This is the first feature article in our series, Mindful Members, in which you have the opportunity to find out who our members are, and why they have chosen to practice daily mindfulness through contemplating Art.
If you were to meet Alison in person, the first thing you might notice is her gaze. Direct, open, generous. And when she speaks, you’ll find her voice warm and welcoming. Today, Alison works an actress, writer and educator. She is also a single mother of two. Balancing the demands of work and family is central in her life.
Alison gained her skills in acting, writing, directing and presenting from institutions in South Africa as well as abroad. She received her Doctorate in Theatre and Performing Arts in 2018 with a dissertation celebrating the life and work of South African actress Yvonne Bryceland. Alison was intrigued by the extra-ordinary quality attributed to Bryceland and her exceptional prowess as an actress despite receiving no formal training.
Alison used duende, a Spanish term describing a heightened state of expression and authenticity, to better understand Bryceland’s impact. Literally translated, duende refers to a goblin, ghost or elf, but it has come to refer to states of reverie or awe associated with the transformative power of Art. Alison wrote an original screenplay capturing the essence of duende as a tangible force of inspiration that Bryceland drew on. She highlighted both the benefits and dangers that actors face when called on to activate the power of their imagination.
Unlike other Artists, actors use their own bodies as their primary tool of expression, and run the risk of overextending themselves. Using their imagination to step into the shoes of different characters and inhabit worlds-within-worlds can become such a norm for an actor, that they may lose a sense of themself. Having trained young actors for several years now, Alison is well aware of the challenges they face.
Actors deal with a lot of rejection and insecurity about their work, it is a very competitive field.
Despite general impressions of acting as a glamorous occupation, life as a freelance actor can be nerve-wracking, with long periods of alone time spent in between jobs. “In this quiet time,” says Alison, “we are supposed to keep training, to stay ‘acting fit’, but remaining motivated is a challenge”. Practices for training the attention and focusing the mind are critical.
Having an inspiring reflective practice to keep actors motivated and aligned with their purpose is very important.
Alison remains optimistic and generous with her talents. Her interest as an educator lies with the actor as a person, and even more significantly as a uniquely spirited being. Acting is not only a job description or a career. It is an approach to life, to self-expression and self-acknowledgement.
I am a big believer in creating your own new work, especially for my students who are venturing out into the industry after their preparation and study. To achieve this they must be inspired, have a vision and have support.
In Alison’s own life, in which she juggles the needs of two school-going children, an elderly parent and an unpredictable industry, Artful Contemplation has remained a constant source of grounding. As a member, Alison has access to a daily contemplative art prompt and resources to sustain her practice in focused attention.
The process is like a mermaid on a rock…calling me softly.
I asked Alison to choose a color that best captures her essence. She offered two – indigo and orange. “Peaceful, deep and rich,” she responded, “joyful and hope filled.” In turn, I chose a contemplative artwork from our archive (shown here in close-up) to honor Alison’s essence as an Artist who remains in a process of life-long learning, and on a daily basis practices ways of living a mindful, meaning-filled life.