I was teaching a class in May, as Guest Tutor for PAC Screenworkshop 2, having been asked back as Makeup Instructor once again by Annie Murtagh-Monks, (Casting Director, Managing Director of the Association of Screen Professionals and Co-ordinator and driving force behind the Perth Actors Collective). Annie introduced me as an ex-alumni of the PAC workshops, also of the memorable Creative Intensive residential weekend workshops held at the old New Norcia monastery every year, and she asked me when it was I had done mine. Off the top of my head I estimated at least one of them was around 2005….
Well, out of curiosity, I was leafing through some paperwork in my office, and came across the original certificates of completion- turns out my first Creative Intensive was the 5th to be run, in July 2002, and the second was the 8th C.I. ever, in September 2003…. ( since those heady days they have a single weekend every year, they are up to C.I. 15 this October.) Looking back at the 9 years that has passed since my first C.I. has afforded me a unique perspective… and I just thought it might be interesting to share it with anyone who is currently in the midst of their own creative journey…
For anyone who doesnt already know, I used to be an actor. Admittedly, not a fabulous actor, as in those days I was restricted and restrained by the insecurities of youth and upbringing, my inner shyness and lack of self-confidence… Go ahead, I hear you laughing from here… but (believe it or not) I am actually a very private person and, especially in those days, rather controlled and emotionally self-contained, which is not the best thing for an aspiring actor to be…. I had not yet discovered the secrets of letting go and being myself, but was still in the grip of control issues and inner demons. Yeah- we all got ’em….
I had always held a yearning to act, but working in hospitality in my younger years kind of precluded that ambition, and it wasnt until I had my first child in 1995 that motivation met opportunity, and I joined my local community theatre group, at the local Irish Club. (Coincidentally I also acquired my love of a properly poured Guinness during this period…). Like anyone, I contributed to almost every role at some point during my internship in theatre, from Stage Manager, Costume and Sets, through Acting, often at the same time.. then studied Theatre Lighting at UWA and temporarily took over from our Lady of Light, Ms Fiona Reid, who was studying her craft at WAAPA. I even directed a couple of plays, and had one delightful actor tell me that one day, I would write my own highly successful production and give him, in his own words, “Three Lines And A Gun”. I still think that would make a great play or even film title, and you have my permission to use it, as long as I get a Thankyou in the credits!!
After a while, however, I realised that theatre wasnt taking me where I wanted to be, and on the advice of a local TV Producer, I went and got myself an agent. So, then to learn the craft of screen acting, an altogether different beast. I did a one of the introductory courses they offered at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, for people aiming to audition for their world renowned acting course. (Alumni include Frances O’Connor, William McInnes, Marcus Graham, Hugh Jackman and Lisa McCune). I didnt get in, but the bug had bitten. Over the next few years, I got a lot of local commercials, during that time I did a couple of the short film acting courses offered by Actors Management, and then discovered the Perth Actors Collective Screenworkshops. Somehow during those I got targeted not only as an actor, but as a director, so I got to experience different facets of the film process. During my theatrical years I had written a couple of productions as well, and attended several Writers Workshops run by the Australian Writers Guild, so it was an interesting time during which I gained a lot of information about the filmmaking process and the actors way. I worked with some great talents during those courses, some of whom are going from strength to strength today- Comedienne Claire Hooper; Francoise Sas; Emma St Clair Ford; Claire Vanderboom; Frances Overheu, (Filmmaker); Mahesh Jadunundun; Fern Vallesi; Miranda Edmonds; Sean Haining; Lis Hoffman; Ali Roberts (Acting Teacher); Dan Wood, (Director); Ben Young, (Director).
But back to the Creative Intensives….. They are, without a doubt, Creative, and, well, Intense! Touted as a way of ‘unblocking’ your creativity and discovering where you are and how to get to where you want to be, they have been run since the late nineties. Just to give you an idea, here are some of the people I did mine with who are still in the entertainment industry almost a decade later: Analisa Bell (voice of an angel!) ; Emma Booth (international acting sensation and ravishing redhead); Julz Cukrov; Floss Holt; Angelique Malcolm (Director of Class Act Theatre); Ken Miller (Film lecturer at Curtin Uni); Ben Watts; Francesca Waters, (actor and teacher); Craig Williams, (Actor). I remember one of the writings we were given in our arrivals folder, which said, more or less, “the place you are in right now is where you arranged to be five years ago. Where will you choose to be five years from now?”
It seems now only logical that it was indeed five years after I did my first Creative Intensive, that I changed my life completely. I had given acting away a couple of years earlier, because I realised that I had some personal issues to deal with before I would truly be able to give my best to a profession that requires absolute transparency of its initiates. But somehow, I discovered other parts of myself coming to the fore, and although I do not recall how when or even why exactly I made the decision, at some point during 07 I knew that I would study Film Makeup and SFX. I think, looking back at those sheltered and carefully cultured weekends I spent in pursuit of self-education and spiritual enlightenment, that they were indeed a turning point in my life, and that the lessons I learned (from other peoples deeply personal journeys as well as my own) contributed greatly to my sense of self now.
Risk-taking is a behaviour not encouraged nearly often enough in our culture. We applaud safe choices over creativity. Decide on your career at the tender age of 15, before you choose your subjects for your final years, and God help you if you make the wrong choices or dont get the highest marks- your life will be ruined if you dont get into the ‘right’ course…. Impress your parents, make a shitload of money, buy the big house in the right suburb, send your kids to the correct school for the best advantage in life, and continue the cycle.
But what about the rest of us? The ones who always feel like the square pegs forever trying to fit into round holes? Have you sublimated your true self in an effort to do the right thing? Are you trying desperately to be ‘sensible’ and ‘responsible’ and give up your foolish dreams, all the while knowing that the longer you ignore your true self, the more danger your soul is in of slow, stifling, death? Well, I say, you could do worse than try something like a Creative Intensive Weekend. I would kind of recommend that path to everyone wanting to be in the Film industry anyway, just for the experience. I started out acting, but I ended up changing sides of the camera completely… and I have to say, I really credit the Creative Intensive Weekends with beginning the process that led me to where I am today.
I credit the Creative Intensives with being the trigger I needed to change what I thought could not be changed… The second one I did, I was asked to give another participant a lift to New Norcia. On the way she asked me what it was like…. I hesitated, unsure how to describe such a life-changing experience. “Creative… and… and… Intense. ” I weakly offered. How to put into words the intimacy of sharing deeply felt experiences with a group who, merely hours before, had been total strangers? How to describe the warmth and security of knowing that in this place, in this moment, we were all accepted, all equal, all perfectly human? How to encapsulate the feeling of knowing you were being totally and unconditionally cared for, and that you could forgo the usual need for conventional ties, in caring deeply and sincerely for others sharing this experience with you? Is there a way of neatly and aptly describing the unbridled joy of discovering possibility, hitherto hidden from my eyes, but nonetheless there all the time – lurking furtively amongst the certain disappointments and accepted failings of my previous existence? What can I say to someone who is seeking hope, seeking self, and searching for a way into what they deeply and fervently hope must exist, but dare not quite let themselves believe might actually be real? How can I tell someone that this can, if they are ready, be a way forward into a new life? Ok, so people experience different things in these circumstances, and no, it won’t all happen at once… but I found the Creative Intensive to be my way of unlocking a door I didn’t even know was there…. So, yeah, they are Creative. As Creative as you are ready to be. And Intense, definitely. Even if you don’t have deeply felt and long hidden beliefs of your own to release, you will be deeply moved by others stories and shadings…. and for many, it brings a level of connection with other people that they may never have experienced before… For the record, on the journey home, my companion said to me, “You were right. That was very, very Creative, and very, very, Intense. I wouldn’t have understood if you had tried to explain it to me before…. ”
I will leave you with something to think about:
“No matter how cut off we feel from our creative centre, the time will come when we cant ignore the need to express ourselves, a time when it is more painful and frustrating NOT to express our creativity than to risk going back, finding the pain and healing it. Once we’ve healed old hurts, we can take all the energy we’ve been using to control them and apply it to our work.”
One of the most innovative people I have ever known of died the day before I rewrote this post. In 2005, Steve Jobs remarks to Stanford graduates included this line: “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything–all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure–these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.”
My best advice is not to wait till you are dying to figure that out- learn from people who have gone before, from people like Steve Jobs, people who dared to think outside the box. I wish you all the best in your own creative journeys.