“Bow your head in gratitude. Namaste.”
If you are like many New Yorkers, then you have heard those exact words at the end of any yoga class. However, at this year’s Dream Up Festival, presented by Theater for the New City, you might hear those familiar words in a completely new setting. “One Breath, Then Another,” a one-woman show written by and starring writer, actress, massage therapist and yogi Amanda Erin Miller, features a blend of performance and interactive yoga that has never been seen before on stage.
Fear not—there is no need to bring your yoga mat or dress in athletic wear if you want to attend the show. According to Miller, “audience members are invited to chant Om and Sanskrit mantras, engage in breathing exercises and a couple of yoga poses, lift their arms, balance on one foot, and meditate. These participatory moments are sprinkled throughout the show so there will be time when the audience is just watching as well.” Yet Miller would not go so far as to call her piece explicitly interactive. “One Breath, Then Another” is instead experimental. Ms. Miller contemplates, “I still consider this level of participation in theater to be experimental. It’s still not the way most of the contemporary public expects to experience theater. Every invitation to the audience to chant or breathe or move is an experiment. Will they comply? Will they resist?” As previously mentioned, “the fourth wall keeps going up and coming down,” which further solidifies this work as something experimental that cannot be defined by what has come before.
But of course, not everything in the show is totally new. For one thing, Miller contends that “there is a certain performative element to teaching yoga. In order to facilitate a healing experience for the class, to help the students find a sense of ease and peace within their bodies and minds, I have to access a state of a calm and centeredness within myself… I am playing the role of yoga instructor.” In this way, her performance does not, in some ways, attempt to reach into a place she has never gone before as an instructor or as a performer.
It cannot be ignored that Miller tells her own story through “One Breath, Then Another.” The autobiographical play focuses on her search for answers at an Indian ashram following a mental breakdown that caused her to move from New York City, where she was studying writing at The New School, back to her hometown of San Diego, where ineffectual therapy sent her looking for answers elsewhere. Describing her disorder, Miller states that, “Every sentence I spoken lingered in my mind so I was deconstructing it word for word and wondering how the words carried individual and collective meaning.” First, Miller turned to body work as a manner of therapy. Miller explains that “I felt an intuitive pull to study massage therapy and found the giving and receiving of bodywork to be monumentally healing. There was no language necessary for this sensory exchange and it was a huge relief.” But eventually, writing her memoir which eventually became this play became part of an effort to “tackle language, to reclaim it, to use it to tell my story and to help others.”
For large portions of the show, Miller portrays herself. This comes with unique benefits and challenges, for Miller, including that “I compound my vulnerability as a performer. Performing itself is already a vulnerable act, and then on top of that I am striving to truthfully relive some of the most painful moments of my life in front of an audience.” However, playing oneself also comes with a few perks. For Miller, the character “is already in my bones.”
But although this is a one-woman show, Miller portrays multiple characters. Her biggest challenge as an actress is the portrayal of her father. Miller’s father was a “heavy smoker” whose health problems were only compounded by his struggle with anorexia nervosa. “My relationship with my father was complex but loving at its core, as we understood each other better than anyone else. Nearly a year after I recovered [from her own severe case of anorexia], he died of lung cancer.” For Miller, “One Breath, Then Another” is not just a play about learning the practice of yoga. She synthesizes her difficult familial experiences in this journey, and having to play her father is “the most emotional part for me, the driving force behind the whole story: my being like him, loving him, not wanting to end up like him.”
Although “One Breath, Then Another” has already gone through several stages in Miller’s life—as an experience, a memoir, and now a play—she is not finished with this story just yet. In the future, she hopes to “perform the piece in yoga studios and have the audience sit on mats,” making the piece even more experiential than it already it.
Join us at the 2013 Dream Up Festival to see “One Breath, Then Another” on 8/18 (8 pm), 8/21 (6:30 PM), 8/23 (9 pm), 8/25 (2 pm), 8/28 (6:30 pm) in the Cabaret Theater at Theater for the New City. The show runs 50 minutes, and tickets cost $12. For tickets and more information call (212) 254-1109 or go to: www.theaterforthenewcity.net.
Written by William Gutierrez.