What are my limits? As a theatre artist, this is a question I constantly ask of myself. In my physical theatre training, I never stop pushing to discover new physical limits. I can only bend so far before I break—these answers are concrete. However, another part of this question exists in a non-physical realm.
In an article titled, AN OPEN LETTER FROM A DANCER WHO REFUSED TO PARTICIPATE IN MARINA ABRAMOVIC’S MOCA PERFORMANCE, artist, dancer, and choreographer Sarah Wookey, addressed this question of personal limits. The letter was in opposition to a performance art piece she adamantly decided not to participate in, based on an unpleasant audition. The performance would be a re-enactment of the piece, “Nude with Skeleton” (2002) by performance artist, Marina Abramovic, in which Wookey would be “expected to lie naked and speechless on a slowly rotating table, starting from before guests arrived and lasting until after they left (a total of nearly four hours).” Being asked to “ignore any potential physical or verbal harassment while performing,” without any guarantee of protection of the performers, was reason enough to turn down the job. For Sarah Wookey, it was a question of ethics, and she chose firmly to stand for her beliefs, and to speak out about them. She knew her limits.
This is an honorable quality. As important as it is to know my limits, I believe it is equally, if not more, important, to question them. Perhaps what I am immediately opposed to is a learning moment that I don’t yet see—a period of growth in disguise. I encountered this sensation many times this summer, while working as an intern at Double Edge Theatre, on their annual Indoor/Outdoor Traveling Summer Spectacle, Shahrazad: A Tale of Love and Magic. This summer from the very beginning, I knew I was going to be challenged physically, and I embraced it. What I didn’t know going in was just how challenged I would be, both mentally, and emotionally.
Working nearly fourteen hours every day, I was immersed in every aspect of Double Edge’s summer process, from building sets, painting, cooking, cleaning, building puppets, answering phone calls, training with the ensemble, and rehearsing for the show, to name a few. Throughout this process, I hit many walls. Through tears of exhaustion and frustration, I wondered how I could possibly go on.
And yet, I had no choice but to push forward.
And things got easier.
Once I rubbed off my wounded pride and naiveté, I began to see things for how they really were—I saw the bigger picture. Everything was in service of the functioning and thriving of the theatre and artistic community, the performance of Shahrazad itself, and even the greater artistic questions of Double Edge.
With this bigger picture in mind, I pushed back against my walls and broke through. I stopped taking things personally, and looking around, I realized I was not alone. Everyone had his or her own challenges, yet with a spirit of generosity, we joined together to make the thing. The experience was invaluable—three months filled with fun, love, challenge, heartache, and necessary growth.
I learned two vital lessons. I learned about stamina. There is no growth without some growing pains, and when things get hard, that’s when I need to push the most. I learned about ego. Relinquish it. Continue to relinquish it.
Most importantly, I would not have learned these lessons without the people surrounding me, on their individual yet woven together journeys—collaboration was key. While interviewing Morgan Jenness, Lynn M. Thompson defined true collaboration as “a coming together to create something larger than yourself,” the opposite of which is “territoriality and ego.”
Returning to a university setting after this experience, I realize now, more than ever, just how essential these two lessons are, not only for me, but also for my peers. Every class, show, and project is an opportunity for true, selfless collaboration, and only through that knowledge is personal growth made possible. If we feel as if we are being treated unjustly, perhaps the right path is to storm ahead in search of justice. Maybe, however, what we perceive to be an external problem is really a matter of our own ego preventing us from seizing an opportunity to grow.
So, what are my limits? For those answers that are not concrete, it is through continuing to ask these questions of ego, stamina, generosity, and collaboration that the answers will reveal themselves.