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Nature Watching Versus People Watching

hirakismail's picture

I wanted to begin with talking about how this weekly observation exercise is similar to ones I had to do for an acting class I took. I was told by my professor to observe and take notes on people in several cases. She knew I had a dining hall job at the time, and thus interacted with many people as a worker. She wanted me to take notice of people, both co-workers and students coming to eat. The idea was that by observing how people move, talk, communicate, and exude their moods with their whole bodies, as actors we could take in this information to enhance our own acting styles. In my time doing these observations, I realized that the dining hall is a place where humans are less likely to be performative and more down to earth. It is a place where people are completing a basic survival need-eating. So watching them take food from the salad bar or how they ordered food from the hot line was an example of this. Some would be in a hurry and wouldn't communicate much, hurriedly filling their takeout boxes, others would be caught up in conversations, almost everyone talked about how hungry they were. Just observing human interaction at its most basic was my goal, and I would journal about it afterward.

I was also told to observe conversations from far away, close enough that I could see the two people conversing, but far away so their words were unclear. And, most importantly, the people I was observing shouldn't know I was doing so; I was supposed to make it as less obvious as possible. The idea was to observe how people communicate with their entire bodies and again, to incorporate that on stage. What was fascinating while making these observations was the realization of how much you can get from a conversation without actually being able to listen to the specific words. The hands, the inclination of the head, the movement of the eyes, all these factored into being able to "hear" the conversation.

Never, throughout that entire exercise and semester did I think to also journal about "nature" or the earth around me. I did mention the environment of the dining hall, how it would be humid and steaming behind the hot line, and how that affected people's moods, and how the lighting and the coloring were not very bright, so it made me feel dull. But getting to observe a site every week for this class and letting it affect me, and then writing about the experience has opened up an entire other school of thought for me. I wonder whether these nature exercises will lend to and color my acting experience now? I think it will, because in theater, we are constantly told as actors to let the people on stage affect us. Every single person should be affected by the other; we are to open ourselves emotionally and be hyperaware of our surroundings. Expanding this awareness to the set around me and perhaps the imagined setting, how the weather in the play would be, whether I am outside or inside, all these thoughts are now pertinent to me in a way they weren't before. Concentrating on more than people--even within a play--is proving helpful. It opens up a new avenue, and I am actually acting in a student production this summer in which I am trying to allow my journaling here affect my work there. These exercises are proving helpful in more than one way.