Part One: Orientation
culture, paratheatre, verticality, asocial intent
© 2005 Antero Alli (updated 3/29/2016)
Culture expresses a dynamic process that manifests itself in similar ways regardless of size - subcultures, microcultures, macrocultures. Individuals can 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 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.
What is culture? What we call culture results from any ongoing organic interactions between human DNA and geography. When any given tribe of people migrates and settles within 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, what they eat and create -- resulting in the complex weave of planet and people we call "culture". Some geomantic power fields, or planetary power spots, express innately charged conflict zones where volatile energies reside and erupt without warning: earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanos, hurricanes, tornados, landslides. The causes of human conflict, violence and warfare may run far deeper than human bloodlust for oil, politics, economics, and religion. The earth itself has waged its own wars for survival long before people arrived. Perhaps the planet's two-legged big-brained human creatures act as conduits and vessels for the eruptions of wild geomantic forces innate to their homesites. Note the centuries-old warfare and conflict innate to the deep Mideast. The Earth is calling 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 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, arts, mythologies, commerce, education, language, community rituals, and values. Culture can be seen as a kind of Rorschach of human/planet feeding and merging; make of it as we will, we can never completely understand its true meaning.
We live in an era of dying cultures. If we want any culture or subculture to survive, we must turn to those rituals that help sustain it. 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 being fed by it. Sustaining rituals return us to the primordial interaction between genes and geography, human DNA and our immediate womb environment, in a more soulful communication with the planetary entity. However, culturally sustaining rituals cannot be understood or proven by any empirical, literalist mindsets. However, they 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 may be far more alive than we even can think.
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 exist as a parallel training process allowing performers to explore, nurture, and challenge themselves in a non-performance setting with no audience present. Paratheatre must somehow restore the discovery and expression of the internal landscape, free from external social considerations, with free access to our internal vertical sources -- what can be experienced as energy/information flowing through us from above, below and within. Realignment with our innate verticality marks the initiatic stages of restoring receptivity, resonance, and response to the Earth as a living entity.
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 verticaity 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.
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 if they impede creativity, then no paratheatre work of any value can occur. When any 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 it losese 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. In and of itself, none of this is bad or some kind of problem - it's just not paratheatre.
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 for 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 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 often results in a defeat for any naive ego unaware of any greater presence of intelligence than its own narrow biases. In the face of this defeat, the ego either learns to respect and honor a source greater than itself or it keeps resisting and remains deluded and 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 Self is accessed, sourced, and expressed, we encounter the deeper contraries of our human nature: we are weak and strong, stupid and intelligent, beautiful and ugly, good and evil. If self-acceptance can develop, we deepen empathy for our humanity while bypassing the narcissism trap. A little narcissism goes a long way and a little empathy keeps it that way.
Asocial intent begins by taking a vow of personal safety. Once we fully commit to being responsible for our own safety, we can relax the conditioned parent/child reflexes for helping, saving, guiding, and/or judging others and/or expecting others to make us safe. This vow of self-accountability means we're to face our fears and frustrations as they come up amidst an often unpredictable creative process. This is also why paratheatre is not for children but for those mature enough to accept full accountability for their actions and decisions. By reclaiming our adulthood, we are better poised to protect the creative child within us who can easily feel afraid and threatened and, whose shining vulnerability deserves our immediate protection. This is how the maturing of self-commitment serves heightened and sustained creativity.
Asocial intent can be maintained through expanding spatial awareness. By directing our attention off of ourselves and onto the actual space around, below and above us, we can begin to physically move through that space with more awareness of space as a value. Spatial-awareness evolves 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 -- all the 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