgotten how to play. I hope I get to play again soon.