When I was a student at Southern Methodist University, I was sent to take classes with an acting coach outside of the University. His name was Jim, and he became more of a life coach than an acting coach. He was to help me gain more expression in my voice, and bring my southern accent into a more regional sound. I never wanted to be in theater, but I did think I was headed for newscasting. While the intention of these lessons was voice work, I learned much more about personal growth, being free to change, and adapting to new environments and needs. Many lessons were based on the verse epitaphs of characters from the book; Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters, original copyright, 1914. In 214 short, one-page poems, voice is given to the small town dead, as characters interlocked by fate, in a village called Spoon River. These ghosts freely gossip about each other and themselves, as well as about the private lives of neighbors still alive in their village.
Each week, I was given one poem to study. I mean really study; was my character tall, short, heavy, thin, respected, or the village idiot. Would this person have a slow, fast, high-pitched, or deep voice? I was to interpret the voice, life, everything about the very core being of this character. Each week, I had to become the character, and read my epitaph to him as if I were that character.
Jim quickly assessed that I was unable to go outside of my self-built box. He assigned me the task of buying a big box of crayons and a coloring book. I was to spend ten minutes, several times a week, coloring the hair a “non-hair color”, the face, a “non-face color”, and worst of all…coloring outside the lines. All of our life, we are taught to paint “pretty” pictures. We are praised for pretty, accurate color drawings, and especially for staying inside the lines. This became one of my hardest assignments. As an adult, it was even harder. Last Fall, I shared this exercise with my meditation group. We all did it together, and like me, some found it difficult to push past the expectation of trying to be perfect.
With this post, I encourage you to try it. It may push your mind. It’s a wonderful exercise in stress relief, and enabling those thoughts to break free from the box…and it’s fun!