RT @CamdenPT: "Safety is a priority. Comfort? No. Which is not to say Trigger Warning is just uncomfortable, it’s a lot of things." Check…
 
view counter

Vera Chok on method, madness and mindfulness

Vera is an Angry Yellow Woman. Or is she? Vera is outrightly a writer, performance maker, and awesome connector of people. She wrote a chapter in The Good Immigrant, performed with Dame Judi Dench, and is one the the Best Worst (aka Most Entertaining) Poets in the UK. Vera is dedicated to growing creative spaces and communities infused with kindness, naughtiness and joy.

Here, Vera unpacks how method and madness might somehow get tangled up with mindfulness.

Vera 1: Ever want to get out of your head, stop the noise, exhale, peel off your skin, be rolled out like dough and re-formed, fresh? Disclaimer: I am a high-functioning anxious person. I am also an actor and writer and I have very little work-life divide because everything I encounter could be material. But I spend what little leisure time I have attending and now, producing sessions and workshops which combine mindfulness and improv.

Vera 2: Wait. WHAT? Vera, you hate sitting still unless you’re filling the void with Netflix, getting a massage or being asleep. You are notorious for running around IRL, you write articles for The Guardian on your phone, bombard social media with Too Many RTs, and then predictably, burst into exhausted tears every so often. Your mind works so fast you don’t often finish your sentences. YOU lead mindfulness workshops?

Vera 1: HAH! I think those reasons are precisely why I’m an advocate! I once asked a friend who was into spiritual things and looking for a relationship why they didn’t just date someone in their zen community. “They’re the most bonkers!” This isn’t about being flippant about mental health, though. My point is that the more ungrounded, disturbed, or anxious I am, the more I find it imperative do things that get me out of my head and into the moment. Mindfulness for me isn’t about emptying my mind (impossible) but about reconnecting with my body, redistributing my senses, and experiencing the world in a more balanced way.

Vera 2: Hrm. Are you now a Buddhist or something? Going through an “Eastern” phase?

Vera 1: No, I wouldn’t say I’m religious, or even spiritual. At the moment, I would say I’m agnostic. I had a wonderful time recently, talking to one of the staff at Treadwells, a bookshop specialising in magic and spiritualism. I enjoyed connecting with them and finding out more about what they were keen on. One of the ways I’m responding to what’s happening in the world at the moment is to move away from binaries and heteronormativity, questioning, more than I already used to, social constructs.

Simplistically, mindfulness is often seen as the secular version of meditation, and meditation is often associated with religious or spiritual practice.

Vera 2: And what’s this nonsense about Improv? Mindfulness is about being quiet and such, and improv is usually a bunch of people shouting and larking about on stage, right?

Vera 1: What’s that thing about Flow States? Like, when you’re in the zone and things seem natural and easy? I thought that I was happiest when I was “acting” and so I trained as an actor and pursued that as a career. But most of my career in acting involves me hustling off stage. I realise I am also happy when I am dancing like a loon, freestyle cooking a meal, doing some sort of physical training, and improvising. My brain is OFF, my attention is ON my immediate task, and I am going with the flow. Acting makes my anxiety worse, but improvising does not. With improv I am not in charge, I am supporting. I am not performing, but responding truthfully. There are rules to hold you in place and to keep people safe, but there are no mistakes. This is a special kind of freedom.

Here are some things I believed about Mindfulness and Improv that made me ignore them for years:

Mindfulness
•   Involves Exercising Your Already Exhausted Mind. Maybe a teeny bit, but really, I find you get to redistribute your experience away from your brain and into your other senses. Sweet holiday!
•   You are Self-Involved. Instead of being navel-gazey, think of the practice as opening you up to the detail of the world.
•   Has To Take Place in Total Silence, In a Sun-Dappled Room with Natural Light, and you Cannot Move. I draw my inspiration from two yoga teachers (I don’t do yoga. Yet.) who swear, have raspy laughs and a wicked sense of humour. The best kind of mindfulness, especially if you’re motivated by Smug Factor as I am, is when you’re mindful at peak London Underground o’clock with some drilling somewhere. Focus on the breath in your nostrils, the feel of your feet, or the outline of the person near you.

Improv
•   You Love Showing Off and Being Looked At. One of the key rules of improv is to be supportive of your teammates. Honestly, you shouldn’t have time to think or to worry about the audience. Your focus is simple - what is your teammate saying to you now? What is happening in this very moment? No planning for the future, no regrets of the past.
•   You have to be Funny and Interesting. No. You already are. The more you try to be funny or to show you’re clever, the less we want to watch. Improvisers are some of the most supportive people I have ever met. Improv teaches me that I am enough and that the more I’m supportive of others, the better the world will be. I believe that this applies on and off stage.
•   You’re an Extrovert. Crikey, no. Granted, I find it difficult to leave the house every time I need to but once I am with improvisers, the collective energy fuels us all, and what we create is greater than the sum of our parts.

Vera 2: You’ve rambled on for a bit and you sound a bit earnest tbh. What exactly do you want, Vera?

Vera 1: I wanted to say, give your chatty, critical, culturally programmed brain a break. I’d like us to take some time out to connect with our senses, to experience the world and each other in new ways.

Vera 2: Aaaaand?

Vera 1: Oh, nothing to do with me but you must check out Monica Gaga and Tai Campbell in Do The Right Scene, the first all black comedy improv team AAAAAND they run super intro sessions specifically for people of colour to have access to this magic!

Vera Chok: www.verachok.org | Twitter | Facebook

  

   Vera’s upcoming dates:
Mindfulness and Method Acting workshop, Sat Nov 20, Theatre Deli. Combines mindfulness and acting techniques for unscripted fun.
Angry Yellow Woman (work in progress), Engine Room, Mon 25 Nov, Omnibus Theatre.

 

   Resources:
Central London: Do The Right Scene - Improv for and by people of colour
Comedy improv: I recommend Chris Mead teaching at Hoopla.
East London yoga: Zoe at The Refinery, E9; Mindfulness & Method Acting, Dom Murphy Workshops
South London: Emma Peel’s Yin Yoga classes and workshops