In 1972 I attended an annual theatre conference where committee meetings were more than a little contentious—not only about performance issues, but also about smoking/not smoking. Despite the approaches some of us took to try to solve problems, there seemed to be no way to end the acrimony. The meeting I was attending ended on a particularly discordant note. I wished I knew a way to bring the warring parties together but the meeting was over. I left to go to my next event—a massage workshop!
I had signed up for the session out of curiosity and disbelief, wondering what massage had to do with theatre, knowing the only way to find out was to attend the workshop. As I walked toward the room, I kept asking myself why the convention convenors invited a massage specialist to lead a session, even if his credentials did include working with many theatre companies.
When the last of the ten people who’d signed up entered, the workshop leader closed the door, introduced himself and his staff, and told us about the benefits of massage. I half listened, more interested in who had signed up. What got my attention was his saying, “Okay, now get undressed.” What????
There was a long silence, then, one by one, people took off their clothes. One woman, a nun, left on her underpants. The masseuse gave instructions. Half of us got on the tables, the other half began following instructions as his staff moved around the room demonstrating, helping, suggesting. After we changed places and everyone had been massaged, we put on our clothes, thanked him, and left, a whole lot less stressed than when we entered. At the next meeting, six of us from massage were in attendance. As the meeting progressed, I couldn’t help noticing there was no acrimony. People listened. Issues were amicably settled. What had changed?
Fast forward a year. I was writing and directing plays for children that were performed by university students who spent a week touring small towns in Delaware. Some days they’d do as many as four performances and word got back there had been so many fights between cast members, they barely made some performance times. I remembered the effect massage had had on the committee meetings and wondered if it might help the cast if they massaged each other rather than fight.
I wrote a grant application for the man who’d led the massage session to come teach my cast members how to massage each other. I gave it to the Chair of the Theatre Department to read. Afterward, he looked at me, disbelieving what he’d read. “Nancy, I can’t fund this. It will never be approved. If you really think it’s important, you have to go to the Dean; he’s the only one who has the power to fund a non-traditional request. Ask him to read it while you’re there. Maybe your arguments, in person, will make a difference, but don’t get your hopes up. This is one bizarre grant proposal and I’ve read more than you might imagine.”
I took his advice and persuaded the Dean to read the grant application while I waited. When he finished, he shook his head. “Nancy, this is a university, an academic institution. Who ever heard of asking for funding for a masseuse? What makes you think I would even think of supporting this application?” I told him how the students represented the University of Delaware in small towns, where children might never have thought about going to the university, how strenuous the performance schedule was, how stressed the students were, how being able to massage each other would give them a tool to ease their stress, which would certainly affect their ability to perform.” I showed him the credentials of the masseur, which were impressive. He’d worked for a lot of educational institutions as well as theatre companies. The Dean kept shaking his head, as if he couldn’t believe I’d apply for such a grant.
When I said all I knew to say the two of us sat in silence. I waited for the Dean to speak. I stared at him, wondering what he was thinking, wondering which part of my grant proposal he was rereading. He reread the application. When he did speak, I was in shock. “Okay. Application approved.”
“What?” My astonishment was too great to cover. With an impish smile on his face, the Dean said, “Good thing the Provost trusts my judgment. This is one weird proposal, even though what you write and how you defend it makes sense in a way. But, you’ll have to do the teaching of massage after this. I’ll only fund it once.”
The masseuse came. Taught the cast. Instead of fighting, they learned to massage each other, transforming friction into compatibility, into a trusted sense of community. Their performances got rave reviews. From then on, part of children’s theatre rehearsals included sessions where students learned to massage each other. Clothes on.
If you have let your curiosity lead you into doing something you could not have predicted, what was the outcome?
Life tales from a woman different living in The City Different.