I thought the last 'performance' that I would be doing as an IB Theatre student was a remake of La Llorona's story. And since I had finished all my coursework I thought my IB Theatre days were over. But when my drama teacher explained that there was one thing left, I got pretty excited.
We were to work with Ms Jennifer Hartley, an author, applied theatre practitioner, and director on a monologue workshop. The workshop was called 'Confessions' and as the name suggested, the monologue would be a 9-minute story of each individual confessing to something.
This monologue was to be presented in the form of Augusto Boal's Theatre of the Oppressed and while I was much more comfortable with the likes of musicals and naturalistic theatre, the therapeutic nature of the Theatre of the Oppressed was what drew me in.
To tell you a little more about Boal's style of theatre, this technique urges the audience to take an active part in the story as they explore, analyse, and completely resonate with what they are presented with by the actor(s) in front of them. What's interesting about this theatrical form is that it can show how vivid and vast the human imagination can be. With minimal props, sets, and lighting, every other detail is filled in by the audience. That means that one member of the audience may end up seeing a completely different show to another audience.
There was an anecdote that Ms Hartley shared that struck me quite profoundly: when she was on a tour where actors were performing a piece on domestic abuse, an audience member had sued her theatre company for using a child actor in an 'inappropriate setting'. The audience member reported seeing a child actor crying and screaming when the husband was beating his wife. The only twist is... there was no child actor. It was only implied by the monologue performed by the husband but everything else had been conjured by the audience's imagination. If that didn't give you the chills, I don't know what will...
The whole workshop process took around two weeks and due to complications regarding COVID, the number of students actually being able to participate in the workshop was cut down. Honestly, I liked the fact that there were fewer people. It made me feel safer to put myself out there, especially since we were confessing to a lot of hidden truths.
These workshops became a place for me to explore some of the hardships I'd gone through in a safe environment. It was safe because Ms Hartley constantly reminded us that the only person who will ever know to what extent something is true will be me. If someone were to ask me "Was what you said true?", I could just shrug and answer, "It's theatre" and that would still be the truth.
Our monologues started off simple. We were never meant to write a script for the 9 minutes of monologue anyway. The reason why that was possible was that the monologue was to be created from a sentence based on a line of truth. We did an activity where we each confessed to truth and would raise our hands if we related to someone else's truth. At first, we kept it pleasant with shallow and easy truths but then we had to dig deeper and deeper until the very essence of what might have been bothering us for our whole lives started to surface.
What Ms Hartley told us when we were struggling to trust each other enough to expose ourselves was really important. She said that although we might feel vulnerable, we have the power to withhold information. I could choose how I told my story. In fact, vulnerability was seen as a strength in this performance because people wouldn't know how to react to your vulnerable state.
There was another interesting session on body language. Our words and face may smile but our body language is often what gives away our true feelings. There were some interesting facts about body language; for example, our body instinctively locates where the exits are when we first enter a room. Also, everyone has a particular subconscious pacifying behaviour such as playing with one's hair or shaking their legs. It's so interesting!!
Ms Hartley's an expert when it comes to deciphering the meaning behind a certain body language and she did just that with us. After we chose a word to describe our lives up until now, we got into a pose to accompany that word. Mine was 'content', with my hands piled over my chest with my left foot behind and my weight on my right leg. She completely saw through me just based on this pose I chose.
The pose was a very neutral and generic one for my word. This showed that I was conscious of my appearance and how others perceived me. I'm standing up so I'm not a passive passenger in my life but there was something a little paradoxical. Even though my word was 'content', my feet didn't show stability. She decoded it as a way of me telling the world that I don't feel very steadfast all the time even though that's the impression I might give (these were all pretty much spot on analyses, to be honest).
In the second week of the workshops, it was all about repetition. I think I did a total of five repeats of my monologue leading up to the actual performance but let me tell you this: none of them was the same. Yes, the core message was identical but the way I presented it was so different every time that even I couldn't see what was coming next. And having an audience right in front of you (about a metre away) was definitely a new experience — I had a lot of fun gazing into their eyes and making them feel uncomfortable.
In the end, we couldn't have a live audience and had to film it instead. I enjoyed filming it because it gave me a chance to be a little more dramatic without worrying about how people would think about me. The video itself is a bit too personal to share online so I guess I'll leave that there 😝
If I had to sum up my whole experience in one word, it would be 'cathartic'. I have never felt so free from the burden I carried my entire life and I was finally able to make peace. Perhaps it was the repetition or maybe just the way I started viewing the problem as something that had a profound impact on me, but I didn't want it to hold me back anymore. I couldn't have wished for a more perfect way to end my IB Theatre journey at NLCS.