Sunday, 9th December 2018

Paul Spencer Sochaczewski

“Find ze kom-plee-ci-teh”

Posted on 30. Aug, 2009 by in Personal essays

Wearing a red nose helps business leaders love their inner warrior and avoid the “b” word

NEW YORK

“Take me out to the ball game…” I sing while approaching 17 other workshop participants who stare at me, partly in collegial encouragement, partly out of voyeuristic pleasure that it is me up on stage and not them.

“Slo-were,” shouts Philippe Gaulier, giving these two syllables a Maurice Chevalier-like Franglais charm.

Slower?  Doesn’t this guy know that singing in front of a group of strangers is terrifying enough without being asked to keep the energy high and the pace glacial?

“Take..me..out..to..the..game.”

“Ah-ten-SHUN! You are too fast,” Gaulier admonishes. “Don’t machine gun.”

“Buy….me….some….pea….nuts….and….crack…” The banal words (yes, this was the only song I could think of that I knew all the words to) take on the feeling of bad melodramatic opera whispered forcefully in an empty cathedral by an opera singer overdosed with Prozac.  Barbara and Ernest, two workshop colleagues, hold on to my arms, forcing me to move at a pace that would be unreasonably slow for even the most pretentious bride.

“Find the kom-plee-ci-teh with the oh-dee-once,” Gaulier insists. “Then you will be un vrai clown.”

Then I see what he’s forcing me to do.  My presentation style sometimes veers to the rapid end of the spectrum.  If I slow down people will listen more closely. Less is more.

My singing debut was part of a “destabilizing” weekend for business leaders run by acting teachers Isabelle Anderson and Philippe Gaulier. Their objective: help us to get in touch with our inner clowns.

Australian-born Anderson, 49, studied in Paris with Gaulier and Peter Brooke.  She has a dancer’s body, speaks excellent French, studied yoga and meditation for 25 years, and quotes Shakespeare with a clear voice that would carry to the back stalls of a large theater.  In a nondescript hotel meeting room near JFK airport she wants us to find our inner warriors.

“An effective leader is like a martial arts expert,” explains Anderson, who practices akido and teaches performance skills to a Who’s Who of business leaders.

“You have to sense your presence and power, your awareness and alertness,” she advises. She shows us how much force we have when we breathe deeply. “Being a warrior isn’t about conquering and smashing but about always holding your center and using the energy around you. In business, if you’re in that posture you flow with your energy, you don’t get overwhelmed, and you don’t overwhelm others.  It’s a dance.”

We experiment with how it feels to have our “centers” in our knees, in our hips, our chests, our heads. Each posture changes our outlook on the world and also changes how people look at us.  When we scrunch up our shoulders and lower our heads we have to look up to have a conversation with someone; our presence is subservient, our voices constricted.  When we stand up tall like a soldier, shoulders back, chins held high, most of us involuntarily assume a mock-British upper class accent.

Anderson actively helps students figure out how to use what they’ve just learned, but Gaulier, 58, is less structured, an anarchistic Puck who finds joy when the student discovers his own insights with a minimum of intervention. Gaulier encourages us to seek kom-plee-ci-teh with a partner while we run races carrying a rubber ball between our foreheads.  He sits on a chair with his head down, his hands on his thighs.  Dressed in black shirt and black jeans he lifts his head to gaze at us through heavy black round glasses perched on a shaggy bearded-face.  Suspenders press a black Mont Blanc fountain pen into his chest. He’s used to working for months with acting students who absorb the experience almost through their genes.  A quick fix guy he ain’t.

I see Anderson’s and Gaulier’s complementary nature during my “Take me out to the ball game” exercise.

Gaulier wants me to simultaneously slow down while “speaking louder.”  Like most of my colleagues at the workshop, few of whom have had acting training, I didn’t know what he meant by “speaking louder”.  I started screeching, pushing.  Gaulier, wanted me to discover myself how to project without loudness.  Anderson came up to me and put her hand on my diaphragm, reminding me of the power of correct breathing.

Part of Anderson’s solution to stage fright, a major fear of many businesspeople, is to not become a victim.  Most people stand on a podium and feel that everyone is watching them.  We learn to shift the perspective and practice scanning the room in a sense of discovery. We become the hunters.  We have the power.  We seek out people in the audience and form a relationship.  We examine life through the exploring eyes of the clown.

“That’s the secret of the clown” Gaulier explains.  “The sense of discovery and strength.  The clown is a hero.”

The inner clown has another name:  “Mister Flop.”

By this Gaulier means that the audience doesn’t care whether the clown “flops” because we love the actor who lets us see his true personality.  The clown shows us a bit of his real soul and he takes a child’s pleasure in playing. “Every actor feels Mister Flop coming every night. But it doesn’t matter. If you have pleasure you can never be bad.”

The greatest insult we can give ourselves, and to our colleagues and ‘audience’, according to Gaulier, is to be “boooring.”

And so we play.

We play musical chairs.  When the music stops and we find ourselves chair-challenged we must imitate an animal for seven seconds then show our friends how much pleasure we have in acting silly.  I have so much pleasure in mimicking a cat that I forget when seven seconds are up. “Adios immediately,” Gaulier tells me and I leave the game.

Ravi and Ted play the game with a single chair and shove each other to claim the prize. “Ah-ten-SHUN.  We don’t see two friends going to have a fun together,” Gaulier tells us. “We see a German and a French. We see two chair maniacs who grew up in a house without chairs, not two friends teasing and having a play.”

Gaulier puts on Albioni’s adagio.  One by one we pretend we’re on a catwalk, trying to be seductive, enjoying the attention.  “You are too King Kong,” he tells one guy.  To a woman he admonishes, “That is a Yugoslavia walk, not a Paris walk.   Adios Sarajevo.”

The biggest faux pas a student can commit during the weekend is to play small. “If you’re in the light, either onstage or in someone’s attention, you can’t afford to be small,” Gaulier says.  “You’re not just the space around your shoes. If you don’t take pleasure in even the smallest things that you do, then you don’t have an aura. You have to be so charming that people think ‘If my daughter marries this man, or if my son marries this woman, I will be fucking happy.’ If you don’t exude pleasure then you can’t be an actor – or a leader.  You have to emit a beautiful freedom.”

Anderson shows us how to ground ourselves with “down” energy, how to expand with “upward” energy.  She gets us to move like the elements.  The feeling is exhilarating as we sense different inner forces as we burn with fire and float in the wind.

She has us don neutral masks and experiment with different aspects of our personality. Then we select personality masks that “talk to something deep inside.”  Most of us go to dark places.  One woman dons a mask and her normally placid persona takes on an angry color.  “I told you what to do but you don’t listen,” she yells at the rest of us.  We watch, stunned.  Her voice takes on an edge of desperation.  “I can’t do it all myself.”  The masks takes over all of us, our breathing changes; our voices take on tones that we manage to hide during our normal lives.

So, what’s the bottom line? Does all this red nose stuff and talk about accepting “Mister Flop” make me a better animateur when I lead my writing workshops?

Well, come to one and find out.

And if you ask, I might just mesmerize you with “Buy..…me.….some……pea……nuts..….and..….crac……ker……jacks.…..” Hopefully, it won’t even occur to you to mention the “b” word.