Safe Space for Dangerous ideas

This weekend at Summer Sling NYC 2017, I took part in a class run by Siobhan Richardson on the principles of Staged Intimacy, and in this class Siobhan introduced the following lovely piece of shorthand regarding rehearsal design:

“Rehearsals can be a safe space where dangerous things can happen; or a dangerous space in which only safe things will happen” (note to self to check my memory against Siobhan’s original wording)

Today I’ve been musing on the ways this litmus test can be usefully applied to other parts of my life: I would consider, for instance, Facebook to be a dangerous space in which I make safe offerings (or regret it later); solo time with a scant handful of friends to be a safe space in which dangerous things can happen; my neighborhood immediately surrounding my home, sadly, dangerous containing safe; the city at large, certainly the same; if I’m hazarding a guess I’d say my life is overall a dangerous space in which few and far between there are safe spaces and moments allowing dangerous exploration.

This notion has enough potential value, I think, that it warrants some careful exploration and definition, what are the dangerous ideas, what are the dangerous possibilities, in these various realities? What do I need, what do the people around me need, to perceive an interaction, a location, as safe? What violates that safety? How often do I have, and take, the opportunity to check in with the people around me about that safe framework, about their needs and about my own, and how often do we have further opportunity to use those discoveries in order to alter and build a safer moment which allows more daring action?

I suspect many of the rehearsal processes I have entered have moved in my own experience from an initial assumed safety, towards a discovered danger, which I then resent or at best attempt to stoically accept. How can I enter into a new process with fewer false assumptions?  How much of the shift toward danger is a shared experience vs only my own? How much is a shedding of false assumptions and how much is a real shift in shared expectations, actions and needs? How can I, in my various roles as performer, as director, as SM, even as observer of process, supporter from outside, or audience member, formulate intentional invitations and offers towards a better definition of safe conditions for myself and others?

The quick glance at the definitions and etymology of “danger” suggest explicit potential for harm, and roots in a relationship between the Latin “dominus” or lord and the implied dominated: subjects to the lord, subject to danger and harm. In rehearsal processes, is danger shared equally? To whom are the performers subject, to whom the director? What hidden forces – of capital, of time, of assumed shared responsibility for quality, pervade the process with new elements of danger? Is it ultimately useful to utilize a word which is so specifically a measure of potential harm? Could “daring” be a better tool-word than “danger”? The latin root of “safe”, “salvus” has the meaning of uninjured, free from harm – perhaps a safe space forbids dangerous action. Perhaps rather than draw a perfect contrast, as my brain is apt to do, it behooves the artist to draw a linear axis or charted relationship between what is safe and what is dangerous, and to define types and forms of danger (physical, emotional, ideological) and alert collaborators to which forms of danger are invited, which expected, which unacceptable.

I bring to this rumination a dual assumption of safety as a good, one which I desire and seek to enhance my own sense of ongoing sanctity and security and happiness, and of danger as a good, which I seek to enhance my feelings of engagement with the world and of potential for change. I might draw this as an upward spiral of Safety->danger->Safety2->danger2->Safety3 etc…

Stray visualizations: Full armor allows the safety for otherwise dangerous full-contact sparring, but not for unfiltered discussions of racism. Mutual anonymity allows relative safety for participants in a discussion to originate expression but no safety to those same participants as recipients of expression. (From this we can draw the rule that a safe space requires, if not consequence, than at least meaningful patterns of feedback and adjustment)

Three practical applications of this conversation to the next process I begin:

1- Better identify my own role and position in the power dynamic. Especially where those relationships diverge from assumed norms. For instance where I intend to invite actors to offer and devise design elements and performance pallete, I can make clear first what the creative boundaries of that freedom are, and define the process which will resolve conflicts between competing visions between actors and between actors and myself. Learn and name the forces to which I am subject.

2- In imposing a rehearsal technique, better define and communicate to the actors my goals in the process, rather than subscribing to the fetishization of mystery and discovery* . Thus allow the actors to assume responsibility for the process technique’s success, and define in mutually established terms when whether and why it is not working for them

3- !More clearly define and announce the responsibilities I am shouldering so that the actors can focus on the creative opportunities which remain for the taking rather than feeling unsure or in competition for results.


*the “fetishization of mystery and discovery” as I’m terming in in my head, exists in competition with explicit and ordered instruction, and is a source of  frustration I encountered at another class at this weekend’s Summer Sling, probably worth its own post



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