Blog Post: Sustaining balance while devising (off) Balance

Naomi Tessler is a former UBC student, and current artistic director of Branch Out Theatre. Her show "(off) Balance" opens next week as part of a double bill for the Counterpoint Players' TACTICs Season. 

12 years and it feels like yesterday when I had to seek permission from a psychiatrist to perform in my first year residence musical.  12 years and I still feel the weight of having to get a psychiatric assessment to go off medication. 12 years and memories of sinking so deeply into a dark cloud- my mind entrapped by thoughts of jumping out my residence window-remind me of how blessed I am to now be dancing a path of health, inner peace and wellness balance.  

(off) Balance unravels the mud and the magic of my first year at UBC. A year fraught with depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation, different medications, diagnosis. A year of heightened sensitivity, spiritual journeying, intuitive awareness, channeling spirits. And a year of way too many Dr.’s appointments and being told the spirits I was connecting with were voices and hallucinations…  A soup of confusion and new found clarity, voices of all kinds drowning out my own inner knowing and all I wanted to do by the end of that first year was pass my exams. 

Delving back into my first year at UBC to create this show, to tell this story, has been unsettling and healing.  Meditative and painful.  Messy and cleansing.  I had a dream the other night that I was showering in front of the audience… luckily that is not a part of my show, but this show does make me feel deeply vulnerable, raw and exposed, which is so cathartic and important in the work I facilitate. My popular theatre practice revolves around inviting participants to be vulnerable, to share their stories of oppression and create images and plays that draw from their experiences. Now, it’s time for me to leap into that recipe of courage, let the words, the movements, the stories spiral out, and land where they need to. 

Sustaining Balance during this creation process has been integral to coming this far with the piece.  I keep rolling my mind to the talkbacks because I’ve grown so at home in the facilitator chair that it helps keep any fears of performing this story at bay. I feel immense gratitude to be working with Bronwyn Steinberg as my dramaturge and director as she knows how to push me beyond my own boundaries and in the same breath-support me in creating and maintaining a safe and sacred space to devise and nest the show. 

As I dance with (off) Balance I feel my story as part of a bigger web of stories in our human family, our collective consciousness. I share this piece to hold out my hands and my heart to all those struggling with mental health.  To all those fumbling as they unravel their spiritual path. To all those who are strong enough to be there when someone can’t be there for themselves.  

(off) Balance opens November 13th and runs until November 21st, at the Arts Court Theatre. 
More information can be found here.