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.
In 2017 we will be conducting a February workshop in Pullenvale where we will focus on our own becoming: how do we move forward and create change in a world that seemingly is heading towards (for many of those in the arts) an uncomfortable fit?
Dates are coming when I work them out.
Margi’s active blog, chats she posts weekly, can be found on www.margibrownash.com
This year has been a fast and furious one, with no time to do my usual workshops in “The Playpen”, the name I call our workplace where I live. Many years ago, when our fourth child was born, we created an area that we called The Playpen, where children could play and not be threatened by the wildlife here. Back then it was also used as a tennis court. Over the years we have let it go and now there is an uneven surface, turf torn, net gone, but it is perfect for playful creative practice. We erected a small stage, from the set of the play Eve, the first of my Trilogy and threw in Eve’s bathtub where she would “write the lines of shape and shadow”. We have tables and umbrellas and a fireplace for the cold evenings.
So, because I have not had my usual three day workshop this year, I decided to invite colleagues out to play. Over the years I have formed groups of women and men to engage in creative practice. One of these groups from two years ago was called “Writing My Way Forward”. We have a Facebook page and keep in touch sporadically. I contacted the writers, along with our “Women in Theatre Bridge Club”, a political group of women endeavouring to work towards gender parity in our theatre industry–you will hear more of this group in the new year–and we decided to meet at The Playpen and hold a salon, a place of sharing stories. I set up inside the house this time: the sky was threatening rain. Our living room studio is perfect for creative work, full of hundreds of books and paintings of all calibre. I set up for collage: piles of magazines, pastels, pencils, glue sticks and cartridge paper. I made brownies, cheese plate, lemon water and three different teas. People began to arrive with plates of delicious food to share, we poured our tea and began.
Far less formal than a workshop, the salon provided opportunities for the group to inform each other. We began with a sort of informal check in sharing where we were at. I love checking in, be it over a coffee with a friend or a workshop with three hundred people. It is a chance to hear where people are physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. We heard about some of the changes that have happened for people, some of the dreams that still have to awaken, some of the achievements this year had allowed. All of the themes were relevant for everyone: we were all artists, most of us were mothers of varying aged children, and we all dealt with the issue of wedding our artistic life with our domestic living and at the same time earn a living. The importance of self care for the artist was emphasised, it always is when artists get together at The Playpen: we try to do too much for too many and then wonder why we feel burned out.
After about the fourth person’s check in, one of the guests opened a large box of pencils. That was interpreted by the group as permission to begin and so while we were chatting, the creative work began: drawing, doodling, tearing out words and images from tens of magazines. We continued this way for the next few hours, only stopping to refill our teacups and indulge in the treats on the table next to us.
On completion of our collages, we talked about what we could see: what images sat next to other images, shapes, size, colour, intensity, that sort of thing. Normally, if this was a workshop, I would help guide the unpacking of the collage, pointing out different things that I saw. This would then be opened up to the group, who, with careful use of language (no assumptions or interpretations are needed) tell their own story in relation to the person’s collage. Eg. “When I see that I think of…” All of these stories add data to our own understanding of what “we don’t know we know”. This way of working has been highly influenced by several approaches to understanding: MIECAT, a creative arts institution based in Melbourne, which focuses on finding meaning through art making; and COLLABORATIVE PRACTICE (Taos Institute), a postmodern way of being in the world that embraces multiplicity of self and other, multiplicity of stories and an awareness of the environment that contributes to the situation at hand. In our salon, the unfolding of meaning happened collaboratively. We all responded in our own time to what was happening in front of us: what we saw, what we felt, what we heard and what we imagined.
What emerged last evening interested me enormously and took me back to Greece last month, where I co-facilitated with Dr. Jean Houston and Jennifer Evanko. We experienced an “Aesclepion Group Dream”, where parts of one person’s dream were relevant to all. This is what happened with our collaging: we could take parts of our fellow traveller’s collage and apply it to our own lives. This expanded and enriched our own meaning.
What I love about collage is that everyone can do it. People rarely feel confronted with the task. I issued no instructions this time (usually I do) and people approached it all differently. Some started with doodling, some doodling turned into symbols. Some began drawing and then built on the drawing with images from magazines. I like to have a wide variety of magazines available and one of my favourite are the old National Geographic. But you can just as easily do it with contents from your handbag or brief case. Or your top drawer.
As I look at my collage this morning I can see it has two distinct sides to it, divided by a beautiful image of an actor standing in the centre of a floor filled with faces. The room has an ancient feel to it: a great hallway in the true tradition of the hallway, where everything happened, not so much a hallway today, a passage to somewhere else. Though as I look at this image I see that it is a passage to the imagination. This central image is the one I am ‘indwelling’, applying it to constructs inside my head, experiencing it, dreaming it. Images have power in them and if we allow time to absorb that force it can give gifts of transformation. I notice in the lower right hand corner an orange chair, a chair for storytelling, for dreaming. It is empty.
As I write this post, my friend calls from USA. And I immediately think: no, the chair was waiting. I place myself in the chair and hold my telephone (in fact it is a computer) and we begin to talk. We are creating new stories together, trips to ancient lands to rediscover the potential and possibilities of our future selves. A time to reflect and grow new ways of being in the world. We chat for a long time about different things, including what Jean Houston calls Terma: here is a link that will give you an idea of what a Terma is: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terma_(religion),
An idea, a symbol that we can plant in our past and in our future so that we can to move towards a purity of action. What can I do in this world to make it a place of nurture, of wonderment for the community at large?
Everything we do can contribute to enlarging the joy and aliveness of each day. Our salon of yesterday has enriched all of us. As I move through today I have firmly inside the images that I arranged (subconsciously) onto some cartridge paper. I have images that my colleagues chose. All swimming around inside my head. And I have a phone call positioned in my orange chair in the lower right quadrant, reminding me of the dreams for 2016. Soon we will be inviting you all to be part of that dreaming.
My intention today:
May today be a day of richness. May every image that enters our consciousness enrich us in some capacity and move us forward towards an authenticity of awareness, deep attentiveness and joy: the secrets of character.
“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.
Simon Tate, FACEBOOK POST.
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 www.4change.com.au ). 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:
THE FOUR AGREEMENTS BY MIGUEL RUIZ, ADAPTED FOR QACI YEAR 10:
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:
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
It’s early Saturday morning and I am sitting on my verandah. the kookaburras are chatting. There is a slight breeze. As always, a fire is burning to take the chill off the air – its not really burning…this one is an electric fire with a pretend flame…I love it. It is what i call my compromise fire. Bill does not like heat. I like heat, so when he is close, I turn on the flame and leave off the heat. An exquisite compromise! The real fire in the next room only gets lit at night.
Lou Lou our labrador/poodle/golden retriever mix is with me. This is my first day off for weeks and I am luxuriating in the lack of deadlines. The coffee is good, the company great and the thoughts flow.
This week was my birth week, a great week of reflection. Not only on my own life, but how my work has shifted and grown over the last few years. I should not even call it work, it is more of a vocation, a passion, what I must do rather than what I do. We are moving closer towards opening HOME in the new studio at Queensland Theatre Company –the name chosen for the studio will be announced on HOME opening: here is a cut and paste from QTC website:
Queensland Theatre Company presents a Force of Circumstance production
by Margi Brown Ash
14 July – 25 July
Margi and her paper house, photo by Bev Jensen
HOME, Studio 2, The GreenHouse, QTC
“This sensitive, lively work empowers the audience as Brown Ash brings us all Home. A rare and refreshing theatrical work that connects the whole audience. Not to be missed.”
In Margi Brown Ash’s HOME, you are not an audience member, you are a guest – or even a family member – visiting a warm and welcoming place where Margi shares with you stories of her life and family. She blends these ‘ordinary’ joys and tragedies with ‘extraordinary’ stories of family and love – from Egyptian gods, Isis and Osiris, to perhaps even your own story.
This experience will leave you relishing and re-imagining what makes each of our stories remarkable. Welcome HOME.
Getting ready for a workshop
In conjunction with the HOME season at QTC, the HOME team, led by Margi Brown Ash, is offering two public workshops. These 3-hour immersive workshops will inspire and encourage you to explore what home means and to remember your forgotten stories of belonging; including ‘dreaming on’ the potential of what home could mean for your future. Games, drawing, collage-making exercises and simple story-telling activities combine in this fun, inventive and all-inclusive workshop – designed to unlock your creative impulses, to deepen your experience of the show and to awaken your glorious inner storyteller.
SAT 18 JULY: 9:30am – 12:30pm (FOLLOWED by complimentary afternoon tea)
THU 23 JULY: 2pm – 5pm (PRECEDED by a complimentary morning tea)
HOME to me has been five years of relationship. I have met many people on the way, many folk have been through this old red house. In 2011 we began to create The HOME Team. This was the year of development, where we grew the show, not only in the rehearsal room, but also in the garden. My objective was to create workshops that helped people open to their own stories of home. I invited three of my Master of Counselling students to join me each Tuesday, along with HOME designer Bev Jensen, to create the experience of home. What is home? How can we help others awaken the beauty and joy of creating home? Bev created a master plan. We decided to develop several rooms in the garden loosely based on Edna Walling:
Walling advocated simplicity in all elements of design, so that nothing detracted from the integrity of the setting. Buildings should be simple, of rock and timber, with wooden shingles.
Each of her beautifully rendered garden plans shows her use of formal axis and structure, of flights of steps, both linear and semicircular, of generous bodies of water and expert treatment of sloping land with terraces bound by walls of local stone.
In the gardens she designed in the second half of her career, Walling sought to touch the landscape with a lighter hand. “Man has a duty,” she wrote, “to leave behind him as small account of his activities as possible.”
Excerpt from “Edna Walling’s life of many paths” by HOLLY KERR FORSYTH in THE AUSTRALIAN JUNE 14, 2014.
We met each Tuesday morning sharing our baked goods. My favourite were Kate’s almond biscuits. Kate used only the almond meal instead of flour and lots of butter. I don’t have her recipe but here is a good one:
Ingredients by Gabriel Gaté
250 g (9 oz) caster sugar
2 egg whites
140 g (5 oz) plain flour
180 g (6 oz) whole roasted almonds, halved
½ tsp pure vanilla essence
a little icing sugar, for dusting
In a bowl, combine the sugar and egg whites and whisk until creamy white. Mix flour, almonds, vanilla essence and refrigerate for an hour. Roll into small balls and flatten, then place the biscuits on greased tray. 200°C.
Bake 8 minutes or until done. When cold, dust them with icing sugar.
We drank exotic teas:
· Use freshly drawn water, freshly boiled. It must not be reboiled.
· Use the correct-sized teapot. To heat, pour some of the water, just before boiling, into the pot. Swirl and empty away.
· Use orthodox, good-quality leaf tea. Grades such as Broken Orange Pekoe (BOP) or BOP Fannings are popular. Indian Assam second-flush is thick, soft-liquoring and malty, and Cleon Dimbula is a good standard for a flavoury tea. Use one spoonful per person and one for the pot.
· Fill the pot and stir gently for a few moments. Infuse for five minutes. Use a timer to get this right.
· Put room-temperature whole milk into the cup first. Use about one and a half tablespoonfuls. Do not use skimmed milk.
· To ensure that the leaves do not get into the cup, pour tea through a mesh strainer. Fill the cup to 1cm from the rim.
· After the first pouring, add extra hot water to the teapot, so as to continue drawing further flavour and strength from the leaves.
· Always discard cold tea at the bottom of the cup before a second pouring.
· Even if the tea has been brewing for 10 minutes, orthodox leaf tea will not become too strong or bitter.
· Use a tea cosy.
Taste test (quote from How to drink tea by Edward Bramah, in The Guardian, 26 March 2003)
There is always a pot of tea brewing
We shared stories around the garden table before we began planting and creating rooms such as The Kitchen, The Bedroom and The Library. These ‘rooms’ were to become little performance spaces where actors could create autobiographical stories of home to be performed to friends on Sunday evenings. The actors also used the house itself to create their stories: one performed in a large cardboard box in the kitchen, another on the stairs.
They were joyful years creating home at home. Some of the rooms are still here, others have been recreated. The vegetable garden has changed location to catch more sun, the passionfruit vine has died and needs to be replanted. The almond cookies helped me gain a few kilos and have been relegated to the ‘occasional’ treat. But the resonances of these experiences still lingers in my old red house. Hundreds of stories by actors and friends.