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Episodic theater & Eco-Shamanic performing art
by David Sparenberg
2011-07-19 10:05:16
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Herein is an attempt to define an ecozoic cultural arena where a diversity of Earth serious subjects, perspectives and creative responses are brought together, unified by an intentional, focused, collective energy and where the presence of a passive audience is dissolved in process, integrating  each individual attendant into the circle of participatory presentation, performance, and ecosophic mytho-genesis.

Because of the condition of experience and knowledge-potential in the new millennium (in this sentient evolution of our presently emergent Ecozoic Era) a new type of theater and style of performing art as eco-based cultural engagement is required. Outside and beyond the commercial-entertainment-soft- theater complex, I call this developing form Episodic.  I do so by a positive and a negative evaluation: on one side, due to the diversity of interfacings and possibilities before us, on the other, as a counter and curative to denatured, psychosomatic fragmentation and the general absence of soulfulness in the contemporary human condition.  As such, Episodic is not so much linear, as from the Poetics of Aristotle on through the 20th century, as circular.  And the ideal potential for entrance into eco-shamanic performance (or concerns and conservational displays eliciting participation) can unfold anywhere around the episodic circle—as every station is a lingering or stopover in the shamanic gnosis and ecosophic journey, each and any might also be a starting point, and every ending-in-circle a new level of vertically enhanced beginning in deconstruction, gestalt and paradigm building.

The project I have named the Green Troubadour Medicine Wheel is one manifestation of a type of Episodic Theater as a cultural democratization of participatory renaissance through an intentional community ritually engaging in a designated re-Earthing event, designed as a dynamic interplay between structured components and spontaneous input.  As this exemplary project is constructed to demonstrate, episodes brought to be played out through Episodic Theater and a cultural flowering of Eco-Shamanic Performing Art are those ongoing occurrences of seemingly scattered yet more deeply organic, systemic events of personal-interpersonal-local-global-planetary imprint, impact and significance, such as human excesses responsible for Earth imbalances, warfare, human trafficking, world hunger, thirst, disease and poverty etc.

Through composing aesthetic perspectives from episodes in the world into patterns of intensified and dialogic verticality, Episodic Theater connects the dots (including dots connected with their background, or more completely, with the encompassing field-context of planetary existence) for the sake of new perception and deepened possibilities from out of that which otherwise would remain in the diminished normalcy of the accidental, coincidental, inconsequential disconnect of schizoid fragmentation.

It is in the nature of whatever is episodic to be open to additions, extensions, inclusions, reevaluations and transformations of a developing episodic gestalt: new and more recently occurring affinitive episodes may always be brought in and brought together.  And the effectiveness if not credible organicity of groupings is largely decided by the seriousness and creative sincerity behind an episodic composition, as well as the purpose guiding its being introduced into public dialogue as a participatory cultural event.  Further—an aesthetic of the episodic, giving a shared experience through shared expression to acts of beauty and collective responsibility; being relational rather than random; memorable, in Buber’s sense of memory, rather than dismissive; needs be an aesthetic of the invisible conjoining the visible as event recognized sustaining presence, and that which is out of sight and out of mind being re-empowered as visionary, mindful and in need of active address and collective transvaluation.

In part, but in a foundational way and always at the onset, this aesthetic achievement has to do with energy, the vitality, physicality, mutuality, quality and direction of energy that joints together shapes, movements, utterances of a narrative communion of feeling and sentient alertness.  Alertness is a key work eliciting beyond the mere inquiry, “Are you aware?”  Alertness, primitively embedded in both flesh and psyche, may be a depth of embodiment beyond awakening, more attached to the silent connections of the soul than to the articulate reflections of consciousness.

Thus what is involved here is not so much a storyline, in the old sense of a show and tell that has a predetermined beginning, middle and ending, as a feeling-line that rises and falls, elevates, undulates, expands, contracts and descends through bodies, through bodily sensations and sensitivities, into various directions of affected existence and multi-dimensions of experiential possibilities, through various jolting and flowing releases of the spontaneities within those who are voluntarily participating in the creative process of embracing and composing the episodic pattern.

Here then we would find presentation rather than representation; where players are playing themselves in the verticality of their core individual-ancestral-connective identities; yielding dialogue rather than rhetoric and an eventfulness of participatory mythmaking or mytho-genesis instead of obscurity, propaganda and pointlessness.

And it may be, even most significantly, that in such performances as suggested, the performance itself in process would arrive at more than one climax and the climax would come not from those components which are set pieces but from that which is spontaneous and could not have been anticipated in its uniqueness.  And that the climax or series of climaxes would be emotional, self-revelatory confessions of vulnerability and commitment to an assumption of responsibility as a personally defining act of beauty.

Now as energy is both ambient and embodied, as we know, and establishes itself as a connective inherent in creation between breath and intention, so the aesthetic of the episodic is experiential rather than intellectual; to be democratized instead of specialized; to be chosen out of encounter and acted on after contemplation.  From initiation onward the artistry and aesthetic of the episodic as cultural happening is grounded in the act of a sacred immediacy—an immediacy of liberation, in Gutierrez’s sense of this word as “to give life.”

How exactly all of this works is more something to be demonstrated than abstractly discussed.  And yet, to give a somewhat finer focus to these thoughts, I put forward the following.  First my democratizing performance structures for The Green Troubadour Medicine Wheel, as well as the performance work Dreamtime on the Ecozoic Threshold (in its participatory, seminar version), are each examples of one type of Episodic Theater and Eco-Shamanic Performing Art. So too my play Shadows, although to a far lesser degree as Shadows addresses a kaleidoscope of enactments and consequences of violence as violence blends into a culture of violence, both in its direct and lateral, or sideways, manifestations, but does not yet go the further step of integrating an audience into the social role of holy actor, sacred activist and three tiered healers of self, community and context.  It plants some seeds, but has not evolved to invite the seed-bearers into the harvest of their own fertile plots and community vis-à-vis cosmology gardens.

What I am saying in the foregoing is this:  In the play and film THE DRESSER, there is a line spoken about the performance of a scene from Shakespeare’s play King Lear.  The actor says, “The agony was in the moment of acting created.”  This recognition gives voice to an ultimate achievement in the art of acting.  But while I speak of theater and performing art here, I am not focused on professional attainment but with a location liberating mutuality of eco-shamanism as cultural happening and public communion contributing to what Joanna Macy and others have now identified as “the work that reconnects.”  As such, if we change a couple of words in the play line to read, “The connection is in the moment of acting created,” we can come into grasping the fundamental purpose of Episodic Theater and the aesthetic by which it is distinguished.

Background:  When Jerzy Grotowski set out on his own shamanic theater explorations, in search of the holy actor, he asked questions as to the true essentials of theater, and was able to eliminate everything from the most essential equation except for actor and audience.  Theater needs only an actor and an audience to be theater.  In later years, Grotowski moved away from the audience component, centering his attention instead on the development of the actor and the actor’s offering and sacrifice as an event within the soul of the actor, in the moment of acting created as a complete, intentional, living presence alertly positioned within the verticality of creation.  A re-membering as in coming into wholeness, which may at certain stages of development require the soul’s observation of dismemberment as traumatic pain and grieving that must be confronted in order to evolve beyond in an assertion of an integrity of life.

As I see it, Episodic Theater and Eco-Shamanic Performing Art continues in this direction, dedicated to the process which would eventually arrive at the goal of all present becoming participants in a theater of what John Seed has called “evolutionary remembering,” or eco-anamnesis, taking part in deliverance from destructive madness and redemption from addiction driven extinction.  In a culture that would sustain this type of guiding, vulnerable and exploratory theater and performing art, nobody, over time, needs to be marginalized or neglected in the tragic shadow subsistence of impotence and victimization.

Indeed, Episodic Theater as suggested here is not grandiose and certainly not a panacea for the endangerments menacing this planet and its diversity of inhabitants.  It is only a single tool in an ongoing process, but one that would approach the very daunting yet marvelous challenge set before us by the late eco-theologian, Thomas Berry, that “the mission of our time is to reinvent the human at the species level;” a challenge which Jean Houston more directly refers to as the urgency for “re-genesis”.  Both theater and shamanism are primal and primordial roots of Earth relationships and human culture, and both are indwelling in our experimental beginnings, deep in the luminal darkness of endeavor and possibility.

As such the assertion for Episodic Theater is an assertion that takes place on the very verge of a threshold beyond which is either extinction unto omnicide or the revolutionizing anomaly of a renaissance germane to the Ecozoic Era, a time of unprecedented responsibility, maturity and creative healing.

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Emanuel Paparella2011-07-19 15:05:00
Indeed, Aristotle had it on target when he pointed out the cathartic potential of the theater and so did Jung when he pointed out the collective unconscious by which the human race as a whole knows unconsciously when it is healthy and when it is sick. Let’s hope that the present sickness is not unto death.

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