Part One: Orientation
culture, paratheatre, verticality, asocial intent
© 2005 Antero Alli (updated 11/24/2016)
Culture expresses a dynamic process that manifests itself in similar ways regardless of size - subcultures, microcultures, macrocultures. Individuals experience culture, as can couples, groups, subcultures, and any other sectors of any society. The phenomena of culture tends to be romanticized, mythologized and stratified into hierarchical niches between "high" and "low" culture. What we call "culture" arouses powerful investments of pride and status, especially when we falsely assume that culture is something that can be owned. Nobody owns culture; we are more likely owned by it. Nobody creates culture. We are more likely shaped and 'created' by culture.
From a lesser sentimental view, culture is nothing more and nothing less than the organic interaction between human DNA and geography. When a given tribe of people migrates, settles, and builds community within any given bioregion, a distinct culture develops by daily human interaction with the resources and power fields sustaining them there. Mountain ranges, deserts, shorelines, valleys -- each bioregion carries its own power of infuence that shapes the lives and the souls of the people living there, what they eat and create, resulting in the complex Planet/People weave we call "culture". Some geomantic power fields, or planetary power spots, express innately charged conflict zones where highly volatile energies dwell and erupt without warning: earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanos, hurricanes, tornados, lightning strikes, landslides. The real causes of human conflict, violence and warfare may run far deeper than our bloodlust for power, oil, economics, and religion. Us two-legged big-brained creatures may act as conduits and vessels for the eruptions of the wilder geomantic forces innate to the region we live in. The Earth is calling the shots, has always called the shots!
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, aeons -- this genes/geography interaction crystallizes into symbols, languages, and artifacts that encode, encrypt and transmit the characteristics of each distinct cultural identity. Cultures developing in the Himalayan mountains will differ from cultures stimulated along the shorelines of southern India or the Sonora deserts of Mexico or the lush Amazon river basin or the Cascadian forests of the Pacific Northwest. Each unique bioregion informs the nature of its tribe's religions, arts, mythologies, commerce, education, language, community rituals, and values. The interconnectedness of cultures across the planet expresses a kind of Rorschach of human/planet feeding and merging; make of it whatever we will, we can never completely fathom its true meaning. Despite the best intentions of scholars everywhere, this unfathomable complexity remains beyond intellectual understanding -- yet it can be experienced by anyone.
We live in an era of dying cultures. If we want any culture or subculture to survive, we must turn to those rituals that sustain it. Any human culture achieves longevity by the success of its sustaining rituals, how well we are feeding the planet and how well we are being fed by it. Sustaining rituals return us to the primordial interaction between genes and geography, human DNA and our immediate womb environment, and through a more soulful communion and communication with the planetary entity. These sustaining rituals cannot be understood or proven by any empirical, literalist mindsets. However, our primordial contact with planetary forces can be experienced firsthand through intuitive resonance with the Earth as a living entity that has incarnated as our planet. The Earth is not only more alive than we think; it is more alive than we can think.
Theatre represents 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 and changing values 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 implemented as a parallel training ground to initiate participants to the Earth's own primordial sources as experienced through their own conduit bodies, organs, bones, cells, and blood. This training must be able to explore, nurture, and challenge these somatic processes in a non-performance setting. With no audience present, the "pressure to perform" is released and replaced by the self-created pressures to heighten personal commitment to access and express the internal landscape -- free from external social considerations. This redirection of commitment to sources of energy in the body itself yields greater access to our vertical sources -- what can be experienced as energy/information flowing through us - down from above and up from below. Alignment with this innate verticality marks the initiatic stages of restoring receptivity, resonance, and response to the Earth as a living entity.
Traditionally, high levels of commitment to verticality have been achieved by various esoteric schools utilizing different methods of sense-deprivation (withdrawal of identification from external stimuli). Monastic orders, Tantric and Vedic yogas, and various meditation practices have pursued verticality as a source of redemption, and/or enlightenment. There are also 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 since 1977. I refer to paratheatre as a non-performance oriented asocial group ritual dynamic of rigorous physical and vocal techniques for accessing, embodying, and expressing the internal landscape. The focus shifts away from the external pressures to perform or impress an audience and, towards the self-created pressures of commitment to internal vertical sources and their expression through spontaneous gesture, movement, vocalization, and characterizations. The overall aim in this paratheatre: to engage these processes with enough commitment to transform the instrument of the self.
Any group can meet to form bonds as a community-building social event. However if social bonds inhibit or frustrate the expression of true feelings and spontaneous responses, they also impede creativity and the necessary asocial climate for effective paratheatre work. When a given group becomes preoccupied with maintaining their social personas or meeting social needs -- for friendship, courtship, a sense of belonging, approval, security, status, etc -- this group begins feeding our more horizontal-oriented social needs and quickly loses touch with verticality. In short, socializing acts as 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 a conscious choice to increase commitment to verticality towards its transmission to others and the world. Paratheatre training processes initiate a shift away from depending on external sources of energy (other people) and external artifacts and stimuli (music, costumes, props, masks, etc) towards a consistent process of stabilzing internal dependence. This asocial direction demands a certain non-responsibility to others in lieu of increasing commitment to the present-time states, conditions, or actions within and before us -- free of social considerations about what others might think, feel, believe, or say about it.
Asocial intent, the Archetype of Self, and Personal Safety
This shift from external to internal dependence expresses an asocial intent. Asocial is neither social nor anti-social. Paratheatre cannot occur in a social climate nor can it work in a socially hostile climate. An asocial climate replaces social considerations with an active investigation into our most 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 group interaction and corrupt the quality of work with social cliches, play-acting, and conditioned reactions.
Actualizing an asocial intent naturally frustrates social compulsions and considerations. These include those impulses and behaviors of seeking external acceptance, support, approval, status, courting and flirting, community belonging, and other needs to bind social agreements. Social needs are obviously important and why they are best met outside of 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 as framed 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 genuine experience of The Self often results in a defeat for any ego naive to a greater presence of intelligence than its own narratives and biases. In the face of this defeat, the ego either learns to respect and honor a source greater than itself or keep resisting and remain ignorant. When the ego finally aligns with The Self, we come to experience and know ourselves in a more holistic way - as an expression of a larger, changing whole. As the archetype of Self is accessed, sourced, and expressed, we encounter the deeper contraries innate to our human nature: we are weak and strong, stupid and intelligent, beautiful and ugly, good and evil. If self-acceptance can develop alongside these exposures, we can learn to live wth more truth about ourselves and each other. If empathy for our humanity can develop, the narcissism trap can be bypassed. A little narcissism goes a long way and a little empathy keeps it that way.
Asocial intent begins by taking a vow of accountability for our personal safety. Once we fully commit to being responsible for our own safety, the conditioned parent/child reflexes -- for helping, saving, guiding, and/or judging others and/or expecting others to make us safe -- can be relaxed and bypassed. This vow of self-accountability means we're willing to face our fears and frustrations as they come up amidst an often unpredictable creative process. This is also why paratheatre is not meant for children but those mature enough to accept full accountability for their actions and their consequences. By making ourselves safe, we can better protect the creative child within us who can feel afraid, intimidated, and threatened and, whose shining vulnerability demands protection. This is how self-commitment serves a heightened and sustained creativity.
An asocial work climate can be activated and maintained by expanding spatial awareness. When we direct our attention off of ourselves and onto the actual space around, below and above us, we can physically move with more awareness of space itself as a value. Spatial-awareness also develops as we honor the physical space between each other while we are moving around the workspace. Imagine a swarm of individuals moving about the space 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.
The expansion of spatial awareness can increase 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:
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
function of ego, embracing contraries, emotional plague
Part Five: Self-initiation
on the bridge between the worlds and
what drains the power of dreaming
Part Six: A Cultural Overview
a mass hallucination of a society gone mad