Trust and self-confidence: An interview with Masha Dimitri

Verscio (CH) - July 2017

We met Masha at the Accademia Teatro Dimitri in Verscio (Ch) on a sunny day in July. She welcomed us with a frank smile and a watchful gaze. She isn’t wearing any makeup on her face and her beautiful traits express the pureness and power that represent her. Masha wears sober clothes and she has sinuous and graceful movements. Through her body and her look she expresses self-confidence and peace of mind and we discover a person who always lives her life and her work with passion and emotion.
Masha is a circus actress and director, she decided to become a professional in this area when she was a child, and she has always worked in different working group setting as a soloist, in duo, small groups, large groups or as director.
In 2016 she went on stage 50 times (more or less). She prefers, however, the individual performance “I often work alone as an artist on stage. When I am alone I am entirely in charge for what is going on. I feel free”, Masha says, but at the same time collaborative work with other partners is rewarding both as an actress and as a director.
Though filtered by the performance acting, which becomes a pedagogical resource, the relationship with other artists immediately steps into our conversation “theatre teaches to be open and attentive to what occurs with the others actors on stage”.
We listen to Masha’s words about how she gets psychologically and physically ready for a performance and which are challenges she has to overcome before and during a representation on stage.
We discover that the days before the exhibition, Masha rehearses physically hard. She doesn’t necessarily follow the sequences of the show, but she does have important body training.

Before a performance, what do you do to achieve a positive and focused state of mind, and a good physical condition?
«For me it is essential to have a good physical preparation, I have a specific warm up with a focus to the show, but these rehearsals aren’t necessarily related to the show itself. I usually don’t eat before the show. Everything has to be in the right place.
It is imperative for me having each object or tool that I will use during the show, in the right place in order to find them immediately available during the performance.
What takes me longer is everything concerning my makeup for the stage; this aspect is honestly a sort of nightmare to me. I have always dreamed to go on stage without any paint on my face; it would feel so totally free! In my everyday life I don’t use any maquillage, and before a performance I’m always scared of not having enough time to put on my makeup, because it takes me a lot of time. On my last show, I acted as Masha: it meant that on stage I acted figuratively as myself, and so that maquillage didn’t take to long, twenty minutes at the most. The make-up ritual is truly essential for me, as though through this process I reach a transformation. Make up is like a mask for me, at the moment that I’m wearing “this” mask I need calm, I don’t want to be upset in that precise time.
One hour before the show, I have to stop with any other activity, and each element of the show has to be ready: the stage, the objects; everything done and in the right place. Then I start my make up, check the costume and have a little spare time for other details before the performance. This hour of calm before the show, allows me to still be able to solve any unexpected issues that may come up at the last moment. For example if I discover a rip somewhere on my costume for the performance, this hour before the show allows me to sew it.»

We would like to know more about this magnetic woman who spreads peace of mind and power at the same time, so we continue with our questions.

«Now, please, close your eyes and try to imagine the very precise moment before going on stage. What images/emotions/sensations come to your mind? »
Masha closes gently her eyes and she explains us: « I feel a sort of strong shiver, I feel the entire audience and the strength radiating from it, and I understand the force that I have to put in my performance, through the power that comes from beholders. For example I performed my last show during a dinner, so I needed to pick up their whole attention. When I am on stage I feel like I have some imaginary probes through my whole body, and through these probes I can sense the people, I can tap those who are looking at me. The audience and I we can co-create a new balance and my soul and my work are nourished by these relationships. In any case the most important thing is that my power dwells in my preparation and in my ability. Even if doubts arise I need to know that I have done so many rehearsals, thousands of rehearsals, and am self-confident that I am prepared and it is going to be all right! At the same time as I rule out the brouhaha, for example if there is someone who is walking, or someone who makes noise, or something like this… then suddenly I know that I'm going all alone on the stage, able and confident on doing everything I have to do for my show. Everything around me disappears, but I am powerful and focused on my task and my firm beliefs reside in myself and in my preparation.
When I am on stage I am alone and at the same time completely aware of what is happening around me! »

Which activities do you prefer the day before a performance?
«My workout is essential, as well as having enough time to do everything. I need to be in control to allow improvisation: I have to rehearse most parts for the show, even the short melodies. I have a basic physical training that gives me my whole stability. For myself, I train three or four times a week, two hours a day, just to maintain my tonus»

Which emotions do you experience before starting a performance?
«First of all: TRUST, I trust myself. LOVE, I love my work. JOY. SATISFACTION. AMUSEMENT. INTIMACY. SERENITY. Under some circumstances I can be sad or down in the dumps, but even in this case I accept my emotions, I don’t override them, and maybe this is my only trick that allows me to do everything I do. If I feel sad I don’t try to remove my sadness, I go on stage, and there my sadness slowly disappears and another kind of force takes the place of my negative emotions. I know that I have to let my sadness go ,so in this way I can find my self-confidence, I don’t need to fight something that I couldn’t control in any case. My satisfaction, my preparation, being self-confident: those are the most important elements in my life. All along my career I have learned that if I try to rule out my sadness, I really only start thinking about my negative emotions all the time and it gets worse; on the contrary, if I embrace my emotions, they become part of the show. The most important thing for me is never deny my emotions, ever.»

Which kind of activities do you use to cope with stress in a period of great strain?
«I know a Rudolf Steiner’s quote that goes something like: “Strength and calm are on me” and I know that I only have to find the energy and the calm to perform within myself. In any case I want to be always independent and not relay on rituals or specific things I do, even if sometimes I do not have the calm before the show to prepare myself as I would love to do.»

Do you prefer any physical activities?
«I do lots of physical activity for my work. I love reading fairy tales… well, that is not physical at all!!. When I go home after a show, even if it is late, I often take the time to read some fables, because they are short, they have a good philosophy inside and they reassure me. I feel that life is magic and in fairy tales I find always something inspirational.»

For a successful performance, how important is to you to regulate your mood states? Are you able to control your emotional state...? How do you do this?
«Very important! Absolutely. When I am acting on stage, I have a sort of interior soliloquy linked with my performance, so there is no mental space for other things. On stage I’m always talking to myself about what I’m doing on that precise moment. I’m always surprised of what is going on during the show, I’m always chatting with myself. At the same time my abstract ear can hear what’s happening on stage: if a colleague is approaching, if a light comes up... and I’m always present to myself, and enjoying every single second. This private monologue let me pursue all the stories that I’m performing, and I’m always inside my character and I’m totally prepared because I’m completely inside the story, and my movements my speech are always related through my interior soliloquy, I’m focused on the story and I feel comfortable when I’m on stage. The knowledge acquired during the rehearsals let me feel free even for improvising during the little unexpected events, as for example a mobile phone that rings in the audience; in this case I hear the phone but it doesn’t hurt me, I can choose to assimilate it on the performance or to let it out of my show, it is then my decision.»

Do you notice a change in your quality of sleep before or after a performance?
«I’m really lucky because I always sleep very well. I go to bed and I fall asleep and in the morning I wake up even without the alarm. I have an inside alarm clock that let me wake up at the time I want. In that sense I’m self-confident: if I know that tomorrow morning I will have to wake up at six o’clock, tomorrow I’m sure that I will wake up at six o’clock without problems.
The secret dwells in my self-confidence, I trust myself. It is the same feeling that I have on the stage, I’m confident during my performance because I’m strongly prepared on it, I have worked hard on my preparation, and it is the same thing with the alarm clock. And I stopped to set the alarm with the purpose to increase and train my self-confidence about my capacity to wake up without any ruse and I got it! Well… if I need to get up really early then I do, for safety, set an alarm clock, but regularly I wake up before the alarm goes off and I just deactivate it.»

How do you love to celebrate your professional achievements?
«Peacefully. I would take a little rest, one day off, and I stay at home, without thinking. After a show, if I am with some people or some colleagues we can drink or eat something or chatting together, and for me those are real precious moments. After the opening of a play, usually we celebrate together and sometimes we receive flowers as a present and I really appreciate it. But truly it is the night before that I realize what will be going on. Anyways, the big part of the all the work starts after opening night. Then you start working with the audience, which teaches you every night again and again how to improve. I love this job, and this job completely fits with my personality, because I love new projects and new challenges. I hate routine: I can perform the same show for years, this is not a problem for me. While a daily routine, especially in an office, could kill me! After the opening of a play, I start thinking about the future, about new projects. I love the moment of freedom between the end and the beginning of a new show, but after that I want to go on!»

Which superpower would you like to have during your performances?
«I would like being able to fly. This would be a great superpower!»

We asked Masha which recommendation would she give to a beginner.

Smiling she says:
«It’s necessary to be very well prepared, and self-confident in his/her own talent!»

An Interview with Masha Dimitri by Denise Lombardi