07 May 2011

“Two Thousand Years of Stony Sleep”

by Leonardo Shapiro

[In 1969, Leonardo Shapiro, about whom I’ve written before on ROT, went to New Mexico and started a guerrilla theater troupe. He became part of the commune culture in and around Taos and participated in or contributed to some of the hippie life thriving there. One of the communes with which Leo was close, though he was never a member, was The Family, which ran a community center, clinic, several other enterprises, and a monthly newspaper called the Fountain of Light. Leo contributed the following column shortly after his first production in Taos, The Second Coming (see “Cheerleaders of the Revolution,” 31 October 2009). I reproduce the column as it was published in FoL (Arroyo Seco, NM; no. 10 [Jan. (?) 1970]), including idiosyncrasies of both writing and printing. (I’ve made a few corrections for clarity—FoL was a somewhat casual publication; this issue wasn’t dated, for instance—and some adjustments to compensate for the blog site's rudimentary formatting capabilities; otherwise I’ve left the text alone.)]

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A theater column for the Fountain of Light?
Sundown critics? gotta keep up.

“All writing is pigshit. People
who leave the obscure and try to define whatever it is that
goes on in their heads, are pigs.”
Antonin Artaud

Def.: Theater is a bunch of people watching another bunch of people pretending they’re someone else. Theater is an act of magick when, through the action of the “spectators” the actors become super-human beings enacting impossible sacraments and when through the action of the “actors” the “spectators” become a supra-human entity, a gestalt involved in celebrating (through consciousness) fate and the interaction of the people with the Gods (forces).

“Magic is the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with will.

“Any required change may be affected by the application of the proper kind and degree of force in the proper manner through the proper medium to the proper object . . .

“Every man and every woman is a star.”
Aleister Crowley

“I wanted all my poetry to be spoken on a stage or sung.”
Wm. Butler Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart. The center cannot hold
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.
The blood dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned,
The best lack all conviction while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
Wm. Butler Yeats

The theatre, when It was stIll part of religion, was already theatre: It liberated the spiritual energy of the congregation or tribe by incorporating myth and profaning or rather transcending it. The spectator thus had a renewed awareness of his personal truth in the truth of the myth, and through fright and a sense of the sacred he came to catharsls. . . .

“But today’s situation is much different. As social groupings are lees and less defined by religion, traditional mythic forms are In flux, disappearing and being reincarnated. The spectators are more and more indivuated in their relation to myth as corporate truth or group model, and belief is often a matter of intellectual conviction. This means that It is much more difficult to elicit the sort of shock needed to get at those psychic layers behind the life-mask. Group identification with myth—the equation of personal, individual truth with universal truth—is virtually impossible today.

“What is possible? First, confrontation with myth rather than identification. In other words, while retaining our private experiences, we can attempt to incarnate myth. . . If the situation is brutal, if we strip ourselves and touch an extraordinarily intimate layer, exposing it, the life-mask cracks and falls away.

“. . . Only myth—incarnate in the fact of the actor, In his living organism—can function as a taboo. The violation of the living organism, the exposure carried to outrageous excess, returns us to a concrete mythical situation, an experience of common human truth.”
Jerzy Grotowski

Theater is for Kulture and for crisis. Crisis theater is like the sit-ins and peace walks and Berkeley and Columbia and Chicago and Tijerina and the Court House raid and street theaters of all kinds and the conspiracy trial and Spiro Agnew. Crisis theatre is mostly participatory or on T’V’. Kulture theatre is like movies, and plays and dances and happenings and poor theatre and Brecht etc. etc. Kulture theatre contributes to a society’s common (mutually recognizable and tending to facilitate transactions—not necessarily interchangable) set of basic values, myth-consciousness, historic viewpoint and future outlook, time perception, and evocative vocabulary. (Not merely descriptive language tools.) Kulture developes quickly in a lifeboat. Kulture influences group behavior, it helps define and serves as a resonator for taboos and daily rituals and manners and costumes and customs and traditions and behavior patterns of all sorts.

There seems to me to be two main approaches to “theatre” today. Grotowski (with echoes of Artaud) and Brecht. (We’ll ignore entertainment which is a basic waste of time since as Krishnamurti points out entertainment both feeds on and creates boredom, in a deadly cycle that excludes honest confrontation or creative thought.) Grotowski’s theatre holds the actor primary, is centered around the director, and uses text either incidently, or as a heritage to confront or profane. This tends to lead into ritual theatre, something akin to the Zuni Shallakoe and certain Taos indian ceremonials (more about that next month.) Grotowski: “The theatre is an act carried on HERE AND NOW in the actors organism, in front of other men, . . .”. That is, the theatre does not represent an event, it is an event of consciousness.

Brecht’s theatre is script-oriented, aims at making demonstrations, moral and practical object lessons which aim at showing the audience truthful pictures of evil conditions in such a way that the Preventable Causes of these conditions become clear to the community. Brecht’s theatre aims at producing action outside the theatre, Grotowski’s at liberating consciousness within the individual.

Brecht’s theatre is revolutionary in design and intent, Grotowski’s in methodology and moment-by-moment impact. At present no theatre I am aware of (with the notable exception of certain Living Theatre productions: The Brig, Frankenstein, and Brecht’s Antigone) has managed to produce a working synthesis. This is what we hope to do in Taos. A political, tribal traveling theatre/circus of myth consciousness and social integration.

Free workshop sessions begin at the Gallery House Jan. 12, 13 and 14, two 2‑hour sessions a day at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Improvisation, circus techniques, theatre games, basic acting and mime, everybody welcome if your a little crazy and willing to work. Looking to produce a “play” for Washington’s Birthday, Feb. 22. Formal rehearsals start Feb. 1. Contact thru Taos Community Information Center.

MEDICINE SHOW. March will start rehearsals and training for a June opening. A street theater without streets. A core of 8-10 actors, two or three horse-drawn wagons which convert to stages and performance platforms. The game is theater in the form of circus: tightrope, trapeze, juggling, clowns etc. a trade fair and gypsy barter market whereever we set up, fortune-telling and snake oil. But also skits and plays and fast information, productions of Brecht and Shakespeare and material produced by the company and the community. A MAGICK THEATRE. To help create a symbolic vocabulary and subtext in the community. From masked gods and earth cycles to revues based on local news in Spanish and English.
Get in touch [Shapiro's symbol]

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[Leo’s “signature” at the end was a symbol he invented (like two X's on top of one another—and which I can't reproduce here), based on ancient Indian petroglyphs, such as those found in Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico, that was his personal take on the mathematical representation of infinity. He continued to use this symbol, often instead of a middle initial, for the rest of his life, even on official documents like NEA grant applications. (This column was the only instance of which I know where he used the symbol to replace his entire name, though.)

[I trust that most readers will know many of the writers Leo cited in his column: Artaud, Yeats, Grotowski, and Brecht, for instance. Some of the others, though, may be less familiar. Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) was a British occultist and magician, among other things. Though his heyday was the first four decades of the 20th century, he remains influential today among those who believe in magic and spiritualism. (Crowley used the spelling magick to distinguish “real” magic—that is, necromancy, or what he called thaumaturgy—from stage tricks or prestidigitation.) Leo wrote that during his time in New Mexico, he read much of Crowley’s work, which is still in print. Krishnamurti (Jiddu Krishnamurti, 1895-1986), whom Leo mentions above, was a philosopher whose writings and speeches were very popular among the generation of the 1960s around the world. Krishnamurti wasn’t a mystic or a preacher of any religion or spiritual faith (unlike, say, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi , another prominent Indian figure of the day), but a rather practical philosopher who maintained that since society was created by people, social change could only come when individuals changed themselves. I don’t know where Leo read or heard Krishnamurti’s statement about entertainment, but the philosopher made a similar statement in a speech to students at the New School for Social Research (now the New School University), just blocks from the NYU campus where Leo was himself a student at the time.

[Leo’s main sources for the quotations (which he occasionally mistranscribes) above are Anontin Artaud’s “All Writing is Pigshit . . .” ( “Toute l'écriture est de la cochonnerie”) from Artaud Anthology (City Lights Books, 1965), Aleister Crowley’s Magick (Routledge & Kean Paul, 1973), “An Introduction for my Plays” [1937] by W. B. Yeats from Essays and Introductions (Collier Books, 1961), Yeats’s “Second Coming,” and Towards a Poor Theatre by Jerzy Grotowski (Simon and Schuster, 1968).]

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