PARATHEATRE ORIENTATION
Basic Principles, Techniques and Terms

© 1977 through 2014 by Antero Alli


 

The phrase paratheatrical research came to me in 1977 from the visionary work of the late Polish theatre director, Jerzy Grotowski, whose approaches I deeply respect but am neither emulating nor attempting to replicate. After reading Grotowski’s book Towards a Poor Theatre and viewing the film document of his Polish Lab’s Akropolis, I was compelled to continue researching how rituals might work without dogma and how these processes could culminate in their own unique paratheatrical medium.

One of the ongoing objectives of this paratheatre medium is to discover individual movements, actions and group rituals for triggering miraculous interactions. They are miraculous whenever they invoke (by sound & word) or evoke (by feeling & motion) strong spiritual and visceral resonances that — with enough commitment — erupt in spontaneous gestures, movements, patterns of motion, sounds, vocal creations, characterizations, and stories to be shared with others.

One way of looking at the miraculous is through the prism of a certain kind of double vision. Imagine an overlay of vertical and horizontal sources, or planes of existence; vertical and horizontal. Picture vertical as the invisible sources of energy innate to soul, ancestral karma, dreambody, archetypes, planetary consciousness. Horizontal sources and energies refer to visible manifestations of our interactions with others, society, political realities, and the out-there world at large. Vertical is up, down and within; horizontal, out there around and across. This is no hard, fast rule but my attempt at framing a certain outlook of double vision.

The miraculous acts autonomously. Not subject to our beck and call, its holy presence comes and goes through the connecting fibers of horizontal and vertical sources, their overlays and weavings. The miraculous makes itself known to anyone with ears to hear, eyes to see and the heart to experience its grace and power. It can happen anytime, anywhere and to anyone, by accident or shock or intentionally as with conscious ritual. When individuals choose to interact amongst themselves from a higher commitment to vertical integrity, conditions are primed for witnessing and engaging the miraculous. When this occurs, a unity prevails that doesn’t negate individuation but allows for its simultaneous unfolding as a kind of miraculous interaction of self-governing bodies...

 

WHY THIS WORK IS NOT FOR EVERYBODY

Strengthening vertical stability requires the cultivation of a habit not taught in schools; it must be learned on your own or in groups of individuals learning it on their own. To cultivate resonance with vertical sources is not easy; it’s a little like praying with no immediate results. Praying to what or to whom? Real self work continues as an uphill struggle with decades of socially-conditioned, externally-directed habit patterns.

For those who persevere, this struggle has its own rewards; there is no fire without friction and no life without heat. Not everyone wants or needs liberation from the creations of conceptual mind to experience life more directly. Paratheatrical rituals are intended to facilitate a more direct experience of the existing conditions of one’s life, regardless of its nature or what you think, feel or fear about it. Imagine the least mediated perception and experience you are personally capable of. This is the experiment, the process and the goal.

The shock of authentic vertical contact, no matter how fleeting, can shatter unchecked assumptions about the world around us and who we think we are. Any real intimacy with void can stir deep questioning about identity and the nature of reality. Some vertically-oriented experiences can act as wake-up calls to widespread socio-political oppression in our personal lives. In extreme cases, we are bolted into upright renunciation or rebellion against all social dogmas, religions and any externally imposed belief systems if they have been severely compromising our autonomy. However any revolt, no matter how sincere or energized, turns futile when our very resistance binds us further to the source of our oppression; we become what we resist. While breaking out of oppressive self-imposed and socially-conditioned habits and reflexes, we must also be willing and able to replace them with a greater force of commitment to our own truths. It’s not what you fight against that matters as much as knowing what is worth fighting for.

Not everyone has the patience, compassion and drive for surrendering to their vertical sources and sharing this presence with others. Nor can anyone muster up the compassion to live with the more difficult truths about ourselves and the world. Those who do eventually face and hopefully learn to live with a terrible yet liberating fact: hyper-materialist, overly-literalized societies have been lockjawed into non-stop, horizontal feeding frenzies for a long, long time.

 

SELF-COMMITMENT AND VERTICAL STABILITY

As we lose touch with our vertical sources, we lose perspective. Our lives become trivialized in a tangle of meaningless pursuits. We do things without knowing why. We lose track of what is essential to our nature, what matters and what doesn’t. All symptoms of power loss. In an attempt to regain lost ground, we try and assert external control by imposing rigid rules and structures over the spontaneous fluidity of life -- our own and others’ -- resulting in a vain and vicious cycle. Loss of vertical context can also result from over-identification with ideas and images lacking any connection with the realities those concepts supposedly represent; we eat the menu instead of the meal.

On the other extreme, when we lose horizontal connection we suffer loss of humanity and community, or common-unity, with our peers. Alienated and isolated, the ego grows brittle, the will to live withers and we suffer a slow death on the inside, going mad from sheer isolation. Who has the time and energy to care about such things? Whosoever cares about the miraculous presence of soul.

This paratheatrical work is a highly disciplined approach to developing rituals for restoring vertical stability from a fierce stance of personal integrity and autonomy. The degree of commitment required for this approach to work is enormous; not any commitment to the teacher or the group or this book but to your own direct experience. To work towards this end is challenging; to live your life this way is almost impossible. It is miraculous. Instigating a vertical value into any group dynamic often runs against the grain of social expectations. Social gatherings are defined by socially-accepted (horizontal) promises such as entertainment, intellectual stimulus, emotional support, ego status, courtship potential and a sense of belonging; all incentives for participation.

When these social motives are replaced by more austere asocial intentions (such as Source Relations and No-Form), they collapse; there’s nowhere for them to go. It must be said that this paratheatrical medium works most effectively in an asocial climate. Asocial reasons for meeting places a unique demand on the individual to realize a certain non-responsibility to others. At first, this adjustment can act as a kind of anxiety-producing social shock or elicit social guilt for self-centered behavior, that is, until we are assured of its long-term value.

The social context for developing an asocial climate is to cultivate new ways of interacting with others from higher levels of individual integrity and autonomy. Our goal is not to develop individuality for its own sake, which merely ends in narcissism, but to form a basis for interacting with others from a deepening sense of personal sovereignty.

 

TOWARDS AN ASOCIAL INTENT: A Silent Vow

An asocial intention for meeting can be socially sanctioned by an unspoken vow each individual takes to be responsible for their own safety and for their own creative states. This private pledge minimizes socially ingrained obligations such as seeking or giving assurance, approval or providing unnecessary parental protection or acting out courtship behaviors. This pledge of self-responsibility aims to frustrate overwhelming parent/child fixations in anyone still compelled to seek safety from others and/or to make others feel safe. This agreement also minimizes tendencies for paratheatrical work to disintegrate into group encounter therapy (which have their value but not here). Anyone unwilling &/or unable to hold themselves to this self-accountability are discouraged to participate in this medium until they are ready to do so.

Once a paratheatrical group understands from the very start that it is working to cultivate an asocial climate for ritual purposes, the rare area can begin substantiating itself with the second asocial task: learning to take your attention off yourself and put it on the space itself. This literally means relating to the space — the setting or dance studio — rather than the things and/or people in that space. How? Discover your own way to relate with the space by the way you physically move through that space. This task can take anywhere from five to twenty minutes and initiates each paratheatrical lab with an asocial intent of spatial awareness. Once the space of the ritual setting has been related to each person is ready to locate a small region within the setting to claim as their own personal area to begin their physical warm-up.

The asocial intent is continued by any personal process of dropping down “out of your head” and into your body — your five senses, your impulses and rhythms. This important transition from “mental time” to “body time” cannot be taught; you find your own way into your body. Once you find your personal area (or once it finds you), put your territorial instincts to work to own that space. Much like animals stalk and claim turf, find your own idiosyncratic ways to mark the outer boundaries, the center and then proceed to take charge of this area. All animals are territorial by nature; do it on purpose and it becomes a human ritual.

Becoming responsible for your own safety means tending to your own fears, needs and personal limitations as they emerge. By overlooking these issues it is easy to silently expect others to make you safe, i.e., to be your dad or mum. Making yourself safe prepares the ground for creativity; when a child feels safe, the child can play. Creative states flourish in a state of trust, i.e., feeling safe enough to take risks. Here are two ways to increase accountability towards exciting your own creative states:

1) Become responsible for raising your own energy.
Realize the conditions most conducive to exciting an open and fluid state of being.

2) Find your own way.
The objectives presented in this medium depend on your own processes of fulfillment.
By finding your own way to realize these goals your autonomy is earned and protected.

 

THE PHYSICAL WARM-UP CYCLE

The next phase of building vertical integrity involves the all-important Physical Warm-Up Cycle. The overall objective here is feeling the body deeply. The quality and the results of your paratheatrical work depend entirely on the level of personal commitment invested in fulfilling the following five objectives in your own way and within the parameters of your own personal warm-up area.

The five objectives of the Physical Warm-Up cycle are: STILLNESS, FLEXING THE SPINE, CORE, STRETCHING and HEAT. Staying within your area throughout the warm-up helps contain the vital heat and presence you are attempting to accumulate there. Each each phase lasts approx. 6 minutes for a 30 minute warm-up.

 

1) STILLNESS any posture allowing physical inaction and meditation; to empty and engage internal receptivity; to still the mind and connect with vertical source; silent prayer. to be physically still

2) FLEXING THE SPINE rendering the spine more flexible; to stimulate and awaken the nervous systems for more direct neurological engagement with ritually invoked energies

3) CORE working the abdominal region through whatever means (yoga, Pilates, etc) to bring heat and energy into the core area

4) STRETCHING THE MUSCLES to feel the body deeply by breathing into the muscles while stretching; to locate and stretch into “numb” areas; to keep satisfying the body’s need to be felt deeply

5) HEAT any movements, within one’s personal area, that generate enough body heat to break a sweat; to find movements that contain the heat and miminize its dispersion

 

NO-FORM: Towards Intimacy with Void

The void is, as a rule, pointless to talk, think or write about. Its very nature is not subject to categorization by ideas, images or anything conceptual mind is capable of creating. There are no security, status, symbolic or social rewards given out for being nothing. Nobody wants to be a nobody. However, as all self-governing bodies eventually realize, real power (not control), real freedom (not ego-independence) and real creativity (not entertainment) stem from any ongoing personal rapport with the formless, invisible sources behind all palpable, visible and manifest effects. To continue interacting with void, we must find ways to refer to it and invite its presence. This state of potential energy is referred to in this medium as No-Form.

Think of No-Form as a concept-free zone and the degree of comfort you can feel for being nothing; for being nobody... for being nobody but yourself...for just being. In this medium, No-Form is approached in a standing position, rather than the traditional zazen sitting posture. Here, the “uncarved block of our potential state” is valued more as a precursor to action than as a gateway to Buddhistic samadhi. The No-Form stance is a position for cultivating profound receptivity to vertical sources. Look at No-Form as a device, a tool, for charging (at the start of each ritual) and discharging (at the end of each ritual) subjective identification with whatever archetypal forces or energies were accessed, embodied, and expressed. Though No-Form can never truly be willed or summoned directly, the following conditions may prove conducive to its occurrence:

 

The technique of No-Form can be approached in any standing posture of balance that supports a position of vertical rest -- of standing with minimal effort -- to induce a state of internal receptivity, not passivity. This inner emptying-out process is not done for its own sake -- no zen samadhi enlightenment is sought here -- but for engaging vital and autonmous sources of energy embedded in the body itself towards its expression in sound, movement, gesture, characterization. The breathing is focussed on the exhale, allowing the inhale to occur by reflex. Mentally, the desire to control is relaxed, as is the desire to control the outcome or appearance of anything. The intention here is of a kind of un-doing and a freedom for not being anything, not identifying with any image or idea, but with being "nothing".

For more on the No-Form technique, click this

 

THE CONTACT POINT: Direct Intuitive Engagement

From the state of No-Form any quality or force can be accessed through an existing contact point. The contact point is wherever direct, intuitive absorption of a particular energetic state is already happening; one has only to locate it. It already exists in the body as a source of energy. This is an important point to grasp, as the qualities and energies explored in this medium are not always of the imagination. Our biology emanates a complexity of energy dynamics most of which, like the organs themselves, cannot be seen yet each remain vital to the organism as a whole. In fact, these sources of energy are expressions of higher emanations of which our physical organs are also manifestations.

The contact point can also be discovered “non-locally” in the auric field enveloping the physical body and in the space beyond the body’s aura, in any area of the setting designated to a particular source. Another way to refer to the contact point is your initial connection with the existing conditions of any quality or source that exists autonomously in its own power and as such, does not have to be imagined or created.

Take the polarity of Masculine/Feminine, for example. Masculine energy already exists; we do not need to make it up. Allow its energy to fill the previous No-Form state of receptivity. Let it expand from its initial contact point throughout the rest of your body, moving you this way and that. Allow it to infuse your experience with its quality, color and intensity. The orientation here is non-directional, rather than directional; the energy itself guides the direction rather than our personal will. Follow it, rather than push it.

This requires an ability to relax the desire to control or direct the energy. When the force of energy is strong enough to move your body, you follow its direction. By creating space for its expression, you are moved by the energy. Like clay in the hands of a sculptor, we learn to be shaped before we start shaping. Allow yourself to be “created” before you start creating. This non-directional orientation takes practice and is nurtured by the authenticity of your No-Form state; the deeper the No-Form, the deeper we can be impressed and moved by a given source through the contact point.

 

POLARIZATIONS: Towards Flexibility of the Emotional Body

Like the archeologist’s pick-axe, effective ritual is a tool for penetrating the surface crust of our social conditioning and mining the veins of our common humanity and ancestral heritages. To embark on this archeology of the soul, we must first look to our own most personal experiences. One of the first tasks towards this end is to draw up a polarity list of personally charged polarities comprised of internal oppositions made up of strong resistances and/or excitements, of negatively and positively charged personal polarities.

In the beginning stages of PERSONAL and GROUP POLARIZATIONS, we may encounter ideas, images and “socially-accepted” notions of what that experience should look or feel like, along with an influx of hyper-mediated images of idealized and/or demonized Feminine and Masculine. What to do? Sometimes, all we can do is live through them, give them form and expression; act them out. Making a fool out of yourself can release persona identification, i.e., taking yourself too seriously.

Blow your cover and you’ll have a better chance at being touched and moved inside the concept-free zones of direct intuitive contact with the underlying sources of real masculine and feminine power (or whatever polarity you are working with). Sometimes we just have to get over ourselves and regurgitate and exfoliate our social conditioning if only to get it out of our systems long enough to get a good look at it. As layers of cultural conditioning peel away, we are eventually exposed to more heat and light from the inner blaze of our core being. Sometimes during polarizations, nothing happens or one becomes afraid of acting inauthentically; self-consciousness sets in. What to do? Give form to your awkward feelings and express them through the way you are moved or immobilized by them.

The overall objective of polarizations is to render the emotional ego more flexible. By repeated exposure to opposing sides of one's nature, it becomes more difficult to fixate on any one side over the other. A more malleable ego results, one that can permit more reality, i.e., more than one side of Self. Rendering the ego more flexible completes the physical and emotional cycles of ritual preparation. Alchemically, the body acts as a kind of vessel for containing, mixing, transforming and refining the ongoing union of opposites that these polarizations catalyze. What comes after polarization work depends on the direction suggested by the facilitator or, if the group decides collectively, the mutually agreed upon archetype to explore and the ritual format to best engage those processes.

 

Excerpted from
Towards an Archeology of the Soul by Antero Alli
(VERTICAL POOL PUBLISHING, 2003)

 

 


OTHER PARATHEATRE WRITINGS BY ANTERO ALLI

 

PARATHEATRE FAQ
Infrequently Asked Questions

PARATHEATRE-RELATED ARTICLES
by Antero and other authors

STATE OF EMERGENCE
a paratheatre manifesto in seven parts

 


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