I always remind myself that it’s coming, and I’m always surprised when it gets here.
Usually it takes three or four days of existential emptiness and depression before I remember that this is all part of the process, and that it happens every time, and that it will pass.
This time, instead of just enduring the pain of this transition I want to understand it better. I want to use the energy of my crash landing to further embody myself and to connect with the deeper currents that might be available at these moments.
As I finished the performances of The Dislocation Express this past weekend, I was also finishing a steady run of major projects that has lasted for over a year. Last July Dandelion premiered the huge extravaganza that was Dan Plonsey’s Bar Mitzvah at the San Francisco Contemporary Jewish Museum. Shortly thereafter we spent two weeks in NYC for our reality-show inspired performance competition project, Don’t Suck! We came back and jumped right into preparations for our traveling community performance project 6 Degrees, which we staged in Los Angeles and Davis. Soon after that our intensive residency at CounterPULSE began, and Friend was created and performed. Meanwhile rehearsals were in motion for Seven Deadly Sins and Taboo Stew at CSUEB (both with a cast of 20+) and for The Dislocation Express with AXIS Dance Company. The CSUEB pieces premiered in May, The Dislocation Express in July, and in the midst of it all, we planned and produced the 12-hour WonderSlow performance on June 10th in downtown Oakland. It was quite a year!
I’ve been through the wringer this year regarding the highs and lows of performance and I feel beat up. It’s not so much that the company and I were more active than usual, but that there were so many separate major projects to create and share and learn from and come down from. So many intensively intimate communities created and disbanded like sandcastles on the beach.
Usually we create one full production in a year, and build up to it with lots of work-in-progress showings. So usually it’s one big crash at some point. But this time I was feeling the devastating crash over and over again, almost every other month. As painful as that’s been, it’s also allowed me to see this dynamic in a new way.
I’m recognizing repeating patterns:
- I tend to think that this time I’ll be prepared and can prevent an emotional crash, and then suddenly I find myself depressed and lost and can’t remember that it’s part of a repeating cycle.
- I’ll often be doing okay the day or two after the ending of a project, and then some little thing will set me off and I feel instantly raw, helpless, overwhelmed, and painfully alone–then I’m irretrievably sunken into the crash.
- The level of the highs of connection and embodiment experienced during the performance run are directly proportionate to the level of the lows afterwards.
- I head towards addictive behaviors when I’m in the post-performance crash landing–things like binging on chocolate and sweets, becoming completely caught up in whatever my latest TV show or fantasy book series happens to be, buying a lot of stuff, comparing myself to others, etc.
- I tend to both want to see the people who I collaborated with on the performance project, and want to hide out at home and not see anyone.
- It really helps when I have a week or two of down time or at least a light schedule in order to re-find myself, but even then it’s not an easy process.
Over the past decade I’ve worked with seeing the endings of my performance projects as deaths of a sort. As deaths, each one needs grieving. So I’ve attempted to grieve these endings as fully as I could. This often involves watching and editing video of the performances, spending time being creative by myself, working in the garden, crying, allowing myself to just feel blue, reaching out to my collaborators, exercising and following my intuition as best as possible.
I still think that it is indeed a grieving process that needs to happen after each performance project, but I’m understanding grief in a different way now. When my close friend Sharon died late last year and I made the piece Friend in her honor, my colleague Nina Haft said something in response to the piece that has been a great help for me. She spoke about how when we lose someone or something important, it’s like the scab is ripped off an old wound and we are suddenly flooded with all the grief of all the losses we’ve ever had.
So instead of trying to move through grief about one particular loss, I’m now seeing the path at my feet as one of making friends with the grief-state itself. Yes I miss the performers that were part of The Dislocation Express, and WonderSlow, and Friend, and all the projects this year. And yes, I miss the energetic states that we were able to reach collectively in the rehearsal and performance experiences. But just as those moments of truth and beauty that we found were not exclusive to us or these particular projects, but rather were a tapping into something much larger and universal–so is this grief a tapping into something much larger and universal.
It can’t be remedied by any one ritual or catharsis. It’s not just about saying goodbye to what I’ve been part of this year, but rather a returning to parts of myself that are undeveloped and uncomfortable and hard to sit with.
The grief that I am in touch with as the performance lights fade and everyone has gone their separate ways feels the same as the grief I’ve carried since I was a child, the same as the grief I felt as a lost teenager at war with mysef, the same as the grief that resurfaces when I loose someone special, and the same as the grief I feel for all the parts of my life that haven’t worked out as I wanted.
Performance has the power to open up windows and doorways into the divine that are always available but usually so hard to access. And while that feels empowering and joyful and validating at the time, it also means that this blast of divine presence will stir up all the muck that’s been lying around out of sight. It’s a purification process of sorts, that brings everything to the surface. I open myself profoundly in my performance projects and I carry that openness back with me into my life and I’m overwhelmed by everything that comes rushing in and out because of it.
When looked at in this way, I see the post-performance experience as a time of great potential for growth. But I have to give time to this. I have to remember that a project doesn’t end with the last performance, but rather it enters a new stage, with so much still to be learned.
This isn’t talked about much in the performance communities I’m a part of. We do acknowledge a kind of postpartum depression after shows, but most of the time we try to distract ourselves from that by getting busy again, partying, using drugs or alcohol or sex as an escape, or numbing out in some way.
I wonder what it would be like if performance projects like the ones we do had extra time after the performances to be used for collaborative processing of the journey everyone involved had been on. What if we gave the kind of care and commitment that we give to preparing for a show to the integrating of the show once it’s done? I’m curious about experimenting with this idea. I think it might give us more “bang for our buck” in terms of how much inner and collective growth is possible for performance ensembles.
The way it usually works now leaves me feeling depleted after a performance run. I think a large part of that is a flaw in the structures for ensemble creation that I use. Lots of important energy leaks out right after the shows because there is no container for it. So each one of us empties out by ourselves, rather than pouring the power we’ve built up back into the ensemble’s care and back into our commitment to learning and growing together.