ATOM-r Director Mark Jeffery consults with Lighting Technician Simon Bedwell

ATOM-r Collective before their performance of Kjell Theory
Photos by Grace DuVal:
Monday, March 12, 2018

As I hung out at the Chisenhale Dance Space in London while ATOM-r readied for their performance of Kjell Theory on January 12th, I settled into familiar sights, activities, and conversations. Being at a rehearsal or back stage before a performance is such a delight to me. It is its own little universe with things being said and done to create the magic the audience will soon experience. There's always lots going on behind the scenes.

I was reminded of this in one very particular moment prior to the show when the director was confronted with an unforeseen problem. Calm and assertive, clear and patient, he navigated the disturbance in a most effective way - not upsetting the cast just minutes before the show but doing what was necessary to keep things moving smoothly. I admired the way he handled the situation and found myself remarking to Grace, "Oh what goes on behind the scenes!"

Yes, things are always going on behind the scenes, whether that is at a performance or in our own life. Years ago I remember explaining to a friend why people come to see me for counseling. I said that fortunately for all of us, most of the world is able to operate in civilized, considerate ways in daily life. We are able to get up, put on clothes, and go out into the world to do what we do. We converse with people, enjoy their company, and raise children who are able to grow up and do the same.

But just below the surface of these functional, civilized ways are often disturbances of some sort: unhappiness, anxiety, heart break, discouragement, addiction, abuse, relationship problems. Most of us have these things at some time. Behind the scenes of our everyday life are issues that invite our attention in order to make our lives better.

Approaching these behind-the-scene issues with honesty and willingness to deal with them is a good idea. And then, using Mark Jeffery's calmness and assertiveness, clarity and patience, we can make ready for a healthier engagement with life.

Next: Visual and emotional spectacle

Speaking with Christopher Knowlton of ATOM-r before the performance of Kjell Theory
Christopher Knowlton and Justin Deschamps of ATOM-r in perfomance of Kjell Theory
Photos by Grace DuVal:

Friday, March 2, 2018

Grace and I arrived in England on a Friday morning. That same night, we went to a performance of Kjell Theory by ATOM-r ( at Chisenhale Dance Space in London. Grace costumes for this Chicago-based performance art troupe and photographs their work.

We arrived well before the start of the show so Grace could give the performers new costumes for future work and prepare to photograph the show. As she did this, we were also all hanging out and chatting. Each of the members of ATOM-r made me feel more than welcome in these back-stage times. Meaningful conversations ensued.

At some point, Grace and Chris and I were talking about dance - something I have done my entire life. I was sharing my perspectives on the value of formal dance technique, saying I have been involved in performances that were exploratory and improvisational which I thoroughly enjoyed but which ultimately left me wanting to go to a ballet class and work on my technique. Not yet knowing what an excellent, well-trained performer I was in the presence of, Chris said, "Yes, work can be shapeless without technique." His performance, based clearly in strong technique, conveyed meaning and shape throughout the surrealistic show - as did the other ATOM-r performers.

I was struck by "shapeless without technique." I understood what he meant, and I believe that applies in many areas of our life: relationships, parenting, money management, eating, recovery - to name a few. We can put some time and effort into reading and studying and practicing how to do these things well, or we can just "fly by the seat of our pants."

Many times we do have to improvise, figure things out on the spot, take a wild guess, and move forward. This might also include going with our gut feeling or instinct. No problem necessarily. But all of these more spontaneous, on-the-spot decisions and actions are best when they are supported underneath by technique.

Technique comes from an organized study of the topic you are wanting to learn about or improve. It comes from learning from those who already have "mastered" what you seek. It comes from repeatedly "showing up" to your practice so that, as we say in theater, it becomes body memory. Then when life throws something at us, our technique is there to give us strength and balance and form.

What are you doing to develop your technique?

Next: Behind the scenes