Part One: Orientation
culture, paratheatre, verticality, and the emotional plague
© 2005 Antero Alli (updated 5/1/2015)
We tend to think of “culture” as a thing and also a very big thing; hence, the smaller subcultures, microcultures, macrocultures. Culture expresses a dynamic process, not a thing, that manifests itself in similar ways regardless of size. Individuals can participate in a culture, as can couples, groups, subcultures, microcultures and other sectors of any given society. The phenomena of culture tends to be romanticized, mythologized and stratified into hierarchical niches between "high" and "low" culture. This thing called "culture" also arouses powerful investments of pride and status from those who falsely assume that the culture they live in is their own. Nobody owns culture; we are more likely owned by it. Nobody creates culture. We are shaped and 'created' by culture.
Culture results from the ongoing interactions between DNA and geography. When a tribe migrates and settles inside any given bioregion, a distinct culture develops in the power fields sustaining them there. Whether that's a mountain range or a desert or a shoreline or valley, each bioregion carries its own power of infuence that shapes the lives of the people living there. This shaping process and its results, we call "culture". Some geomantic power fields are innately charged conflict zones, where volatile energies make their home and erupt without warning; earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanos, hurricanes and tornados. The causes of human warfare may run far deeper than the folly of oil, politics, and religion. If the earth itself waged war for its own survival long before people arrived, why wouldn't the planet's more fiery geomantic forces also find expression through its naked, two-legged big-brained creatures? Other geomantic fields of power across the planet are more harmonious, supporting more peace-defined cultures of longer lasting value.
Culture is something we participate in, augment, diminish, corrupt, subvert, and develop with. We act on culture and are acted on by culture. Over time -- decades, centuries, ages -- this genes/geography interaction slowly crystallizes into symbols, languages, and artifacts that encode, encrypt and transmit its characteristics as a distinct cultural identity. Cultures developing in mountainous regions differ from cultures stimulated along oceanic shorelines or in deserts or lush valleys or forests. Each unique bioregion influences its people in specific ways that inform the nature of their religions, art, mythologies, commerce, education, community rituals, and family values.
The power and presence of the planet acts on people, just as the power and presence of people act on the planet. We live in an era of dying cultures. If we want any culture to survive, we must turn to those rituals that sustain that culture and before that, return to the primordial interaction between genes and geography, between human DNA and our immediate womb environment. Any human culture achieves longevity by the success of its sustaining rituals, of how well we are feeding the planet and how well we are fed by it.
At its root, theatre is a sustaining ritual for keeping a culture alive. As with any sustaining ritual, the nature and purpose of theatre must evolve and change over time to meet the emergent needs of its originating culture. Like a snake shedding old skin, any culture grows by outgrowing itself. Any theatre that does not outgrow itself ceases to function as a vital sustaining ritual. Dead theatre results. For theatre to remain vital, a kind of “paratheatre” must be developed allowing performers to explore, nurture and challenge their instrument in a non-performance setting without any audience present. This paratheatre must somehow enable the discovery and expression of the internal landscape, free from external social considerations, where access is gained to internal vertical sources -- what can be experienced as energy/information flowing through us from above, within us and below us.
Historically, this commitment to verticality has been achieved by various esoteric schools utilizing different methods of sense-deprivation (withdrawal of identification from external stimuli) towards vertical recalibration. Monastic orders, Tantric and Vedic yogas, and meditation practices have pursued vertical stability as salvation, redemption, and/or enlightenment. Then there are the numerous systems of psychotherapy and mysticism exploring similar processes of interaction between conscious Ego and the Unconscious, such as Carl Jung's Individuation, Dada Bhagwan's Self-realization, Dr. Abraham Mazlow's Self-Actualization, G.I. Gurdjieff's Self-Work and so forth.
However, rarely have any of these methods been used for the purpose of regenerating the sustaining ritual of theatre, its originating culture and/or the culture of the society at large. One strident exception arrived with the compelling work of the late visionary of the theatre, Jerzy Grotowski (Aug. 11, 1933 - Jan. 14, 1999) who coined the term 'paratheatre' to address a stage of non-performance oriented work his group was doing between 1969 and 1977 in the forests of Poland. It should also be known that Grotowski claimed no actual 'legacy of paratheatre' due, in part, to the transmutations his work underwent over three decades (and beyond his death at the Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards in Pontedera, Italy).
With respect to Grotowski's seminal work and the current and future work of his protoges in Pontedera, the term "paratheatre" will be used hereafter to reflect my ongoing paratheatrical research here in Berkeley California USA since 1977. Generally speaking, I refer to paratheatre as any private, non-performance oriented process of group ritual dynamics involving rigorous physical and vocal techniques for accessing, embodying and expressing the internal landscape. Without an audience the focus shifts away from the external pressures to perform or impress an audience and, towards the self-created pressures of executing songs and ritual actions with enough commitment to transform the instrument of the self.
verticality, asocial intent & Self-sourcing
It can be natural for any group to meet and form bonds as a community-building social event. However if these same social bonds inhibit or frustrate the expression of true feelings and spontaneous responses or impede creativity, then no paratheatre work can occur. When any given group becomes preoccupied with maintaining their social personas or with meeting social needs -- for friendship, courtship, a sense of belonging, approval, security, status, etc -- this group begins feeding our horizontal agendas and caan lose touch with verticality. In this way, socialization becomes a distraction to paratheatre work.
"With verticality the point is not to renounce part of our nature; all should retain its natural place: the body, the heart, the head, something that is "under our feet" and something that is "over the head." All like a vertical line, and this verticality should be held taut between organicity and the awareness. Awareness means the consciousness which is not linked to language (the machine for thinking), but to Presence." -- Jerzy Grotowski
Click this for more on Verticality
The inner work of paratheatre involves increasing commitment to verticality towards the transmission of its presence to others and the world. In the initial paratheatre training process, there is a shift away from depending on external sources of energy (other people) and external artifacts and stimuli (music, costumes, props, masks, etc) to realize a stable internal dependence. This requires a certain non-responsibility to others in lieu of increasing commitment to present-time states, conditions, or actions before us -- free of any social considerations we may have about what others might think, feel, or say about it.
This shift towards internal dependence expresses an asocial intent necessary for effective paratheatre work. Asocial is neither social nor anti-social; paratheatre cannot occur in a socially sanctioned climate nor can it work in a socially hostile climate. An asocial climate replaces social considerations with more honest, spontaneous, and authentic responses. Without this asocial adjustment, the "default" conditioning of our local culture's socialization 'programs' can easily dominate the tone of interpersonal interaction and corrupt the quality of work with social cliches, play-acting, and conditioned reactions.
Actualizing an asocial intent naturally frustrates our social compulsions and considerations. These include any process of seeking external acceptance, approval, status, courting and flirting, community belonging, and other needs for social support. Our social needs are obviously important and why they need to be met outside the paratheatre workspace. By temporarily relaxing our social agendas and motivations, we can begin sourcing the internal landscape of autonomous forces in the body/psyche itself through what Carl Jung calls the archetype of The Self.
"The Self is a quantity that is supra ordinate to the conscious ego. It embraces not only the conscious but also the unconscious psyche, and is therefore, so to speak, a personality which we also are. The Self is not only the centre but also the whole circumference which embraces both conscious and unconscious; it is the centre of this totality, just as the ego is the center of consciousness." -- Carl Jung, Two Essays on Analytical Psychology
Ego emerges from The Self -- the Self does not emerge from the Ego. Just as the Self gives birth to the Ego, the Ego gives birth to individual consciousness. Self-sourcing, not to be confused with the pathology of narcissism, or ego-sourcing, consistently exposes the ego to the Self. Any experience of The Self results in a defeat for the naive ego unaware of any greater presence of intelligence than itself. In the face of this defeat, the ego either learns to respect and honor a source greater than itself or keeps resisting the facts to remain deluded and ignorant. When the ego finally aligns with The Self, we come to experience ourselves in a more holistic way. As The Self is accessed, sourced, and given expression, we begin to accept and embrace the contraries of human nature. Self-acceptance develops into an empathy for our human condition, our humanity. Over time and with practice, this empathy bypasses the narcissism trap.
Asocial intent can be established in several ways. When each participant vows to become responsible for their own safety , the group as a whole can relax the conditioned parent/child reflexes for helping, saving, guiding, and/or judging others. This is why I don't think paratheatre is for children. Paratheatre is for those mature enough to restore the innocence of a child within, while maintaining the earned wisdom of adulthood. A vow of self-accountability in this work initiates a willingness to face personal fears and frustrations amidst an unpredictable creative process -- a critical step for developing any true self-discipline. In paratheatre, we are researching new ways of being, relating, and doing from an embrace of our verticality as a foundation for more integrity while interacting with others and the world.
Asocial intent can be discovered by expanding spatial awareness. By directing the attention off of ourselves and onto the actual space around, below and above us, we can begin physically moving through that space with more awareness and receptivity to the space as a value. Spatial-awareness can evolve as we honor the space between other individuals in the room while we are moving. Imagine a group of individuals moving about without relating or looking at each other but rather, engaged in the moment-to-moment discovery of the space between each other -- while moving throughout these spaces. By keeping one's attention on the space itself, rather than the things and people in the space, spatial pathways avail themselves; picture a swarm of self-governing bodies in motion.
Spatial awareness can dramatically increase the sense of trust between participants by the respect shown for everyone's personal space. When our personal space is honored, we naturally feel more safe to open up, play and celebrate the freedom of our being -- a freedom from seeking acceptance, approval and other inhibiting social considerations about how we should behave or appear -- a freedom to be nobody but ourselves.
More on paratheatre at:
the emotional plague
“The emotional plague” is a term initially proposed by Wilhelm Reich for the irrational insistence on beliefs and ideas that depend on dissociation of mind from body. Reich also refered to it as "the neurotic character in destructive action on the social scene". In the current Hypermedia Era, the body/mind fissure has been dramatized via massive collective projection of vital physical, emotional, and sexual energy into mentally absorbent mediums such as the internet, VR technology, video games, mass media advertising, and too much television. If the emotional plague is maintained by constant disassociation of mind and body, we can expose the virus wherener we are mistaking the virtual for the actual, or taking any image or any idea of a reality for the reality itself. It's where we are eating the menu instead of the meal and mistaking the map for the territory, etc.
Two modern-day symptoms of the emotional plague in the Hypermedia Era have surfaced as: 1) an increasing trend towards de-personalization, homogenization and gentrification and 2) a steadily decreasing capacity for direct experience. As we lose trust and faith in the legitimacy of firsthand experience, we can naturally become more vulnerable and compliant to the dictates of external sources of authority and its endless cycles of obedience and punishment. Without enough trust in our own innate sensibilities, intuitions and instincts we suffer from an absence of vital information, leading to a growing incapacity to distinguish between the real from the illusory, the true from the false, and what's right from what's wrong. Without self-trust -- trust in our own direct experience -- we remain as timid children dependent on parental approval and guidance for the way we live, work, procreate, domesticate, and die.
What is real and what is an illusion ? Do you know ? Do you care ? If you don’t know and can say so, you are probably just waking up. If you don't know and/or don't care, don't bother; you are probably fast asleep. The emotional plague doesn’t care either and you will soon be assimilated, if you have not already been consumed. If you have come to know what’s real in life, dare to live by your vision, your truth; your example acts as a beacon to those lost at sea in their struggle to survive as living, awakening human beings.
Part Two: Integrity Loss and Recovery
sacrifice and the force of commitment
Part Three: The Performer/Audience Romance
talent and skill, the total act, the No-Form technique
Part Four: Self-Observation and Ego
on the function of ego, on embracing contraries
Part Five: Self-initiation
on the bridge between the worlds and
what drains the power of dreaming