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Posts tagged ‘isolation’

Breakin’ out with my favourite Ogre

Story telling (animated or otherwise) depends on character arcs.  We’re all on some kind of journey; life is never static (even when we want it to be).  The character arcs we are most drawn to are the ones we need to learn from to help us on our own journeys.

My favourite is Shrek.  I’ll tell you why at the end, but you’ll probably figure it out before then.

Shrek starts his journey as a loner, he’s built some pretty serious walls around himself to keep everyone out . . . quite frankly, from the way the locals treat him, I don’t blame him.  People can be so freakin’ mean sometimes it seems that life would be better without the whole nasty stinkin’ lot of them.

He finishes surrounded by community, married and singing some rather rockin’ karaoke.

It didn’t happen by magic.  He took some very definite steps.  He had his trip forced on him, we don’t have to.  We can make decisions and take action that will take us to real friendships and love before the fairy tale creatures invade our swamps.

Sooooooooooo what did he do and more importantly, what can we do?

He accepted a deeply flawed, irritating, friend – who didn’t judge him.  Let’s face it, Donkey’s irritating, he has no concept of personal boundaries, or social norms and he doesn’t have a clue when he’s not wanted…but he’s a friend.   If you’re looking for a perfect friend/partner/spouse, you’re going to be very lonely.  There’s a difference between dangerous toxic people and people who can drive us crazy at times.  One of them needs to be avoided at all costs, one of them is . . . human (or a Donkey in Shrek’s case).  Some brilliant voice work here by Eddie Murphy By The Way.

He leaves his comfort zone.  Shrek doesn’t go willingly, he’s forced out, but he goes.  He moves into places that are uncomfortable, places he’s avoided in the past.  Do I have to explain this one? Nothing changes if nothing changes.  We can’t grow if we keep doing the same things we’ve been doing all along.  Albert Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.  Get out of your comfort zone.

He wins.  He lands in Duloc just in time for a tournament and he wins (with the help of his irritating friend).  We all have something we’re good at.  Often it’s something we dismiss because it’s so easy . . . for us.  Even small successes will yield amazing results to our self-esteem if we don’t totally dismiss them.

His journey continues and includes some really important points that I’ll come back to at some point, but I want to keep the Blogs short.

Accept people for the deeply and beautifully flawed individuals that they are, while you’re at it accept yourself for the same reasons.

Get out of your comfort zone.

Celebrate small successes.

I grew up feeling deeply alone.  I had very few social skills and suffered from a magical combination of pretention and low self-esteem.  I convinced myself I was happier alone and put a LOT of effort into proving I was right.  It’s taken decades to learn what Shrek learned.  I wish I’d learned it earlier.  I wish for you a whole community of irritating, loving friends . . . are there any other kind?

Making it real with Shrek

One of the techniques actors generally use (though not all of us) is to create character histories.  Generally there simply aren’t enough real facts about a character to make them real when all we have to work with is the script (or in the case of animation, the script, storyboards and soundtrack).  When we build character histories, our characters come to life, they become a little more real.

One of my favorite characters of all time is Shrek.  When we look at the facts we’re given we find a very two-dimensional character.  For over two decades I’ve been asking students what the “Facts” are about Shrek.  The list is always similar.  This is a story about a isolationist Scottish* Ogre who thinks he’s an onion.  This is NOT a character, it’s a REALLY rough sketch, we have to flesh him out or no one’s going to relate.  There’s no “right” answer, but two of my favorite histories to come out of classes are these:

SHREK HISTORY VERSION 1: As a teenager, he was driven out of Scotland by his fellow ogres who hated him because he was too soft.  He comes to this mythical place where he’s heard everyone is nicer.  They take one look at him and hate him because of the assumptions they make.  He moves to the swamp and tells himself he’s happy there – – – truth is, he’s a lot happier alone than he is being with people who hate him.  As an adolescent, he notices one of the girls in town, the mean girls pick on her and she’s a bit of a social outcast.  He wishes he were brave enough to say something, but he doesn’t.  One day the mean girls in town drag the poor girl out to the swamp, knock on Shrek’s door and leave her there in the mud.  He goes to help her and she FREAKS OUT.  Runs to the mean girls and tells them how awful it was.   They hurl obscenities and rocks at him.  Then she tells her father that “The Ogre tried to touch me.”  Out come the pitchforks and the torches and they try to kill him.  Suddenly, with a bit of imagination, Shrek stops being two-dimensional.  He becomes a person we can relate to.  Seriously, is there anyone out there who hasn’t thought at some point that the world was just too fricken mean and wanted to shut them all out?

SHREK HISTORY VERSION 2: Young Shrek lives in Scotland where he’s totally in love with a very cute Ogress.  One day the entire village is celebrating a great victory.  There’s going to be a huge banquet and fireworks.  Shrek and his main squeeze sneak off to a convenient barn (which happens to be where the fireworks are stored) to get some Ogre love action.  The hilt of his sword sparks on a stone and the entire town, including his honey, is wiped out . . . and it’s his fault.  Now he lives far from Scotland and refuses to have anything to do with friendships or love…everyone he gets close to dies.

Neither history is “right” Shrek is fictional (sorry, you had to hear it eventually).  The object is to create a character who is “real”, to find the humanity in our characters.

In our world, we have a tendency to judge, to look at the surface and decide what’s inside.  Most, if not all, of us work to not judge on issues like race, gender, sexuality etc. but do we make assumptions based on things like posture, grammar, clothing . . . etc.?   When we do that, we turn people into two-dimensional characters. We stop seeing them as real people with real lives.  Do we ever do the same thing to ourselves?

Everyone has a story**, we may not have access to their stories, many people are private about there lives, but when we realize that everyone around us has lived through hard times and great times, failures and successes, our own lives become richer.

I think in the end, we’re all onions . . . just like Shrek.

Check out my next Blog – we’re going to look at how Shrek changed his life in some pretty coolio ways . . . and how we can learn from him.

*Scottish heritage courtesy of Mike Myers 🙂

**A former student of mine says he now uses this as his principle pick up line.  “What’s your story?  Everyone has one.”  He says he gets to know a lot of really great girls this way.  😉

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