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Presence and the Theatre


We go to the theatre to be truly present: with ourselves, with each other, with the actors, with the space, and with the story. But what is presence? It’s such a tricky word, filled with salesmanship and buzz.

I first experienced presence by accident (or let’s say providence). I was ushering a group of college students around the Southeastern Theatre Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, when a volunteer asked if I would like to attend the Patsy Rodenburg Masterclass. I had heard a faint echo of that name. She was a renowned voice coach or something. Her Masterclass was sold out, but five tickets had just become available. I said, Why not, and paid with my Visa.

Five curious late-comers followed the volunteer down a dark hallway. A door opened and we walked inside. It was a large conference room; many accordion walls had been opened up; metal and plastic chairs were placed in a circle. Patsy was sitting in the circle with about 70 students, college age and above. She looked over and invited us in, but we had to take our shoes off. We were like Moses on holy ground.

But it wasn’t mystical; it was physical, athletic, emotional, intellectual, robust. We moved and stretched and breathed and met each other in a series of exercises that opened a door to the world of real connection. Breath, and from breath, Presence. I keenly felt that breath was more powerful in ever way than I had known, and that it was possible to breathe deeply and with