By Matt

MINDFULNESS & PUPPETRY – PAYING ATTENTION TO WHAT’S THERE

Mindfulness is a term that seems to have come to the spotlight of late. The ancient meditation practice seems to have been reinvented and rebranded for the modern day individual and, to all accounts, seems more important than ever. Ruby Wax, well-known comedian and writer, after suffering from depression turned to mindfulness after sending herself back to university gaining a masters degree in the neuroscience in relation to mindfulness.

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Since then, she has made herself the poster girl for the practice and fights the taboo in talking about mental health. In her book “Sane new world” she states that our brains are not built to handle a 21st century lifestyle and that technology has advanced faster than us, in return giving us a backlash of more ways to worry, get depressed and stress. Mindfulness can help us cope with this!

For anyone who hasn’t tried it, it’s simply remaining present in this moment, at this time, in these circumstances. Whenever I have tried it, I find there is usually an anchoring system to focus the mind to be present. Your breath, the sensation under your feet, how you are sitting, the flame of a candle. I’ve even eaten a raisin mindfully, a process which was guided under instruction and took about 35 minutes. Bizarrely after this, I’ve never eaten a raisin since as in eating it mindfully, I realised I don’t actually like them. Strange how things change when you really pay attention to them!

Without diverting off the point too much here, whatever the activity or anchor, whatever is used to quiet the mind, you don’t pass judgement. If your thoughts wander off, and they do, simply tune them back to the anchor.

So, how can this relate to puppetry?

Well when I was first taught, one of the first things we did was taking a series of puppets and discovering their inherent qualities. It felt strangely disrespectful to drag a marionette across the floor and whirl a glove puppet around. However, in doing so, you quickly learn where the puppet holds weight (and also counterbalances), how it is jointed (and therefore how it moves) and how much force it takes to do so. You learn how the puppet likes to perform. I’ve seen this process done in many different ways with other puppeteers and puppetry practitioners.

Over the past few years I’ve thought of puppetry as almost a double act. Puppeteer and puppet work together to give a performance and communicate, even though one may be in focus more than the other. In this instance knowing what your fellow performer can do is exceptionally useful. In effect the puppet provides half the performance and does most of the hard work – this is where well made puppets come into their own.

I only made this possible connection between puppetry and mindfulness recently  – through various other pieces of professional development work I am undertaking. When mindfully meditating, you focus on what is there. When road-testing a puppet you pay attention to what is there and try not to inflict (there are various schools on thought as to how much conscious handling is inflicting movement, but this is perhaps for another blog to discuss). I feel I need to experiment as to whether it is possible to puppeteer mindfully, and whether this is a valid form of thought and process, bearing in mind other approaches. I know many people who have never puppeteered before say they find the experience very meditative. Maybe it’s time to get some mindfulness practitioners, puppeteers and neuroscientists in a room together. What happens to the brain when one puppeteers?

If you have any thoughts on this, or any experience, why not get in touch. I’m on twitter at @HutchinsonMatt or on email, Matt@matt-hutchinson.com

As always, some links to further indulge your brains…

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sane-New-World-Taming-Mind/dp/1444755757/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473848147&sr=8-1&keywords=sane+new+world

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mindfulness-Guide-Frazzled-Ruby-Wax/dp/024118648X/ref=pd_bxgy_14_img_2?ie=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=HPGST31D6695AXW2E4QD

And for those of you who enjoy an audiobook, I can recommend “Mindfulness in 8 Weeks” by Michael Chakalson

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mindfulness-Eight-Weeks-revolutionary-clear/dp/0007591438/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1473848372&sr=1-1&keywords=mindfulness+in+8+weeks

 

 

HABITS… ALL PART OF THE PROCESS?

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about habits. By habits, I mean ingrained ways of thinking or processes that seem to happen on autopilot. Charles Duhigg in his book “The Power of Habit”  – which I have to say is an excellent read if you are interested in psychology and self improvement – breaks down the habit into a three step process.

A trigger is fired in reaction to something else. This trigger usually happens because of a want or desire (not necessarily a positive one) and results in an action. This culminates in a result. More often than not, both trigger and result are psychological and the action is physical. It isn’t necessarily as clear cut as 1, 2, 3, hey presto, something happens. The action may also occur at the same time as both trigger and result, i.e. sucking your thumb which nurtures and comforts and feeds itself on a sort of cycle.

In this instance the word “habit” seems to only relate to smaller action, and I guess that can be said of all habits really. What is interesting is the greater effect of them.

Twyla Tharp in her book “The Creative Habit” – which I have to re-work through at some point – talks about the elements of her creative process and her approach to work, her “habits” if you will, as “rituals”. I think has a lovely sense of ceremony to it and puts a great deal of importance into the creation of work. Again, these seem to be smaller actions though which relate to a larger effect within a process. For instance, Ms Tharp, a former dancer turned choreographer, likes to begin her day with an intensive work out at the gym, to condition and reconnect with her body. Is the habit that she likes to go to the gym? No, she argues. Her habit and ritual is the fact that she steps outside her New York apartment and orders a taxi to take her there. Small action, large result.

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This process for Ms Tharp sets her up for the day before she attends rehearsals, however it is part of her autopilot system that allows her to create work. In this sense, I guess this is why I have also been thinking about habits, habits that go into the creative process or into the creation of work. Reason being, I don’t feel like I have any!

For design work, I have approached every project differently. In performance, I have never had a standard warm up that I have done at the start of every working day. I have always tailored what I am doing to what I think is the most suitable thing to the project – to what the work needs. On the plus side, at least it means I am adaptable. Negatively, the inner artist inside me wails, “What is my process?!”.

Perhaps this in itself is a habit. I have the habit of preparing – however arguably I would have thought every creative practitioner must engage in some kind of preparation before undertaking a task. If they don’t, I would hope it would be a part of the process and a well judged opinion not to do so!

Within preparation though, I can’t argue I have any habits. I seem to do with what I and the work need. I know of designers and visual artists who seem to go through what I would describe as a Pinterest immersion period, where hundreds of images flood boards and are shared with various collaborators. Directors who, no matter what the piece, will find and read an extensive list of reading material. Visual artists who immediately go wild with a camera. Movement specialists who have done the same warm up for 10 years. These are the rituals these practitioners have in their preparatory phase. Over my time making work, I have done all of these things, but none of them religiously. That if to remove this from my process, I would be lost.

As I advance through this stage of creative development, I am paying close attention to what I do and what I don’t do. Maybe this is why my work to date has been so varied, my habit is to adapt and find new appropriate habits to make the work flourish.

Let’s see, shall we?

Some further reading, in case anyone fancies it.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Creative-Habit-Learn-Use-Life/dp/0743235274/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473695879&sr=8-1&keywords=creative+habit+twyla

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Power-Habit-Why-What-Change/dp/1847946240/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473695903&sr=8-1&keywords=the+power+of+habit

WHY BLOG?

Well, it’s a question I have asked myself a number of times too. Blogs, for me, have always been something other people did and more often than not, something I was asked to contribute to by the production’s marketing team. I’ve never quite understood their purpose.

I’m currently using this year to really engage with my professional and creative development. By that I mean I’m looking at what I do, how I do it and why. I’m being asked to take on new responsibilities and roles, having been out of training for 5 years, my approach to work has changed. I value different things and different aspects of puppetry appeal to me. I feel I owe it to my own progression as an artist to be honest with myself and look at how I can support and steer my development moving forward.

Part of this has been an extensive amount of reading – I’ll be putting some book reviews up later – but this leads me on to answering “why blog?”
I recently read “Art and Fear: Observations on the Rewards (and Perils) of Art Making” by Ted Orland and David Bayles, and “Show Your Work!” by Austin Kleon; coming across both on various reading lists for creative practitioners. Interestingly, both of them  (despite the time difference in publication) discuss the idea of sharing the development of your work and using it as a recording and documenting process.
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“Art & Fear” makes an excellent point saying that art – in whatever form – is only ever seen by the audience as a final product. A painting hangs in a gallery, finished, a dance piece is seen rehearsed and under performance conditions. As such, an audience never really understands the development that the artist has gone through to get there. It may well be the artist didn’t intend to finish the journey with this result however, in the context of an audience engaging with it for the first time, with no previous knowledge, they will base their thoughts and opinions on what they see in front of them.
I remember, years ago, seeing an object/visual/physical theatre piece that involved a performer dipping themselves in ink and thrashing around on stage to create these very violent distressing black and white images on huge canvases, whilst his fellow performer played a xylophone style instrument made out of stones. I was later told after reading a blurb about the piece that it was an examination of the brief moment before a crow lands (specific, non?) An interesting and rich source of inspiration, however I couldn’t work out how they got to having a barrel of ink and a stone xylophone and this very manic performance. Not that I wanted to see the essence or an exact reenactment of a crow landing procedure onstage, that’s not what theatre is about (if I wanted to watch that, I would go bird watching), but I wanted to know how they got to what I saw in front of me. Even if it were to appreciate each moment of the process as individual art pieces themselves.
“Show Your Work!” encouimage1rages artists to share what they are doing, at all stages of the process. There are lots of different reasons for doing so – this book being published much more recently and aware of social media and online sharing platforms – however, in sharing, it encourages artists and audiences to engage in discussion and peak interest in work, educating and ultimately benefiting everyone.
Furthermore “Art & Fear”, being authored by practising artists, talks about documenting your work, and several artists sketch and notebooks which the authors found useful in their own development. Really I should be doing this on a daily basis and engaging with my creative thoughts. I did whilst training. I was expected to keep a journal which was to be a place to express what I was feeling in what I was learning and to document what I was coming across. Since graduating I haven’t really done so. I obviously keep books on projects I’m working on, however these are more pads to make me remember things from  meetings!
So, back to blogging and why I’m attempting to do it. Bearing all of the above and what I’m trying to do,  it’s a chance for me to document and record my experiences and thoughts as I am working, but ultimately share with you. I find a lot of people spend most of their time engrossed in what they are doing without understanding the “why”. As I’m going through a programme of self and creative development, but in understanding the reason why I am doing something, I’m hoping I can make what and how I do to achieve it much more effective and ultimately help my creative development.
I hope you enjoy coming along for the ride and exploring the inner ramblings of my brain.
Finally, some resources for you, in case you are interested…
 Links here for the books listed on this blog – but I’m sure they are also available in many good bookshops: