Photo – Ira Seidenstein
What Does a Clown Know?
Reflections on creativity, culture and wellbeing through the framework of
The Four Articulations for Performance – created by Dr Ira Seidenstein
A series of 4 conversations May-June 2020
Led by Naree Shields with Dr. Ira Seidenstein
Naree Shields & Ira Seidenstein
Edited by Dr Flloyd Kennedy, and, Dr Jim Pickles
Once upon a time at clown school the students asked in various ways for the teacher to give them a definition.
“What is a clown?” they asked.
The teacher was reluctant to answer. To answer might stifle the students’ own inquiry. To answer that might be misleading. Such an answer may set in stone something that is evolving and unfolding.
Yet the students continued to enquire
“What is a clown?”
A clown has been called many names:
Fool, klutz, zany…………
One day the teacher said:
“If you can tell me what makes a wildflower grow you will be on the path to knowing some of the ingredients that sprout a clown.”
Another time at clown school, the teacher said: “A clown does whatever they want; wherever they want, however they want for as long as they want.”
Perhaps this comes close enough to a working definition of clown?
Certainly in clown training, there is a method to the madness. Yet, in my experience, the journey of exploring “clown” is vast, rich, complex and mysterious. In the process many questions about life and art arise.
I had the pleasure in 2020 to have 4 conversations with Ira to reflect on creativity, culture and wellbeing through the template of The Four Articulations for Performance. Three years later I pulled out the transcript of these conversations and gave a copy to Ira.
The process of mining and refining the gems began. We have kept the conversational format but have extended that into a written format. Therefore this document is an integration of the original 4-part conversation and the conversation and written communication between us – Naree and Ira, in May-June 2023.
This conversation is not instructional. It is informative. Below is some background information regarding the subject being discussed, that is, the inner/outer world of: The Four Articulations for Performance.
THE STRUCTURE OF THE FOUR ARTICULATIONS FOR PERFORMANCE
The Four Articulations for Performance is a template of a few sequences of exercises. The first few are physical. The other series are physical-creative exercises..
The Four Articulations for Performance is the Introduction and Practical Template as a gateway into my whole method Quantum Theatre: Slapstick to Shakespeare. The Four Articulations for Performance has each exercise explained with step-by-step instructions in Chapter 2 of the book Clown Secret. That book is available in two minutes via Kindle. The sibling book is Quantum Theatre: Slapstick to Shakespeare, also available directly via Kindle. Both books are print-on-demand via online booksellers. Any independent local bookseller can order the books via print-on-demand.
The Four Articulations for Performance is in part intended as a warmup and training device that will enhance any other performance method, style or project. It is clear but not dogmatic. It begins with the series solo exercises that can be done simultaneously by many people in one room or studio. The exercises begin with several physical exercises but progress through creative exercises. The solo portion takes about 30-40 minutes. The time can be shortened. The solo section is followed by duets and creative ensemble exercises.
For more information about the method click: https://iraseid.com/method
Part 1: BODY
Be only directly yourself
Conversation 1 Thursday 21st May 2020
Naree: I first met you in April 2006, it was actually April Fool’s day 14 years ago. I have been using the tools of your methodology for the past 14 years and they have been seminal in the clowning therapy programs I have developed for people living with disabilities. I have come to know that the template of The Four Articulations for Performance works. I feel that I can guarantee that this process works. Over the past 14 years, although I have had a lot of doubt in relation to myself, I trusted this process.
How did The Four Articulations reveal itself to you?
Ira: Well, reveal is the right word: literally I was on the Metro in Paris on my way to teach a short workshop and all of a sudden I got this idea. I was just sitting there and as the idea came I understood something important was happening so I got a paper and pen and started writing the idea down on a scrap of paper. I only had about two Metro stops before I had to get off, so only a couple of minutes. At the studio, I entered and looked at the space, and met a couple of participants. Soon when we were ready to start, I explained to the participants that I have this piece of paper, and I just got these ideas, and I think I’m supposed to start teaching ‘this’. I explained, it had already come that it was to be called The Four Articulations and that I had some idea about that. So we began.
Naree: What year was that Metro train ride?
Ira: 2009. Actually it was in May 2009, 11 years ago. That means when you first trained with me was before the formal start of The Four Articulations, but, the principles I was already using in a looser way. Also some of the exercises including Core Mechanics I had created long ago.
Ira: I have a method which is called Quantum Theatre: Slapstick to Shakespeare. That is, or would be, a three or four year full-time University program. I never had the facility or means within myself to find a way to establish and set that in place so I had this kind of self-frustration that I couldn’t really create a situation in which to teach Quantum Theatre: Slapstick to Shakespeare. So necessity is the Mother of Invention. The frustration purged out of me as the idea of The Four Articulations, which is just a five-day workshop. Even when the idea first came, I realised that it was a shortcut into my whole method. Also of course I had been thinking about the four themes generally for years and had also read about them each in various books on the body, space, time, and the space-time continuum.
Ok, that just gives a little bit more background how it came. It came out of my subconscious, it didn’t just happen, it came via frustration.
Naree: Besides the frustration that brewed this into manifestation.
What would you say were the important influences in your life that informed and enabled you to give voice to this template for creativity?
Ira: Well, you know quickly it would be a lifetime of involvement and curiosity and struggles. In a more practical way, I’d say certainly some of the books which I read were influential when I was trying to understand: ‘What is reality? What am I doing? What am I supposed to do with myself? Earlier I had a lot of struggles as a student, at school mainly. I didn’t like being in school. I didn’t like sitting still. I just didn’t fit in particularly well in a classroom situation. Nor socially. I was quite shy but then I’d do some outlandish clowning or antics. And not only did I have a lot of difficulties, I shared my difficulties, particularly with the teachers … (laugh). I was not so well behaved, and I would also space out and look out the window. I was a daydreamer. I wasn’t just upset in school. I also used the time creatively in my imagination. What happened is that finally I graduated and I went into the Navy for four years.
Suddenly there I was very functional. I was a super student in the Navy. I was very good at my craft. I really had a great adventure. Then when my four-year contract was up I decided that I would leave it at that, four years. I’d get out as scheduled and find my way. I had just passed my next rank exam as a Petty Officer First Class. If I renewed my contract that rank was effective immediately. Plus there was a substantial financial bonus in cash, but also in pay upgrade. Nonetheless I had something stirring inside me and I felt whatever that was should be my next adventure.
I enrolled in a small tertiary College. In Australia we would call it a TAFE, a technical school, but in the USA they call it a Community College that is more academic but at a beginning level. It was a two-year University Associate Degree programme. You could pretty much study whatever subjects that you chose at that time. You could take a pot-pourri of subjects. Some courses were geared towards Liberal Arts or Humanities.
What I’m explaining, as mentioned a moment ago, is that all of that was a process of trying to understand: What on Earth am I doing here? What on Earth am I supposed to do? What is good for me? What am I good at?
Eventually through the courses and coincidentally falling into the theatre, I started to find something that I felt at home with. Which was the Arts and performing and being creative and working with other people, in a playful creative way. We were doing plays so it was also intellectual study and the performance of that, the energy you bring out of yourself when you perform. All of those things started to feel like I had come home. I was reading quite a lot, and a lot of different subjects including Sociology, Political Science and Psychology which I had begun reading about during my last cruise, in the Navy. That was aboard the USS Intrepid (CV-11) an Aircraft Carrier that had a fine library. At the College I also took a Literature course. Then eventually I started to find a little bit more esoteric literature. I started to find that I leaned more towards the metaphysical. I started to find such books which opened up a lot of ideas. I don’t know if that answers your question?
Naree: Yeah, it’s a very open question and there are clearly many influences and threads that have percolated in you that led to the frustration that squeezed it out of you … perhaps?
Ira: Yes and I’m matching that with the frustration that I had as a young person, as a student, and there’s a young man going into the Navy and then coming out at that age 21; and being a student again. But it’s not about being a student. The problem also, if I can jump to some things, is that there are a lot of problems every teacher knows. You don’t necessarily honestly discuss it, but I think every teacher in different fields is faced with people coming in not knowing exactly what, or why they are doing a course. And, having a misunderstanding about their relationship with the subject matter the student may not know that themselves. The teacher, instructor, lecturer – whatever they may be, might not understand that problem correctly. But working through those things the student finds their way. Sometimes people go into a university course and after a year they decide to change subjects. Sometimes people get a degree, an advanced degree even and they realise they don’t want to do this work.
My friend Flavien, trained with me one-to-one for quite a few months in 2017.Flavien is from Switzerland and he had just finished his Doctorate in Anthropology. He completed it because he’s an arduous person, but he realised that Anthropology was no longer really what he wanted to do. In his research he found out what was going on in that field. He had very altruistic views about anthropology and helping people through things like NGOs, but he found there were a lot of problems, let’s say if we call a spade a spade – there is corruption. He also had this creative instinct driving inside him and eventually he realised he would like more to be a performer. In our process we found he had an unusual natural gift for Mime. So he had done the full Doctorate already in Anthropology and then he realised that was maybe the last thing in the world he wanted to do i.e. to be stuck in Anthropology. Well that’s ok, our lives unfold. That was the same for me, and eventually I found things I like, including things like us talking together. You and I have had, I was trying to recall today perhaps over 200 emails together in the last few years?
Naree: Or more? A lot!
Ira: That was communication about many different ideas, funny things, discoveries that you made, and our thoughts about that and more. I actually like what I’m doing, you know, and the performance was the beginning part of that journey. But even from the beginning I was asking those other questions; kind of philosophical and metaphysical questions.
My method is a result of that questioning and the result is that I can offer those ideas to other people in a practical and creative way. I’ve written about that in my book Clown Secret, for example in the chapter titled Clown versus God… Notes on The Clown Movement. I explain that a lot of people come to clowning, even if they just come and do a workshop, not necessarily to be a clown, and I think they are seekers, seeking something divine or spiritual, or altruistic or something where they can manifest some goodness in the world or even just inside themselves. It’s a very positive thing I’m explaining, but there is a lot of confusion about what it might yield for them or for other people.
Naree: I think it’s really true that the study, the explorations in creativity are very much about seeking. I remember one time I was at QCR the Quantum Clown Residency, which was held in January. I left that early that first year. I think I was there for two weeks and I went off to a Buddhist retreat, and because of the timing I arrived a day late to the retreat, and the organisers of the Buddhist retreat were really concerned because they thought that I might be quite shocked by the radical nature of this particular Buddhist teacher and I found that quite funny. In a sense, because I’d just been at your clown residency for the past couple of weeks doing training with you, and for me, I have found so many crossovers in my search, in spiritual texts… the discoveries… the life teachings… that I find come through with your methodology, with The Four Articulations… Something that has really struck me is how much wisdom you can access for yourself through doing the exercises connected to each of the Articulations. I have seen so many crossovers with various traditions: Aikido, which I studied for many years, yoga and Chinese and Taoist medical philosophies.
Could you say something about the Universal principles that The Four Articulations are grounded in?
Ira: The Four Articulations are: 1. Body, 2. Space, 3. Time and 4. Space-Time Continuum. Those are in some way integrated within Indigenous Cultures as well as in Eastern teachings. The Jewish Culture is a mix as it is an Indigenous Culture and also an Eastern one. In some way it is a transformed blend of the two that yielded something unique at the same time.
In one way or another The Four Articulations as Universal Principles are also in different religious theologies. A simple perspective about that would be like this: you know we’re all in a body; we’re in space and even now we’re in cyberspace. You and I—we’re sharing cyberspace… and we’re sharing time … And we’re talking about things that are more altruistic universal principles and that’s the space-time-continuum. The space-time continuum is a dimension other than that of the obvious things. The obvious things are we are in a body, in space (and cyberspace) and in time. The not so obvious, the space-time-continuum is possibly our consciousness?
The universal principles that I mention in my method, workshops and writings are first of all those four things that influence every human’s life. Where are you in your body at the moment? Are you feeling OK? Do you need a drink of water? To use the restroom? To get some fresh air? Ahhhhhh … Do you need to breathe? If you’re smiling can you feel your cheek? Can you use your hands when you are talking? Are you listening? Are you nodding when you hear?
All of those things are physical.
And we’re in space somewhere. Even if some people are out in the Space Station, they are in the Space Station itself, they’re travelling in another sphere as well, yet they’re also physically located within that Space Station. That capsule and the time; they are located up there for a set amount of time. They have a lot of things they have to do which are technical, operational, and experimental. They and their tasks are time oriented. There is only so much time in a day to use. We wake up in the morning. Time is right now and I can hear the chickens singing. Some places have birds. If I can wherever I live and tour, I like to hear birds especially in the morning. Here we have the crows early in the morning and we have some other birds yodelling before that. But the crows really let out that first belch that says ‘it’s all happening kids’. The other birds come. They have a sense of time related to the Moon and the Sun, and the elements. And we’re part of that in time. I’m not necessarily talking about the time on the clock. That’s another factor, but it’s time in a more natural sense, rather than a more mechanical sense, maybe nature is also mechanical in some ways? In a post-Isaac Newton mechanical way?
Naree: Is that type of time more like rhythm? I just want to bring us back here to the body being located right here, right now, in the body. You know there are natural rhythms and there are natural organic processes that are part of this body. It’s a huge idea when I try to think about what the body is? What is it? To bring understanding, I like to create little acronyms… to understand what something is …
If you were to use the letters B. O. D. Y. to create an acronym that somehow encapsulates ‘the body’, what would that be for you?
Naree: That is powerful. You know there, that is the journey. The question is how do we do that – how do we truly give ourselves permission to be ourselves? Be Only Directly Yourself, I love that.
Ira: You know. Practice. It takes practice and it also takes – we all have different views on things, and that’s fine. I don’t think there is any right way, or best way. What is a self? Or what is a person, or what is the body? There is room for very divergent concepts. Although I think it takes a lifetime to be yourself. I’m of the philosophy that every day you’re learning to be more yourself or a better version of yourself, or sharing yourself in a better way. The journey of our life as I understand it is all the way up until the split second before you die… or maybe even the moment of death?
I created one-clown theatre piece that was about the split second before the old clown dies. We hear of people who have had what is called a ‘near death experience’ and are able to report, they say their life flashed before them. We know that as a phenomenon of people who have nearly died, who say they died and then came back. But we can’t prove that. They can say that they can prove that but you can’t prove that in a scientific way I don’t think?
Maybe you can someday? Maybe somebody knows how but they may not be able to prove it to others? Yet we understand there is a phenomenon whereby people have had a close encounter with dying and in that moment they had their life flash before them, and they’ve told us about that. That also confirms what the religious and spiritual teachers have known. Especially the religious people as they were the ones who were there and called in when the person was dying, and they were giving what in some religions is referred to as the last rites, the last rituals? Also the person has the chance, the person can talk, and to confess in the…not in the sense of the theological way, but to say something to get off of the burden of their soul, or their heart, their mind… or their guilt… or their joy… they might tell someone “I love you” for the first time. They might say to their priest or their rabbi or their imam… or a secular person filling that role, they can tell the listener “Can you please tell my brother that I love him”, or, whatever they need to say at that moment.
That last moment we’re meant to live our lives up until that last conscious moment or that last breath. The person may or may not be conscious? We might say they are not conscious, ‘because the Doctors tell us so’. The Doctor might say they are not conscious, but we don’t know.
The dying person might have some consciousness that is imperceptible medically or scientifically? I feel we are meant to live our lives all the way to the end to the last second. We hear rumours, some people say they know that your life continues, that your spirit continues, that your soul continues. Ok, well whatever. That’s fine. I don’t have a problem with that, but when we are alive like we are now we are meant to live and develop and be only directly ourselves, all the way up until the end of time i.e. the end of time as we know it consciously. Can I add something there?
Ira: I don’t know where I’ve written this, it’s either in Clown Secret or the interview I recently did for Marijana Matokovic for Croatia? Must be in Clown Secret? Here’s the idea: I think in my workshops I work in a particular way, I always have done this and I think when you do one of my more simple creative exercises—for example The Buster Keaton Exercise—in its basic form only takes one minute. There is a further form but the basic form is one minute. The Buster Keaton Exercise is a clown exercise and a creativity exercise for body and space and all four articulations. I think you are meant to live that minute of your life fully.
A lot of my work uses that philosophically you’re living your fullest life at that moment in the workshop. Particularly when you’re up on the floor when you’re doing a creative exercise. You are meant to be, as far as I understand, or what I think, or what my philosophy is, you are meant to live fully directly yourself to the fullest at that point.
Now that’s complicated because we are also learning about acting and clowning and people are also purging different things out of their soul and their psychology and their past and their dreams of the future. So it’s a very interesting one minute of our lives. The exercises are done, this is a universal principle, they are done mechanically, the instructions are always simple. In my exercises there are always only a few steps. But my god it is intense! And you know, it can also be a total joy. Joy is intense.
Naree: I’m sitting here laughing as you speak, playing back in my mind the many times I was in the workshop space doing those exercises and facing my struggle. I had a big struggle. Big turmoil. I was working through some big pieces. But if I can go back, I think it was one of your first workshops, that might have been say 2007 … 2008? So I was new to the work, and I remember I was in such turmoil, such inner struggle, and I asked to speak to you as I was really disturbed by what was coming up for me and I said something to you along the lines of:
“But – what you are asking me to do in relation to my own body is completely counter-cultural. I have been conditioned to not be free in my body, not free to move according to my own rhythms and timing.” I remember I was in quite a state of trying to work through this complexity of what you were presenting.
Could you speak to this struggle and challenge in relation to the conflict between the inner and outer world?
Ira: From another angle that’s what the work is about. I think most creative trainings are not only about the craft and skill and technique and the possible, let’s say future employment. They are also about the creative encounter of oneself, and one’s self in the world, that also means the world in oneself. There may be things that a person is carrying from their past which are painful, or painful lessons and that might get in the way of the person expressing themselves spontaneously, authentically in that moment in time, in an exercise, or an improvisation, or rehearsal or even in a performance. On the other hand, those things are really good fodder; that’s what we draw from, we draw from our life’s struggles artistically and we make it whole within yourself and that becomes our whole self-expression of our inner world; our full dimension; or all our dimensions in a whole way, a holistic way, a complete way, a good way communicating that to the outside world and the response, especially in something like clown or commedia which are direct to the public; or acting which is not Fourth Wall, or also acting that is Fourth Wall, it is just as valid as anything. The actor can feel the presence of the audience, they may not be thinking of it, they feel it.
Some people in old show business really experienced it as love, the audience’s love, the audience would transmit that love, their love for the beauty of the performer, the talent, the skill, the joy, the humour, the wit of the performer. It was very well known and the performers experienced different forms of love from the different audiences. Sometimes they’d feel there was antagonism as well, c’est la vie.
The inner and outer world, your question is important because in another way we can say that’s what it’s all about. There are a number of “that’s what it’s all abouts”. It’s all about the Body, in Time, in Space in the Space-Time Continuum. It’s also about being a seeker and wanting to seek your purpose in the world and seeking to make this world a better place, and it’s all about the inner and outer struggle of the artist and human being, sharing that or expressing that in some way, with the viewer.
Naree: You were just speaking about this notion of receiving love from the audience, generating positive feelings. A lot of my time as a performer my inner critic was such an unforgiving task-master intent on me only seeing the imperfection in myself.
Ira: A different form of love.
Naree: Very cruel:) It’s been a very challenging aspect for myself, finding peace in relation to my inner critic who was so harsh, so cruel. It would almost take me into a place of dysfunction. Mechanically my body would become – I couldn’t do the simplest of things because of this overriding inner judgement going on.
How do you understand ‘The inner Critic’? What are the remedies for the inner critic and other inner gremlins that bring on suffocating shame inside the Body?
Ira: I think it’s the same as in meditation, and there are all kinds of meditations by the way, but generally in meditation “the monkey mind” is the thoughts which will come up when you sit to meditate. When you sit to have a spiritual experience, or when you sit to be pure or whatever you want to call it, or pure light, you will have the thoughts come up and you should usually let them go – that’s the most important thing mechanically speaking. That’s the primary lesson in learning to meditate or in developing one’s meditation: whatever the thoughts are, let them go; don’t struggle with them, you let them go. You have to practise that. Meditation takes practice. Some people say start with 5 minutes a day twice a day; or 10 minutes a day, twice a day, or an hour a day, twice a day – whatever – it doesn’t matter. It might matter within some dogma but it doesn’t actually matter. For example, does it matter whether you sit for 58 minutes or 60 or 64 minutes? The point is to sit still, you quiet your mind, you get in tune with your breathing and also you get in tune with whatever altruistic vision you might be using to meditate upon – and you have to practise. You learn to let go of bothersome thoughts of ‘monkey mind’. Like one’s ‘inner critic’.
It’s the same with performance work. One has to develop the will power and focus on the task at hand. That leaves very little space for one’s ‘inner critic’. Or at least by developing will power and focus on the task at hand one will be able to know the exact moment and cause for the ‘inner critic’ to arise. We try to understand that even the ‘inner critic’ can assist us on our journey.
In Clown, it is the same issue. So sometimes I refer to The Four Articulations as “Push ups For Clowns” which is actually its other name that I use. A nickname that cuts to the chase i.e. Four Articulations provides precise and useful tools to develop Clown will power. Yet the exact same exercises are immediately useful for anyone in the performing arts.
To a large degree all fields operate dogmatically. Pierre Bourdieu explains that exactly. He refers to a field’s dogma as “orthodoxy” and anything new that comes along is “heterodoxy”. The orthodoxy does everything possible to fend off the heterodoxy. Albeit there are a number of different dogmas within the field of Clown. If I have any dogma I would say it is: that I say my method has no dogma. I claim it has no driving aesthetic. Performance modality adherence to a specific aesthetic is the cause or anchor of dogma.
By the way, within my basic method The Four Articulations, the 2nd creative exercise, the 2nd exercise in The 7 Solos is a ‘clown cult busting tool’. That is The Nothing Exercise. The instructions are so simple!!! But IMPORTANTLY the creative part has no aesthetics and thus no dogma. Nonetheless one can improve their own engagement with that exercise and via that approach one can take control of their clown journey on a daily basis and throughout all projects and through their career – on their own terms.
In my work, my method, what I do is I work quite hard when I teach. Hard only in the sense that my concentration is intense the whole time as if our lives depended on what we are doing. I try to guide people to learn what to pay attention to. Then they don’t have to worry about what not to pay attention to. There is less and less space for ‘inner critic’.
The whole thing, of Core Mechanics, is that it is a physical, moving meditation on professional attention. Core Mechanics is the choreography of 10 movements that takes 10 minutes, there are 100’s of counts in Core Mechanics. So there is something for the mind to learn to focus on.
As you do that, your breathing will more or less take care of itself actually. You don’t have time to be thinking about other things, you’ve got to be alert to go on to the next movement. You’ve got to pay attention to the movement you are doing, yet, you must be ready to do the next movement. It’s a trick that I teach people. It is a normal professional performance trick. I help people to learn the trick that is to put your mind upon and into the right thing and you never in your life again have to worry about the wrong thing.
That might take time.
That might take years.
You might get it in the first minute that I say it and then still it’s a matter of practising it.
The practice might take time and also when you get into different circumstances, the gremlins, those negative thoughts, they’ll come up in new circumstances, where they didn’t come up in perhaps five other situations, suddenly they appear again. That alertness is also throughout my methodology. I am required to sustain that same alertness through every moment as a Teacher and as a Director of theatre. The methodology is not dogmatic, yet it has an order and a structure.
But then I play with that order and structure, and I teach people that it’s the Universal Principles in the exercises that are the most important thing.
But there’s a methodology whereby I take you this way and that way … and this way and a new way, and, I can almost guarantee that even for a very experienced professional they will come in and they will be pleasantly jolted because they are going into one area or another in that hour warm up, in the basic training once they know the exercises, they’re going to go into areas that they always wanted to go into or that they never wanted to. Yet even if it is something they never wanted to do they will simply and gently be pleasantly surprised that they can negotiate their experience in a way that suits them.
The idea is to give enough variety in the daily training without losing a sense of the clarity and simplicity within each exercise, without losing a sense of chronology, overall structure and objectives. During the process you’ve kind of done an ‘acupuncture’ training within yourself. You’ve opened up all those places in a way that you can deal with them, and where they’re healthy. That in a way is a metaphor for life, and you can go out into life having faced different things that we get into and you might be able to handle it or you might see “oh my god” this is coming up again. That said, right now (May 2020) we are under a different set of restrictions within this ‘pandemic’, or whatever you want to call it, this thing, let’s call it this ‘thing’ – I’ve gone into two shops recently in the last couple of days, because things are opening up a bit more, and people were, well, the manager or owners were very aggressive to me, to try to get me to buy the thing that they were selling, and I’ve never really experienced it that way, you know Australia is pretty laid back, and let me tell you these two people, in two completely different types of businesses they were extremely stressed and aggressive about wanting me to take whatever they gave me to buy. I just walked into the shop(s) and in one I was just asking about something and in the other they asked me about something and I had to find a way to deal with that, their sales aggression, and I didn’t really like it, so I was confronted within myself. So I said “No thank you, thank you”, and I’m walking out and they’re still trying to sell me and I said “Thank you, have a good day”, waving. I get out of there and I go “Oh my God”! So I was shaken.
So I’m saying I’m no better than anybody else.
Things do encounter us.
The Dalai Lama tells a great thing when he says: “If you think you’re really spiritual, and you think you are really a master, you sit still and meditate and what happens when there is one mosquito?” One. One.
A human will have a very profound encounter with themself, to get the message from the universe that you are not yet a master. In fact, Life is the master, not you.
And so we have to get over what are sometimes called perfect pictures; that we have to be perfect; and you DON’T. You don’t.
Naree: I think that perhaps that’s one of the greatest challenges to get over, the need to be perfect. Particularly in something like the arts and wanting to become a master of your craft and really put your best foot forward. But you can be driven, if you can come back to the inner critic of needing to be perfect, and that driving can become very unhealthy?
Ira: I can assure you if you take somebody in our fields, who imagines that they are perfect and you give them one of my little exercises, one of the creative exercises, that something profound will come up inside them, organically.
I’m not causing that.
The exercises themselves are so simple; that’s why it allows our gunk, or stuff or goodness, or spirituality; it allows this other thing to come up and… you realise, you should start all over again today. Like today’s a new beginning. The idea of perfection is very tricky. I think in some forms you can have like a perfect juggler and I think you can have like a perfect acrobat maybe in a certain acrobatic skill, or maybe in something like classical piano, that is one of the great things of a high level, of refinement, of perfection so to speak… but then you have Glen Gould. I don’t know if you know Glen Gould who was a Canadian pianist? He was a very great pianist but he would play Bach or a composition and he would play it with different emotions, the same notes, same keys, the same composition but he would play it with a different feeling and the composition changed without changing a note. There’s a demonstration, a documentary of him, that would be on Youtube and numerous general videos of him playing various compositions.
Gould is very interesting because even though he was considered, let’s say perfect or at a high level, he was saying no, there are all different ways to express any composition. He was challenging the whole idea of perfection in classical piano. And I mention classical piano, or classical music, because they are so extremely refined, they require such impeccable training, you have to almost always, not always but you need a master teacher, at the highest level refining and helping you to refine and refine.
I’m just saying, even with something like that, which does have a kind of perfection, there are these other levels. I think it’s an illusion. Perfection is, it’s not a bad illusion, but it’s an illusion that is a carrot in front of our nose leading us forward; that makes us improve, makes us get better. In a way, since I’ve known you I know you’ve had those kinds of struggles but you’ve also had all kinds of attributes. The perfection is enjoying our time together today. That’s the perfection. It’s not some outside thing, it’s the experience of refinement, of refining what you are doing. Refining who you are. Each of us in a different way.
Naree: That word refinement, I’ll accept that word. ‘Perfection’, I have to chuck that word out.
Ira: Perfection is a nice word if you use it …
Naree: In a refined way …
Ira: You can have a piece of cake and someone asks “How was that?” and you say “That was perfection.” That’s beautiful. Of course ‘beautiful’ like any word can also be used sarcastically against people. Nonetheless, ‘perfection’ is a beautiful word.
Naree: The journey of being confronted and encountering ourselves and becoming ourselves and to keep doing that. I like the word refine.
I want to share one last story because I do think it is connected to that struggle I had with the perfectionist inside me. Because it combines ‘perfection’ with a type of culture.
Around four years ago I became very ill. My nervous system seemed to stop working; i.e. my cognitive brain stopped working well; I could hardly think; I had this brain fog, I had problems with my hearing and my balance went, I had a lot of physical pain. I was having panic attacks. It was awful. I was trying all manner of therapies and medicines to help me get better and nothing was working. The following January I attended the QCR (Quantum Clown Residency) for a few days of training and it was like a miracle because as I was training, in my limited capacity, I wasn’t in pain and the brain fog lifted. I even did a supported back flip! It was a whoopee moment of great joy.
What’s your perspective on this situation of what took place through the process of the training?
Ira: Again, I think that when we move our body, and when we move our body creatively, it’s healing. So if there’s something not well inside of yourself, the work or method will give that block a chance to move. One of the principles I think in acupuncture, is that energy sometimes gets blocked, so what the acupuncture does is it dissipates the blockage. Acupuncture distributes the energy through the meridian. The energy can move, which means whatever was the so-called problem, starts to dissipate, people say disappear as it is no longer blocked. I think we can do that creatively or via creativity. The way we are discussing is The Four Articulations which is a template and chronological series of exercise sets which are physical and creative, and which utilise our intellect and imagination, by also tapping into and giving expression to the subconscious.
Certainly my exercises are there for people to come in and encounter themselves every day. Some methods and some teachers adhere to so much aesthetic perfection and rigidity, objectives about “it has to be this way” about what we are doing and it doesn’t give the person a chance to move that energy. For other people, at other times, it is very good for them to go, for example, to an Iyengar yoga class, or to a ballet class and the teacher says “No, not so high, and lift your hip and do this and do that”. In that struggle, you feel better after the hour and a half ballet class. You feel really great. You’ve moved, you’ve dissipated that blocked energy.
I’m just saying there are two opposite ways in the performing arts; One is through a very clear physical discipline; and the other is through an open and creative play so to speak, but just open play is an illusion. The Four Articulations, as a method, we are discussing is a transformation of a solid clear disciplined logical structure combined with a lot of play. I also consider that The Four Articulations is: 1st a Warmup; 2nd a disciplined Way; and, 3rd a preparation for pursuing any other training that an artist, friends, a school, a company or a project is working towards. I like that the actor, the artist, the participant, that the person has to stay conscious, and that they are conscious of what they are playing with: what it is they are doing. So it’s not a freeform play. It is playing with your consciousness, playing with your ‘Self’; and that moves our energy. And it can happen very quickly. Literally in a few minutes a person can come in the door feeling like hell, and a couple of minutes go by and they realise ‘I don’t feel that way anymore’. That can happen a lot of ways even by going to work out in a gym or going for a run. In our work my method’s warmup is providing a direct way for a performing artist to lift one’s spirit by engaging with the form of creative physicality in space and time.
We also know it is not psychosomatic, but that we have psychological, mental, emotional things that we work through as a human being. That is our composition. As much as the stellar, earthly, chemical composition we are above all Humans. We are also perhaps like wolves and many highly social animals.
Some people work through a block by evading it. Which is ok, whatever works. We have these internal stressors and sometimes they get the best or better of us, but through our physicality, our physical training, and our physical creative training which is what I do; it’s not just creative in other words, it’s physically creative but we also involve your mind, your intellect, and your emotions. So it’s holistic and that makes us feel better.
Nobody has to be a dancer or an acrobat to do the work. They don’t have to do the whole training; they can do one exercise. For example: The Nothing Exercise. A simple exercise. Even more simple is: The Essence of Nothing Exercise (named by Jasper Burfoot and Caspar Schjelbred). To try that, stand still with your arms in front of you, and then do one movement with the whole body including using the knees and arms. (Ira suddenly acts out as though he has seen something a bit scary and brings fisted hands up close to his mouth and then reaches out) Go with that feeling generated by one movement and its flowing action.
Just do that five minutes a day in the morning and you know, you are going to feel pretty good. It just opens you up and you feel “I’m ready to go to work” because I’ve attuned to myself as I am right now and I can also transform that into action for the day.
In our creative work and exercises of The Four Articulations any weakness can become a creative attribute.
Philosophically, we can apply that to our life.
Practically that may not be so easy but we can practise and improve.
We can develop resistance, resilience and persistence.
We can try.
As far as I’m concerned The Four Articulations is simply a Way to Try.
Uniquely even The Nothing or The Essence of Nothing are self-satisfying immediately.
Plus you can do it when you’re exhausted, dejected, miserable, scared, shy, hurt, suffering. Uniquely if you give those feelings creative playful expression their blocked nature suddenly transforms in minutes.
The two Nothing Exercise(s) give a concise way to create such playful expressions.
It is almost bizarre as a phenomenon.
But it is practical and real and I like to think that it simply stems from Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man that was inspired by Vitruvius who was himself inspired by many and much that preceded himself.
Naree: Just recently I’ve been working with an online student on zoom, doing some Voice work. I’ve been using some of the simple vocal exercises that you offer and they’ve done exactly that, they’ve moved the energy, with moving the sound, with opening the body. Which actually helped to lift the spirit of this boy, who was really down by the confinement of the current circumstances. To move our Body is remarkable. And one final question regarding movement of the body.
I have never been able to do the splits, even with all my dance and gymnastics training I’ve never been able to split properly … yet you Dr Seidenstein … even at all your age, are splitting. Can you explain this phenomenon? 🙂
Ira: You know, I have heard, from physios and others, and maybe it is a scientific fact, I don’t know, but I have heard some people can do the splits and some people can’t.
Parts 2, 3, 4 below:
Part 1 Body
Part 2 Space
Part 3 Time
Part 4 Space-Time Continuum
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