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"The Art of Transitions"
by Daena Giardella
Featured in Imagine News

The buzz is all around us. Whether on the national or local political stage or in the halls of film, television, radio or theatre production, we hear similar reverberations. The economy is in trouble. Budgets are shrinking. Jobs are disappearing. Cutbacks, downsizing, and belt tightening are the uneasy mantras again. Meanwhile, the impact of digital media innovation is being felt like an earthquake in every corner of the entertainment industry. Actors, directors, writers, and producers are being challenged to exercise their time-tested muscles for resourceful adaptation in the face of uncertain times.

We are clearly in a period of tremendous change. Old structures and forms are giving way to new modes of expression. Could any of us have imagined in 1980 that television and radio voice-overs would be recorded in virtual studios at home? Or did we envision the exodus of film projects from LA to Toronto? Our entire industry is undergoing a metamorphosis on many levels. So what do we do? When we are confronted with changes that affect our sense of security we often resort to unconscious habitual responses; a variation of fight /flight. We tighten our grip, get into a protective stance, stop listening to our intuition and dwell on negative predictions. While these reactions are understandable, they put us in a resistance posture that is often counter productive. So what do we need most in times like these? I believe our most essential task is to develop skillfulness in the art of transitions. We need to remember to feed our personal creative process. We need to get back to the source of that deeper calling that propelled us into our careers as artists. We need to take advantage of the lulls to rekindle a closer intimacy with our own creativity. The creative process is really a series of transitions from one idea and choice to another. I find that directing is 99% problem solving and 1% inspiration. The art of transitions is the practice of creativity in its purest form. Improvisation is a skill base that is beautifully suited to help people cultivate elegant dexterity in these moment-to-moment transitions. It is the art of dealing with the unexpected with an attitude of “yes”, especially when we don’t know where we are going. I see improvisation as a practice, like yoga or martial arts, where we become increasingly agile with regular works outs. The skills of improvisation are the very same skills that are most needed in everyday life and work. Trust in our impulses, spontaneity, personal freedom, team work, pro-active listening, risk taking, emotional flexibility, dynamic presence, and generosity are just a few of the benefits of dedicated improvisational practice.

Mastering the art of transitions requires us to become adept at dancing with the inner demons that hold us hostage and zap our confidence. Improvisational practice shows us our conditioned relationship to the unknown and it energizes our skillfulness in surmounting fears. In order to get up on stage and play a character in a scene we need to overcome the critical, negative voices that say, “I can’t,” “I shouldn’t” or “I’ll never”. We need to call forth the voices of “I can” and “I will.” In times of belt tightening, it is particularly important to feel that there is hope and possibility.
One client came to me with a palpable sense of anxiety and terror around finances as well as terrible feeling of being stuck in his work. He had been a very successful actor for thirty years. He whispered that he had a secret feeling that his creativity was dead. I encouraged him to explore this secret fear of his creative death in an improvisation. He enacted a riveting image of a man yanking out his own skeleton from his body. Eventually, he found his creative passion again as he began writing a compelling and beautiful screenplay about loss.

I truly believe that it all comes down to choices, trust and initiative. It’s about making choices and daring to give them our fullest commitment even before we know why or where it will lead us. The challenge is to embrace and believe in the present moment as if it were the first, the last, the only—to act, to choose, to listen with passionate openness, while risking being seen in the act of becoming.

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© 2002 Daena Giardella