Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about engagement. (Not the marital kind, although with all the wedding planning I’ve been doing recently, I suppose that has seeped it’s way into my consciousness as well!)
In a performance setting, when I am sat/stood in an audience – what is it that makes me pay attention and engage? Politeness? Sometimes. Not wanting to be rude? Occasionally. (There are a rare few occurrences in my theatre-attending lifespan when I’ve been very envious of the audience members who throw in the towel and leave in the middle of a performance, while I politely keep my eyes on the action.)
Or, on a more positive note, is it because what I am seeing before me is crackling with an energy that I find captivating, mystifying, tantalizing? And if so, is it the form that I find gripping (the way a composition of elements, surprises, shifts and transforms) or is it a narrative; an investment in a character, their intentions, what is at stake?
CHANGE THE CONTEXT
Outside of a performance, what is it that makes me engage with my surroundings? Or, as I’ve been noticing in myself recently, what makes me disengage? I’ve discovered that when I’m in a situation that I find unfamiliar, awkward, or where I happen to disagree, my default mode is to step back from the situation and not get involved. (I suppose I must have been doing this for ages, but I’ve only recently taken stock of it in myself.) I’ve started to play a little game with myself, that in situations when I feel the urge to take a step back – what happens, if I lean in a bit, or say something in response.
(The phrase “lean in” now makes me immediately think of Sheryl Sandberg’s book which I haven’t read yet, although I very much want to. I’ve heard mixed reviews, and am particularly interested as I become more aware of and befuddled by the expectations I have as myself as a woman about to get married, with the possibility of family (maybe, at some point, in the future future future) and the awareness that a. I need to provide for myself, my partner and our life that we’re painstakingly building together and b. also painstakingly support my efforts as an artist and maker and c. somehow create an environment/”career”/in a much too oversimplified way “life” (shudder) for myself where all those pieces exist together. I think I could spend many more words on this topic – but shall leave it for now.
…for fear of indulging in too much of the personal and perhaps also for fear of uncovering that most likely there is no discoverable solution to the aforementioned quandary. Hmmph.)
CHANGE THE CONTEXT
Going back to performance, how do I, as a maker of stuff that I wish an audience to see – no – ENGAGE with, how do I do that. “You can only control the controllable”, to roughly quote Ben Cohen from last Saturday’s Strictly, and as most of us know, you cannot control whether or not an audience member has had a good day/bad day, had too much to drink/is on an empty stomach (which Amy and I know ALWAYS makes us grizzly audience members – we have taken to packing snacks whenever seeing a performance – just in case) etc etc.
So on to what we CAN control: the process of making, a commitment to interrogating topics, researching, risking, trying and failing, creating environments where those things listed before are possible, trusting, questioning, forgiving, asking, answering, answering again, arguing, listening, and expecting of ourselves that we do our very very best to sit in the center of ourselves whilst making an effort to do all of that.
I recently read Brene Brown’s book “Daring Greatly” (which I sincerely recommend, especially if you’re as stuck on this topic of engagement as I am) and I’ll leave you with a quote…
“Vulnerability is not knowing victory or defeat, it’s understanding the necessity of both; it’s engaging. It’s being all in.”