inside the laboratory
Interview with Antero Alli by Julia Carter
January 24, 2006. Berkeley, California.
The following interview was conducted over e-mail by Julia Carter who has
never participated with me in paratheate work before and who I had never
met in person until after the interview. She chose to do this as a High School
literature assignment and heard about our work from her Aikido sensei, Nick
Walker (also a core member of our group). Julia is one of the brighter 16-year
old persons I have met as clearly evidenced by the high quality, depth and
inquisitve nature of her questions. And why I've posted them here. -- Antero
JC: Would you please give an in-depth format for a basic lab session
with examples of each piece that you've used in past labs.
Why do you use this format?
AA: Though each and every lab differs by its Theme, Participants and Intent,
all the labs work within the same basic structure or, as you say, format. However
this structure acts like an empty vessel for the forces and content delivered by
each new theme, selection of participants and overall intent. And so, it would
make more sense to address these three variables first so that you can better
imagine how they might be expressed through the format.
The theme provides an overall focus and sometimes an archetype through
which all the work pivots around. Past themes have included: ANIMA/ANIMUS,
CRUCIFIXION, DREAMS, THE ANCESTORS, INITIATION. I do not know how each
theme comes around, as it’s a bit unpredictable but I think it has to do with
my attempt to map out a bigger picture of where this work is taking me and
those who join me on the journey. The themes emerge as a kind of calling,
if you will and I have learned to trust that signal. This work is not for everybody
and why participation into these ritual labs is by audition with and/or invitation
from myself. Each lab’s participants are shaped by the theme and they also shape
the theme by the force of their commitment and their individual backgrounds in
physical training, specific talents, emotional maturity and self-knowledge, all
attributes I look for in the selection process. The intent of each lab speaks for
the spectrum of orientations between public performance work on one end and
non-performance self-work on the other and the many degrees between. Some labs
are more severely non-performance -oriented than others, while other labs start
out that way but bend towards some form of public presentation. And so the
combination of theme, participants and intent play a huge role in how
the format is used.
The format typically starts with each person taking a silent vow to become totally
accountable for their own safety and for exciting their own creative states. Nobody
will show you how to create or how to make yourself feel safe in this work. Everybody
sort of becomes their own mom and dad here. By taking responsibility for fulfilling
these two objectives, the group is able and willing to move forward together from
a much higher level of individual integrity and autonomy, an essential condition
for the almost impossible task of what we are attempting to accomplish: a kind
of miraculous interaction of self-governing bodies.
Desmonde Daisy and Justin Palermo (2004)
After this silent vow is taken, the first ritual task is something I call space-forming
which amounts to the way you enter the ritual space itself, usually a dance studio,
and physically communicate your relationship with the space, moment to moment,
as you move across the space. Imagine a roomful of people doing this with nobody
relating to anyone else but rather to the space between everyone as they go and you’ll
get the picture. After space-forming, each person finds their own personal area in the
room and starts claiming it as their own. Much like an animal marks their turf, each
person has their own way of marking boundaries and a center. For the next half hour
each person designs their own physical warm-up process by meeting four objectives
in their own way (about 7 minutes each): physical stillness, flexing their spine,
stretching muscles, raising heat and breaking a sweat.
After the warm-up, everyone jogs around the periphery of the room applying various
awareness points that I will suggest to help align their attention closer to their bodies
in motion. After this functional jog, they move on to more complex internal workings
called polarizations where they subject themselves to both sides of a charged emotional
polarity, a polarity they sometimes choose themselves, that holds strong excitement and
resistance. Examples include: love and fear, good and evil, chaos and order, masculine
and feminine. At this point in our interview, I must refer you to my book, TOWARDS AN
ARCHEOLOGY OF THE SOUL, for further edification of the formats to follow.
JC: How much facilitator involvement is there in the labs?
AA: This depends on the facilitator. My own approach leans heavily towards “via negativa”
which amounts to saying more with much, much less. I rarely explain the terms I present
but encourage participants to define them for themselves based on their own experiences,
perceptions and the testing of those. I tend to shy away from demonstrating techniques,
especially to newbies who invariably try to mimic or copy me to learn it and that’s not
my style. I support a process of trial-by-error-and-success so people can find their own way.
Once they start applying themselves, I can approach them with suggestions and adjustments
knowing that their initiative and firsthand experience will be left intact. Once the basic
format and rudimentary skills are learned, I join everyone out there on the floor and do
the work just like everyone else. My chief reason for being a part of this paratheatre work
is not to teach it but to do it myself. I facilitate it because I am very good at that but only
insofar as it opens the door for my participation in the rituals themselves.
"Orphans of Delirium" performance (2004)
JC: What specific devices do you use to facilitate labs?
(tools, voice, room set up, instructions)
AA: The room set up is important. We need at least 1000 square feet of wood floor and
at least twelve foot ceilings, ideally more; the more space, the better. The room must
be without external interruption of any kind, like absolutely no non-lab people walking
through or telephones ringing. Room temperature should be moderate, so as to not draw
attention to itself; not too warm or not too cold. Ideally, the room should be as neutral
a space as possible, without wall hangings and such. A wall clock is useful. And no
fluorescent lights. We often work in dim lighting or the dark. That’s about it for the space
itself. Tools include a gong to mark intervals of time in the physical warm-up cycles and
other places. Candles in lanterns are sometimes used and masking tape for those rituals
requiring sharper boundaries.
Instructions include wearing loose and non-descript (logo-free) clothes to move freely in,
no shoes, bringing a bottle of water, taking the silent vow mentioned earlier and also an
agreement to serve an asocial intent. Asocial does not mean antisocial but rather a kind
of refrain from socializing right before and during the session so as to not emphasize our
egos more than they already are. More information about “asocial” at: asocial process
Besides the already existing theme and intent, I rarely have any preconceived notion
or idea about where each session is going. After doing this work for almost thirty years,
it’s pretty instinctive by now. I arrive as empty and receptive as i know how and then,
pay attention and listen. When I say “pay attention” I do not mean what is usually implied
by that, which is the kind of attention linked to thinking and language. Though this kind
of attention is obviously important, it can get in the way of paratheatre facilitation. The
kind of attention I refer to is linked not to language but to presence, energy and patterns.
This second attention might also be related to pattern recognition. As for my voice I speak
to the body, not to the mind. My suggestions tend to be incomplete and not too spelled out.
My voice is somewhat relaxed but not too relaxed for fear I might hypnotize myself and
others! As for paratheatre vocal techniques in the lab work itself, there are too many to
discuss here though some are listed at: Vocal Techniques for Song as Vehicle
Antero Alli (core group)
JC: How does the experience of facilitating a lab change based on
the experience level of participants?
AA: These changes usually correspond with commitment levels, more than previous
paratheatre experience per se. I have worked with some newbies with very high
commitment to what they are doing and some vets who sometimes slack off and
lose focus. Commitment to the task at hand is an all-important key to success in
this approach. The quality of work from each individual lab session is pretty much
determined by the level of commitment shown in the first hour or so, with the
physical warm-up cycles and the emotional polarization work. If the commitment
is near 100%, which is quite rare, the ending rituals turn out to be very effective
and transformative, life changing, etc. If the commitment is low, say about 40-60%
of what people are capable of, then the rituals tend to peter out and disperse sooner.
At this point, I would adjust the course towards less dynamic and less demanding ritual
forms. Just like in real life, what you put into it often determines what
you’re going to get out of it.
JC: How does the feel of individual sessions change over the course of a lab?
AA: This is one of those trick questions with either no possible answer or a whole
slew of slick pseudo-answers trying to impress the interviewer. Alright, seriously,
I don’t know how the feel of individual sessions change over the course of a lab,
as each and every lab differs; none are alike. Though the structure and format
remain the same, what passes through that form -- theme, participant history,
intent -- changes everything. Yikes! There is literally no way for me to
honestly answer this question.
JC: What's it like participating in and/or viewing labs from the
facilitator's point of view?
AA: Well, it’s like the goldfish in the fish bowl. When you’re the fish inside
looking out, everything’s wet and you lose focus of what’s beyond your own
experience. You're in this world of your own and there's a kind of enchantment
and oblivion to that. When you’re the guy looking at the fish in the bowl, you’re
in a dry place and can see where and how the fish is moving and what is getting
in its way and whether it’s hungry or needs to stop eating. You can see if there
are any other fish trying to attack or court it. You can actually see a lot.
"Orphans of Delirium" (2004)
It’s more difficult being in the lab and doing the work while facilitating it
but again, I’ve been at this so long I could do it with my eyes closed and,
sometimes I do. One amazing thing about being on the outside looking in is
the chance to witness these waves of spontaneous current that erupt and ripple
through the group unexpectedly and then, leave everyone in this lucid plateau
of delicious stillness that is just too beautiful for words. It’s even more amazing
to feel that kind of ripple effect from the inside, in the group, knowing that you
were definitely part of something bigger than yourself and that a force of depth
and grace was involved. It can be quite awe-inspiring, actually.
JC: What's a good metaphor for the effects of participating in various labs over an
extended period of time.
AA: Being rolfed by God ? I don’t know. Good question. Though we all come out
with differing impressions, I think it is safe to say that most people emerge from
a three-month lab having experienced some fundamental change in their lives,
whether that be a change of outlook or attitude or a new way of moving their
bodies or a transformation of their belief system or their way of thinking and
talking about things, or a full-blown epistemological crisis and spiritual rebirth.
I think maybe this is another one of those trick questions that don't have any
answers. Or at least, not any answers that I can think of. Good work!
JC: What are some examples of effects common to new participants who
A) make it all the way through the lab, and B) drop out?
AA: Again, there are no real common effects as each individual is selected for
these labs on the merits of their unique dispositions, talents, previous training,
emotional maturity, self-knowledge and sometimes, gender when I want a gender
balanced or imbalanced group because I think it might better serve the given theme.
Nick Walker (core group)
JC: How do constants (like Nick Walker) among the rotating crew effect the lab?
AA: There are six seasoned veterans in our group and it is rare that any one lab has
them all together at the same time. They are Nick Walker, JoJo Razor, Sylvi Alli,
Julian Simeon and myself. The vets provide useful examples for the newbies, not
just in terms of helping them raise their own standards of commitment but also
with verbal feedback and insight gleaned from many years of doing this work.
Which is great as it takes some pressure off of me. The way the vets basically
effect the lab as a whole is by increasing the depth and the momentum by
the sheer force of their self-commitment.
JC: Can you tell which people are more likely to drop out after
the first few sessions?
Sometimes sooner but almost always after three sessions. Sometimes I can
tell before they even try doing the work. Just by sitting down and talking
with them I can sometimes tell how disconnected or connected they are with
themselves and what degree of vanity and self-honesty is at work inside them,
two issues that come up pretty soon into the actual paratheatre process.
JC: What are some reasons people drop out?
AA: Probably the two biggest reasons are boredom and frustration and then,
the ineptitude and lack of self-discipline to work through those blocks. You see,
the work gets you high, especially in the beginning phases after you start figuring
out the basic techniques. If this hedonic motive remains the only reason for doing
the work, it usually disperses within a month or so and then, if you do not find a
deeper motive for doing this work, boredom and frustration set in. Another reason
people drop out occurs when they realize their egos are not strong enough to endure
the shocks of more truth about themselves. Big egos don’t last very long in this work
but strong egos do. In fact, if you can endure a whole lab your ego will probably
come out a lot stronger for it. It’s just like what Nietzche said. “Whatever doesn’t
kill you, will make you stronger”. What I mean by strength here is flexibility.
A strong ego equals a flexible ego.
JC: Why did you pick 24 as the minimum age?
AA: As a practicing astrologer, I study the duration of orbiting planets and how
these coincide with our earthbound chronology. I don’t buy into this idea that
planets control us or anything silly like that but that their orbits act like signposts
to certain kinds of timing. Jupiter, the planet of higher learning and ethics, orbits
around the Sun every twelve years. At the age of 24, everyone undergoes what
astrologers call a second Jupiter return. I have seen that by the age of 24, most
people are aware of their world view and, whether right or wrong, have some big
picture grasp of things. There are always exceptions but I have found that those
younger than 24 tend to be more easily overwhelmed by this work and I’m in no
position to become responsible for that. You see, part of the paratheatre process
involves an exposure of our basic assumptions and beliefs about things and then,
the breakdown of those assumptions that were never grounded in the life we're
actually living. After this exposure/breakdown process, we are either rebuilding
a new outlook that's more in-sync with our actual lives or we continue living a lie.
For this perception-testing process to begin, you first need a worldview that
is available to be exposed and confronted.
Sylvi Alli (core group)
JC: Have there been exceptions to this rule? If so why and how did they
find you or vice versa?
AA: There was one exception and I regretted it. The young woman was just about
to turn 24 and though she was a very warm and beautiful person, her personal
struggle in the work clearly overwhelmed her ability to do the work. How did she
find out about it ? A friend of hers who had worked with me suggested I contact
this woman and I did. She auditioned for me and I accepted her on the basis of
her deep sincerity, presence, enthusiasm and vocal talent. I also invited her
in with this idea that her youth would act as a vital contrast with the wizened
ways of the older vets. Live and learn.
JC: How do age demographics effect the lab, more specifically is there a
noticeable difference in commitment levels based on age?
AA: With age there are always exceptions to the rule. I’ve worked with emotionally
immature fifty year olds and wise beyond their ears twenty-five year olds. I’d have
to say that when it comes to commitment levels, those over thirty have shown the
greater consistency. Those still in their twenties often confuse enthusiasm for commitment.
They are not the same. Enthusiasm is usually aroused by feelings of excitement and
inspiration which can be fleeting and fickle. Commitment, as I’m using this word,is usually
rooted in underlying values and a choice to commit totally to something one deems
imminently important. I think you have to know what is important to you to experience
any real force of commitment in your life.
JC: Hypothetically how would teen participation effect labs?
(Teens still living at home and teens who just moved out.)
AA: My focus in this work rests clearly with adults. Though I personally would not
bring teens into this work, there’s probably a way to do it. Nick Walker, a ten-year
veteran of this work, may actually be qualified to find effective ways to translate
what we do into the context of developing adolescence. You raise a very interesting
question, one that I will reflect on for years to come...
JC: Now for plain fun question: If the government forbade facilitation or
participation in any and all paratheatrical work what would you do?
AA: I’d probably just change our name to “Friends Of God”, or FOG, and do it anyway.
JC: What if you got a message from God that basically said
doing more labs would be a bad idea?
AA: I’d ask God “why?” and by the nature of God’s response I would have the opportunity
to determine whether it was really God or God’s girlfriend or one of the many cosmic
posers parading as God trying to steal my thunder. If it was really God ? I’d probably pray.
Other Interviews with Antero Alli
on various facets of paratheatre
A Paratheatre Manifesto