Be The Audience

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Be The Audience

Maybe you’ve noticed – I’ve been writing up my theory about change in the “Change Series” posted on our blog. I must confess, it is harder than I originally thought it would be, most likely because I went and had a baby that is ten times harder than my twins were, but also because I’m finding my mind wanting to add, delete, and change at every turn. In other words, I’m having a hard time resisting the urge to have PERFECT entries so as to convey EXACTLY what I want to say.  None of them are, of course, but the urge is still there.

When I get caught up in my own “head garbage” I grab tools from my toolbox to get myself on track again. These are the same tools I pass on to my clients, and I use them because they work!

One tool I use is what I like to call “Be The Audience,” and it’s easy-peasy to do.

If you’ve ever been to a play, but not know much about the production of theater, it’s easy to watch the actors on stage without giving much thought to the many other people who help create the show. In fact, you may not notice that sometimes actors will play multiples roles.

Your life, and my life, is a nothing but a theatrical production!  It’s a production that you (and I) wrote, down to every witty or horribly-delivered line. Imagine your life as a performer on the big stage! Everyday, you take the stage, belt out the lines you create, produce the play of your own imagining, and direct every piece of your life just the way you’d like it to be delivered. Every prop is yours to use how you wish – you are the set-designer. And when you don’t like a line, you have the power to change it on the spot, or have a do-over. The play is YOURS!

But besides the theatrical production that never ends – life that never ends – another very important part of your play, is your audience!  Afterall, if you don’t have an audience, you hardly have a play. Without the perfectly choreographed lines, your audience either applauds or walks away, disinterested.  The play could be a hit to many or a failure to all.

In 5th grade I was in a school play – I played a jester in a Christmas play. I’m not sure why I was playing a jester in a Christmas play, and even as I type it, it doesn’t make sense. My memory probably isn’t serving up the correct information – memory is like that of course, we only hang on to the most memorable moments. And oh! Was it ever memorable. I had the part of narrator who came out on stage before the curtain opened to read my lines – a monologue I suppose (even typing it out and recalling the memory is making my anxious stomach churn!).

At the time, I was SCARED-TO-DEATH. Of passing out, of forgetting my lines, of being booed off stage, of tripping over my own feet. I was so self-absorbed in myself and how I appeared to the audience, I ended up getting through the production without much feeling at all – I had to eventually just “numb out” and spew the lines as quickly as I could to get OFF the stage before I died.  Yes, I thought I would die.

As an adult reflecting on that play, and my life AS a play, I now realize that the only way to change is to put myself in the audience’s position.  To, in essence, BE the audience.

Life is a series of actions, like a theatrical production. Life is also a series of a emotions in which we can numb-out or be fully present in them. I imagine that actors, and all the other people that make the production possible, know their individual parts of the play so well, their behavior becomes automatic. The play begins, and they just GO. Without much thought at all, they act, direct, improvise, change attire, direct the orchestra, and change sets.  Their actions are habitual.

I recently saw “Giant,” a love story set in old South Texas. The play was every bit of 3 hours in length, but it didn’t feel it. It was a wonderful play, but one of my favorite parts was having a television monitor showing the orchestra conductor. How often do you get to see the face of the conductor while he conducts his orchestra? Never! (At least, I have never.) Along with the play, I watched the monitor. He was in THE ZONE. He was so incredibly in-tune, as he had to be – every beat, every word, every line – so that he started the music at just the right time, everytime. And, he sang along! He was as much on the stage as the actors were, as much in-tune to the rhythm of the production, as the audience and every other member of the cast.  Watch this for a very small glimpse of the type of musical numbers performed:

The Conductor was in his element. He was on auto-pilot. For 3 solid hours he conducted number after number, in perfect step with the rest of the players. And if he skipped a beat, the audience did not notice.

Our lives our lived much the same way. Once we learn our part, we do that part over and over and over again. Our actions become habitual. So habitual, in fact, that we don’t realize we’re even doing them. We don’t realize that the seat we sit in to watch television is the same chair we always grab, or that the handful of chocolate we pop in our mouth when no one is looking, is the same handful we grab each evening. We don’t notice that we follow the same morning routine, from stepping out of bed, into the shower, and into our clothes. We don’t notice, because to NOTICE, is taxing on our brain!  If we had to notice every action we ever performed, we’d be exhausted by lunchtime. Therefore, our brain learns “the program” very quickly. It learns what it needs to learn, and follows in perfect order, until you tell it to do different.

Our lives become so habitual, that we don’t know how to get out of it. We don’t even know what’s become habitual; so automatic.

I wonder if the conductor knows he sings those songs. I wonder if he knows that he closes his eyes at the beginning of every set, powers off his conductor moves, and sings for the first five bars of music before stopping his singing, opening his eyes, and continuing merely conducting his orchestra, in perfect tune with the play. He stops when there’s a dramatic moment, he starts when there’s a dance number, and he belts out song when the actress on stage belts our her song. Does he know he’s doing this, or is he thinking of what he’s having for dinner after his work is finished?

Unless the conductor makes a conscious decision to be mindful of his actions – to be his own audience – he may not realize this ever happens.

Change requires us to change habits. Knowing our habits requires that we step out of the role of actor, set-designer, producer, and director, and be the audience.

By being the audience, we slow ourselves down just enough to fully examine every part of our lives from a different perspective. As an actor, we have the acting perpsective. We wrote our life script, but we don’t know how it looks until we’ve taken a step back to decide if the lines we’ve prepared haven’t really been prepared at all.

Our life script is so automatic, that to change, we need to stop and just be the audience.

Do you like that behavior? Do you like those lines? Would you say them differently? And if you did say them differently, how would they be received by other fellow actors (the people in your life). How you say things, how you do things, and the energy you bring to your play – to your life – determines your outcome. 

To fully know how you’re being perceived, and hence, to know if your life is being lived in way that is giving you the best results, you have to be the audience. Take a step back, sit on the sidelines, watch the play as it’s happening. Imagine watching yourself interact with the various people in your life’s play, and decide if it was a well-played line. Could the line have been said differently? Could you have brought a different energy? Could you have acted in a different way? Did the person you delivered the line to respond in the way you wanted, and if not, take that as a cue to change the line.

Habitual behavior is good, because it keeps our bodies from being full-on exhausted 24/7. We NEED habits. But when the habits are bad, when they’ve been kicked up a few notches, even without us realizing it, the only way to examine ourselves, and hence change the writing, produce a new outcome, and direct a new scene, is to become our own audience. In fact, it’s important to understand that you don’t always have to partake in a play that someone has invited you into. You can be the audience in anyone’s play, not just your own. YOU make the decisions you need to make at every turn in your own life’s play, to change your life the way you need to change.

Every small choice, every big habit, is yours to examine and change as you see fit.  Just be the audience.

About the Author:

Jennifer Slingerland Ryan knows a thing or two about kids and families. First, she knows they are joyous, exhilarating, loving and so darn fun. Second, she knows they suck your life dry and make you weep like a baby. By day she’s a psychotherapist; by night she’s a mom and wife. She claims to love therapizing couples, educating parents, reading dystopian fiction and sleeping in her free time (read: she never sleeps). Jennifer has spent over 12 years in private practice working with individuals, couples, and parents who are faced with kid-drama, mamma-drama, and family-drama, and she claims that although some stories make a grown woman cry, she loves it.