Even Housewife Megastar Dame Edna Everage knows it, or at least her onerous manager Barry Humphries does: performances have constraints. When Edna’s voice slips into the baritone, she loses the audience, as she has found over the years. Edna, though, is caricature.
Every performance has boundaries beyond which we lose our audience. Most of us don’t really know where those boundaries are, because just don’t go there. Because we see our behaviour as “natural” rather than as being a performance constructed out of bits and pieces we have collected, our choices aren’t conscious and exploratory, rather they are habitual and routine. We know what we have made to work, and we see no need, or maybe even no possibility of transforming.
Change, though, requires change. One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting to get different results, as the old saying goes.
And change, then requires us to explore the constraints of our performance. Where are the limits of what can be effective for us, with our body, our experience, our thinking and our nature?
More than that, what are the real limits on effectiveness, beyond the expectations, assumptions and traditions imposed by those who know us? They may hold us by tethers that they and we find hard to break, pulling us back into expectations, but can we move beyond those expectations and make it work?
Authenticity lifts constraints. When we can get to transferring truth rather than just the conveyance of caricature, people will accept our choices as offering something real and resonant.
This takes owning truth, because owning our own truth centres us in our actions. When we have ownership, our choices come from inside of us, radiating from our core, rather than just being part of the costume or mask we have slipped on. There is an genuine integrity when we own our truth and revealing that truth moves people.
Doing the work of healing always means the same thing: getting to the point where you own your truth so you can own your own choices. This ownership puts us in a place where we can come from a positive place, accepting challenge, rather than leaving us defending the surface performance where we feel the need to reject challenge and to try and silence challengers. “Thank you for sharing” is always harder to say than “Shut Up! Shut Up, Shut Up, Shut Up!”
For some, the notion that authenticity lifts constraints rather than imposing constraints may seem counter-intuitive. If you define authenticity as the one true way, then it should limit you to that fixed, firm and unalterable truth.
Of course, it does do that, but the problem is that truth itself is unspeakable. The best we can get is shadows of it, facets of it, pieces of it, performances of it that always only reveal it in part. Human truth doesn’t just cover a lifetime of moments, it covers all lifetimes of moments, and that is just too much truth to be exposed in one moment, one symbol, one choice or even one performance.
Dame Edna resonates with audience because she tells the truth, but they know that she isn’t telling the whole truth. They know that there is more to her performer, yes, but they also know that no performance can tell the whole truth. There is much more to reality than any of us can grasp, grasshopper.
The flexibility of our performance in the world is determined by how much our performance comes from deep truth. If we are using masks or caricature, we are always at risk of revelation when the mask slips, even a bit. But if our performance isn’t bolted on, but comes from deep inside, the revelations that come from slips can show even more truth, sometimes more than we intended to show.
Still, people who need to hold onto their own view of truth and project it onto others may never see what we reveal.
Every performance holds truth. Caricature performances hold controlled and limited truth, a kind of façade, mask or costume we put on. Authentic performances hold a more open and vibrant truth, revealing connections and insights that are not in our intentions but deep in our heart and spirit. Pretending is pretense, but real is real.
They may be truths that some reject or deny because they challenge their beliefs, but if a truth is resonant and essential enough, it will transcend any challenges and get into the hearts and minds of the audience.
Authenticity removes the constraints on performances because they become less about concealment and more about revealing something deeper. Naked is, even if we are talking naked soul, naked heart and naked smarts, is naked.
While sometimes I write blog posts because I know what I think, sometimes I write blog posts because I need to know what I think, need to hear how things sound when actually asserted. Sometimes.