In the moment

I headed down to the Jiangjinjiu bar between the Drum and Bell Towers last night. To be honest, it’s a favourite place, because it’s a music bar, and they often have free gigs by bands from Xinjiang, though lately they’ve had some good Latin stuff as well.

Last night, though, was my first time attending Beijing Improv, the theatre group that meet up there every Wednesday night. I’ve thought about learning how to act quite a lot over the last few years but never got around to it. Deciding to move back to Singapore next year has kind of focused my mind on how I’ll spend my remaining time in Beijing, though. I want to take advantage of the opportunity while I still can because, for all its advantages from my point of view, Singapore is very strait-laced and doesn’t always look favourably on such bohemian and unorthodox things as improvisation…

However, that’s getting off-topic. I’m curious about improv for several reasons. It strikes me as a form of meditation, in a way:

  • the actor has to be completely aware of him/herself as he/she is right at that moment – emotions, physical sensations, and so on – so that all of that can inform what he or she does next;
  • the actor also has to be completely aware of the other actors on stage, and what they are saying, doing, so that that also informs what happens next;
  • Improv can require the expression of any emotion at any moment. To do this well, the actor has to look inside, draw upon memory of that emotion, turn it on, turn it off… That seems to be a useful insight and tool – learning that even once we’ve left the stage, emotion is often more… artificial? more under our control? than we tend to think… which is a good way of developing equanimity, I think…

Strangely, I also think that improv is going to be good martial arts practice, from an internal martial arts point of view. As mentioned above, the actor must be aware of self, and of other actors… as well as the audience, and what they are feeling, what they are expecting… Do you go with it? Try to surprise them and take the drama in a different direction? All of this comes from developing an awareness of subtle clues and hints – body language, breathing, the direction of glances… and qi, I think… Yes indeed, I rather think that improv acting could be a rather useful form of energy work, one which is very necessary if taijiquan, for example, is to be a useful martial art….

I’ve been reflecting more on that last encounter with an opponent. I hesitate to say that I “won”; on the other hand, at the end of the day it was me who rode away untouched, and him who was beating himself over the head with a stick… That conflict wasn’t resolved by physical techniques; it was resolved with energy techniques.

Here I’m really speculating, but it seems to me that this is a big part of the infamous ling kong jin. I hesitate to even talk about it… but I get the impression that many of the sceptics are expecting it to be like Darth Vader using the Force to throttle someone from across the room. Um, no. But, sensing the nature of the energy flow between yourself and the people around you, knowing how to read all the small and involuntary messages that are being transmitted, to fake them, to respond to them, to control them… that’s a pretty useful skill to have, especially if the other guy can’t do it….

So: improv. Something to work on over the next few months. Doesn’t hurt that it seems to be a pretty interesting bunch of people attending the workshops. The downside is that it clashes with the Parkour classes I was talking about. Forced to choose between them, I think the improv is more relevant and useful to me, even if the days when foreigners were in demand for acting roles in Beijing have gone!

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