Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Return to Wonder: Courage

*Some small apologies in advance for the structure of these posts.  They are barely that, but personal ramblings made up of past journal entries and current thoughts.  I wish you all the luck in the world in following!*

One of the first quotes Gilbert shares in Big Magic is a quote of Jack Gilbert's:

"We must risk delight. We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world."

My first weeks in Abu Dhabi were full of nothing but this feeling of absolute sheer delight.  Having only ever left my home country for a trip to Abu Dhabi six months earlier and to India the summer before, I entered into this world still in awe of what it felt like to be on a plane.   To have a passport. I was leaping into the unknown, and felt as if I was carrying a banner of the pioneers before me.  I stood to represent all of the giants whose shoulders I stood on.  How could there not be delight in that?

To leap into the unknown, without knowing what the outcome will be-- that takes courage.  I knew that.  And in an attempt to be as courageous as I could, I not only leapt into the unknown in terms of where I was studying but also in how I studied.  I wanted to learn as much as I could about theater in any form.  I ferociously took every workshop in every subject, barely stopping on weekends to meet my classmates.   The first weekend at NYUAD, I literally went straight home without dinner to work on my homework.  I had finished it all by that night at 9 pm.  I was shocked, and a little disappointed-- wasn't college supposed to be much more rigorous than high-school?

Nonetheless, I took this as a further challenge to fill up my time training and exposing myself to as many new things/people/ideas as I possibly could.  I took this to mean I was being courageous.

I look back and am grateful to that freshman me that was so hungry for knowledge and learning and challenge.  And in other ways, I can see how already I was setting myself up to feel a bit more alone in the smallest of ways and details.

In my attempt to study everything I did not know or had not seen, I also began to hide things I deeply loved and admired from my peers and professors, for fear they weren't "artistic enough".  I can't even lie-- this is still one of the scariest things to me, and it is a constant battle to stand for what I find profoundly beautiful in the world, even if that thing is a Disney movie. (Shoutout to Moana, people.  Amazing film.)

The two biggest things I hid from people around me became my love for Shakespeare and my love for musicals.  I was terrified of two things, looking back:  people not taking me seriously as a global theater student because those two things seem so stereo-typically part of American theater, and that actually everyone who hated those two forms were right and that I was stupid and shallow for loving them as I did.  What did an 18 year old Mormon girl know about theater and art, after all?

If people came to me, saying they loved either of these things, I would talk about it with them until dawn.  But they'd have to come to me first.  I wouldn't wear my love, my delight, my stubborn gladness on my sleeve until someone else shared it first.   Over the year, enough professors said they loved Shakespeare that I eventually grew to say that out loud.  But it took me until the very end of my freshman year to watch a musical again, for fun. We went to see an Abu Dhabi community theater's production of Legally Blonde.  (Bet you didn't see that coming.) The lead was a Lebanese woman in an incredibly platinum wig, with a whole cast of people from all over the world, and little to no budget.  It was quirky and messy and notes were a little off-key at times. And I adored it.  What's more, I was so incredibly surprised that I adored it.  In the space of a few months, I had forgotten where I came from-- I had forgotten the little girl who watched Hairspray on repeat until she had it memorized.

I had forgotten because, in my attempt to be courageous and open to all new experiences, I wiped some of my past experiences from my new "open" identity.   In my attempt to be "open" to others, I had closed myself off from myself.

This summer, I had the chance to study and work with SITI Company at their well-known summer intensive.   We had the chance to train with the company in Viewpoints and Suzuki, while also studying Directing and Composition under Anne Bogart.  In a talk-back with us towards the end of the intensive, she shared some of her thoughts and experiences on authentic work.   She told us all about how, when she was in her 20's, she made the decision that American theater was benign and selfish and boring.  She made up her mind that Germany was the cite of real theatrical innovation, and she resolved to move and work there as a director.   And she said that the resulting piece she made while in Germany is one of the worst things she has ever created.  She did not regret going because of the lesson it taught her:  that whether she likes it or not, she has roots in America.  She has roots in her home and her culture, and that affects the work she creates.

This simple story hit me like a ton of bricks.  I left the states to study because I was hungry for any theater, other than the Family Drama that wins the Tony year after year.  I was hungry to play anything other than the scantily clad chorus girl in any musical.  But, as Anne learned at my age years ago, those things are a part of my roots.  A part of where I come from. And I cannot ignore them.

What's more, once I realized they were still a deep part of me, I could also realize there were many things about both musicals and Shakespeare that I deeply loved and wanted to push forward.  After all, these two things were what made me want to start doing theater in the first place. And after these 3 years of studying theater non-stop, these are still the 2 things that make the biggest emotional and spiritual impact on me when I witness growth and authenticity inside of them.

Starting this summer, I was able to delight in the things I have always loved, while my education gave me the courage to address the flaws I found in those things. I started writing my own musical.  I started watching and reading Shakespeare's texts without apologizing for the moments it brought tears to my eyes.  I stopped seeing these things as a (heaven forbid) "Global Citizen" and started seeing these things as a human. As myself, Arianna Stucki, who could hear, "In sooth I know not why I am so sad", and simply respond with, "Wow... that's beautiful."

That spread to this semester, as well. I got tears in my eyes at least once a week because just hearing Shakespeare's plays in class, along with seeing students so earnestly wrangle with those words, was enough to make me feel grateful and humbled.  I found myself complimenting my new friends in the studio, telling them how they helped inspire me that day in this way or that.  Talking in detail about each other's work.  Simply saying "Thank you."

It may not be deep, or contribute to academia. It may not build on a legacy of theater-makers and innovators.  But it rings true.  It has wonder in it.  To stand in awe of what we love... that is a big part of my process as a human being and an artist. It is a vulnerable thing to do, to love something with the trust of a child. And that's okay.  That also takes courage.  And it feeds us to make the big steps in life later on.

Other small details in understanding courage--

At home in Utah, people call me Anna.  When I arrived in Abu Dhabi, however, my name-tag said my full name: Arianna.  I simply decided to roll with it. It didn't seem like a big deal. And honestly, it would have felt strange to have an island of strangers call me by the same name my closest friends and family did.

And when people unknowingly pronounced my name wrong, as often happens when I use my full name, I wouldn't correct them.  Part of me said it was because it didn't matter to me, but part of me knows that I was silenced by a strange sort of fear.  That I would be looked at as obnoxious or pretentious for wanting my name pronounced correctly.

When I arrived in New York for this semester, people once again had to learn my name.  I told them it was Arianna, and would have gone through the same experience of having people mispronounce my name and not saying a thing if so many of my new friends in the studio had not painstakingly asked exactly how it was pronounced.  So many different people looked me in the eye and made me listen to them say my name over and over again, against my protestations, until they were sure they were saying it right.    And the difference it has made over the semester is enormous.  I hear my name as my mother says it, and in my head I impulsively say to myself, "Oh yes-- that IS my name. That is who I am."

It seems a small, insignificant detail, how someone pronounces someone's name, and yet it is not.  Our names are our identity.  How we introduce ourselves is literally how we show ourselves to the rest of the world.  And what a chance to root people in who we are, rather than dismiss ourselves before they even know us.

When I began in Abu Dhabi, I saw courage and fearlessly taking steps forward into worlds unknown and unchartered.  And that is still true.  But courage also has to do with taking those steps while always looking back to what and who brought us there in the first place-- the vulnerability of acknowledging our roots. Our name. Our identity.  And doing so with joy.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Return to Wonder: A Beginning

In the past few months, as I have stayed in New York City and studied with the Classical Studio at NYU: Tisch, I have seen great changes in my personal and academic life.   To put it lightly.  To put it a bit more grandly, in the past four months, I have been more consistently alive and awake than I have been since my junior year of high-school, if not before.  

I noticed that I had a problem on one of my more recent trips home.   I honestly can't tell you which one it was, because they all end in the same way: I sit on the couch with my mother crying into her shoulder because it still hurts so much to leave the ones I love.  It feels like I am entering the world of being alone again, and that will always be painful.  Though, on one of these tearful goodbyes, my mother lightly tickled my head with her fingers and, with all the compassion and wisdom she has in her heart, simply asked, "What's happened, my girl?  You have lost your wonder."

She was right. Somehow, even though I have sincerely attempted to follow my bliss and take the huge risks/opportunities life has thrown at my feet, I was left in a rut of alone-ness and pity. I had lost not only my curiosity, but my love of that curiosity.

When I first started this blog, it was an attempt to articulate how other cultures had affected my view of our mazed world, and to gain a responsibility in telling the different stories of those I had met.   However, I realize looking back that this blog has also had a different job all along: to capture moments where I felt wonder, no matter when or where, and to archive that feeling and the circumstances around it as best as I can.

And yet in my home country, as I've been gaining tools on how to act Shakespeare, I have felt a giant return to wonder that had been almost entirely missing in my day-to-day life over the past two years.  I have felt fire, passion, exhaustion, exhilaration from exhaustion, and many other things-- but that pure sacred sense of wonder has often escaped me.

By wonder, I mean many things, described by many different artists and philosophers in many different ways.   To be in alignment, to be centred, to be "in the flow".  Perhaps my favorite description of this is by Joseph Campbell:

“The place to find is within yourself. My wife is a dancer, and she tells me that this is true in dance as well. There’s a center of quietness within, which has to be known and held. If you lose that center, you are in tension and begin to fall apart.”

The point is that somehow I knew I had lost that center, and my world has been in a lot of tension, though I am slow to admit it.  And somehow, things have shifted. I don't exactly know how or why, but I can feel that shift and I am beyond grateful and humbled by it.  And I have a feeling the answer to why is much more complicated than "I've been going to the gym" or "I really really like Shakespeare."   There's something bigger at play.

I don't often write about my low moments publicly, in an attempt to play the positive.   But now, I attempt to write anecdotes and experiences from the last 3 years of my education and travels around the world, to help myself understand the change that has occurred in these last four months.

Why now? In the past six hours, I have read a book called "Big Magic" by Elisabeth Gilbert cover-to-cover.  And she gives the very good advice in this book that when an idea hits you in the head and heart, you should run with it before it runs to someone else.  And for reasons unknown to me, this idea has hit me now.     Over the next week, I will write a series of posts that ask why I have felt a return to what makes me truly blissful since August.  I'll ask this by both exploring darker and more troubling times, and also by exploring what I have in my heart now.  And I do this to hopefully show myself how far I've come, and remind my future self how far I have yet to go-- with a trickster in my heart much more than a martyr.

In writing this, I am also attempting to be much more honest about these years' experiences than I have been previously. Moments where I felt completely hopeless should be a part of how I articulate my journey, and they have not been up to now.  I've had the rare opportunity and blessing to be able to pursue what I love since I was 11 years old.  And if I can express to myself and others the fact that even MY life has some pitfalls and hard times inside of it (albeit times that can be overcome), I'll be the better off afterwards.

So onwards. Let us begin!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Pontedera, Italy: A Trip Back Up the River

     Before I knew it, the intensive was on its last days.  And we reached the days of final presentations.  My own had changed drastically, in a search for action how I now understood it, and for a voice that felt alive, like the voice I had felt in Thomas' room when leading the song.  It ended up as something so drastically different.  I became an old woman, visiting my mother's grave bitterly, remembering how much I had hated her.

     The piece still shared the same roots from my own great grandmother, my hymns, my memories, and my family.  But I was no longer trying to make it sacred.  Sacredness and emotion came when they wanted.  And I do think they were a part of this last presentation at certain moments, much much more than when I prayed for it.

     For the last time, I finished, and Mario called me over.  We sat on the wooden floor.

     "Arianna, it was very good.  Much more alive.  You are starting to play.  It is unbelievably better than when you first came.  It is more clear.  More driven.  We can start to follow a structure.  Your voice is better.  But Arianna..."  He paused, and continued.  "I watched you rehearse today, from the corner of the room.  And it was so much more alive!  Here, it was still alive, but when you rehearsed it was so much more! Why is that?  
      "You have to rethink what a performance is.  A performance is not a result.  You use rehearsals to explore, but the performance must also explore.  You treat a performance like a paper: as if the rehearsal is the research and the performance is the presentation of your hard work.  But that is not true.  The rehearsal is how you develop the structure and the details, but the performance must hold and explore every little detail again."

     "Mario," I said, "I agree with you.  I want to find what I do in rehearsal in performance.  But I don't know how.  Maybe it is just that I am nervous in front of an audience, but I think it is more than that.  No matter what I do, part of my mind is always with the spectator.  It is just a matter of pushing through that?"

     "I don't have an easy answer."  he said, "It is paradoxical.  Because part of your mind must always be with the spectator, and what they understand.  So, perhaps, part of it is through experience.   You are very young.  The more you perform, the more you will learn to play.  And the other part of it is to not lose any details.  Work harder in rehearsal to develop even more clear details and do not lose or forget any of them when you present."

     He said more on what I could improve.  How he still didn't quite understand the text yet, and that the way to help him understand is to add actions that are based from my own understanding.  

     I watched the other  final presentations, and I began to ask something.  I would watch my now dear friend from Abu Dhabi, Sara, share a religious song, and it felt connected to her ancestors and her family.  I would watch another participant, Pauline, since, and it would feel connected to that song's specific journey and impulses.  But I knew that I could sing any hymn at all in the place of the one I was singing, and sing it like a bitter old woman, and have the same effect.  How do I connect my actions, my work to that unique song and those unique roots?  How do I hold my specific family in my work?

     I approached Mario about it at lunch.  He nodded. "That is a very good question.  Ask it again when we gather to work."

Mario and Caroline, on our last day. 

     And, after lunch, I asked the entire group.  One of Mario's team members said it was simply a matter of choice, that once you choose that the song is special to you, it would show in the work.  

     Mario asked me, "Have you read 'You Are Someone's Son?' "

     Thankfully I had (Thanks, Michael).  

     "Your songs, these Christian hymns, these Mormon hymns, they descend from a Puritan tradition.  And that tradition's songs do not work for theater, because they negate the body.  They sing from the neck up, and ignore the body.  So, if using this song, you must find the body through different associations.  That is the work you were beginning.  You can also find Christian songs that have been adopted into labor songs, working songs, or adopted into other cultures.  
       "The danger, in knowing this, is to look for some exotic song to try to connect to your body.  No, don't do that.  Remember 'You Are Someone's Son.'  You have an origin.  You have to come from what made you."

     I understood.  My mom's music:  they were prayers where emotion, body, and voice came together.  Mario was right about the hymns, in the work of an actor.  They are beautiful for meditation, beautiful for a monk or a priest, beautiful for my own personal spiritual strength.  But that negation of the body is deadly in theater.

      At the end of the day, both Mario's and Thomas' teams came together.  And we were given the opportunity to ask any questions we'd like to both Mario and Thomas.  I felt so grateful to even be in that room, with two brothers: connected at heart and yet different in so many other ways.

     When asked "What is a gift in theater?", I heard Mario describe the parable of the talents, one I had memorized as a Mormon.  How we must use our talents to make something more.  Why else would we have a talent in the first place?

      Put intention into practice.

     Thomas and Mario discussed organic actors.  How the activity of an organic actor is what opens the door to the unconscious.  What an organic actor even is:  that person where, when you watch them work, you smile.  Not because they are funny, but because there is something so truthful about what they do. 

     I usually, partly out of real intent, and partly out of secret nerves, prefer to learn from other's questions.  Especially when the youngest in the room.  But it was such an opportunity to sit with these two masters, whose work felt so essential, and ask them about the thing that brought me here, to the Workcenter.  The thing that I think pushes my work forward more than anything else.

     So, I raised my hand.

     "There's a quote,"  I said, "that is in one of the articles I read by Grotowski, where he quotes a story.  If I remember right, he met a man in India who told him this.  That if you keep asking 'Who am I? Who am I? Who am I?', that it will eventually lead you back to the source-- your source.  And when you enter the source, you will no longer have to ask the question.  And then Grotowski said it was like a river. If the river reversed itself, and entered back into its source, it would no longer be a river.  
      "I just- I want to hear why you think Grotowski found this essential.  How it connects to this work.  When I read that, it made me ask a hundred questions.  And I just want to know what he meant."

      Thomas smiled, and stuck his tongue out, biting it in between his teeth. Mario nodded.

     "I know what passage you are talking about.  He didn't meet him, he read about him in a book by Paul Brunton, called "A Search in Secret India."  

       Thomas looked at me, "The question becomes complicated, because of the meaning of the word source. That one word is a little vague. But what makes you ask this question?"

      "Well, its-- It feels like it connects to so much of what we do here, what I want to do.  I read it, and something woke up.  Almost like it was a source somehow?"  Thomas smiled again, and Mario's eyebrows furrowed a bit, and he leaned in.

      "Or maybe there is something much more practical about it.  That Grotowski as talking about that question of action, of going back farther and farther, building on each 'What is it? What is it?'  Or maybe it is what we talked about earlier, Mario, with 'You Are Someone's Son.'  Of finding a way that your mythology, your ancestors, are all in your actions." I laughed nervously, "And with all of that, I get confused." 

      Mario jumped in,  "Yes, yes.  Grotowski is not talking about meditation here.  It is active.  And 'You Are Someone's Son' talks about this too.  How if you sing a song, and you keep going farther and farther back to who sang it before you, you will reach an origin.  Maybe even the origin.  So you work, you say, you sing a song.  And as you go through your actions, you say, 'Ok.  But what was it like if my great-grandmother sang it?  And their grandmother, and farther on and on and on you question until you reach something very truthful."

     And Thomas began, "And it is also more in the moments.  That 'Who-am-I' question.  When you are in a special moment with someone, when you feel connected, when something feels alive int he work you are doing - THAT is when you ask 'Who am I?'  You ask, 'Is this I?  Who am I?  What is I?'  And that will connect you even further to, to... something. Something bigger than yourself."

      Even writing down this conversation, I feel such a strong connection to its quest, its intent, and its action.  I am inspired and strengthened by that search for a sacred truth, a practical exploration, as much as I am inspired and strengthened by my family and my God.  Perhaps because that search is incomprehensibly connected to those two things.

     "Thank you."  I said.

      I was one of the last questions.  I want to go back and ask them so much more now.  It is just like action in the work: you ask what you think is the one question, and it opens a thousand.

     Shortly after that, we cleaned the Workcenter, and I rushed home:  I had to catch a plane that night.  And as glorious as New York is and has been, I was extremely disheartened leaving the Workcenter.  It felt like leaving family.  Needed, even essential, but scary and bittersweet.  I still cannot believe I grew so close to people in such a short amount of time.

Clearing out the Workcenter, and final goodbyes.

      And before I knew it, I landed in New York.  And the further training I've been receiving from an incredible teacher, Alexandria Silber, and conversations with dear friends, and the process of trying to articulate the joy and purpose I felt return at the Workcenter:  watching all of this culminate has been very special.  And it has not stopped asking more of me.  It asked me to be myself, without expectation.  To do work that is so personal that it becomes sacred, to have all of my work hold something personal. Without me framing it as such.  To not mimic the Workcenter, as much as I was moved by their work, but find what I can do myself to create.  It is asking me to try, to put the things I find most dear in the world, into my work in an invisible way.  And to do so with drive, action, play, and connections to others.  and if that isn't a terrifying quest, I do not know what it is.

      Now, I am putting my feet and my heart forward.  I am only starting to understand how precious these things are to me.  And because they are so special, SO sacred, I fell that I cannot fail.  And I move forward, with all of the support and blood and encouragement of my friends behind me.

      More stories to come soon.

      Thank you, Workcenter.

      Goodnight, Pontedera.  

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Pontedera, Italy: Voice, Joy, and Home.

     For the most part, I worked with Mario and the team members of the Open Program.  However, every so often, the two teams would switch participants, and we would go up to the Workcenter's second floor, to work with Thomas Richards and the Focused Research Team of Art as Vehicle.

     The song sessions with Thomas were so different than Mario.  Firstly, the music itself had different origins:  most of the lyrics in Mario's songs were English, if not all, coming from work or religious songs in rural communities throughout the states.  Thomas' songs were Haitian, as I have been able to understand from article readings.

     And the work itself:  both rooms felt eternal, somehow.  But Mario was constantly correcting.    His work felt like Joseph Campbell's description of eternity:  a breaking of time, for a moment, through connecting to someone else.  It had that chaos of life within the work, that activity, that static.

     Thomas was different.  Thomas' room also felt eternal but not through chaotic life. It reminded me of the experience I had had with Butoh a year earlier.  When I witnessed the work in the Focus Research Team's room, I could see a rebirth of eternal human qualities: Joy, pain, innocence, childhood, sexuality, carnality.  

     I could feel God in both rooms, at points, as we sang.  Some very real and active form of truth, connecting the people together.

     We would enter the song sessions, and in either case, one of the team members would lead a song and we would act as a kind of chorus.  The songs often had simple but powerful melodies, and repetitive lyrics: songs about rhythm and the group connections.  They all had a heartbeat, a drive, that we could connect to.  As we moved further into the intensive, at certain points in Thomas' room, a participant would lead a song.  The songs also filled your body in a new way, so your mind, body, emotions, all connected to the people around you in very practical ways.

     3 days before the end of the intensive, something special happened to me.  We went to Thomas' room to sing, and somehow I stopped trying.  I stopped trying.  Stopped trying to mimic, to understand the work that seemed to play with trance in the same way Butoh did.  I stopped trying to understand that room.  At first I actually saw this as being lazy, in the first moments, but I realized later that it was simply focusing in a much more subtle way.  A different kind of work.  I was understanding what Grotowski meant by being passive.  Sometimes, you have to not do.  And that opens true action.

     I would see Thomas, and I would laugh.   I just felt happy, and loved.  He lightly touched my hand, and something very subtle began: a faint but present connection between us.  Alive.  I sat on the floor, my hands almost vibrating, moving through so many different impulses.  That moment was what Mario was trying to explain with action, with being alive in theater.  It felt explorative.  In relation to another human being, I could feel something very real.  And, at the same time, I was passive:  if I laughed or smiled or shook, it was not something I intended to do or controlled.  I just let the impulse come like a wave, and let go of it when it needed to leave.

     "Sing." he whispered.  And I did.  and the voice that came out of me as I started to lead the song was something I had never heard before.  It felt like it was coming from my pelvis somehow, it felt so rooted in my body.  And yet it also lived in my throat, without tension.  The vibration felt foriegn.  I began shaking more, I found it harder to breath in.  I reached out to Thomas, with my hands and my neck.  Without touching me, he merely pointed at a certain point at my neck, and without me trying to, I felt myself realign.   Soon, I was standing, and reaching out to more of the participants and members.  And it only made me smile more.   I felt peaceful, excited, sure of myself, I felt God, and I felt loved.  My family was there with me, not through the prayer I had tried during my acting preposition.  But through THIS kind of prayer.  Through connections to others, through striving for something vulnerable.   It was not easy to reach God.

     I could see the fear in people, the blocks.  And I only wanted to reach out.  I had made a dear friend during this intensive.  Anna, from Italy.  She was much older than me, at least twice my age, if not more.  But we even looked similar.  I felt such a strong connection to her, and she to me.  She would tell me that I reminded her of a younger version of herself, and I could see that in her eyes.  In that room, I reached out to her first.  I could feel the song like I wave I and the rest of the people in the room were riding.

      But somehow, I could not control my breath yet.   I would breathe in, but my voice would come out weak and shaky.  It felt as if I had never truly sung before.  Absolutely zero percent of the musical and opera voice training I had done was present in what voice was coming out at that moment.  And then it was over.  And we continued to sing together, other people at times leading the songs.

     In that little moment, I found drive and action and joy that carried into the rest of my work.  Motions became easier, my acting prepositions were getting much closer.  I felt more honest and more myself with the entire group as a whole.  The work asks that of you.

     Something in those songs, in Mario's joy, in Thomas' eyes and voice -- it made me want to reach out from myself.  That was vulnerable.  That was sacred.  It was a kind of self-penetration without any of the ego or self-pity that term is usually endowed with.  But instead, self-penetration with true joy.    No-- I cannot mimic what the Workcenter achieves in their work here.  I can only listen to the questions they explore, and ask my own.    I was starting to discover the kind of artist I want to be.

     It had to do, as well, with who I was surrounded by.   These people were kind, compassionate, fun, stubborn, activists, playful, childlike, focused:  I enjoyed every second I spent working or talking with any member of the Workcenter.  We would do dishes together and talk about big families.  Once, towards the end, I had a honey sandwich for lunch, and two members (Alejandro and Myrto) decided that wasn't good enough and made me rice and beans with onion.  All of them were so kind, including the participants.  I wanted to work with people like that, and more, do work that asks that kind of attitude and compassion from its artists.

     For the first time ever, I was finding the same feelings of comfort I have with my home and my family in another place.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Pontedera, Italy: Italian Parties, Cats, and Pisa

     On one of my first nights, I went back to the vineyards across the road, and worked on my pieces.  And across the field from me, I saw one little blinking light near a bush.  I stared at it. It started to move in a circle.  And then it left the bush and floated above it, coming nearer to me.  I had no idea what it could be until it came much closer, and I realized it was a firefly! I had actually never seen one before.  It zoomed past my head, and I laughed.  I watched it fly into the wheat field that was right next to the vineyard. And there, I saw hundreds and hundreds of fireflies blinking throughout the field, without a sound.  I felt like I was walking through stars.

    When I went back to my apartment, there was a party going on directly below our apartment at the restaurant.  The party goers were loud, laughing, and happy.  They sang at least twenty songs that night, altogether, with perhaps no sense of pitch but every sense of life: I loved listening to them.  There is a lot of life and light in this world.    

     Throughout the days, time was given for song sessions, working on our acting prepositions, and to do both motions and exercises.

     The motions and exercises became some of the most difficult work I have ever done.  And I know I would not have discovered what I did in the acting prepositions without them.  They were challenging in a different way than India.  India's work, for me as a beginner, had to do with focus and attempting the impossible.  Finding success in failure.  Do the Kalari kick! Again! And again!

     But here, the work asked for a playful focus.  To find the game within the work.  That was the most difficult of all.  Not to mention that not all of the Grotowski readings in the world could have prepared me physically, and I had done very little physical work in June.

     Motions are a sequence of poses and movements carried out in a particular manner and order. There are different movements and cycles, and all of them are so precise that your whole body has to learn how to listen.  I will never work on motions alone, because I am sure I will learn them wrong.  For me, by the end of the first week, I was finding the game within.  It had to do with stretching out farther and farther.  Felicita, our main motion teacher, described a rocket ship within the motion.  That you must find a playful way of continuing to stretch.

Primal Position - Motions

     The exercises, however, destroyed me.  The first and most famous is called the Cat.  Grotowski's cat.  The exercise included all the things I struggle with physically: strength in the arms and core, following through impulses, duration, and finding play.  At 19, the youngest at the intensive, I felt ridiculous that I could not do the work.  I felt disrespectful, unprepared.  As we would continue the cat, Mario would look at me:

   "You are cheating, Mademoiselle!  Back arched, legs under, bend your arms, play with me!"

     My whole body was constantly cheating, and constantly sweating.

     "Stand up!"  Mario said. I stood facing him, drenched.  "Why are you sweating?"

     My mouth opened as if to answer, but I had no idea what to say. I was not expecting that question.  He pointed at Ophelie.  "Look at her! She is not strong, she is very weak.  But she does not sweat.  Why do you sweat?"   I had no answer.

    "Lift your arm above your head." I did what he said.  "How long could you keep it there?"

     "Not long."

    "How long?"

    "Ten minutes, maybe."

     "Maybe that," Mario said, "Maybe.  But stretch out your arm as far as you can. Try to touch the ceiling.  Now this, this you can hold forever.  Because you are stretching, and a stretch never finishes, it always keeps going.  You do not have to sweat.  Try again."

     I kept trying for the rest of the intensive, and slowly, got a little bit closer to what I could see from the others in that room.  Ophelie was once again a great guide, through tears and play.  I never grew to play fully in that cat.  But it was a great tool in showing me how lazy I am, in acting and outside of it.  I was just experiencing how to be fully alive and active in theater.  Both after the cat and after working my acting prepositions, I was starting to feel very tired.  Like, after remembering Grandma's funeral, I had actually felt the same things again: and felt the same level of emotions drained after.

     Even at 19, I knew less about what it meant to be alive and active than several people in that room.  Mario would say that as well:  "You are nineteen!  You should use your body and work harder than any of us!  But you do not!"  And he was right.

     And for the first time, I was understanding how truly limiting it is to have a body uncomfortable with work.  I set out to change that.  My body had to wake up in the songs, in the work, in my interactions and connections with others.

     Before I knew it, our first five days of training were over, and we had a weekend break.  I and Byong Wook decided to go to Pisa, a short fifteen minute train ride from Pontedera.  We spent an incredible and calming day there.

      The Tower of Pisa was something special.  Byong Wook kept saying, "I think this is what Thomas means.  If that tower didn't lean, it would not be unique.  No one would care. We have to find how we lean."  I loved that. Byong Wook was studying as a director under Thomas, and we talked about how much we both were learning: how we wanted to understand how this kind of work is sustainable.


From the roof

Need I say more?

Going in the doorway

     The most special part was being able to climb the tower.  You felt drunk, the world seemed to spin: your body could tell that the tower was leaning, even though your eyes couldn't once inside.  I thought the most incredible thing of all was not the views or the leaning, but the actual steps going up.  The tower has existed for 655 years, and since then, enough people have stepped on those stone steps that they have become smooth and slippery, and extremely indented: as if a waterfall had been running down the tower for years.  But it was done by the steps of human feet.  I had never seen anything like it.

My favorite image:  the smooth indented steps from billions of people walking up together.  In 655 years, how many people have walked these steps?

     We ate delicious pizza, had delicious gelato, walked aimlessly around Pisa.  Our way home was a bit hilarious, as we took the wrong train, and had to find our way back.  But on the wrong train ride, we did see a massive military base.  I wondered if it had played some part in the World War, seventy years go.

      I spent the second day of our break working on a few things due for university, on writing to dear friends and teachers across the world, and once again working on the acting prepositions.  I did not forget what I had experienced in India: that the last week could hold the most transformation of all.  I could feel that rolling up as we began the work on Sunday.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Pontedera, Italy: Active Memories

     I woke up before my alarm on the first day of training, and fumbled into the kitchen, where I began to cook some breakfast and boil some water for green tea and honey.  As I was cooking, a new roommate popped out from the corner.   I had met Cornelia, my lovely roommate from Canada, and the other youngest participant at 23 -- we had many conversations to come. I had also met Byong Wook the day before, but this last roommate -- Eduardo-- had arrived after I went to sleep.

     Eddy, with bright green eyes and curly, dreaded hair, smiled and said hello.  Eddy was a guide and friend throughout the intensive. He brought this sense of optimism and new beginnings with him, and it was infectious.  I lost several hours of sleep staying up until 3 am with him, just talking.

Our little Fattoria Santa Lucia kitchen

     Before long, all four of us were fumbling and shuffling around our beautiful little kitchen, getting ready for the day.  We were driven to the Workcenter on the first few days.  Eventually, they showed us a gorgeous path to take through the hills, and vineyards, and trees, that I happily used every morning before the work.

The road leading to the Workcenter, to the right is the field with the horses.

    On that first day, we arrived to the Workcenter around 9:40. I anxiously waited for the other participants, introducing myself to so many new faces.  I could feel my height, which is usually a sign that I want to shrink.  I clasped my hands in front of myself, and tried to remember the names of each person I had introduced myself to, but I was already forgetting.  Here there was nervousness, but not like the first days of India.  Here was an anxiousness to begin.

    The Workcenter, as a building, is large with two floors and a wine room, all now used as workspaces.  You find the Workcenter by taking a gravel road through rows of trees.  It sits next to a field that holds two large, brown horses.  There are statues surrounding the property.  Like Visthar in India, the surroundings became a calming comfort much needed during the work.

The Workcenter

The door to the Workcenter, from inside.

     Soon, everyone had arrived.  Immediately, we were separated into two groups: those who would be working with Thomas Richards and the members of his research team (Byong Wook fell into this category), and those who would work with Mario Biagini and the Open Program.  Eddy, Cornelia, and I fell into the second group.  And we started to work.

     The Open Program is made up of Mario Biagini and several Program members, who worked with us and often coached us in exercises and on our pieces.  The members were something very special: each person felt so powerful, and so honest.  We would eat and do dishes together, clean the Workcenter as a family.  The people there were good, good people.  Some of the best and some of the most giving I have ever met.

     We began with a song session.  All of the songs Mario and the Open Program shared with us had an ancient, spirited quality.  They all also felt connected to the mind and body, not negating one or the other.  And personally, they felt like a prayer.  My mother also writes music; these songs reminded me of hers.  They were not trying to be anything but truthful.  Like the passage I had read earlier, "coming from the inside to the outside but not for the outside."  They had that quality.

     The singing session felt short, and complicated.  I had never heard most of the songs, and I was completely focused on finding the melody and finding the balance within the group.  And though I denied it, I was also anticipating the second that Mario would signal the end of the song session, and call the first person for our acting prepositions.

   Ask, and ye shall receive. Before I knew it, we had finished our first song session.  Besides reading articles and watching footage, the songs were the only context I had for the work.  We only worked with these song sessions in the Abu Dhabi workshops.  The one thing that I had some familiarity in had ended for the day. Now for that which we had never experienced or understood.  Exhilarating.

     "Alright," Mario called, "Who will first show their acting prepositions?"  Not one person in the room budged.  "Come on."  Mario raised his eyebrows and smiled, like a a kid who knew something you didn't.  His eyes scattered across the new faces.

     I could feel my age in the room.  But in a way once again different from India. Here, my age made me feel limitless.  In the way of training, I had very little to no experience.  I was a blank slate.  It was liberating, rather than terrifying.  I felt like I had the freedom to make mistakes, to learn.  Because of this, my nerves were actually very low.  And I raised my hand.

    Mario smiled kindly.  "Alright," he said, "What is your name?"

    He tilted his head slightly, and stared at me, searching for something.

    "We met in the workshop in Abu Dhabi, " I said.
     "Ah yes, of course."  He nodded. "Alright, Arianna."

     The group huddled on the carpeted edge of the room, while I stood near them on the hardwood floor.  I had thought very little about blocking, movement, story... I was here to learn how to incorporate those elements as an actor.   For this first presentation, I only wanted to keep my work connected to the people I love.

     "My song is a hymn called 'A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief.'  It is very special to me." I said softly.  I sang the hymn, a bit shakily, moving only when I felt the impulse.  The entire movement was improvised, and I looked into the eyes of my audience, scanning the faces.  I felt sincerity in what I was doing, but I knew before I started that it wasn't even close to acting.

     I then began my text.  I sat in one spot on the floor, and again spoke to my audience.  The movements were once again improvised, and it was once again sincere.  But not acting.  Without drive, change, composition.  I knew that before beginning.  And of course Mario had more to tell me.

    "Come sit here," Mario said.  I sat next to him on the carpeted floor, in front of the other members and participants.  He paused briefly, gathering his notes.  He laughed, "Don't tell us that the song is special to you.  If you tell us, that frees you from having to show us.  If you tell us it is special, then we have to like it! We can't hate it.  So don't do that."  I nodded. He went on:

     "Don't look at the spectators, either.  We want to be the spectator, not your lover. Not your scene partner."  He paused.  "I see what you are trying to do.  You are trying to be sincere, you are trying, but it doesn't work.  What you do is dead.  Or it is alive, but only because this is the first time you have done it.  Two times more, and it will be dead."

     He stood up and entered the wooden floor, "First, you were much too close to us.  You must step back, step back so the spectators can see everything.  And you must add elements of composition.  Composition is the arranging, the sculpting: how you frame what you are doing for the spectator.  It is the form of artifice.
     "And then, you must also create a detailed score of actions, that you can follow from one to the next."

     "How do you create a definitive score of actions without it becoming mechanical?" I asked.

     "Actions are not movements.  They are very alive, and in between each detail are constant improvisations. Those improvisations keep it alive."

      I wrote in my journal: "Action and composition are my tasks."

     We continued to watch other prepositions for the rest of the day.  And as the day moved forward, I was able to gain a deeper and deeper understanding of the word 'action' in the context of the Workcenter.  A few of Mario's notes to other artists stuck out to me.

     "Right now, you are trying to make your piece 'work.'  Instead, you need to choose something that you can really, actually do.  Not to express."

     "Intensity in theater is not contraction.  Intensity in theater is a fullness, something not cut, it is a human being with many facets and they are all in the room."

     One stuck with me most as I moved forward in my own piece:
     "Before you knew anything about theater, theater was the same as life.  In theater, we perform daily human activities with more energy, but what else is different?  That we use memories and imagination."

     Mario began to describe memory and associations (or some part of the psyche that you can be in contact with within the space) as the gateway into something else, something alive within the actor.  And those memories only become more alive when you try to remember and question every single detail that surrounds them.  Eventually, the details stack up into something so vivid that you react, you feel a change.
     This use of memory in the work at first worried me.  I had been told that using memory in certain ways, such as the stereotypical method acting could be narcissistic, self-absorbed, and self-harming. I didn't want that. And as we continued, I became worried about my own personal use.  I felt like using my own very special and personal memories for work --like the memory of my mother crying, something so sacred and near to my heart that I have to honor them-- that using those memories was actually stepping on the things I cared about most, using them in the worst sense.  I asked Mario about this.

     "Don't be so moralistic."  he said, and we laughed. He continued, "You are seeing it in reverse. You do not use these precious things to make work.   You have to work very very hard, and have a detailed and precise craft to gain the privilege of exploring those memories, and the precious things inside of them."

     Those two sentences ring in my head every day now.

     After watching the pieces on the first day, we had a chance to work on our won.  I immediately tried to begin to understand composition and action in the way Mario had described them.  I started work on the hymn, and I tried to create a structure and composition that echoed the last moments of Joseph Smith in Carthage Jail, before his murder.  I gave it a loose structure, and could feel it slowly gaining some form of composition, but not nearly enough.  I was completely expressing, rather than reliving.  I wrote several pages in my little journal, but it was a waste of time.

     Before long, Ophelie, one of the team members, walked up to me.  She asked me to show her what I had.  Ophelie is an incredible guide.  She is powerful, and kind, and I could trust her honesty in both her frustration with me and her joy.  She took me outside the Workcenter, and we sat alongside the horse fence under a tree.

     "Ok," she said, "we must find something close to you.  We have to make this good without much time.  Tell me about the song.  What is your connection to the song?"

     "Well, it is very special in my religion because it--"

     "I don't care.  That is not important.  What is your connection?  Memories, where is this song in your life?"

     I explained that  "A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief"   has always been sung at church, I've always known it.  That is gives me courage and feels like a prayer, so I sing it to myself constantly.  That I sang it at my great-grandmother's funeral--

     "Stop."  she said, "That's it."  Before she had said it, I could feel it.  A pang went through my heart.  My great Grandma Nella passed away almost exactly a year earlier.  That was something very sacred, very close to me.  I took a deeper breath.

     "My grandma," I hesitated, "it was very hard when she passed.  She was very sick, and in a lot of pain.  I think it will be very hard to remember that."

     Ophelie nodded. She understood.  We walked back into the Workcenter, and began.

    I have a secret to tell you.  The truth is that I hadn't sung THAT hymn at my great grandmother's funeral.  I had sung a different hymn at the funeral, so I did have a memory that was precious.  But not that hymn.   I believe that every actor should have little secrets they don't even let their director know.  I truly believe that affected my work positively.

     "Walk through the memory of your grandmother's funeral," Ophelie said, "remember every single detail you can."

     I sat in a chair, facing my Grandma Nella's coffin.  I could hear them announcing the song my family would sing.  I looked at my mom, and saw her stand, and stood myself.  We walked in front of everyone, and began to sing.  I looked to her for strength, to my brother, and my other sister.  I looked out into the audience, and saw my grandfather, my relatives, my grandmother (her daughter), my family.  All mourning, but with joy.  I felt the grass under me, I remembered the wind.  I could see my mountains.  And the tears wouldn't stop.  I was actually embarrassed at how quickly I began to cry.  Ophelie pushed me further, "What do you want to do?  Don't just stand, find your impulse."

     My hands reached out to hug my grandmother, but they stopped.  They began to lift, like waving goodbye.  The song ended, and I sat back in my chair, and wiped my eyes.  Ophelie said, "start the text."

I have been studying how I may compare
This prison which I live unto the world.
And for because the world is populous
And here is not a creature but myself,
I cannot do it.

     The words flowed out, and the beginnings of actions came.  Ophelie smiled. "This is good work," she said, "You keep going, keep remembering."

     We finished working for the day.  Before she left, she told me, "These things are very precious to you.  So do not talk about this piece with anyone, even if they ask.  Not to the other participants.  This is yours."

     The next day, as we presented our acting prepositions, I prayed.  I prayed to God and to Nella, asking them to be a part of this work with me.  I imagined them in the space.  I wore the same dress I had worn to the funeral. Ophelie came up to me.

     "This is a different dress than you wore yesterday.  You need the other dress, it affects how you hold yourself."  The dress I had worn the day before was more tightly fitted, and made me feel contracted, in a supposedly helpful way.  The dress I wore this time was white, and flowing.   "Next time," she said, "Wear the other dress."    that was the beginning of a discovery that I had with our second presentations.  When I went up, I prayed one last time.  And I began.

     No matter what I did, I could not bring the same emotion I felt while working alone or with Ophelie.  Part of my mind was always on the audience.  The work felt so personal, that I felt I had to express God and my family to the audience.  And the entire sincerity and vulnerability changed.  There were moments where emotion came, but I would latch on and milk it until everything was dead again.

     When I finished, Mario came and sat next to me.  "Arianna, it had more action."  he said.  "But there was a lot of pumping.  Pumping, pumping.  You pumped the emotion.  Sometimes, young people have to."  he smiled.  "But don't, don't.  Do not pump emotion.  Your work is action.  Emotion is only a gift.  Sometimes you will laugh here, sometimes you will not.  Do not ever push the emotion.  It comes on its own, and it is not your job to bring it."

     That last sentence made something in me stop and something else click.  Emotion is not my job.  I can only work on action.  I should not try to pray and put myself in an emotional place for the work.  That is what I was afraid of: USING the precious things to find emotion, rather than the other way around.

     Mario went on, "Many times, you are not alive. Because you are only expressing.  If you truly remember hugging your grandmother, you will not reach out and hug the air.  No one does that when they remember someone.  No, that is expressing.  It is not real.  When you truly remember, when you relive, things are kept small and active in the entire body.  You draw the memory inside.  Because you continue to re-ask, 'What is it? Did it feel like this, or maybe like this? What did she smell like?  Was her skin warm?' You will follow all of the little impulses within the first impulse, the little questions within the big question."  He illustrated it to me in his body, barely lifting his hand as his whole body engaged.  He was actively trying to rediscover something he had felt in the past.  He looked at me.  "If you know what you do, then we will know what you do."

     I nodded, and we moved on.  I was starting to understand how practical it all was, and how active the work was.  A performance was not a result of rehearsals, it was just as explorative. And just as active.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Pontedera, Italy: The Arrival and Waking Up

       In the month before traveling to Pontedera, Italy, I bit my nails to the shortest they have ever been.  In the last year, I had travelled throughout the UAE, Oman, London, and India (I promise these stories will surface in this blog later on, when they need to), so I am beginning to know my way around an airport and a passport.    I knew Italy would be the first place I've travelled where most of the people would not understand English, but that actually made me excited.

      The nerves came not from the place, but from what I was going to do once I arrived.  I was travelling to Pontedera, Italy, a relatively small Italian town twenty minutes outside of Pisa, to participate in a Summer Intensive Program organized by the Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowki and Thomas Richards.  I was to work specifically under the Open Program, led by Mario Biagini.   I had met Mario and one of his team members, Felicita, months before when they had led a workshop at my university, NYU: Abu Dhabi.  I was also constantly hearing about the Workcenter from both Michael Littig (my dear friend and mentor) and my mother, whose foundation helped support their work.  I had loved the work I had experienced in Abu Dhabi.  It utilized spiritual song, and in the room, I felt that same cost of art that I had seen in India through Teacher Leeja's Carnatic Singing.  Every time Mario or Felicitia sang, it felt like something new was coming from them.  That it was not easy, that it cost them something. But all of this was in joy, rather than self-pity or arrogance.    And on top of this, I had the feeling that they both could see right through me and whatever "good student" act I tried to put up.   That scared me in such a good way, and I wanted to learn as much as I could from them.

     Before the intensive, we were asked to prepare two acting prepositions, one based in ancient song and one based in a text that is important to us.    I chose the LDS hymn, "A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief," and the prison speech from Richard II.  Both pieces are deeply personal to me.   And, as I had only experienced three hours of the Workcenter's training in Abu Dhabi, I had no idea how I should prepare the pieces.  I read several books and articles on Grotowski, trying to prepare and learn more about the context of this work.   That, though beautiful and sometimes fleetingly calming, made me even more nervous.  It all made me feel very very small.

    However, one interview I read with Grotowski gave me more comfort than the rest.  In this interview conducted by Richard Schechner, Grotowski describes an actor's relationship to the work:

     "“The actor has two possibilities.  Either (1) he plays for the audience which leads him to a kind of flirtation that means he is playing for himself, for the satisfaction of being accepted, loved, affirmed-and the result is narcissm; or (2) he works directly for himself-and this is the shortest way to hypocrisy and hysteria.  This, too, is narcissm.  But if acting is not for the audience and not for oneself, what is left? 
The answer is a difficult one.  One begins by finding those scenes that give the actor a chance to research his relationship with others. He concretely searches for those memories and associations which have decisively conditioned the form of contact. He must give himself totally to this research.
In that sense it is like authentic love, deep love. But there is no answer to the question, "love for whom?" Man always needs an-other human being who can absolutely fulfill and understand him. But that is like loving the Absolute or the Ideal, loving someone who understands you but whom you've never met. Someone you are searching for. There is no single, simple answer.
One thing is clear: The actor must give himself and not play for himself or for the spectator. His search must be directed from within himself to the outside, but not for the outside. When the actor begins to work through contact, when he begins to live in relation to someone-not his stage partner-but the partner of his own biography, when he begins to penetrate, through a study of his body's impulses, the relationship of this contact, this process of exchange, there is always a rebirth in the actor.”

       As always, I was guided by a dear friend Michael, who reassured me that finding a personal connection to each piece was the most important key.  So that was my primary task.  Before leaving, my mother and I took a trip to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to watch my brother pull horses for a country wagon show he was a part of at the Bar T-5 Ranch.   It was the perfect trip.  We saw old Mormon cabins that had been there for over one hundred years.  We heard music from our roots, I spent time with my family hiking in the mountains, something that I will never fully understand my connection to.   I hadn't felt so happy and sure of myself as I did on that trip in a long time, maybe since India last July.   Part of me felt like it was the best research I could have done on my pieces, more than all of the Grotowski readings I could possibly do.

     As I ate my last dinner with my family, I became insanely nervous.  I could feel something coming, journeys once again becoming real.  And I got on the plane.

     I was going to say that the flight to Florence was the most emotional trip I've ever taken, but that isn't true.  I remember feeling the same way leaving the Utah Shakespeare Festival summer camps in August each summer, when I was growing up.  After Abu Dhabi, I had loved being with my family for the last month, and had found so much clarity going back to my roots.  And getting on that plane felt like I was joining those who are alone again.    However, being alone does not mean that your family is not with you.  In fact, being alone is often what makes me feel most awake, alive, and connected.  But at the same time, this time waking up hurt more.   In this last year of college, I felt that I had lost some pieces of myself in the search.

     I prayed to help my heart speak again, in what I do.  To actively help others how I have always been helped.  To be sincere. To be unafraid.  It is funny, I always start big travels with massively abstract goals that I struggle to practically find the tools to achieve.

     Before I knew it, we landed in Florence.  I easily caught my train to Pontedera.  And already, I was experiencing tiny little shades of Italy that were so different from Utah.  If you smiled on someone on the street, they almost always did not smile back.

Florence Santa Maria Novella Station

       My first full interaction was on the train.  I had put my backpack on the seat across from me, and rested my feet on top of it.  Soon, the man in charge of tickets walked past, holding a paper.  Without looking up, he shook his hand in my general direction and said something in Italian, which I of course could not understand.  I responded with "What?"  I tried to hand him my ticket, but he shook his head and said the same thing again.  I had no idea what he was saying.  He looked up, and noticed my backpack and myself, realizing I was a tourist.  Suddenly, he looked directly into my eyes and yelled, "THE FEETS! DOWN!!"

      I mumbled an English "Sorry," and put my feet on the floor.  He yelled again: "TICKET!"  I fumbled through my bag and handed it to him.  He stamped it, handed it back to me, and murmured, "Ok."  He then continued his rounds.  Not one other person on the train reacted to what happened. No one even looked up.

     "Alright," I thought, "I'm now in Italy."

     I arrived in Pontedera, Italy, safely, and the rest was smooth sailing.  I was picked up by Felicita and taken with a group of other participants to buy groceries.  Trying to buy food in a language you do not understand is also a wonderfully exciting thing to do.  I bought two liters of carbonated water instead of spring water, among other things.  The apples were massive and delicious, as was any kind of produce.
     We were then driven home, where we stayed at the beautiful Fattoria Santa Lucia.  Our home was above a restaurant that hosted many a loud and incredibly happy Italian party during our stay there.  It was incredibly charming and beautiful, across from a field of vineyards and with art covering its walls, inside and out.  

A view of our home in the morning.  Please notice the mule on the outside wall. 

     On my first evening, I walked through the vineyards directly across from our home, as I spoke the words of Richard II and sung my hymn.  And it began to rain.  I smiled, and let myself cry just a little bit as I spoke again.   Like the rain in India, I took this one as a blessing.  I felt calmed.  Pontedera is green, warm, and there are mountains not so different from my own in Utah.  At least geographically, it was a comfort, so similar to home.

Pontedera, at sunset. 

     I had a day to rest before the program began.

     And the next morning, I woke up without any sort of alarm.  I was simply ready and excited to begin again.