When a performance is a chance to practice the art of love

Two weeks have passed since we did our showcase performance from the Wise Fool Circus Camp – ELEVATE. The audience was about thirty people – all family and friends of the performers. In the evaluation forms for the camp, Wise Fool asks if it makes sense to have a performance. I responded with a resounding ‘YES!” Why? Because I experienced the performance as chance to deepen my practice of love.

When we had first learned stilts, I felt like I took to them quickly and was pretty comfortable in them. However, the night before our big show, we got on stilts and I was overtaken by fear. I had to overcome this fear simply to move about step by step, never mind do a little dance.

The show opened with our stilt performances. My group was the first one to perform. Pretty early on, I did the wrong set of moves at the wrong time. Then, as we marched around, I became terrified of falling. I remember being conscious of this and forcing myself to smile. The teachers had pointed out to us before the show that if we look like everything’s okay, the audience will think everything’s okay.  It was all I could do to stay straight and keep moving. I couldn’t think about wiggling my hips or waving my arms.

When our little stilt routine ended, we went silent and put our heads down. We didn’t make it very clear that the routine was over. Thus, the audience was silent. At least, they were silent until I popped up my head and said “You can applaud!” A few laughs and much clapping followed.

Had I been caught up in focusing on how afraid I had been and the moves I had messed up, I would not have thought to make the applause request. Fortunately, I wasn’t caught up in what had happened. I had let go of what had been and was enjoying the present.

Stilts was followed by aerial performances – trapeze and fabrics. I was pretty miserable at both of these and had planned not to perform. However, when I arrived, I decided to give the trapeze a go. I figured my friends were coming to see me and the least I could do was perform. I asked a teacher for a very basic move. I did this move with a lot of effort and little grace. Yet, as I stood there on the trapeze, I grinned with a child-like satisfaction at having managed to accomplish the feat at hand.

I stood there, grinned and nodded my head as if to say to the audience – “Not bad, eh?”

And they laughed and applauded as if to say “Too right! Hooray for such effort!”

I suspect this exchange was enhanced by the fact that I had painted on a clown face (though I wasn’t wearing my red nose). It gave us all permission to expect play and be playful.

The aerial acts were followed by a clowning act. Turned out that my friend Ines had misunderstood a text I had sent to her. The consequence was that she arrived at the venue and told the teachers she and I wanted to do a clown performance together. So it was, that I found myself improvising a clown skit with Ines. At that time, my experience of the art of clowning entailed the two hours of it we had done the weekend before.

Were we funny? Who knows. We both got up there, tried to play off each other and create a connection with the audience. One of my friends told me that half the fun of it was us in our goofy outfits, painted faces and our playfulness.

Then we wrapped up the performance with partner acrobatics. My group was the last one and the pose I did with Katy was the final one for the show. We didn’t get it right the first time. Katy – who was the base – raised an eyebrow and said “Do it again?” I said “Sure!” Not only did we do it, but we did it rather successfully.

So what was I saying about love?

From my perspective, this was a performance that involved a lot of stumbles, mishaps and “I don’t know what the heck I’m doing!” The brilliance I felt in all this was the way that I didn’t care much how it looked/turned out. I knew that everyone in the audience was delighted by the fact that we are all trying our best. Sure, some people were more talented and able then others. Those folks got applause for their skills. The rest of us, we got applause for our chutzpah.

For me, getting up there and being willing to try without caring about the outcome was a practice of love for my self. In the not-too-distant past, such love wasn’t something that came easily to me. Getting up there and practicing it physically, mentally and emotionally helped me deepen the practice within me. This experience, in turn, was enhanced by the fact that my friends were there and were passing no judgments on my skills or abilities. They were there to cheer me on and celebrate with me. They, too, were practicing love.

Notwithstanding moments of fear, I was having fun. I had fun performing and I had fun cheering on my fellow performers. I was practicing  love in my relationships with them, too.

Throughout ELEVATE, we were encouraged to take risks, to step out of our comfort zones, to try, to fail, to try again.

Non-judgment, letting go and taking risks are important dimensions of the art of love. Our Wise Fool amateur circus definitely was a space in which to practice these key elements of this wondrous art.

When is that last time you consciously deepened your practice of love? In what ways might the art of love generally be relevant to economic, social and political transformation?

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