Response to a workshop from a first timer

This response to a short workshop was written by Italian Performance Artist Angela Viora.

I am grateful to her for giving me permission to share it here.

Get Some Balls and Be Yourself with Others!
Experiencing John Britton’s Method ‘Self with Others’ – A Very Personal Perspective

This is for YOU, the reader. This is a brief account of my experience as a participant in a workshop led by John Britton, which I attended for three days in 2016 in Melbourne, Australia.
THE MASTER: I consider John Britton one of my Masters, even though I have worked with him over a weekend only. As it goes for many things in life, this is about quality rather than quantity.
HORIZONTALITY: John, the other participants in the workshop, and I, gathered together in a circle as the first thing on the first day. Horizontality is a feature that characterises John’s teaching method. It is something tangible in the energies and dynamics at stake in the group that, then, it is possible to perceive mirrored in the surrounding environment. John does not place himself above you, the participant, because he does not lecture you. John does not place himself above you, the participant, because he does not throw a couple of instructions to you and then go in a corner until the next exercise starts, coming back clapping and saying ‘Wonderful! Wonderful!’ just because the exercise happened. What John does is sharing and, for doing so, he always stands by your side, on the same level as you. Thus, he engages with you in a dialogue, a mutual exchange, and a shared experience. It takes two to tango and John’s workshops. Horizontality has extension, depth, and does not include hierarchy.
THE BALLS: John has balls. You do, too, you’ll soon realise. ‘Balls do not have an opinion’, though, so they do not actually mind. These balls used in John’s workshop have a name that I do not remember, but I’ll never forget them as instruments of research. These balls are colourful, their size sits comfortably in a fist, and they do not bounce. The balls do what you make them to do, what you allow them to do. You take responsibility and, by doing so, you gain freedom. You discover the potentialities of your own body by bending your arm slightly while throwing the ball and, as a consequence, the ball moves in a completely different way. You discover the name of the people working with you by throwing balls to them.
You stop saying ‘sorry’ for not throwing the ball perfectly to someone because, guess what? -the definition of ‘perfect throw’ has yet to come in this game. Your mates do not actually care about your throw because they are busy finding freedom in theirs. Above all, remember, balls do not have an opinion, and you should not have one either in this case. You can always throw the ball once again. While enjoying moving your body moving the balls, you realise the limits of your own mind. All the bad feelings and thoughts about moving ‘clumsily’, ‘missing’ a catch, throwing the ball ‘poorly’… it is inconsistent and unnecessary rubbish that drains energy and focus from you and, more importantly, boycott the heaps of fun that the ball-game is!
You are not moving clumsy: you are just adjusting to the so-far undiscovered potentialities of your body, which has intensity, direction, strength, weight, and magic in itself. You are not ‘missing a catch’: you simply moved your arm in a direction different than the ball’s.
You are not throwing the ball ‘poorly’: you are just exploring the amazing power that your body has on the balls, and this has taken you by surprise! The only mistake that you are doing right now is thinking and worrying about these things because you can neither having fun nor smiling in the meantime. Yes, this is a stupid thing to do.

RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW: on the very first day of workshop, the very first thing that John told us was that he got food-poisoned, or gastro-something, the night before. This must have been obviously unpleasant, and he was not in his best shape on that morning. I thought, ‘thanks God!’ because I had quite severe health issues going on as well on that day, and I was very worried about not making it through the whole session. I was not relieved because ‘company in distress makes trouble less’, but because John shared with us his condition with a relaxed smile. ‘I’m here with you this morning, though, and I’ll do my best for today’, he said.
Being there, showing up, it is already enough in the sense that it is the foundational starting point. First rule: you are a performer, you show up. You want to experience, you show up. This is the first, basic, underrated requirement for performing.

I speak from the perspective of a performance artist with a background, also, in visual arts. Among the live arts, my area is performance art, especially durational performances. I have no background or experience in theatre, dance, improvisation, circus, or other performing arts. Performance art is anonymously defined as ‘indefinable’. What is performance art?

It is a good terrain to keep writing thousands of papers, books, and doctoral theses. You play the ball-game and you’ll get what performance art is. I say ‘get’ instead of ‘understand’, ‘perceive’, or ‘experience’ because this first term includes all the others. This is an embodied and multi-sensorial realisation that pervades various level of learning: rational, kinaesthetic, intuitive, and so on. Anyway, it is all there.
Living in the present moment with awareness is a principle of performance art, whether you are the performer or a member of the audience, and you find such a principle in the balls-game. Expanding the perceptions and potentialities of your body/mind persona is a principle of performance art, and you find it in the balls-game. Returning to horizontality, after a while that I play the balls-game, I become more focused and my sensorial perceptual field literally expanded on the sides of my body. I exchange balls with someone in front of me, keeping my eyes on them, and I can clearly see and perceive what is going on at my far right and far left. Smoothly, and before I can even elaborate it rationally, my left arm extends, and I catch a ball coming from that direction. Then, my right side moves backwards and avoids another ball hitting me. At the same time, I keep throwing and catching balls with someone in front of me.
In all this, my feet and my eyes have not changed position and I keep occupying the same spot with my body. I do not do big movements. My breathing is light, deep, and calm. More than ten people throw and catch balls, laugh, breath around me. Six, ten, twelve balls keep flying crazily around me. The circle breaks, and the game continues while we walk through the big room. People walk randomly in the room exchanging balls restlessly. Exchanging energy, and smiles, and movements restlessly. The rhythm is even more sustained now and we are perfectly in the flow, we are part of it. I finally get it: we are the flow.

Angela Viora, 2019
Performance and Visual Artist
PhD Candidate at Monash University, Australia