Thursday, January 21, 2010
Mozgala On Rogoff- The Experiment (One Year Later)
“My Most Amazing Day”
New Alloy/New Alignment/New Alchemy
My most amazing day starts on a Thursday evening. I went to see a play reading hosted by Theatre Breaking Through Barriers as part of their Winter reading series of new works. I’ve noticed a trend in Off-Broadway plays by younger authors recently- the writing is good, the characters are clear, but absolutely nothing of dramatic value happens. This does not make for good theatre. In addition, it was over two and a half hours long. What was actually cool about it was that the idea of nueroplasticity was all over it. One of the characters talked extensively about the topic sighting such natural adaptations/anomalies as giraffe necks growing so they can reach higher leaves or how the speckled moth- white before the industrial revolution- turned black (or speckled), because it stood out against a coal dusted sky and was therefore easier prey. The question the character was asking was essentially, “Can a creature will itself to adapt and change?” The character was also a wheelchair user played by an actual wheelchair user. I found this fascinating since the idea of nueroplasticity has become practically the buzzword medical professionals have been using in reference to the work Tamar and I have been doing over the past year. I left the reading nearly three hours later. My head filled with the ideas of neuroplasticity and the human will. I arrived home to see this email message from Tamar in my INBOX
…I am stepping back and reflecting--im thinking about loving another body besides my own and I thought some very interesting things –like why is another body so comforting—its temperature—its shape---its familiarity--beyond or inclusive of--sexually charged feelings or partnering ones or parenting ones--what others are there—there is a mysterious link that im examining about what is confirmed in me by you---and I can separate from it but when I see you concentrating I connect and when I see you not concentrating I dis-connect---its more of a body messaging system between us than a psychological but it can feel emotional---whatever it is from my point of view its an intense instantaneous morse code—and the brain reacts second…
I go to sleep. I wake up early. Too early. I haven’t been sleeping well since the show closed. I haven’t not been sleeping well I’m just going to bed early and waking up early. During the last few months of rehearsal and during the run this was due to exhaustion and a need to conserve energy. It just seems strange that I’m still doing it. Not that there’s anything wrong with getting rest. There’s usually a drop in mood and energy following the close of a production, almost a post partum effect. So much focused energy and effort goes into the creation of a piece of work, that in the past when productions are over I crash hard. Surprisingly, this has not happened with this show. Perhaps it’s because Tamar and I continue to work in preparation for the Kennedy Center performance in June 2010. Beyond that however, the entire experience was fulfilling on so many levels that the closing performance and celebration felt like just that- the closing of a wonderful chapter in a year of my life. What’s going on now seems like a new chapter. Phase II. Gregg & Tamar2.0.
By 7:30am I’m sitting in a corner table at 88 Orchard, a coffee shop in my neighborhood. I’ve been going there for years but just recently started showing up regularly (practically every morning), to write. I’m trying to finish a play I’ve been working on for a few years now. I’m in the middle of revising the fifth draft. The entire staff is wonderful. They all came to see the show and loved it. I talk to them all, sometimes asking questions or for advice with the writing. They make a mean cup of java to. I stay there for about an hour then make my way to the gym.
God bless Ludlow Fitness for letting us use their space. Teddy (who took Josh’s place), is a hulk of man with the disposition of a…well…teddy bear. He lets me into the studio every morning we work. He actually grew up and still keeps an apartment in Tamar’s building. Small world. I stash my coat and bag into a cubby, throw on my gym pants and start stretching. Pzoaz/Peroformace/Hamstrings has become my daily regimen. I’m in the middle of stretching my peroformace muscles when I hear the door upstairs slam and Tamar’s footfalls on the stairs. It’s 9:05am.
She’s bundled in a thick coat and hat, which she takes off, stashes and then goes into the WOMAN’s room. When she comes out looking like a completely different person, I describe to her how I think the cold weather is having a negative effect on my walk. Cold causes muscles to contract. It’s been bone-chilling in NYC recently with wind that penetrates and whips through clothing. I’ve been feeling my legs tighten as a result of the cold and have a tendency to walk faster from point A to point B. My focus and concentration is more on getting to a warm place then an aligned walk. Since the holiday break I’ve felt some reversion (what I term, “the snap back”), specifically in my lower back- what we refer to as “the cummerbund area.” In class the previous morning, we were improvising moving through the space and I mentioned this tightness in the lower back. Tamar suggested I remind my body that I have a spine, that that spine is long- it reaches from the Atlas in the top of my skull and connects to the top of my pelvis. This simple adjustment has helped immensely to “de-clunk” that area.
I’m sitting on a stool. Tamar is in front of me and has her hands on my feet. She’s placing them into proper alignment and pressing my pinkie toes, forever raised like the true aristocrats they are, into the ground. They were caught unawares by the revolution and need to learn what it means to do an honest day’s work. Tamar instructs me on how to get my feet into proper alignment. She uses her hands at first to show me the path my foot should travel up and down. She lists all the joints in the foot: heel/talace/ankle/ball/etc… and encourages me to think of the foot in its many pieces as opposed to a heavy, single slab. I ask her to let me try the motion on my own and input the suggestion of the feet as a mutli-faceted unit. There’s an increase in sensation almost immediately. My body is in conflict with itself. It wants to discover these new routes, new ways of moving, which is actually the way it was originally designed to move, but it takes time and effort to release it from it’s old modes of behavior. I’m working on my right foot alone. As I focus to raise and lower my foot, I can feel my left leg grabbing in the hip flexor, the knee wanting to turn in, the heel coming off the ground. I stop. I ask Tamar for a yoga block. With my left foot on the block and supported the “bully reflex” is interrupted and I can put all my attention and focus into my right foot. The simple action of raising and lowering my foot takes an incredible amount of focus and is physically strenuous. After a few minutes I am shaking. Not just in my legs, but my entire pelvis starts undulating. All this movement, termed “shaking” is purely involuntary. As my body discovers the correct pathways and what I assume are new neural connections as a result of positive alignment, my body learns that it can utilize these new pathways and release the old mechanism that had previously allowed for standing, hind-limb ambulation, running, jumping and general mobility with the effective, but less efficient, C.P. alignment. What the shaking does is soften my otherwise tense or spastic musculature to receive basic instructions such as; point your sternum down, tuck your tailbone under, close the front ribs/open the back ribs, etc. What’s more, as my right leg and entire right side begins to learn proper alignment my resting leg begins to respond similarly. Not nearly with the same intensity, but it’s as if one side is teaching the other- like a game of “Follow the Leader.” As my body reroutes I often times also experience a physiological-emotional response. In this case, I experienced waves of nausea and became very emotional to the point of tears. Tamar and I never stop or get bogged down with the psychological or emotional ramifications of this. This would kill our progress. We soldier on through. Both of us realize that what’s happening when this occurs is that my body is opening up areas that have been previously unavailable or inaccessible for over thirty years. It is what it is, and this to shall pass.
I’d like to digress for a moment here and talk a little bit about my body’s relationship with fear. Tamar has said that my hyper-vigilance is due to my body being in a constant state of emergency. I have come to understand this as a constant fear of falling. During some of our most recent studio sessions as I experience release in my lower body, specifically in the leg below the knee, I’ve noticed that my arms- shoulders, forearms, wrists and hands get extremely tense. I believe this is a compensation that my body does automatically as a protective measure. As I move my pelvis, hips, legs and feet into proper alignment- into an alignment that my body has never felt- my body tenses. This is because I believe IT believes I’m going to fall down. This is a new and fascinating concept to me. I first became aware of my body’s fear response during the rehearsal period. The first day I was working on the set piece we affectionately refer to as, “The Rock,” I couldn’t even sit on it without waves of physical terror coursing through me. I was flanked by Tamar on my left and Sharon, our stage manager, on my right. As I moved around on it and eventually tried to stand up, I held on to them for balance and support. Initially I couldn’t stand up on it without their help. My body would tense so much that it would literally drop me to my knees for a more supported base. If they let go of me the waves of terror would return and I would simply ask- or scream or cry out- for one of them to touch me. This simple action both comforted and grounded me. During our opening week of performance I was experiencing so much pain as a result of tension in my hip flexors that I was convinced it was only a matter of time before I was going to injure myself. Tamar stressed the importance of a focused warm-up. As I increased my warm up and internal focus the pain first moved from my left side to my right and then disappeared completely. By the end of the first week of shows it was gone. It didn’t return for the remainder of the run. As we work in the studio, I’ve realized that I can actually counter this fear response by slowing down and convincing my body that it’s okay- that it’s not in a state of emergency. The grip we call, “The bully reflex” is the grip of fear. If I stay focused and connected to my body as I move into proper alignment, using my mind, I can show my body that there’s an alternative to falling that’s better, safer, more productive. I’m still working on developing this theory but could this be me willing my body to change?
We work on my right side for a good forty-five minutes to an hour. I’m shaking. I’m gagging. I’m nauseous. I feel great. It’s time for me to stand up and walk around to see how my body has integrated these latest changes with movement. Tamar slowly removes my left foot from the block, being careful to place it down on the ground in the proper alignment. I ask to try and replicate what I have just done on my right foot with my left for a few times before I stand up. Tamar acquiesces. My left foot is considerably more rigid and less responsive then my right foot in general. It’s harder to lift and place down properly but I mange to do it about half a dozen times before Tamar assists me with standing up. I walk into the studio and with the first few steps it’s as if my brain has caught fire. My feet are on the floor like never before. I have a roll to my walk that involves the entire foot that I’ve never utilized until this very moment. It’s incredible. I walk for a bit. I allow my body to integrate all the new information we have just fed it. I try to let my new walk walk me. I listen to my body. Before we know it our work has come to an end for the day.
Neither of us had this planned when we arrived at the studio this morning. We never have an agenda. It just happened. This progress with the feet however, would not have been possible if we had not been working so intensively over the last eight to ten months. Tamar and I continue to talk as we change clothes and prepare to reenter the world at large. I have to head to the West Village to rehearse for a reading I am doing later that evening. Before we exit the studio Tamar gives me a few basic directions to carry with me through out the day. I listen. I try and put them into practice as we climb the studio steps and exit out onto the street. Tamar returns the keys to Teddy at the gym. I cross the street and enter my building. As I enter my apartment and hit the stairs I remind my body of the work we have just done and take each step slowly and deliberately, careful to make sure I am landing half-toe/heel/with the outside of my heel pressing down. As I walk up the steps I think for the first time ever, “I love walking up stairs,” as I fight back the urge to throw up in my mouth.
“I hate you! I hate you! I hate you! Aaaaaaaaah!” I’m screaming into a microphone. I’m rehearsing for a staged reading at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre for Killing/Play by my friend David Anzuelo, a sex, drugs & rock and roll infused retelling of Oedipus The King. I play the Oedipus character, Rex. This is an amazing part for me. Not only is it well written and right in my comfort zone as an actor but aside from being the original mother fucker, Oedipus is also a disabled archetype. Everyone always associates him with blindness, but "Oedipus" actually means "clubbed foot" in Greek. He walked with a pronounced limp as a result of his feet being pinned when his parents abandoned him to the mercy of the elements shortly after his birth. They say it was his disability that gave him the knowledge to answer the sphinx's riddle, save Thebes and become king. I also have the pleasure of sharing the stage with Daphne Rubin-Vega, Salvatore Inzerillo and several other Labyrinth Theatre Company members. http://www.labtheater.org/ We rehearse for a few hours then take a dinner break before having to be back for our 6:30pm call. I step outside quickly for some air and then come back to warm-up on stage. It’s Pzoaz/Peroformace/Hamstrings time. I’m in the middle of stretching my peroformace muscles when Daphne walks on stage sees me warming up and we have the following exchange-
“Oh you’re so good.”
“What? You don’t warm up anymore.”
“I didn’t use to either but I was just in a dance piece…I’m not a dancer I’m an actor. The director/choreographer saw me in a show and wanted to work with me.”
“And wanted to work with you. Yeah, that’s how it works.”
“I would get to the theatre two hours early just to do these extensive warm-ups. Just because I had to.”
“Is that because you’re at a disadvantage with the way you walk?”
“No. We all showed up that early- even the two professional dancers. We just had to.”
The reading was a hit. The audience loved it. People were really impressed with my work and kept coming up to me afterwards to congratulate me. It felt good. It had been a long time since I had acted on stage but the attention and adulation was bittersweet. I was incredibly tense throughout the show. My heels were up. While I was performing it was as if all the work Tamar and I have been doing had never happened. I’ve spoken about this with Tamar and she thinks that emotionally there are big shifts between the new body and the old, and since I’m an actor I need to call up emotions during performance or at auditions for example, which relate and are stored in the old musculature’s alignment. Disorientation and identity issues come up constantly. I have to figure out how to somehow integrate the two and talk about how difficult it is on all levels to make changes plus how much consciousness is involved in making those changes. I had a beer at a bar afterwards and then left for home.
Back on the Lower East Side I walk down Stanton Street. As I’m weaving through the crowds of Friday night partiers and revelers I can feel my heels coming off the ground. My focus is off. I’m tired from a long day’s work, I’m negotiating crowds on busy city sidewalks and I’m loaded down with two bags. As I pass one of my favorite Mexican restaurants in the neighborhood a girl sitting by the window sees me walk by. She makes a face of sheer panic and disgust. I still can’t get the image of it out of my head. It was a face only David Lynch could love. All that work! An amazing day all destroyed with a look! I thought I was over this. I’m not. My whole body tenses. My mind begins to fire. I start swearing, screaming at the woman in my head. A part of me knows I’m really cursing myself. It’s not always this bad. Sometimes it’s worse. I stop. I throw my bag down on the sidewalk. I close my eyes. I breathe. I look into myself- an inch behind my bellybutton and an inch below that. I can let that woman’s gaze destroy me. Destroy all I have worked for. I can leave my body and let fear, anger, guilt and disgust wash over me like a warm bath. Or I can slow down. Stop. Listen to my body. I could take smooth measured, conscious steps all the way home. That’s exactly what I do.