theatre

Your Body Tells Your Story

Is your body telling the story you want it to? Body language and expression are among the most potent tools we have for communication. Used well, they lend power to your message. Used poorly, they can undercut everything you’re trying to convey. Whether in communication with customers, leadership, the investment community or your own teams, the story you tell physically can be one of your greatest advantages, or most serious risks.

Let’s look at a recent example: One of my clients is part of the leadership team for a Denver area software company. Though he’s an experienced public speaker and a good communicator, he has a chronic slouch. Age, injury, and boxing training combined in him to make it nearly impossible for him to sit up straight. When he came to work with me, I immediately saw how his body language often communicated defeat, low status, other things that were the opposite of what his words were saying. He wanted to do something about it, but it was clear that just sitting him upright wasn’t going be easy, and wouldn’t feel authentic anyway. Rather than attempting to force his posture into something painful and unnatural for him, I instead worked with his natural slouch to create a series of powerful posture-gesture combinations that changed his demeanor entirely. Where before, his slumped, seated self projected a feeling of defeat to his audience, now his active, forward-slanted position showed passion, detailed knowledge, and direct communication of his confidence in the product he was selling. His new customized power-posture also helped free up his hands, thereby allowing for precise gestures for emphasis as he spoke.

Very soon after our session, my client was put on the spot to do a high pressure pitch in front of the executive team for one of the biggest retailers in the U.S. My client used his new tools to project a powerful sense of confidence in his offering, something absolutely necessary in front of a Fortune 500 executive audience. The result? His team landed the deal, which was the biggest in his company’s history. As he put it, “Was that success just about me? Of course not – the product and the team had a lot to do with it. But the first thing that the customer’s leadership team knew about us, before I’d even said a word, was that I had total confidence in what I was putting forward. That didn’t close the deal by itself, but you better believe that it opened the door.”

What doors do you have that need opening?

Leveraging my twenty years of experience as a movement and communication educator, I can show you what your body language is saying, and how it’s saying it. Better, I can help you take control of the story that your physical presence tells, and help you transform it into one of your strongest assets as a leader and communicator. Book me for my customized seminar in body language for leaders, and, during the month of August, take advantage of this opportunity at half price.

Email me: jenn zuko (at) gmail (dot) com, or if you know me online, use any messenger app at hand to contact me. Let’s get started!

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Talented Padawans

Just look at the lightsaber fight the Lvl 4 Longmont Dance Academy teens created themselves last week. Just look.

(Here’s the link in case the vid doesn’t work: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fu-rc-hZ2wY)

Sign up for Advanced Stage Combat plea #4

And the reason this time is:

Strange and unusual weapons.

At Metro, the beginning Stage Combat class covers the basics of both unarmed and rapier techniques. And as you might imagine, the whole 16 weeks’ worth of time is necessary for the introduction and especially the practice, of the bare basics.

In the advanced class, everyone enters knowing the basics, basically (we of course do a review session on our first day), and so we can use that knowledge to move forward into other stuff. This coming semester, we’ll be doing broadswords and staffs, as you’ve already heard about.

But there’s other stuff we’ll cover, too: some have to do with harder versions of the basic weapons. For example, large group fights, sword fighting up and down stairs a la Errol Flynn, circular or erratic footwork in sword fighting, advanced taihenjutsu like dive rolls, simulated (and real) martial arts throws, falling from a height, etc. (See me below, playing around on a climbing wall with a past advanced class–we learned some aerial dance rope stuff as well as basic climbing, plus falling from a height.)

In the past, I’ve also done micro-units on martial arts styles and found weapons (which are normal everyday objects used as weapons–something that pops up in current theatre far more often than, say, swords), and then of course one can also use classic weapons techniques to inform other, more unusual ones.

For example, a knowledge of basic Japanese katana technique will make you pretty decent at wielding a lightsaber (and staff knowledge helps with that double-bladed number Darth Maul had).

This coming Fall (if I can get 12 students signed up), we will be doing a video-game fight unit. And wouldn’t it be cool if I got UCD’s renowned film department in on that project. Is mo-cap, animation, or film technique in our future? Will I bring this class (as I have done for one of our summer private courses) down to one of the Parkour studios in Denver for specialized training? Time will tell. That’s if I get the enrollment numbers.

A reminder: anyone can audit, but anyone attending the three schools on Auraria campus (MSU, CCD, and UCD) can sign up for this course. As of last time I checked, I had 6 enrolled, which is half the required number I need for the class to go.

So. What are you waiting for?

Plea to sign up for Advanced Stage Combat #3

And the central reason in this post, that you should sign up for Advanced Stage Combat at MSU this Fall?

One word: broadswords.

A few years back, the theatre department purchased a bunch of beautiful hand-and-a-half broadswords that are big enough to warrant good broadsword technique, but short and light enough that they’re easy to wield. And the sound they make, clanging together, is diviiiiine…

Thing is, whereas the rapiers are used in the beginning course, and every so often in productions (like, when we do Shakespeare, for example), the broadswords are rarely, if ever, used. So we’re gonna break em out in advanced class. If I can get six more people to sign up, that is.

(The pic below is not class, and not those particular swords, but is an image from my time in the late ’90s as a stunt performer at the Renaissance Festival. It shows how much awesome fun playing w broadswords can be.)

Plea #2: sign up for Advanced Stage Combat

Reason Number 2 of thousands:

Six foot staffs.

Even in SAFD land, the six foot staff (what they call quarterstaff) is not often taught in the basic stage combat courses. This is certainly understandable to a certain extent, as it’s not one of those weapons that most actors will most often find themselves wielding.

This coming fall semester, however, I will be adding staff back into the Stage Combat curriculum. Fun fact: when I first designed the beginning Stage Combat course for Metro back in 2005, there were three weapons systems they all learned: Unarmed, Staff, and Sword (rapier). I later axed the staff unit, for to spend more time with the swords and the finals, and with the knowledge that the staff (though basic weapons training for me at the time in martial arts) wasn’t really a fundamental weapon most beginners would need to know about.

But it’s so very much fun!! And so this fall we will be wielding them again for the first time in about a dozen years. So if you’re an Auraria student or want to audit, get on your registration now so I can hit my minimum enrollment before cancellation. Do eet.

Advanced Stage Combat

Remember a few months back, when I posted a series of pleas, extolling the virtues of my Stage Movement class, so that students at Auraria campus would sign up for it? I ended up with a good number of students in that one, and now I’m beginning a series of pleas about a new, vastly exciting course.

Well it’s not new, exactly, but the last time it was offered was …. gosh 8 years ago? Is that true? Anyway, suffice to say I wasn’t expecting the good folks in charge at Metro’s Theatre department to ever offer it again. But guess what? This Fall, it’s there, with a real course number and everything. It’s called ADVANCED STAGE COMBAT, and I am pleased as punch to be teaching this again. (At least, I’ll be teaching it if enough people sign up.)

I’m planning on putting up a post dedicated to each of the things about this course I’m most looking forward to, so let’s start with what’s the very first and very last fight scene the Advanced Stage Combat students do: the big group fight scene.

Big group fights are challenging, as there’s more that goes into a 3 person or more fight than just orchestrating pairs. For the first assignment in this course, I have the students do a full-class-member fight scene. One year, it was an 8-person fight. Another year? It was 12. One group set the opening scene of Romeo and Juliet on a pirate ship’s port, including cannons, ladders, “water” and grog along with the biting of the thumbs.

If you’re a student at any of the schools on auraria campus, do sign up for Advanced Stage Combat. I need 12 people to join me, or it’ll get cancelled. Plus, it’s a very unusual thing for an undergraduate program to have this robust a Stage Combat training offered to its theatre students. You’ll see it (sometimes) in MFA programs, but this is something special to have on your undergraduate cv. Take advantage of it.

Punching Through a Crystal Wall

Remember that Doctor Who episode, where he was trapped in the nightmare loop? The way he escaped was, each time he got to the end/his death, he punched a thick glass (or rock crystal?) wall, just once, with his bare fist. Turns out that he ends up going through that time loop so many times, that he eventually punches through the thick crystal wall completely. Think of how many millions of times you’d have to punch with a bare fist, to get through a rock wall several feet thick. But he succeeds, and it sets him free.

My life lately has run up against that thick layer of crystal, or so it feels: beautiful, but holding me in a loop. I’m punching it with my bare fist, though, over and over, and will persist until it gives way. Problem is, I also have to rely on others to add their punches to mine, and so am also being forced to wait. I spent a long while musing about this last night: I’m stalled, and it’s frustrating, as I am powerless to move these other people into action. And so I wait.

But here’s the stuff I am indeed actively doing–these things may be interesting to you, lovely lurkers, so here goes:

Wisdom From Everything was a remarkable production, and my scenes of violence were carried out beautifully. This production closes on the 26th, so those of you lurkers who are local, don’t miss it.

My initial writings on the topic of Problematic Female Badasses in lit and pop culture are slowly, painfully, becoming a book. Page 23, the academic branch of Denver Comic Con, has accepted it as part of their panel presentations, and so I will be talking about this project and my 7 Tropes live in front of a roomful of geeks this June. Will I be the catalyst for Gamergate 2.0? Time will tell…

Also this summer, I’ll be trekking back to Longmont to teach the teenaged ballerinas how to fake punch each other in the face, drag each other around by their hairpinned buns, and etc. One of the highlights of that is when they learn the face slam. The initial teaching of it is slamming the face into the floor, but some tutued girl always gets the idea to slam her partner’s face into the ballet barre, which is just such a delightful thing to witness.

Sooner than that, though: Blue Dime Cabaret is having our first show at Full Cycle on April 7th. It’s a bike shop, coffee shop, and bar over on Pearl Street where Penny Lane used to be. This is going to be a really fun show: we’ve got comedians, burlesque, burlesque on roller skates, and an opera singer. I’ll be jiggling my sparkles in a 1920s Charleston inspired burlesque bit that I actually need to finish choreographing… anyway, we’ve also been picked to perform in this summer’s Boulder Fringe Fest, too, so this’ll be a fun way to see how these variety shows will turn out. If you’re local, do come see us, and tip generously. I need the money.

I’ll let you know how Goth Prom goes, too. I have a rather ’80s inspired outfit to honor my early days of gothiness. But anyway.

These are the punches I’m throwing these days. What punches are you throwing into your walls? Add them in the comments, if you’d like to share. Of course, there’s a reason I call you all “lovely lurkers…”

Wisdom From Anything, Therefore Nothing

(If you recognize the quote I remixed for the title of this blog post, say so in the comments, and extra points for you.)

What I’m finally beginning to realize and embrace, lovely lurkers, is that I need to quit worrying about whether or not I have anything “important” to write about, and just write the damn blog. Write. Right? Right.

‘Cause there’s always something. Like for instance: I just turned 45 years old, after having danced burlesque only a couple weeks before such an auspicious anniversary. The play for which I consulted and set the scenes of violence, called Wisdom From Everything, opens soon (in fact its first preview is tonight). I’m helping Friend Monica with her theatre piece, called Aphrodite’s Refugees. Both works speak to the plight of refugees: the play, about Syrian refugees, Monica’s piece, about her father’s experience in the refugee camps (and military) of Cyprus.

Me and Friend Brandy have begun a pop-up cabaret project called Blue Dime, which is an eclectic collection of acts: burlesque, magic, music, comedy, variety, drag, and any etc. you can think of (and some you can’t). We just got accepted into the Boulder International Fringe Fest, and you bet your blue carbuncles I’ll be keeping you apprised of this as we move forward.

But one of the biggest things to occur in my little world is my branching out into the corporate world with my valuable skills. With Front Range unceremoniously dumping me, plus being reminded of the popular business adage that once one turns 45, one needs must change careers, I find myself shilling my stage movement expertise to those who need such coaching in the corporate world. Hence, *everyone* in the corporate world. Right? Of course right.

What I am doing immediately in this direction, in order to collect the necessary endorsements to paint me worthy of a piece of that corporate money pie, is something I’m calling Buy Me A Beer, Help Your Career. How it works is this: take me out for a pint, and give me your pitch/presentation/whatever it is that’s imminent, and I give you pointers on how to maximize your body language, poise, gesture, and voice to best effect. You then, ecstatic with the spectacular results of my coaching, write me a glowing endorsement on LinkedIn. Easy peasy, and win-win.

Neat, eh? I can’t take credit for the idea; that was the SO’s brilliance at work to help yank me up by my bootstraps at this advanced age.

Well, heck. With advanced age comes advanced expertise, right? Right.

Sing, O Muse, of a new semester (quarter, session, etc.)…

Well, lovely lurkers, it’s mid-January, and if you’ve been lurking here for awhile, you know what that means: It’s:

/cue Monty Python theme music as the scruffy bearded man runs away/

The Musings Upon A New Semester! And etc. Because every freaking school at which I teach is on a different schedule. Let alone different pay dates….

Front Range has decided they don’t have any classes for me this semester. Which is troubling, as that’s around $800/mo that I am not getting this semester (that means now through May, kids). So. Sigh. I did reach out to their online division, which didn’t help in the short term, but hopefully shall in the long.

At Metro, I’m teaching two online courses: one is the Staging Cultures class you’ve heard me talk about before; the other is (also online) called Theatre History and Criticism II. What makes it different than I, you might ask? No idea–I’ve never taught either before. Luckily I have an esteemed colleague’s version of it to pirate, er, adapt into my own structure and voice. Metro (and FRCC, when I do teach for them) is on the semester system, which means their classes run from next week through early May.

DU is having me teach their Capstone seminar online, which is the course that masters degree students take when they’re working on their culminating projects for their advanced degree in writing. Lots of diverse topics and creative projects this quarter. Yep, quarter. Which means ten weeks (they started last week).

Regis always has me do directed study courses, which means: online, one-on-one with grad students pursuing their masters in writing, and nearly all designed by me. This session (8 weeks there) I have two YA lit/Writing students, and one YA Poetry student.

Professional stuff? I have returned to Boulder Burlesque to choreograph and perform in their upcoming Valentine’s Day themed show, and am still in Bronze Fox Burlesque, but after their calendar debacle, I don’t know what’s up with them. Prolly a 4/20 show. But who knows, indeed…

Friend and fellow dancer Brandy and I are co-creating a vaudeville style variety show called Blue Dime Cabaret, about which I shall keep you informed, as it continues to coalesce with all the acts we’re trying to recruit.

Finally, I’m in charge of choreographing and directing the violence and intimacy scenes in another Local Theatre Company show called The Wisdom of Everything.

Whew! That added to the books I am beginning to write, looks like I’m a busy (and woefully underpaid) little bee. Send beer money…..