March 19, 2022

The Art of Being Present

A Reflection Point facilitator and team member, Maria Bitarello is a writer, translator, editor and journalist living in São Paulo, Brazil.  She is also a member of the longest running theater company in Brazil. In this essay, she connects the dots between her experience of expressive theater and the space created in a Reflection Point conversation.

I’ve often thought that Reflection Point is like theater. And theater, I speak from experience, is the art of being present.

Sure, there are lines and cues, but performing onstage – or backstage, like myself – requires unequivocal concentration and unwavering presence. If you are not fully here and now, you compromise everyone else, the whole show. From the actors’ safety to the audience’s experience. We must be wholeheartedly present for the magic to occur. It is generosity at its peak, giving yourself entirely to the collective, as well as being fueled by the energy that emanates from the Company and the audience, as one.

At Reflection Point, the sessions we facilitate around a story offer a similar ride.

I joined the organization in 2019 – in the middle of a long running season with the theater company I’ve been with in São Paulo, Brazil, since 2015 – and it just clicked with me. I got it.

Like theater, Reflection Point requires all of you to be here and now so that all of us may have the full experience. It’s a pact. And that realization exposed the ensuing similarities between these two of many story-sharing activities or human expressions that have shaped our existence.

To begin with, trust is a key component. Because there’s no theater without risk. The risk of being exposed in public. We choose to trust that if, say, I go off on an improvisation, everyone will have my back. That I’m not being judged, and that if my sidetracking takes us all down a different a path, we’re in it together. We have made a silent agreement that during our ritual, the number one rule is to stay present, attentive.

This silent agreement - this pact - applies to a Reflection Point conversation. The framework of this craft entails listening to each other, reading the room, and abandoning hierarchies.

We’re like schooling fish in the sea: if one of us makes a left turn and leads in that direction, the rest of us will follow. Our strength is in the collective; there are only momentary leaders. And there’s beauty in that trust of movement, of impermanence.

Secondly, the doors are open for all. There’s no right type of person for theater just as there is no ideal Reflection Point participant. All that is required is a story and people who believe in the truth of that story. For the duration of the session, our day-to-day selves are kept on hold.

Phones off, guards down. You are not being evaluated or assessed by your performance; there’s no right or wrong way to approach or feel about the literary work in our hands; there are no bosses or employees. The facilitator is just one more person in the room and no one knows what the course of the hour holds for us. It’s a living organism.

We’re like schooling fish in the sea: if one of us makes a left turn and leads in that direction, the rest of us will follow. Our strength is in the collective; there are only momentary leaders. And there’s beauty in that trust of movement, of impermanence.

Then, there’s the freedom that fiction grants us from ourselves while igniting the spark of profound internal investigation. By ridding yourself of the individual drama of what makes you you, you are free to venture into the messy human condition and look very closely at its glory as well as its horrors. You don’t come back from that trip unscathed. It changes you.

It is because Reflection Point shares so many attributes with theater that I like using the latter as a roadmap. Both are testaments to our need and commitment to nurture, maintain and pass down our cultural legacies. It is not by chance that theater has survived centuries of transformations in societies, governments, currencies, and even diseases. Shakespeare experienced the opening and closing of theater houses in England throughout his entire life due to the Bubonic Plague. The circumstances of our lives change, but the need for art stands.

Culture is not something that happens to us, that we experience outside ourselves when we go to an art gallery or read a novel. We’re cultural beings. Our very lives make up what culture is. Our songs, our food, our languages, our clothes, our gods, our stories. There will always be a need for theater because there will always be a need for stories. And if 21st century life in the city makes it trickier for us to reconnect with each other, to ritualize these encounters, and to take our playtime seriously, well, then we must create these spaces, these reflecting points, these time-bubbles, these magical realms of imagination.

There’s no way around it. It’s a survival imperative of our species.

Image Credit:
Paolo Chiabrando, Teatro Petruzzelli, Bari, via Unsplash.
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