Keep It Simple, Stupid: Lessons from Cuba

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Inspired by the fresh perspectives I gained on Capoeira and life in “the biz” from my travels to London last year (see article: Flexibility), I set out to continue my journey in soaking up knowledge from abroad this summer. Destination? The illusive island of Cuba…

I had expected the bulk of my discoveries to come directly from exploring the Capoeira scene. After all, this is an island that has been isolated in so many ways. How would the practice of Capoeira play out in a place like this? According to the article Rediscovering lo cubanos Through Capoeira in Cuba, written by Annie Gibson in 2014, “no Brazilian ‘mestre’ has ever come to Cuba to teach classes formally for any extended length of time and although Cubans face limitations in access to the Internet, a tool usually utilized by capoeiristas abroad to exchange information about the sport, the capoeira community in Cuba is training regularly, expanding their presence on the island and developing a style of play that is unique to Cuba.” Juxtaposed to Capoeira in Europe, which has become so international and mixed with vast cultural influences, Cuba appeared to be on the opposite end of the spectrum. This would surely make for a unique experience of the art.

However, my big takeaway didn’t come directly from Capoeira at all. It came from living with local families and emerging myself in the culture and the lifestyle of the Cuban people, which opened my eyes to a refreshing new way of looking at things. I had repeatedly heard that traveling to Cuba was like traveling back in time. And it really was in so many ways. From the old 1950’s cars that dominate the streets to the lack of modern technology, this is where the true charms and the wisdoms of Cuba lay tucked away. I was initially struck with what they didn’t have. The buildings in Old Havana were literally crumbling. Access to hot water was hit-or-miss. Internet? Good luck. But then, slowly, much like the pace of life in Cuba, something magical started happening. I started to see the richness in what they did have. The live music sounding from every corner was so soulful and beautiful, you couldn’t help but join the joyous dancing in the streets. Research came in the form of engaging strangers in conversation in a way we rarely do anymore, given all the answers to our questions are a quick Google search away. The friendships and connections that followed were an unexpected gift. Their cocktail selection may have been narrow, but they have the finest rum and they make the meanest mojito with the freshest mint, plucked straight from their gardens, the best I’ve ever had. And the people were so genuinely happy and proud to share all of what they did have to offer, it was something truly special. So how does this all apply to Capoeira and to the biz?

Well, in the same way that I first saw what Cuba lacked, I think it’s a natural tendency, and certainly my common tendency, to get caught up in what I don’t have. I don’t have all the cool crazy moves that seasoned Capoeiristas have. I can’t do that no-handed cartwheel that I so long to do. Or that killer backflip. Or some of those really fancy takedowns. I often find myself playing Capoeira, trying to do more complicated tricks, feeling unsatisfied in my more relatively basic knowledge. However, this is what my wise Mestre, echoed by several of my instructors, mean when they say you can have the most amazing game that will rival even those far more experienced than you if you practice a really expressive and polished game of the basics. If you do the simple things extremely well, that is often more impressive than doing more complex things not-so-well. I didn’t fully buy into this until now.

And this translates right into the Entertainment business in the same way! How often do we get caught up comparing ourselves to people with more credits? More money? More connections? We spend so much time thinking about what we could and would do if we were someone other than who we are. Instead, we should be using that energy to hone in fully on what we do have, and making the absolute most of those things. I personally have been putting off creating a short film that would be a passion project for fear that I should be reaching for the so-called bigger, more impressive things, like the network TV credits and the roles in big budget features. But I’ve returned from Cuba more inspired than ever that whatever I have, even if it is arguably perceived as small compared to the rest of the world, is enough, and that it matters and it can be impactful to whatever audience I find to share it, if I dive into it head first and with a full heart. If we just each maximized on what is available to us, I’m more convinced than ever that we would excel!

So, I am very grateful for this rare opportunity to have traveled to Cuba, as it has shifted my outlook on life and the approach I’ll keep reminding myself to take when I inevitably find myself getting caught up in what I lack. Be grateful for what you have, as whatever you have is enough. Keep knowing that even if all you have in life are lemons, you can focus on making the best damn lemonade in town. Maybe even with a splash of Havana Club rum. Cheers!

What skills or resources do you have that you aren’t giving yourself enough credit for? How can you reassess your assets and optimize them for success? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Brittani Noel

About Brittani Noel

(Actress/Producer/Capoeirista) Shortly after graduating from USC Brittani produced/starred in her own award-nominated indie webseries Stockholm, written/directed by Emmy & Streamy Nominee Scott Brown. On a mission to give her acting resume a kick in the butt, Brittani began training in the Brazilian martial art, Capoeira. Little did she know how dramatically that decision would transform her entire life. Since starting her training in the fall of 2011, Brittani has co-produced the multi-award winning musical webseries Destroy the Alpha Gammas, is Associate Producer on upcoming webseries gRIDLOCKed, appearing along with Andrew Keegan (10 Things I Hate About You) and Richard Riehle (Office Space, Bridesmaids), and guest-stars in upcoming comedy Disillusioned from Director Shilpi Roy (Hipsterhood). While continuing to take on interesting acting roles, Brittani is currently co-producing Brown’s short film The Other Side and recently moved up a cord level in Capoeira.