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Take Up Space

Owning your capacity - that is real confidence. The confidence to take up space.

Just as the sunlight has started peaking through the clouds, planning begins for our May workshop. This one is all about confidence: confidence when standing up and presenting to a room; in weekly team meetings; when communicating with clients; when speaking up.

It can seem ever elusive - a slippery fish, caught sight of as a flash beneath the surface but impossible to hold on to for long. Where does it come from? Why do we feel it in some moments and not in others? How do others seem to have it in everything they do?

One can only ever speak from experience, but in our time as performers and coaches, there are a few key ingredients we have discovered along the way:

1) Preparation and Practise

2) Connectedness and Presence

3) Taking Up Space

It is the 3rd of these that has captured my imagination recently, whilst designing our upcoming workshop.

‘'How do you have the confidence to stand up there in front of so many people?!’ '

I have been asked this question (or variations on the theme) on numerous occasions by friends, family members and strangers. And I don’t deny that it takes a certain amount of balls! But any real confidence is borrowed - it comes from the character, the words, the story, the skin of another which we slip into over weeks and months. And it comes from the craft, of course: skill, practise, repetition. After 100 algebra equations, problem 101 is nothing to be worried about…

However, to be confident inside one’s own skin, in ‘real’ life, in the day to day, is a slightly different beast.

When I was younger, one of the greatest draws to acting for me was being able to live the lives of others. Characters in stories always seemed so full, so clearly depicted, ‘larger than life’. They lived as the most realised versions of themselves and, in consequence, this ‘living it large’ led to great stories, great lives. It seemed to me that the only way to experience my full capacity, to touch the edges of personality and to truly feel ‘alive’, was in this way.

Because habitually, we retract.

We shrink our outlines and settle into rather limited comfort zones, lulled there by our daily habits, the humdrum and repetition of routine, the daily grind. This is normal. And frequently necessary, to get us through the day. We quite literally box ourselves in, holding our breath to squish inside a packed tube carriage alongside other vacuum-packed people. I consciously contract into a stream-lined version of myself in order to dodge between bodies on the high street when I’m running late (which is uncomfortably often!). We gaze ahead at the traffic or down at our phones but never, ever up.

Comfort zones are comfort zones for a reason of course - they allow us to get things done and in a predictable, low risk manner. But what’s comforting is also limiting.

We forget ourselves. We forget our capabilities. We forget what’s possible, in favour of what’s comfortable. Without extreme or unexpected external circumstances forcing us there, we forget just how far we can reach, how high we can jump, how deeply we can breathe, how loudly we can sing, how long we can hold our balance for.

My theory is this. When I meet people in whom I immediately observe and feel a sense of real confidence, a magnetism, something that makes me want to get closer, to pay attention, they are usually people who are fully themselves. A friend once said to me that one of the most important things he’d learnt in life was how to be full of yourself’. He didn’t mean it in its commonly-used, derogatory sense, but was in fact speaking quite literally: to be full up with your ‘self’, with who you are, not diluted or diminished or faded, but expansively you. And when I heard him say it, I immediately understood what he meant. It was what I had perceived as a child in the characters I read - that fullness, unapologetically present, alive.

Now that’s real confidence.

It’s organic, it has integrity, it’s natural.

It’s how we are as children. And it starts small. With breath. Breathe fully; expand to the full capacity of your lungs, not the short, shallow breaths snatched on your commute, but into the muscles and between the ribs, front, side and back, just as they were made to be used. There’s space in there that you might be unfamiliar with. There’s space around your body too, between your limbs, above your head, behind your back, underneath your feet, waiting to be stretched into, space that’s yours to ‘take up’. To stand in or do star jumps in! And there’s range in your voice. It might feel tight because it hasn’t been stretched for a while, but it remembers the whispered jokes, the animal groans from a good massage, the screams from hair-raising roller coasters and the commanding tone when you bring your dog to heel. Owning your capacity, that is real confidence. Confidence to take up space, when there isn’t a stage to carve it out for you or lights to show people where to look, is a prize catch worthy of our patience.

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