Tuesday 3 July 2012

“People always learning all through their life” Christmas Eve in Avenue Q

Beneath the puppets and smiley tunes, the musical Avenue Q is quite profound; it could be the basis for a self-help book.  The title of this blog comes from the wonderful character of Christmas Eve who, in her quest to become a paid therapist, talks a lot of sense. 
"People always learning, all through their life"
Life gives us numerous opportunities to learn; whether it is about ourselves, others or trivial pursuit subjects.  I have recently noticed that people differ, quite considerably, in how much they allow themselves to learn and develop.

As a baby you are open to learning about the world.  My nephew must learn 100s of things a day; everything is new, fascinating and deserves his full attention.  Nothing is rushed and you see his brain process, analyse and enjoy it all.  Watching this does rubs off on you;  I now shout “duck” excitedly to myself as I run along the river and am suddenly aware of the number of Nee Nahs (Ambulances/fire engines/police cars) that I see per day.  When do we lose this joy at the simplest things in life?  When does a bus ride stop being a new experience and become commuting ennui?

There is also that phase when people feel like they know it all.  You know the types; the University students awakening their sense of individuality and quote “the government are Sh*T” but can’t really give reasons why they believe this, they just do.  You also hear folks, forever in this phase, on the radio or phoning into The Wright Stuff on Channel 5 airing strong opinions about immigration or council housing but without any political knowledge, “They should all get out of our country, why? They just should.”  It is wonderful to have your own opinions and to be able to debate, argue and put them across with insight and reason, it shows an educated, well-rounded person.  Shouting loudly without substance does not.

 Maybe young people go through that “know-it-all” phase because we spend 15 years in constant education, ramming our brains with facts and figures so we conclude we must know it all. But there is more to knowledge than the National Curriculum.  An education in life is much more valuable and perhaps it is not until your mid-twenties, when life has bashed you about a bit, that you realise you actually haven’t got a clue and are just beginning a lifetime of learning.  You become humble.

As an actor we are given constant opportunities to better yourself; sometimes it feels relentless and hard to hear.  You are given audition feedback or daily notes when performing.  No-one is too talented for notes; even Meryl Streep and her three Oscars must crave direction and criticism knowing her performance will be better because of it.  But the desire to learn requires humility and seeing it as an opportunity; understanding that there are people more knowledgeable than you and being open enough to hear them.

I recently watched a documentary entitled "The Pitman Painters"; about a group of miners in the North-East town of Ashington in the 1930s who had left school at 12 years old for a life working underground.  This group of men felt they had missed out on an education so, with the help of the Workers Education Association, decided to study “something different.”  After a 12 hour shift down the mine, they studied art appreciation leading them to create works of art themselves capturing their lives.  I was struck by this desire to broaden your mind amid such toil when the majority of us would be shattered and head home for dinner and Eastenders.  Even though the subject was so far removed from their working lives this group of men had the drive to enhance and occupy their minds, not in return for a degree or adulation but purely for themselves.  It was truly inspiring.
Their story was turned into a play written by Lee Hall

So do we need to leave school at 12 to fuel the desire to better ourselves? 
There are numerous Adult Education courses now but our main concern when bettering ourselves is increasingly aesthetic; losing weight, getting more toned or tanned.  Learning doesn’t necessarily mean reading bigger newspapers or watching more episodes of Eggheads, it can be about changing your perspective.

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the men in that documentary compared with some people I seem to encounter today; those who are bored and so just head to a pub for a day or two or those who don’t seem willing to listen to anyone else.  But this isn’t a modern phenomenon, I am sure people have always been separated by an ability to settle or the desire to strive; it is a state of mind.  We can be learning until the day we die if we want to; evolving and re-designing ourselves.
Taking time to wonder....

I know it is naive to wish everyone was like my nephew; humble, in awe and hungry to learn but maybe if we took these elements into the adult world then we would ultimately gain more.....

....and if you don’t fancy art or painting, I promise you counting Nee Nahs is fun!

(take a look at The Ashington Groups website if you fancy knowing a bit more about the group www.ashingtongroup.co.uk )

1 comment:

  1. My three year old nephew is OBSESSED with recycling collection trucks. Not just your run of the mill dust bin lorry for him, no it has to be recycling trucks. I now find myself looking for them everywhere, sadly I am rarely up in time to see them, but I am glad I am not the only one that finds a child's excitement infectious!

    I am baffled by people who seem to have no interest in learning new things, I spent most of the last tour I was on studying a business studies course with the Open University and whilst on this tour spent a few months trying to teach myself some latin before I got addicted to watching The Wire and didn't have time to do both. I'm only a few episodes away from the end of the box set now so hopefully so a new hobby shall start soon! Or maybe I will just go and count some nee nahs :)