Category: Actors Health

This photo was taken at State Library’s “Year of Belonging” festivities last year

February 3 2018 will see an energetic and enthusastic group of people gather in Pullenvale Brisbane Australia for our yearly creative arts workshop. We will begin with a bridging-in exercise, followed by sharing our emerging dreams and possible goals for the new year. We will engage in artmaking, movement, storytelling and lots of laughter as we move towards a clarity of purpose and intention.

I love hosting reflective workshops at the beginning of each year, where we gather, make new friends and make still-to-be-created dreams come to the fore as well as plan and re-story what it is we want to add to our lives to make it richer, more vibrant.

We begin with ritual, one of the strongest healing processes we can engage in. We create our own personal rituals that we will engage with throughout the year.

For me, this holiday season has been one of reflection, connecting with family and friends and deciding on a few new challenges: yoga teacher training for one, improving my cooking skills another. Whatever it is we want to engage with, we can, we just need to make it clear to ourselves and others what we are wanting and where we are wanting to go. We may be engaged in a project that began several years ago: is this the year of completion? We may have finished a long term project and want to begin another…

How do we formulate work that is fulfilling and worthwhile to both self and others? How do we engage in activities that heal and stimulate? I feel the best way of accessing ‘what we may not know we know’ is through creative conversation, engaging with friends and colleagues over a cup of tea and taking turns in talking about one’s life and how we are either satisfied with the status quo (lucky you) or how we want to adjust one or two things in order to move forward with a little more zest. It is through conversation, creative conversations, that change occurs. We cannot do it in a vacuum…

So, this year, reach out! Request a cup of tea from friends and colleagues. Sit down and share your thoughts, in exchange for them sharing theirs. Everyone loves a rich conversation!

Bill, my partner and I have decided that this year is “Our Year of Belonging”, the expression taken from our workshop that is coming up at 4change on February 3, which goes by the same name. We began on January 1, ended up in hot water a couple of times as we drove from Sydney to Brisbane, but managed very quickly to recognise the patterns that were clashing…in our case, we realised that cultural stories relating to gender, and one’sexpectation of these gendered roles were the main culprits (so far!). We are trying, as a couple, to live in learning…and to keep strongly in mind that it is not what happens to us, but how we handle it. We are both excited about this committment, or declaration, to each other, and a little nervous…change is always challenging and we have committed to living a year of total awareness (if it is even possible), something that we have only assumed we were doing in the past.

And that reminds me of the difference between habit and ritual. Sometimes in coaching sessions I ask my client what rituals they have in place, and the response is more likely to be a list of habits rather than rituals. Much has been written about ritual, but briefly, to suit our purposes, rituals require intentional action, rather than habitual action. Rituals heal us: rather than just sitting down to eat, if we turn our meal time into a ritual we very deliberately set the table with awareness, we light candles with awareness…whatever we need to do in order to say “We are now eating together, sharing a meal, talking, listening, hearing each other”.

Here’s to a year full of ritual, deliberate awareness of our actions in order to create a rich and vibrant moment, hour, day, week and year.

hello, come in, sit a while

hello, come in, sit a while

As a therapist for artists, I work in the fields of “intimacy and solitude”. I spend time with people whose vocation it is to change the world. For that to happen, I have to constantly define and refine my own practice both as therapist and as artist. Right now I am in the final stages of writing a PhD about Home and Belonging. Where do we belong? How do we belong? What does it mean to belong? As I have reflected I have discovered old writings that are still to be dreamed on:

This work was to be done using a telephone.

Pick up the phone (image taken outside of a Chicago Art Gallery several years ago)

Pick up the phone
(image taken outside of a Chicago Art Gallery several years ago)

The audience member would stand in a phone booth. The phone booth would be comforting, not cold. It would smell good. The voice of the actor, my voice, would be soft.
The audience member would pick up the phone.

The voice would be heard:

A phone box made out of books. A place of contemplation

A phone box made out of books. A place of contemplation

If I were to have an idea it would be the idea of connection.
If I were to have an idea it would be an idea of touching lightly
Walking lightly. Breathing lightly
If I were to have an idea it would be cooking something for you.
I would cook you scones and make jam and whip cream for you.
I would make a cup of tea with tea leaves, hot water, a beautiful ceramic tea pot and thick creamy milk and rich sugar.
Not white.

Tea for you

Tea for you

If I had an idea I would invite you to sit a while and breathe with me and listen to music of your choice.
For I am your host you see.
If I had an idea I would hold your hand until you no longer wanted me to hold your hand.

Hands can speak

Hands can speak

I would wrap my favourite hand crocheted rug around your shoulders and rock you like your mother did when you were small.

My Grandmother's cushion

My Grandmother’s cushion

If I had an idea I would breathe for you so that you could scream for freedom and your love, your capacity would explode the world apart with its power and strength. Then we would put the world back together again, a kinder world, a more gentle world.
If I had an idea I would polish your shoes so that you could see your beautiful smile every time you leaned over to scratch your ankle.
If I had an idea I would sew you a coat of deliciousness that you could wrap yourself in when you yearned for a warm moment within this oftimes cold world.
If I had an idea I would carefully pour warm oil over your head to wash away the hurtful comments and actions from those who do not know who you are.
If I had an idea I would sew you up in a huge envelope and post you to your love.
If I had an idea I would blow sweet kisses across all borders and dance (not) naked in the streets of violence- with open heart—a naked heart perhaps.
If I had an idea I would walk the walk of Australia to awaken the stories waiting to be told by silent grandmothers and boisterous girls.
If I had an idea I would create for you journey shoes to take you wherever it is you needed to go right now.

I would write you books for whatever you need to hear right now and I would sing you words to settle your anxiety of old.

I will write you a book

I will write you a book

I would, if I had an idea, dance until you told me-stop.
I would cook until you said
“My darling. I am finished. I have had enough. Let me rest”. And I would.

And I would leave, knowing that you were safe

And I would leave, knowing that you were safe

ready for collage at PlayPen

ready for collage at PlayPen

As I look back at passing year, I am aware that I have changed. I have spent the last 12 months doing the things that are important to me: writing about belonging, re-mounting and dreaming on “HOME” (Queensland Theatre Company) one of our Belonging Trilogy plays, performing for Brisbane Festival in ‘Prize Fighter” (La Boite), a play about a child soldier from Democratic Republic of Congo, playing with the contemporary dance company Phluxus2 and co-creating The Paratrooper Project (The Judith Wright Centre) which focused on war and home life. One of my directing gigs was at Queensland Academies of Creative Industries (QACI) where I worked with 22 fifteen year olds, and along with my colleagues Ben Knapton, Simon Tate, Stephen Matthais and Travis Ash, created a version of the Belonging Trilogy which we called “Coming Home”. You can read about our experiences in older posts.

All of these projects began with small beginnings: some grew while sharing a coffee, some while engaging in creative developments for something entirely different. Other projects grew out of emails, meetings and some just happened. All with small beginnings.

I am listening to ABC Jazz and sipping tea in a favourite cup with the inscription that seems so apt: “Big things often have small beginnings”.

cup of Really Russian Caravan, pen and diary

Presently we are negotiating big things from another small beginning and this has created conflict within. A question always comes into my consciousness whenever I am about to embark on a big project:
“Why do this?” and “What is it about creating art that nourishes and nurtures the soul?” So I am pondering these questions today, particularly the first one.

My first port of call is the collage table.

preparing for collaging

preparing for collaging

I collect magazines and spread them around me, hold on to a glue stick, listen to good classical music (some of you may prefer jazz or contemporary). My dogs sit at my feet, Russian Caravan Tea in my cup, pastels and cartridge paper in front of me. I am ready to begin.


Today I am using the back of Frankie calendar as the base on which to build a collection of images that will help me understand what/why I am embarking on this new project. I trust this process infinitely, for there is always something that surprises me, that awakens me, that alerts me to reasons why. It is a direct route to meaning making.

I begin to “rip and stick” and sometimes use scissors to cut out images: one that I cut out is a woman, a painted woman, looking into the collage rather than out of the images. She leans on a painted horizon. The other image I cut out is a chair, wrapped in fabric, like a rag rug but it is a rag chair, a beautiful chair. I have stuck it on a very textured walls and floor. I am embracing enormous amounts of texture and bright colours as I build the layers.

My confusion begins to clarify as I place an image of a pair of scissors, balancing on a rock, and holding in the air a crane in the area of the collage where a brain could be. It took time to understand the “scissor/rock/paper” representation that’s going on inside my own head. Paper is winning, that is good. Paper is beautiful. That is good.

scissor paper rock

scissor paper rock

The Crane is known as a symbol of peace, of longevity (they live for 1000 years in the legends). A symbol of hope.

The Legend of the Crane (cut and pasted from (out of the darkness community walks

Throughout history, birds have been viewed as animals of special value and have been ladened with meanings often derived from legends and stories that have survived over many generations. The Crane may conceivably be the oldest bird on earth; there is fossil proof that they existed over 60 million years ago. Greek and Roman myth tended to portray the dance of cranes as a love of joy and a celebration of life. The crane was usually considered to be a bird of Apollo, the sun god, who heralded in Spring and light. Throughout all of Asia, the crane has been a symbol of happiness and eternal youth. In Japanese, Chinese, and Korean tradition, cranes stand for good fortune and longevity because of its fabled life span of a thousand years. …The Japanese refer to the crane as “the bird of happiness;” the Chinese as “heavenly crane” believing they were symbols of wisdom. The powerful wings of the crane were believed to be able to convey souls up to paradise and to carry people to higher levels of spiritual enlightenment. Over time, the crane has also evolved as a favorite subject of the tradition of paper folding – origami. It is said that a thousand folded cranes, one for each year of its life, makes a wish come true.

Shortly after the end of World War II, the folded origami cranes also came to symbolize a hope for peace through Sadako Sasaki and her unforgettable story of perseverance. Diagnosed with leukemia after being exposed to radiation after the bombing of Hiroshima, Sadako became determined to fold 1,000 cranes in hopes of recovering good health, happiness, and a world of eternal peace. Although she completed 644 before she died, her classmates folded the remaining 356 to honor her. A statue was raised in the Hiroshima Peace Park to commemorate her strong spirit.

Today this practice of folding 1,000 cranes represents a form of healing and hope during challenging times. After the events of September 11, as a gesture of support and healing, thousands of cranes were folded and linked together in chains and sent to fire and police stations, museums, and churches throughout New York City.

Traditionally, flocks of 1,000 cranes are offered at shrines or temples with prayer, based on the belief that the effort to fold such a large number will surely be rewarded. Chains are often given to someone suffering from illness, as a prayer for their recovery, as a wish for happiness, and as an expression of sympathy and peace. A prayer often spoken over time by mothers seeking the protection of cranes has been:

“O flock of heavenly cranes
cover my child with your wings.”

With these values floating throughout the collage, that of hope, peace, happiness and eternal youth, I am feeling as though good things are at hand. One thing I take note of though is an awareness that the scissors are in balance. If they stay in balance all is well. If not, the crane comes tumbling, could even be cut in two, could fly away and turn into Icarus. So much to think about. So much to write about.

But I will leave it there: it is enough to ponder the question “Why do it?” and see how these values influence my answer. The project has happiness and peace surrounding it. It is also capable of being threatened. Someone just needs to roll that rock and it can come tumbling down. Or can it?

I look more deeply and find other stories that could provide other outcomes. For another time.

laughter is the best medicine

laughter is the best medicine

Don’t forget the humour.
Never forget the laughter.
Always tell the joke
again and again and again.

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HOME…photo by Bev Jensen

HOME…photo by Bev Jensen

“Coming Home”, a performance that was described as beautiful, heart aching, whimsical and lighthearted has come to an end. Simon Tate, the head drama teacher at Queensland Academies of Creative Industries, where we were artists in residence, described it like this in his facebook post:

I’m just going to come out and say it – all my theatre friends should come and see Coming Home. I just love it so much I want to share it with people that will appreciate the storytelling, the simplicity and the empowerment of 21 young artists who are completely present – because they want to be, rather than because they are trying to prove something, or are suffering to be intense, or any other pretense. They just want to tell the stories they now own as a means of writing their own. Well played Margi Brown Ash – you can now fart, drop the mic and walk off stage to thunderous applause.


I love the irreverence that we all embraced while creating this show: we broke what rules we could break safely, we swore like troopers (just joking, Education Department), laughed, cried, yelled, danced and meditated. We reflected, we dreamed, we evoked the Muse of Theatre to come and visit us, we met and engaged with our Entelechy. Dr. Jean Houston, my mentor from Ashland, Oregon, teaches about how our entelechy can enrich our process: just as the oak tree is the acorn’s entelechy, our entelechy can be evoked to help us achieve our potential and possibility.

Six weeks of working in class time and two or three afternoons a week, we created a collage of texts from my The Belonging Trilogy, including Eve, HOME and He Dreamed a Train.

We adapted the performance so that 22 beautifully passionate 15 year olds could work the stage. They moved as one, stepping into role and stepping out again. We began with a list of scenes that the young folk really liked: we read the scripts and chose the scenes that resonated with us. The selected scenes did not dramaturgically belong next to each other, but our team (including Ben Knapton and Travis Ash) had faith that there was an underlining connector, all we had to do was wait for it to present itself. It took five weeks to find the path to re-map the core of all three plays. The core of the play, or the spine of the play finally became:

“How do we deal with, or how do we re-story long term grief and loss so that we can move on in our lives?”

Depressing theme for teenagers? Not in the least. The joyful exuberance that the young folk brought to the stage ensured that we did not tip into melancholy. The intense dramatics of the theme of death and dying also matched the drama that sat within these potent beautiful young actors.

I learn so much from young actors: they reminded me why I have stayed in the theatre profession for over 40 years. They reminded me of the importance of schools such as ‪Queensland Academy of Creative Industries (QACI), a performing arts senior high school that embraces creativity and accomplishment. They reminded me of the power of relationship. The power of story.

So after four performances, the show has closed. But there is big take-away. At the same time as we rehearsed the chosen scenes, we also learned processes to keep the actor safe and healthy. Why? Because acting is the only art form whereby the artists’ instrument is their body and their emotions. The brain does not distinguish between make believe and reality. Sadness is sadness. Anger is anger. The actor has to learn ways of de-roling after a show so that they can return to their world clear and lively, not weighed down the psychology of the character or the limitations of the world of the play.

How do we stay safe as performers? One way is embracing Relational Impulse Training (RIT). I devised the training a few years ago now (there is an article about RIT on this website ). This postmodern training is based on collaborative therapy principles, focusing on relationships, the space between, the multiplicity of selves and the multiplicity of stories. This is where the magic lies. We are relational beings and as such are altered by what is happening between and among each other. There is never just one story. There are multiple interpretations of everything that happens. For the young person to gain an understanding that their story is not necessarily THE truth, just A truth, will stand them in good stead.

The acting training also includes frameworks such as The Four Agreements, by Miguel Ruiz, four ways of being in the world:


1. Don’t take things personally: there are always multiple perspectives and multiple ways of interpreting.

2. Do not assume anything: stay curious, ask questions, stay alive to other interpretations outside of your own.

3. Use impeccable language: for us that meant we needed to be positive and affirmative when talking about others, always with the thought that they could overhear what we are saying and not get upset.

4. Always do our best and keep connected to the space between me and my fellow actor.

Simple principles that make a whole lot of sense… the actors leave the whole theatre making process with a deep understanding of self and others and how they fit into the scheme of things:

1. They leave with a knowledge of ritual and its importance within the creative cycle. They understand the creative cycle, the ebbs and flows, the ‘I am drowning/I am waving’ syndrome…one second it feels like you are drowning and the next second it feels like you are rejoicing, the highs and lows of the creative process…

2. They leave with a very fine experience of what it is to be an ensemble. That it is not all sweetness and light. That there are difficult times, difficult relationships, difficult decisions to be made. But, when the young actor looks into the eyes of her/his fellow ensemble member, they see themselves:

“I am only as strong as the smallest and frailest within the ensemble, so it is my responsibility, my duty to help my fellow actors achieve their potential”.

Only then will my ensemble thrive.

Our FORCE OF CIRCUMSTANCE team is hoping that this experience is the basis of a prototype which could be taken into senior schools as an Artist in Residence model, where the young folk choose the passages from The Belonging Trilogy and create a new story about grief, loss, re-dreaming their own stories and at the same time recognising their own resilience, joy, healing and friendship without the judgement that we so often witness in our culture.

The ensemble did thrive. They understood connectedness. They understood what it was like when they stepped out on their front foot, rather than leaning back waiting for things to happen. They understood the need to listen, to remain curious and to leave judgement at the door. To avoid what I label “car park gossip”, the talking about someone behind their back…a most damaging cultural practice that needs to be modified.

Here are some of the things that the ensemble wrote in “My Book of Myths” that they presented to me on our last evening together. It is a beautiful, handmade book and I will treasure it for a long time:

Photo of Book of Myths
My Book of Myths, created by Year 10 QACI

I have read my new, highly valued Book of Myths, beautiful personal stories about transformation, re-generation, learning and love and connection.

Here are just some extracts, the ones that will make sense in isolation.

Things our ensemble learned from the Coming Home experience. Sometimes I have changed pronouns so that it reads more easily:

1. “To believe in myself”
2. “To be generous with our performance”
3. “To be generous with our voice”
4. “We have so much potential, we are so much bigger than we thought we were, both on and off the stage”
5. “This experience has completely altered my existence and my views on everything”
6. Our ensemble is “stuck together with superglue, spirit and brilliance”.
7. “I made a promise to myself…that I would put all of my ideas forward so that I could grow as a theatre practitioner, and as a person, an individual”
8. “…permission to be alive and real in this space”
9. “Accepting constant change means it is far more difficult to hold onto the things that hold us back”
10. “I am a multi-faceted individual with tens of thousands of stories to tell”
11. “This is where I belong”
12. “The arrows are not what I thought they were, they are really seeds growing out of me”
13. “It was such a beautiful experience seeing everyone become a big and happy family and be able to show people our passion towards art”
14. “Car park gossip is damaging”

So another show closes, but the resonances and reflections continue on and on, because

Aren’t we are work in progress?
Aren’t we every story we’ve ever heard
Every place and time we’ve ever been
Every person we’ve ever met
Every myth we’ve ever dreamed

Our lives, my darlings, are huge
Who shall tell the stories
What stories shall we tell

(HOME, 2015).

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PLAY IS THE THING, NOT SO MUCH ‘THE PLAY’, a reflection on theatre making and risk taking

Wedding the mythological with the domestic, Travis Ash portrays his version of The Myth of Er through the eyes of a 7 year old.

Wedding the mythological with the domestic, Travis Ash portrays his version of The Myth of Er through the eyes of a 7 year old.

Since early 2000’s Leah Mercer, based in Western Australia and I have been collaborators, working on show after show, writing, performing, producing, learning from each other. This last week she has been involved in The Directors Lab in Melbourne, including 9 directors from Western Australia and 0 directors based in Queensland.

I would have dearly loved to be there but I am working. Leah sent an article to all of us on FACEBOOK this morning and it has excited me: “Simon McBurney on devised theatre: its absolutely petrifying”, written by Dominic Cavendish. We learn more about the well established and well loved company Complicite and how their process incorporates writing, rehearsal, translataion, writing in this order. McBurney explains that usually the process is reversed in most theatre making: writing, rehearsal, performance, translation. In our company FORCE OF CIRCUMSTANCE and NEST ENSEMBLE it is a similar approach to Complicite: despite the fact that we may begin with a script, we end up with a lot of the writing happening at the end. Everything changes constantly. And that is why this process is ‘petrifying’ though I prefer the word ‘terrifyingly wonderful’. Petrify conjures up stuckness in my mind, rather than fluid terror.

What has really excited me in this article is a very simple explanation of process. I will quote the article so you get it straight:

“McBurney trained in Paris with Jacques Lecoq acquiring skills in clowning, mime and physical theatre and the ethos that “play” mattered more than “the play”.

Now this is what I have believed for over forty years. Play on stage is the most important element of theatre. The words come second. Now many practitioners would disagree with this statement. “Respect the writer they would insist”, seeing this as a lack of respect rather than an absolute respect of the fluid artform. One practitioner I have worked with for many years, Dr. Mark Radvan, who now heads the acting strand at QUT, embraces this idea of play big time, embracing impulse training as the foundational skill of the actor. Impulse work is all about relational play, first of all the relationship of cells within the artists body, then the relationship of the cells between the actors bodies on stage.

I deeply believe that the artform of the performer is to enliven and grow meaning in multiple ways, be it physically (on a cellular level), emotionally (not indulgent emotion but raw and deeply rooted), intellectually, spiritually. and most importantly: relationally… something that is rarely focused on…

Sometimes we get stuck in one of these rather than embracing all five aspects of what it is to be human….words are one thing. Life is another…and relationship is everything. The relationship among actors, their relationship to the set, their relationship to the audience, now that’s more interesting.

This all embracing relational philosophy is not so popular here in Oz (although there are some wonderful theatre makers who do embrace this including my latest experience with La Boite’s artistic director Todd MacDonald and “Prize Fighter” where he adopted a very fluid and impactful process) and it seems we are in good company overseas. Stella Adler, who I trained with many years ago seemed to uphold this way of being on stage although she worded it differently. As did my mentor Hayes Gordon, that great teacher who started The Ensemble Theatre in Sydney all those years ago.

Our artform as performers is to enliven, to awaken, to enthuse our audience. If we are awake, we can respond to hundreds of things going on in front of us…and at the same time play clean actions that are suggested by the script itself.

Most of all. Beyond all of this. Our job as performers is to inspire and after my immersion into Greek Mythology with the epic Dr. Jean Houston these last few weeks, I am well aware of the power that the mythic world can bring to the performer. We can inhabit our personal myth, wed it with the personal myth of the character we are playing and create an experience for our audience that is universal. And then there is the group myth: what is the group myth of the play?

The richness in this approach I think will give an epic dimension to the most domestic drama. Brisbane theatre wizz-kid (not so kid anymore), the generous and impactful Daniel Evans is great at embodying this in his work, wedding the universal and the domestic. It is what I aspire to do in all my work

“I will perform for you so that the extraordinariness of an ordinary life will be uncovered”
MBA in HOME, 2015.

Working at Queensland Academy of Creative Industries (QACI) with the year 10 drama students, collaboratively-directing them in a collaged version of The Belonging Trilogy (consisting of bits of Eve, HOME and He Dreamed a Train”) I am resonating big time with Robert LePage who, in the same article, describes his process as being like an explorer. He gathers his people and says:

“We are going to a new continent. How far is it? Are there monsters? I don’t know-all I know is there’s something there and I’m going to try and lead you there”.

This is certainly how I am feeling right now. We have large monsters, gods and goddesses. We have devils and angels. We have multiple worlds and multiple dimensions.

And we are all in the boat, but where we are going is stlll unclear. Benjamin Knapton joins us on Monday as we continue this path of adventure..Simon Tate and Stephen Matthias are also in this gloriously alive boat…or should I say train. a train without tracks…