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Interoception within the Arts Excerpt

Updated: Dec 15, 2022


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MOLLY: Hello and welcome to the podcast where we talk about creating experimental art and trauma-informed and sustainable ways that support artists, our communities, and the organization as a whole. I'm Molly and you're listening to Any Other Anything's?


Hey Chris!

Hey Sarah!


SARAH: Hello!


MOLLY: Welcome. Hello. Um, so I'd like to start with that same exact question for the twos of you actually. Um. What are you thinking about right now? Having, um, I don't know witness the verbal phonet that is that first half.


SARAH: I'm thinking a lot about the different ways in which I saw the work exist in other parts of my life pre um Grey Box. Whether or not it's different, so I think I'm thinking about two things. I'm thinking about one how you're talking about the way Grey Box um looks at stuff through a trauma in-formed lens and thinking about the moments in which I saw that and I know we'll talk about that uh later on, and I'm also thinking about the the 10 things they identify as a white supremacist culture. And, how like those are also things that I experience even though I'm Chinese and from Singapore, you know that it's the same this there are similar ideas that get that gets transferred. Um, in different cultures so this is something I'm thinking about.


CHRIS: Um, I'm thinking about I think about...I have a lot first of all. Um, the most recent thing I'm thinking about is um how like like my experiences with uh the struggles of of trying to have a trauma-informed classroom space. Um, and allowing myself the grace to trust that. Um, and then I'm also thinking a lot about how like the the list of white supremacy stuff are like, a lot of the things that I learned growing up and that I actively try to work against just generally, and how that just like just looking at that and being like 'oh that's interesting' and then just thinking about how that all sort of dovetails into my personal history and, then how I try to take that and how that kind of always is existing moving forward in my peripheral vision on some level. So, those things I'm thinking about right now.


MOLLY: Thank you both. Um, so we've heard from both of you in your workshops a little bit about your journey. Um, I'm curious to hear maybe in more detail or a more specific moment where you became maybe like hooked on this work or there's a light bulb moment with this work being termed-informed creative practices, trauma-informed approaches. Um, and maybe how it also intersects with your individual work or, or individually would have worked for you.


CHRIS: The thing that I can I can think about is just developing as a human being realizing um, when I was younger that I-I deeply believed that black and white thinking was dumb or just like didn't did like wasn't useful. And, wasn't helpful and then learning that and that, that to me was like the first time I ever realized like what I think about this work like to me that was like the kind of the foundation of the understanding of, of how I started to just think about this sort of work just to coming to the, to the very deeply, deeply held understanding and really belief that that great that non-binary thinking is the way to go. I had no idea that's what it was at the time. I'm like, 'what is that'. I had no clue that's what I was doing or thinking about. Um, but that's what it was and it was in it I felt, I feel and I felt so strongly about it and that was in my like my early 20s, I think. And, so I think from that point was where I started to see it crop up in stuff I was doing. Um, and then in terms of really actively harnessing it. I think that didn't actively like, like that, that wasn't really in my in my brain until I came to get my Masters and that that's where I-I was actively understanding these things that I was feeling and really trying to actively apply them. And, that's that yeah that to me was like the, the like I remember like the initial onset of it and then I'm like 'oh that's a really big gap between starting that onset and understanding,' going to this place of actual direct application; intentional application of it. Yeah that's me.


SARAH: Um, I feel like mine's similar to Chris and that I didn't realize what I was doing or thinking about until I joined Grey Box and then I learned the term trauma-informed creative practice and then realize how a lot of what my professors are talking about in grad-school, were also similar to those practices very much in the the pedagogical sense or, um as artists, as artists in a creative space with young people. Um, but I-I feel like before that I was thinking about trauma-informed creative practice in a lot of different ways so one of the things that um brought me to the U.S. was that I was thinking a lot about the way the Singapore education system worked and I felt that it was too much of looking at the product and not so much the process and that we were always just studying to the test and memorizing the things that we knew were going to come up the test. And, like the teachers was as stressed out as the students because they didn't know what questions are coming up um, and I wanted, I wanted more balance. I wanted more balance so, I came to the U.S. because I felt like it was going to be more balanced um over here in terms of like freedom to choose what you want to learn and how. Um, so the I was already pushing against like rigid systems like that has never sat well with me. Like, I cried. I always cried like the first week of school because I hated, I hated structures um that's probably why I'm in the arts.


Um, but I think that like thinking about when you talk about empathy and compassion um and like checking-in with yourself and putting in like taking care of yourself first, and how you can't take care of other people, if you know if you are not okay, right? Um, I think it hit me the I think that really hit me in my freshman year. So, growing up I wanted to be a therapist or a counselor and then in my freshman year I had a friend who had really bad anxiety, like really bad writing anxiety and I tried so hard to help her that I started getting affected and I went to like visit mentors and I went to see like the counselor at my school and I was so annoyed that every single one of them instead of telling me what to do to help her, they asked me how I was doing? And, I was like why do you care how I'm doing; like I'm trying to ask you to like my friend is the one that is not okay. So it took me a while to realize that I like being empathetic, right? I was starting to get affected um, and it took someone telling me a story of how his grade started to slip because he was trying to help out a friend. Uh, so it's a lot it's a lot of different things and, then I took a class so before I learned it as trauma-informed work I-I guess I understood it as a like intergroup dialogue in terms of facilitation so, that's where that's the first place that I learned like the idea of curiosity. And using curiosity of a way of talking about like really difficult topics, because the idea behind intergroup dialogue is someone shares a story and then you ask a question about something you may not understand but it has to come from a place of curiosity, right?


Instead of judgment because they are they have a political view that's different from you or they have a religious practice that you don't agree with, right? It's coming from a place of curiosity and that's something I've held on to a lot um and, then I walked up into your world theater where they started teaching me about what the colonized spaces mean and what it means is to change the physical structure or language of a of a theatrical space and rehearsal process. Um, and I think going along the ideas of like rigidity like I-I was a dancer. I loved dance and I loved like visual arts as a hobby, and I loved theater and then I was really mad. Well, not mad I was frustrated and undergrad when I was like my only options for capstone are performing a lead in a show or, or like direct one. I was like I don't want to do either of those I was like I can do so many more things. Um, so I wanted to mishmash everything, right? And, that's like what you were talking about that, and looking at the little bits of knowledge that everyone knows and not that and not silo you. Um, so then I started getting into device work and building, wanting to build on people's strengths. So, like my ensemble undergrad they're all people who like doing theater but there was like a history major um a Sociology major, Math major and a Philosophy major and, like I did my best to try and take all those those pieces of knowledge that they enjoyed studying and put it into the show and I-I believe it makes a better show. When you take everybody's knowledge and put it put it in there that was a really long answer. [LAUGHS]



MOLLY: It's great! I was thinking um this is like kind of as an aside but, yeah. Uh one of the things I really I'm not supposed to say enjoy about the pandemics but, like one of the things that I enjoy as a response to the pandemic is that I feel like Grey Box folks have been able to have more conversations like this and I always learn something new about each of you. Um, and like things click even more for me like 'oh okay, yeah that makes a lot of sense', like knowing everyone more as collaborators and, and then like starting to just start to add more words around it. So I enjoyed it, thank you. Thank you both.


Um, I think I'll just I'll add my own thing as well like for me it was very much in a school system even in dance classes, like I didn't um I didn't again for me again it comes from this like really intuitive place of just like, I didn't feel like I could show up. Um, I didn't feel like I fit into classrooms or art spaces for whatever reason, which I don't necessarily have the language around um but just like I didn't feel like any of those spaces were made for me. Um, which is probably why I now put myself in positions of power and creative and learning spaces, because I-I want to reshape them and let them be something that I don't think exists as much as it I really think it should. I think it serves humans so much, so much more um than these rigid structures. Um, that are currently in existence at least like trending for the past few hundred years um we'll get through it. Um, so with your work with this work, where where are you all taking it out of curiosity? Um, like where do you see it evolving for yourself?


CHRIS: Um, I the way that I see it evolving it...right now in the space of being a hybrid theater teacher in the valley with kids that are online and kids that are in the classroom, um it's really um like currently what I'm experiencing is a understanding of like a plan that normally might take a day takes a week. Right? Um, roughly five times longer than I want it to or I feel like it should, should quote unquote. It's really what I am experiencing now is really this this getting out of this space of should in a classroom structure. And, what I'm interested in doing is taking it and, and really embracing that and embracing that with trying. Like, first of all, I need to fully embrace it because it's hard for me to fully embrace it with. being in a school that has such rigid structure everywhere For whoever for, you know. Um, but trying to get trying to create a space so the students can start to try to accept it and experiment with it. And, that's what I'm really interested in seeing to where to take this into like you know really being this of well what do we understand theater to be. We understand theater to be a b and c. Great. Um, you know normally it would be we could get we could get the rights to do any number of plays, but now we can't because streaming rights are so strange and the restrictions on those rights based on what resources we have and what abilities we have don't fit, right? Those things don't line up anymore, so now it's like what do we do and how do we do, and how do we move forward? And, which is nice because it becomes this place of okay now we're in a space of struggle and so, usually that's where a lot of the most interesting solutions come from. Um, the thing but I'm very interested to to to again take it take these ideas actively and intentionally and be like all right what happens if we just sit for a week and talk about and go and go through this, this process of attempting to select a play. And, this process of this and how does that build our ensemble and how does that how do all these other positive things happen out of this struggle? If that makes sense?


I'm interested in like intentionally like letting that happen or intentionally kind of setting up that runway. Um, and right now I think that's happening because of all of just everything all the circumstances that have that have befallen um everyone right now; and it's interesting to see that and be able to step back from it enough and to realize that and to be like all right now. How can I cultivate this and how can I intentionally like, like put it in in front of me and in front of the students so we are all working with it together, and making new discoveries through that process? I know I'm talking very vaguely um, uh specifically big. Um, partially uh because I'm trying to avoid details of my workplace. That being said, it's a very uh that like like in in the immediate this last eight hours where I want to take it that's where it is because that's what I've been experiencing in the last eight hours, you know. Um, in terms of longer term I'd very much like to to actively apply the uh culturally responsive interesting practices um in a much more intentional way in a much more intentionally trauma-informed way, as well, and see what and see what happens with that too. Like, those are those are kind of like one is in the classroom which also is in this creative space and the other one like in this art creating art collaborative art space and the other one is director creating collaborative art space in a probably a non necessarily non-school related space but, just in a in a maybe more traditionally structured space and see what that does. Um, yeah that's where I'm at.


SARAH: Cool! It was interesting to hear you talk about um the hybrid class instructor because I was telling Molly that I saw an article today about it and the struggles of an educator, so it was good to hear your side.


CHRIS: Oh good god.


SARAH: I'll share with you the article after this.


CHRIS: I would love to read it.


SARAH: [LAUGHS] Uh for me I think I feel like I'm in a in that limbo of having just graduated and now I'm freelancing and then COVID happened. And, I'm like so what are you where am I. Um, I think I have little bits of I don't know I feel like I'm experiencing little bits of what other people are experiencing, but in very different ways, because I am teaching online um but, but not within a formal school system so like with theater companies and there is a certain kind of flexibility and that they trust me to um, trust me to teach the class as it needs to be there is a curriculum that I can use if I want but I don't have to and I think those parts are nice. I think what I've been thinking a lot about especially with this much freedom to decide the content is I'm teaching a level one acting so the and they will go all the way up to level four and higher. And, as someone who's teaching a level one acting over Zoom I'm thinking a lot about what it means to be in a level one acting class like what are they supposed to get out of it. And, then thinking about which of those things am I actually able to teach or resume and which ones am I not um and, and I think in terms of being like compassionate it's like being compassionate to myself and understanding that if they don't are not able to learn certain skills like having that face-to-face eye contact as an actor like that is not my fault. Like it is because they learned acting through the camera. Um, and then I-I like me to also pause and not question myself when my students decide to use filters as an improv tool to create characters right because on stage we don't have filters we would have actual like hats that we put on and and like a mustache or something um, and understand and like understanding that this is the way play is gonna happen over Zoom. I don't know how it's going to translate to them acting in person but thinking about being compassionate is like that's not something that is useful for me if I worry about that and as I'm teaching because there's only so many things I can do and if this is the way they create and that's the way they're going to create.


Um, in terms of my own work in the future I especially to help you Molly with the Grey Box store I'm thinking a lot about how my thesis can be turned into like a practical book um mostly, because I was thinking about that a lot at the start and I've talked to people who said that books in general don't bring in a lot of income and I was like you know what never mind like I just I just feel like I wanted to be out there in a certain way. Um, and as I think about that I'm contemplating a lot on like what it means to have a certain kind of language in there that is inviting to people um even as an activity book right how am I inviting people into the pages how am I um framing what it means to be an artist how am I framing what it means to create. So those are things that I'm thinking about language to me is a big thing because to me like a little especially when it's when there's no voice and it's just text like that. The way in which something the way a piece of text looks um in like font color whatever um or even the way it's phrased like that can I think that can make a huge difference um to the way in which someone approaches a product or an idea. So it's vague but that's because a lot of these are like up in the air now um, and they're just ideas but, but that's what I'm thinking a lot about.


MOLLY: Cool. Thank you both. Let's keep going with that compassion like what are the practices that, that easier said than done curiosity and compassion are way easier said than done. Um, what are some of the practices that you're you're finding useful right now or that you have found useful in the past? Um, and maybe it's easier to talk in like pre-COVID versus current COVID's language. Um, but what are what do you like? How are you compassionate towards yourself? I think that's that's something we don't hear about as much we hear about compassion is for someone else, like well what about for ourselves.


CHRIS: Um, um uh...


SARAH: I can go if you want, or we can like throw the ball?


CHRIS: All right, all right you can start. You start, you start.


SARAH: The ones I can think of now actually more COVID related. I think this is just on the forefront of my mind. Uh one thing I started doing was just like taking a bath and just sitting in the water um that's, that's because I knew that at least for me, I love being in water like, I love swimming. I love the way that your body becomes weightless. How you can move however you want. I love also feeling just like submerged in something like it's comforting. Um, but then I was afraid of going to the pool so I made myself a bath and I haven't done that since I was a kid. But, then I started going to the pool so like I was not having a great day yesterday um and my body's also like starting to get achy not from having too much exercise but I think it's the lack of exercise so, so I was just like I need to go to the pool. And I did and it was it was good it felt really good I just kept swimming till my body felt like it was like got everything out for me. Exercise like I don't like going to like gyms give me anxiety but getting my heart rate up a little bit or just um warming up my body like walking my dog.


He's right here!


Um it helps me process I think because it gets the breath going and I can like also psychologically think that I tell myself like just one step forward like one step forward and whatever I'm trying to leave behind it's just gonna like go behind me as I walk forward. Um, so those are some things I'm doing.


CHRIS: I like that the I mean the swimming thing sounds amazing! Like, that's I-I miss I miss swimming and I miss water. The thing that I that I have been thinking about lately again today, actually. This week specifically um has been like how to like the the act of trying to let something go. Um, and what that looks like and and specifically what came up was was you know teaching now is messy and sucks. And, and you know how how do I, how do I not like, how do I do stuff so I don't feel like a bad teacher? How do I let that expectation go, given the circumstances we're in? And, an act that I found was very helpful today was um acknowledging to my students just be like 'hey' like, like doing a check-in with them. That was more for me than them but, but to be honest but it was it was a space of being like, 'hey I'm I'm this is our second week of doing this. I'm really in a learning thing right now. I'm understanding all these things and I'm learning all this and that's where I am. And, I want to be super transparent about that with y'all. Um, what how are you feeling about stuff, you know?' And, and that just just that little, you know two three sentences was really helpful in just letting the some of those expectations go.


And, that I found incredibly uh that was like such a compassionate thing that I was able to do for myself and I had no idea it was going to be that compassionate when I was thinking about doing it. Um, you know and and I was it was I was like I was and I was like I just need I just want to be transparent because I'm feeling blah blah and then I did this and I was like oh this is great. And, it's that whole just you know like like just listening to those instincts. Um, like that's something very specific to to my personal journey in in hybrid teaching at the moment. Um, otherwise uh I journaling is very helpful for me um, like an other thing another thing that is is is an act of compassion that I've noticed is is um reciting positive things I've written about myself to myself in the mirror. Um, like and I have to look at myself in the eye otherwise it doesn't work. So it's interesting like I'm like huh like things that like sound very...I guess corny for lack of a better term um but I find uh I find bring bring little, little, little nuggets of comfort and moments of comfort. Um, I also think uh reading um reading in bed is also something that I find very comforting, as well. Like, like that that that like again like I-I guess I think of compassion as a way of like feeling feeling like filling out my cup. If you're gonna use that metaphor. Um, and those are some things that I have noticed lately um and in particular yeah it's yeah those are some things I've noticed lately but, but overall it's it's like the staples are journaling, going for a walk if possible, getting getting in a decent exercise routine like those are those are like the big staples. But the little ones I've noticed lately have been all these other ones so.


MOLLY: I'll jump in with a few of mine lately to offer also perhaps a different energy towards it. Mine lately has been a little more like tough love with myself. Instead of this idea of like holding space it's like no we're gonna like carve out some freaking space right now. Um, and like just being a little more sympathetic dominant energy coming at it definitely and so um one of the things is advocating for myself and my needs, um I am also in the hybrid teaching model right now and I'm the one that's remote and along with some of my students and then the majority of them are live in-person. Um, and and like I-I have some needs in order to do my job right. Um ooh right I'm binary thinking. In order to do my job as I'd like it to be done um as I feel, as