Author, Actor, Playwright, Excellent Parallel Parker

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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Lady Aston's BarnStone Salon: Mo Tells Us What Scares Her Most

(The previous and next few blogs share the projects each of seven attending artists brought to Lady Aston's BarnStone Salon, held Feb. 4,5,6 at my home in Charles City, VA. The first of the series was posted Feb. 7)

Back in the day, I knew Maureen Burke as an actor and competitive speaker (the "other" Forensics.)  She was eminently successful at both. Today, Mo is a wedding celebrant, and a member of the Celebrant USA Foundation and Institute. Her performance skills and deep respect for "story" have served her well. When it came time for Mo's presentation, she asked for help:

"I have a problem with memorization," she said. "It's very difficult for me. I want to write a one-woman show for myself, but how can I perform it if I can't memorize?"

Good question.

Aside from the obvious problems that arise when an actor fails to put text to memory, there is the mind/vocal/ body disconnect that prevents the actor from embodying a text, which is the crux of acting. So even if Mo found a way to "cheat," she would not be acting, but speaking extemporaneously, which is well short of her goal as a performer.

Mo told us she has always had trouble with memorization, even back in the day, when she was winning trophies and accolades. She approached memorization the same way most of us approach it: by rote. She has also tried voice recordings, and wanted to know if we had any experience with audio prompters.

As we gave our opinions, it became clear that this was no minor issue for Mo. Her self-concept was threatened, her confidence shaken. She recognized that this may be the tip of an even more threatening iceberg, and her anxiety was evident.

 When talk turned toward her desire to create a one-woman show for herself, it occurred to us that Mo might try writing about "what scares you most."

This idea of writing what scares you is not new. David Lindsey-Abaire and Susan Isaacs started there, and wrote masterpieces. Lindsey-Abaire wrote Rabbit Hole, (first as a play, then a screenplay) in which a young couple struggles in the aftermath of a car accident that killed their young son. (Linsey-Abaire was a young father at the time.) And Isaacs wrote about her crisis of faith in Angry Conversations With God. Our personal monsters make good stories, and when we can tie them to a greater social, cultural or political issue, the thing that scares us most can transform fear to empowerment.

"Look deeper," said Tami. "What's really going on with your memorization issues?"

One answer, of course, is that for an actor, an inability to memorize is as debilitating as for a singer who has lost her voice. What could be scarier than that?

When Mo embraced the idea that her greatest fear could make a fascinating subject for her one-woman show, she started crying. Good crying. As in, oh my God, this isn't going to kill me, after all. As in, oh my God, I can make lemons with lemonade. As in, oh my God, I need a beer.

So we stopped and drank some.

Here's a little more about Mo, and how she came to be a celebrant. I love that her regard for storytelling has helped her discover a rewarding career path. 

Several years ago, my now-husband and I wrote our wedding ceremony to tell our own personal story -- our love and commitment, beliefs, and the rituals and traditions most important to us. The ceremony was more meaningful than we could have imagined -- an experience I’ll remember with joy for the rest of my life. As a Celebrant, my goal is to create a similar experience for others.
My Celebrancy practice builds upon 25 years of experience as a nonprofit speaker and facilitator. I bring professionalism, highly developed skills, and dedication to meeting the unique needs of the people I serve, honoring and respecting all beliefs, religions and traditions.

Next: Tami's new book: Body, Paper, Stage: Writing and Performing Autoethnography


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