The Java Jive: Depicting Trauma on Stage

It happens. You get an incredible role – with trauma in it. Thankfully, you haven’t experienced anything like this in real life. You haven’t lost a loved one. Or been trapped in a garret to avoid persecution. Or been burnt at a stake. Or walked down the street and be assaulted – or accused of something you never would do. So how do you deliver a real and authentic performance when you have no such life experience to draw from?

We’ve all seen it happen. A normally talented performer becomes wooden and emotionally-affective during a fight scene, retreats during aggressive stage conflict, or worse – “fights the part”. How do we transcend this “fight or flight” instinct? How do we keep it real and authentic on stage?

It answer is simple. What parallels have you experienced that you can draw from? Maybe, thankfully, you have never lost a spouse, parent, or sibling, but, you might have helped a friend through the pain – or know the pain of losing your pet. Think on how you would, with kindness and empathy, help them. Then, use that as your starting point.

The stages of grief are universal. The rules would definitely apply to this pandemic. As humans, we deny. We bargain. We are shell shocked. We grieve. We become depressed and angry. And finally, we find some acceptance. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Because the stages of grief can come and go as we process these painful losses. The loss of a job and our identity. The loss of our childhood home. The loss of a child. The loss of what we thought was permanent and safe and protected.

That is what we take to the stage. That is what we give to the audience. The honesty of the emotion. The bravery of showing it through our actions. And portray hope for the future

Challenges to Percolate:

Be super brave for five minutes today.

  • Think about something you mourn. Remember “the emotions in the room” at that time. Think what got you through it, that you could bring to a role in healing.
  • “Text” a letter to a character you struggled with, showing your support for them, and then read it as that character would. Allow this to be a “moving action” to heal.

© The Pfluger Empathy Movement Method

THE JAVA JIVE: Acting Means Inspiration!

You are surrounded by “Inspiration” every day. And that inspiration, channeled, can make you INCREDIBLE on stage. Inspiration is the “verb” of acting. It’s NOT the idle dream of making it big. It’s the lifeblood that allows you to craft your character and bring it to life with nuance, honesty – creating magic.

INSPIRATION allows you to eloquently craft a story as a stage ensemble, because you are developing a wholistic micro and macro world view – not drawing from a single source, but from an ocean of learning and understanding. In short, inspiration EMPOWERS you to be a spherical, unlimited powerhouse.  

Rule Two – Where’s Your Inspiration?

So, how do you get IT? Don’t rush it. Give yourself permission to disconnect from tech as you know it and connect to life differently. Immerse yourself in every art form. Explore an art museum or different cultures. Maybe attend a music concert or a dance form that is unique to you? You will find inspiration in HOW to move differently in character. Explore nature, a zoo, or a National Geographic video. Asking how creatures interact or fight SHAPES our character portrayals.

People-watch, take pics or sketch in public. Take in a nature walk and listen to how your breathing changes. BECOME a student of the world and cultures – in a Museum. Be aware and inspired by the “different”.

Immerse yourself in different perspectives as to NOT lose your perspective. This INSPIRATION will inspire countless people to become their best selves.

Challenges to Percolate:

Devote ten minutes to nurture yourself by:

  • Thinking HOW you would describe your world and story to someone from a different time or culture.
  • Do something different.
  • Read and ACT a classic poem.
  • Make a pact with a friend to share your “people watching” stories.
  • Listen to a This American Life in podcast.
  • Think how art shapes a culture or society or how it reflects it!

© The Pfluger Empathy Movement Method

THE JAVA JIVE: So, how do you even “DO” acting in a pandemic?

Acting Means Staying Active! 

You know that there’s MORE to you than scrolling through Instagram! So don’t cheat yourself by taking your foot off the gas! The secret is to “Push Yourself, but Not Push Yourself Over”! There is always room to grow, on stage – and off. The secret is that ACTING is that it is a VERB! Something that you AUTHENTICALLY and ACTIVELY “DO”!

Rule One – Progress, not Perfection!

To TRULY ACT, we MUST TRULY “BE” present on stage, and present in life… And that takes STAMINA!  And you need to exercise your stamina like you would exercise your muscles… or your brain. First! Give yourself permission to not “be perfect”. Acknowledge that this is a process.

Why don’t you start by setting a timer for five minutes? Try not “zoning out” when you are listening to a conversation in the room, or on a show – and REACT authentically. In short, BE PRESENT!  If you are feeling super brave, read and “perform” for yourself in the mirror. Make friends with your facial expressions, your breathing, and your emotions. Because what an audience WANTS to see is how an ACTOR/ACTRESS responds and reacts with realness. Give them, and you, that gift! Let them see that light bulb moment! Remember, on stage to “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy”. Genius comes through trial and error!

Challenge to “Percolate”:   Show your virtual “audience”/family/friends five different reactions and responses that are unique and let them guess your thoughts and reactions. Go for a BIG reaction. To quote the Frizz, “Take chances. Make mistakes. Get messy”… and prepare to be AWESOME!

© The Pfluger Empathy Movement Method