Work in Progress 2- Vulnerability

Feb 13 2017

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Joe Rosser

It’s one week after my ‘Stage Fright’ performance and I’m getting over a heavy cold. It’s been a peculiar week of unscheduled life-stress piled upon the poisonous aftermath of the stage fright experiment. 

It feels like my body has been screaming “PLEASE JUST STOP AND REST” all week, but I haven’t been able to, as I’ve had Things To Deal With. So my patient, work-horse body kept the show on the road all week until I’d finished all the Things and then elegantly collapsed with a raging temperature.

I haven’t been ill like this for a very long time and it puts me in mind of those little breaks in touring, where I would do nothing but sleep and sleep and sleep. 

My ‘stage fright’ data has been skewed by the extra life-stress this week, but I’m still physically exploring the effect of excess stress on the brain / body. I'm interested in how for some professions, excess stress is just a given. I’ve been thinking about how the jobs I've worked in (acting, circus, directing, teaching, playwork) have offered precious little help to understand or manage the symptoms of stress. Although these are not front-line jobs (like fire-fighting or being a human rights lawyer or a paramedic or a nurse…), I have always carried a lot of responsibility for others in my professional roles, which has always led to excess stress. 

My therapy training has helped me develop much better practice in all my work, including developing my reflective practice, learning how to use supervision, keeping myself grounded and understanding much more about what might be going on in the room and how it’s not all my responsibility to fix. So with safer practice and instant stress-valves, I don’t tend to make myself ill like this these days. I wonder if it could be possible to translate all this knowledge to my performance; I kind of did, for the last show, bringing in more support and the microphone as stage fright / stress-valve, but I'm not sure this particular technique would would work for the average stage actor. 

Stage fright, like all other fear, floods the body with cortisol which can do serious damage if experienced frequently. Here’s a little animated talk by Madhumita Murgia on the dangers of excess stress in the brain and body, it’s worth a watch if you’re curious about how stress might be affecting you.

This has all led me to thinking about the stigma of mental illness in the work place and how hard it is in many professions to admit that you’re struggling. This pisses me off, especially as stress is such a common experience. Nobody’s fine all the time. Nobody copes all the time. The more we pretend, the more damage we do to ourselves and each other. The sooner we can receive ourselves and each other just as we are, without needing perfection or extraordinariness to win our own or each other’s affection, the happier we will all be.

So, all this thinking, mixed with the audience feedback from 'Stage Fright' has determined that my second of three work in progress shows will be about vulnerability, as the precursor to sharing / connection, an antidote to stress. I’ll be exploring my own vulnerability on stage. I won’t be getting naked (been there, done that!) but I will be designing performance experiments that will allow me to step into my vulnerability and report back on how it feels to be witnessed vulnerable, as well as exploring any blocks that appear in the moment. 

You are most welcome. The next show is on Sunday 5th March at 7.30 at The Wardrobe Theatre. Pay what you decide at the end. Venue info here.

Facebook event here.

More about Holly Stoppit's Work In Progress here.

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