A Story About the Berlin Wall

I came across a fact this week concerning the fall of The Berlin Wall.

I have always found the history of the reunification of East and West Germany fascinating (in German, Wiedervereinigung – one of my favourite words). The process heralded the end of Cold War, a period characterised by fear of mutual destruction by two nuclear powers, and marked the beginning of a decade of peacetime which carried on until the 11th September attacks in 2001.

The the fall of the Berlin Wall came about following a press conference hosted by Politburo member called Günter Shabowski, who was to announce new travel regulations in and out of East Germany.

It seems he wasn’t very adequately briefed, and, (presumably due to the nature of the news reporting in the authoritarian GDR) was unaccustomed to the level of journalist questioning at a televised press conference, and when pressed for more information he accidentally announced total free movement in and out of East Germany “from today […] immediately. Without delay.”

East Germans had previously gone to extreme lengths to cross the border, as displayed in Berlin’s Checkpoint Charlie museum. Examples include using a makeshift hot-air balloon, and hollowing out car fuel tanks to be smuggled across. When they heard the announcement that the restriction of movement was lifted, they made their way in huge numbers the crossing points, demanding to be allowed passage. The guards were peacefully overwhelmed, themselves confused by the new information, and eventually opened the border to allow people through.

And so, the Berlin Wall, formerly a symbol of restriction and fear, was torn down and became an icon of freedom and unity. The catalyst that triggered the end of the Cold War came about as the result of a flustered man getting a bit carried away at a press conference.

This story puts me in mind of a concept used by Steve of Nerd Fitness called “20 seconds of insane courage”. The basic idea is that the first 20 seconds is all that is needed to make a major change.

It’s a really encouraging idea, that all you need to worry about is getting started, and the rest will fall into place, that it all starts with that first step. When you push that idea further, it can be applied to our attitude to worries over the long term, the message being, just take care of today, and worry about tomorrow when it comes.

This is an important concept to hold on to for people working in the performing arts (and I’m sure, many other fields of work, particularly self-employed people, and free-lancers). You can’t do tomorrow’s work today, so don’t let it overwhelm you.

Most of all, what I love about the Berlin Wall story, is that it wasn’t really a tale of courage, more of a blunder, but that blunder lead to one of the most momentous moments of modern history. All because one man got flustered at a press conference. How reassuring that you don’t always have to be absolutely of top of your shit for great things to happen. Sometimes, they happen even when you feel well out of your depth.

Love’s Labour

The RSC live stream of Love’s Labour’s Lost was my first experience of theatre at that cinema, and I couldn’t have enjoyed it more. The production was absolutely glorious: a beautiful set, exquisite music, and one of the wittiest interpretations of a Shakespeare play that I have ever seen.

Throughout the showing and afterwards I was reflecting on how the cast came to discover so many wonderful moments and hone their characterisations – I imagine that the rehearsal room must have been a wonderful place, brimming with creativity across a whole range of specialisms – actors, directors, musicians, composers, dancers and choreographers. I want every rehearsal room I work in to have something of this freedom and love.

I say love, since the company were clearly loving every minute of their show, and in one monologue, Shakespeare himself details the power that love can have:

“[Love] with the motion of all elements,
Courses as swift as thought in every power,
And gives to every power a double power,
Above their functions and their offices.
It adds a precious seeing to the eye;
A lover’s eyes will gaze an eagle blind;
A lover’s ear will hear the lowest sound,
When the suspicious head of theft is stopp’d:
Love’s feeling is more soft and sensible
Than are the tender horns of cockl’d snails;
Love’s tongue proves dainty Bacchus gross in taste:
For valour, is not Love a Hercules,
Still climbing trees in the Hesperides?
Subtle as Sphinx; as sweet and musical
As bright Apollo’s lute, strung with his hair:
And when Love speaks, the voice of all the gods
Makes heaven drowsy with the harmony.”

A very stirring description, which will stick with me for a long time.

The touching story of four pairs of lovers, however does not come to fruition. Apologies if this constitutes a spoiler, but the title does suggest the Labour of Love may be Lost: As with various other great stories the tone is deftly inverted from lighthearted comedy to somber poignancy, a technique which, correctly realised, makes for a very moved audience.

In line with the nice Shakespearean comedy endings the audience expects its four weddings, but instead we face the preparation for a funeral – the ladies go into mourning, and the men (in this setting), to the front in Flanders.

With the thousands of others in cinemas throughout the country (even the world) and of course those present in the RST, I went home that night with my head spinning. Reliving the comedy and lamenting the denied satisfaction of an unresolved love story.

However, I hope my fellow audience members will share with me the faith that despite this play’s denouement (more an earthquake than a hiccup), Love’s Labour will eventually, inevitably be won. Time will tell – on March 4th at a screening of Much Ado About Nothing (which is being plugged by the RSC as Love’s Labour’s Won) I hope to finally get my wedding sans funeral.

I wholeheartedly recommend this show to anyone and everyone, and I urge you to keep an eye out for future screenings (http://onscreen.rsc.org.uk).

Or if you have the good fortune being from Warwickshire, or live close by, treat yourself to some tickets (http://www.rsc.org.uk/whats-on/).

You will not be disappointed.


An Anonymous Friend

Tonight I met up with a friend who has always been a source of inspiration to me. I don’t wish to embarrass his by naming him but I expect that should he ever stumble across this blog, he will recognise himself.

At 18, this man was not destined for anything special. He dropped out of college with not a GCSE to his name and worked at a Morrisons somewhere in the West Midlands. He had no direction and he would be the first to admit that he did not have an academic bent.

Despite all of this, an epiphany moment occurred to my friend, and he was found a new sense purpose, to work in drama.

With his new take on life, he returned to college and completed a B-Tech in drama. I have met the teacher who knew him before and after his epiphany, and he describes the difference as a complete transformation.

Perhaps predictably, he obtained exemplary results at college and submitted his application to an applied theatre course at drama school. Despite still having no GCSEs, he was still able to impress the interview panel into giving him a place and he moved down to London to start his course.

During his second year of education he sat his English and Maths GCSE, at the same time setting up a theatre company; and in his third year, his industry placement offered him a job for after graduation. Even before the end of his course he was working as a freelance practitioner for several noteable London theatres.

Now, six months after finishing his degree course (he graduated with a First Class Hons, incidentally) he has worked with several top London theatres, the theatre company he founded is planning a residency in Italy, and a trip to the Edinburgh Fringe. All of his actors are paid – admittedly, not mega bucks, but there is no ‘No-Pay’ work.

He strives to conduct his business with consummate integrity. He works with honesty and transparency with clients and colleagues alike, striking the tricky balance of authority and compassion.

I admire this man for his drive, his accomplishments but most of all for his humility. He does not pretend to know everything, he does not expect people to revere him, he does not even consider his success as an inevitable consequence of his hard work and determination.

There is much that we can learn from my friend. We can see the power of having a purpose and devoting every effort to pursuing it and also the suppression of ego that this purpose brings out in him. Because he is answering a calling, he does not take the credit for his achievement, which in turn removes a huge burden from his success. His goal is no to get results, but simply to put in the work. The success he enjoys therefore is a byproduct.

Many people work in precarious and self-driven businesses, and to follow such an example is at once both the easiest and the hardest thing to do, but I encourage everyone to shift their goals – focusing on producing the best possible work, rather than on monitoring success.