Bits and Bites of Everyday Life


Unwrapping gifts

By Geneviève Hone
True North Perspective

Geneviève Hone is a grandmother, family therapist and social worker.  With her husband, Julien Mercure (also a family therapist), she has co-authored three books on couples and family life. Her home on the web is

I’ve just finished the work I needed to do with the actors and now, from a corner of the large room, I quietly observe them rehearsing a play destined to open sometime in April.  I’ve been asked by the director of the play, a very dear friend, to help create and assemble the costumes.  Earlier today, I have built a prototype of a cloak that attempts to evoke mid-17th century fashions.  The cloak must be light enough that the actors don’t melt under the lights, heavy enough that it drapes elegantly, long enough to demonstrate that nobody needed to skimp on fabric, short enough to allow for freedom of movement especially during the swordfight episode. Perhaps you thought that sewing such a cloak was simply a matter of taking a big circle of fabric and cutting out a hole to let head and neck protrude in a graceful manner.  Well, so did I till this afternoon, but I don’t any longer, and this is why this embryonic piece of clothing will be known as a prototype.  “A big circle of fabric with a hole in the middle” doesn’t do it justice!
The actors were quite tolerant as I worked to wrap them, so to speak.  They patiently kept their arms stretched out as if on a cross while I was measuring over and over again, inserting pins, drawing chalk lines here and there.  Yes, they were very cooperative, keeping eye rolling to a minimum and barely emitting a sigh or two.  “They are such a disciplined group”, I say to myself, “I’m certain the rehearsal will go well.”
So now I rest from wrapping the actors as I enjoy watching my friend work at unwrapping them.   All actors come to rehearsals draped in cloaks of hopes, fears, talents and insecurities.  The director’s job is to unwrap them, that is to help them shed these cloaks to reveal the characters created by the playwright.   Well, that’s easier said than done: exposing oneself on stage can be quite scary.  What if the people in the audience don’t like what is being revealed?  What if they leave?  What if they clamour to get their money back?  What if the critic who terrifies actors and directors throughout the city is sitting in the back row, taking notes?
Contrary to my prediction, things do not go well tonight.  The actors hesitate, stutter, stumble on well memorized lines, take two steps to the right instead of to the left, bump into each other and break out in hiccupping laughter when they should be crying.  They seem to have forgotten most of what they have been taught.  They are impatient with each other and even start a few arguments.  Thank God they are not doing the swordfight scene!  I shake my head in dismay: “These guys have regressed, they were far better last week.”
I turn to see how my friend is coping.  She hasn’t said a word in the last fifteen minutes, unusual for her.  Surely, she must be as dismayed as I am: all that was gained last week is lost!  But on the contrary she seems completely relaxed, as if she didn’t have a care in the world.  She catches my glance, winks at me, turns to the group and says: “Something is happening tonight, I don’t know what exactly.  An outsider like our friendly costume seamstress sitting in the corner might think that you have seriously regressed from last week.  But I am an insider and in case you are wondering what is happening to you, let me tell you: “You are simply resting from all the excellent work you have done so far.  You have not lost all you gained in the past few weeks”.
And then, to the astonishment of the actors who were clearly expecting to be scolded, my friend adds:  “Now you will redo Scene III, and this time, I want you to deliberately make all the mistakes you possibly can.  Miss your cues, mix up your lines, trip on your own two feet, do whatever you can to mess up.  Be creative; act as if you had never set foot on a stage before.  Make it as bad as you can.  Just don’t hurt yourselves.”
Again, not what the actors expected!  They regroup and start over, this time being deliberately bad.  And, believe me, they are really, really good at being bad. Of course, they can’t keep this up for long and they soon dissolve in peals of laughter as they discover how hard it is to be as bad as they are striving to be. The director insists that they continue for another minute or two, then announces that she won’t even think of giving them feedback, they are so bad, and she sends them home.  Interestingly, they seem to be in no hurry to leave.  They linger at the door, teasing each other, laughing, hugging, as if coming out of a triumphal performance.  They just can’t get over how badly they performed tonight! Such fun!
Walking home, I reflect on this evening’s rehearsal.  It’s been a while since I’ve seen anything so crazy and funny.  My thoughts turn once again to cloaks.  I’m not talking here about the ones I will be fabricating once the prototype is ready for mass production, “mass” being all of four actors.  I’m talking about the invisible cloaks that people wear throughout their life to protect themselves from some kind of perceived threat.  The cloaks are meant to project confidence and competence and serve to hide insecurities and fears of inadequacy.  Alas, they also hide the gift that each person really is.
How does all of this start?  Certainly early in life, perhaps even at birth.  We swaddle our newborns to prevent them from being disturbed by their own startle reflex and to keep them warm until their internal thermometer kicks in.  We would worry if babies didn’t exhibit the startle reflex as this might indicate a neurological disorder.  We wouldn’t want to prevent the reflex even if we could.  But since we suspect that jumping out of their skin is not a comfortable event for our babies, we help them through that phase.
Perhaps we unconsciously remember how our swaddling blanket kept us warm and secure.  Perhaps we recycle that blanket into a cloak of sorts that will help keep us warm when we struggle to keep ourselves together.  Our cloak will provide some protection from the blows that Life is dealing to us, or so we think.  Alas, it also may hide the gifts we have been born with, our uniqueness.  Hopefully on our journey through life we will meet good educators, be they parents, teachers or even theatre directors for that matter, who will say to us: “Go for it!  Remove your cloak and explore who and what you are.  Discover your unique gifts and use them!  But all of this may be hard work, so whenever you need to, wrap yourself once again in the cloak that protects you and allow yourself to take a break.  And whatever you are doing, be it exploring or resting, enjoy the process.  Just don’t hurt yourself!”
As I am writing this, my friend Alberte is in Barbados, wrapping herself in sunshine and warmth.  I think of her fondly as I write about educators who know how to help people unwrap their gifts.  Alberte is certainly one of those, as is my friend, the theatre director.  Have a happy and creative year unwrapping your gifts!

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