Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Responding to a Calling by Joel Benjamin

When I was in college pursuing a degree in Theatre one of my professors told us a story that stuck with me all these years. It was a story about one of the most significant events in all of theatre history; and yet it gets very little attention in most theatre history books and classes. It was the moment that Thespis, a common place member of the then common place Greek Chorus, committed a truly revolutionary act; he stepped from the Chorus and spoke his own words.

Think about this, here’s a story about an ordinary man, who one moment is just another voice among many, playing out a traditional spectacle of which there was no thought of reinterpreting, and then in the next moment he does something that will forever change the evolution of western theatre! That, in and of itself was pretty amazing. But what really fascinated me about the story, and continues to do so to this day, is not only what Thespis did, but the question his bold act raises: why did he do it?

Now, there’s no way of knowing for sure why he did what he did. He probably wasn’t motivated by the desire for fame. Back then fame didn’t really exist unless you were an emperor, a king, or Socrates. He probably wasn’t acting in response to urgings from his fellow chorus members. Can you imagine? “Psssst. Hey Thez, I dare you to do something that no one has every done before and will probably result in some spectacularly violent and very public demise for you. What do you say, buddy?”

To me, the only thing that explains Thespis’ revolutionary act was simply this: he couldn’t stop himself. He was compelled by something deep within, as all great artists are, to step into the unknown and, for that time in history, to take the biggest risk an actor had ever taken! Thez was moved by something much more powerful than himself.

I mean, when listening to Mozart or Beethoven, or viewing paintings or sculptures of Michelangelo, or reading the words of Shakespeare or Thoreau, who could deny that the artists who created these works were directly inspired by an energy that no one can see except in the things and moments that are manifested from it?

The root of the word “inspire” is “in spirit”. Our ancient friend, Thespis was truly inspired to do what he did. And on that long ago day, when a single person responded to a calling that could have only come from the center of his heart, the very seat of our soul, he not only stepped out of the Chorus, he transcended them. And rightly so. Because why should inspiration and spiritual evolution only be the relegated domain of musicians, painters, and poets? The actor too has the right, and the means, and the need to enter through those mysterious gates to our soul, to struggle to awaken, and to share, through each performance, the brilliance of what is discovered with us all.

Joel Benjamin will be teaching Yoga for Actors at Freehold, Joel also teaches in Freehold's Ensemble Training Intensive (ETI) Program. He is very excited to be bringing yoga to Freehold. He has been practicing yoga since 1998, and has been teaching since 2004. Joel believes that when the ancient yogis created what we refer to today as yoga, it was never their intention to design a series of exercises to develop "yoga butt," (even though this is how many in the West have come to view this 5,000 year old art form.) Yoga is a system of breathwork, mindfulness, and physical postures all designed to improve the quality of our lives by bringing us into the present moment and opening our hearts. At its core, Joel believes that the true intention of yoga and the tools necessary for good acting are the same: embodied presence and emotional responsiveness. Joel has a BFA from Syracuse University in Theatre, and is certified to teach yoga from Pacific Yoga, and master teacher Max Strom. He is also a member of the Yoga Alliance. Joel owns Yoga Shack, a private yoga school in the Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle.

Photos of Freehold's ETI students in their Yoga training with Joel Benjamin, Fall 2010.

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