the details of
lessons from Dr. Michael Persinger in
processes of theatrical development and presentation
I want to
create a physical suggestion of a feeling and that abstract sense of
something; a presence that permeates much of life and acts as a kind
of gravitational force drawing me to some guessed at direction. I use
the processes of creation in theatre involving writing, designing,
acting, working with real people and shaping video and sound imagery;
experimenting with the effects and finding the trial and error of
approximating the feeling and abstract sense being accessed from
within me. The source of this is private and known only to me. And it
cannot be described in a sentence. If it could, there would be no
point in doing a production which encompasses a multiplicity of
elements to effect a single expression. It is on the details of so
many disparate elements that the whole construction depends.
suggesting there are four interconnecting elements that may act as
provocations in the emerging of a theatre that can evoke the feeling
and abstract perception of human connection with each other and with
a wider presence within culture, history, society and self; or, in Peter
Brook's terms, "the invisible made visible". (Brook,
Peter: 1968, THE EMPTY SPACE, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth
UK). These are:
"God Helmet" metaphor for theatre as a vehicle for creating
visions and an indefinable presence
"Neurotheological" paradigm for theatre investigations
Capability of the creators
up a useful working theatrical working method or means, it is useful
to create a paradigm through which to provoke new pathways for
creative expression. Through these four areas, we can approach
theatre creation through a different consideration of Artaud's
contribution and influence. I will attempt here to suggest practical
ways of approaching the task outlined above.
The God Helmet
Persinger's work as a cognitive neuroscientist, university
professor and researcher is relevant in developing our understanding
of the movement from the abstract sense of something to the
actualization on the stage of a performance or piece of performance
art. Amongst a huge diversity of his achievements is the development
of the Koren Helmet or God
Helmet. This is a device developed in the 1980s used to
stimulate parts of the brain for volunteers under experimental
conditions to experience a "presence" in a vacant room. A
number of people have testified to experiencing what they considered
as "god" or other mystical events. While it seems it is not
verified as to whether such experiments have the authority of being
proven, Persinger's huge body of scientific work has opened up a
broad yet succinct synergy of different fields from psychology to
biology and chemistry.
what Persinger and others working within similar fields have
identified scientifically is that part of the frontal lobe of the
brain can respond to magnetic stimulation and chemical stimulation
(as in drugs both manufactured and naturally occurring) to allow the
person to actually be witness to objects and events manufactured by
this stimulation. Their work continues to investigate the conditions
under which the brain may be stimulated to be conscious of such
"mystical" and seemingly "otherworldly" events.
of people with Temporal lobe epilepsy have shown a marked degree of
visions and hallucinations. Atheists and religious people alike have
reported heightened "religious" phenomena as a result of
this condition. This has led to the study of neurotheology;
an area where Persinger has contributed significantly. Basically,
what he shows is that mystical experience and flashes of insight
result from the brain's capacity for heightened processing and are
not the result of heavenly interventions. Have a brief look at a
sample of his work uploaded to You Tube accessed here.
itself provide its own neurotheology?
removing any sense of hocus/ pocus and cult-like manipulations of
participants, we may pose the question of the possibility that
theatre can act as a mechanism and condition of temporal lobe
stimulation on a par with that described by Persinger. Is there a
neurotheological basis on which theatrical presentation might touch
on the heightened experience, call it mystical or flashes of insight,
that Persinger so clearly outlines in his research and indicates in
the brief video accessed above?
if we conceive of Persinger's work within a theatre context, we find
it is reminiscent of Antonin Artaud's concepts. Artaud writes of:
gnostic sense of a living vortex engulfing darkness, in the sense of
the inescapably necessary
pain without which life could not continue" and "a sense of
constant creation, a wholly magic act (which) obeys this necessity. A
play without this desire, this blind zest for life, capable of
surpassing everything seen in every gesture or every act, in the
transcendent aspect of the plot, would be useless and a failure as theatre."
Artaud: A letter to Jean Paulhan, 14 November 1932
theatre is the casing, the whirlwind within which the magnetic field
of the production enacts on the audience and its collective
consciousness to evoke a transcendental experience. Gabriel
Urbain Fauré, the great French composer, spoke of music
as a means through which to be in touch with the eternal. The notions
of transcendence and elevated consciousness being attributed to both
theatre and music are not unusual. Are we seeing visions like in
Persinger's God Helmet when in theatre? In a desirable theatre, I
suggest these visions connecting with personal and collective inner
states are exactly what theatre needs to be invoking.
is in the detail of its creation. Just as claims made by Reiki music
composers suggesting Reiki meditation music can have a calming effect
on the brain and emotions of a person, so too we might imagine a
theatre where the shape, colours, spacial settings and sculptures,
texts, vibrations from music and voices, movements and physical
appearances of performers, skills and juxtapositions of subject
matter might all be combined to become incorporated into the "god
helmet" of a theatre apparatus. And that this apparatus might
have a very real neurological effect.
In 1974 Philippe
Petit walked on a tight rope between the tops of the Twin
Towers. This was an amazing achievement. With his forty minutes on
the wire, it is hard to surpass as a theatre of spectacle. Nothing
achieved by Cirque
Du Soliel can compete with such an event if taken in isolation.
The linking of the act with the later numinosity of the Twin Towers
themselves forever expands the significance of Petit's action. His
circus act provided "great theatre" of spectacle. It was a
"reality" show before the genre of reality TV was a
phenomenon. In the best tradition of the circus it was a "step
this way ladies and gentlemen have we got something for you".
It ignited curiosity. It was a theatre of daring; a theatre which
sources the most basic aspect of human nature to peer on to that
moment of revelation where something beyond the necessity of human
existence is exposed; a theatre which reveals the transcendence of
accepted possibility. And in the telling of it, the event grows!
purely physical theatre act, Petit's walking across the tops of our
created structures is in the highest category of achievement.
is this what our theatre can aspire to? Some exponents of physical theatre
seem to suggest just this; as if the physicality of presentation is
the ultimate aim; assuming audiences no longer regard theatre as
having any further relevance.
clown art form has, in recent years, escaped from the traditional
circus, into the theatre and the streets and, more recently, returned
to help shape modern circus-theatre. Somewhere in there, physical
theatre was born, as clown rejuvenated the traditional script based
theatrical form, and we got the emotionally-powered, physical
performance work that we know today as physical theatre. Audiences
today want a real experience in their live performance, because they
can get great script based entertainment at home, through various new
media sources. Traditional theatre, which appeals on a mental, and
hopefully also emotional level, has not been enough to compete with
other media, and audiences have been declining. Physical theatre, by
contrast appeals to the audience on a physical and emotional level,
providing a much more immediate experience than traditional theatre,
and audiences here have been growing. Today physical theatre is a
broad term which covers the range of circus theatre forms, clown,
mime, mask, commedia, visual theatre, and dance theatre." (http://www.artmedia.com.au/faq_physical.htm)
accessed on 04.02.2012
seem to suggest the death of theatre in the traditional sense;
totally ignoring the influence of Butoh or traditional and tribal
forms of ritualized physical theatre on a burgeoning under-current of
theatrical exploration. Still, this definition of physical theatre is
one part of the current trend in dynamic theatrical exploration.
completely different plain, we see the laudability for The Sydney
Theatre Company under Kate Blanche's artistic direction. It is
traditional theatre with massive multi-million dollar public funding
and a "cool" veneer. Is there a more "cool"
experience of theatre than a visit to the Opera House Drama Theatre
or to the Wharf Theatre under the iconic Harbour Bridge? I doubt it!
There are a lot of players with much to gain and loose by having a
very high profile identity theatre. It then becomes hard to even
relate the street busker presenting some amazing physical
presentation with the edifice that is the state sanctioned theatrical apparatus.
the marketing minds and political advisors who comprise the sum
totals of state sanctioned theatre enterprises, it is impossible to
envisage or comprehend the issues of a theatre neurotheology; and it
is doubtful if any of them would have ever heard of such a term or possibility.
if we aspire to more than a LCD traditional theatre presentation, do
we simply bring out some USA identity (eg. a Kevin Spacey to play in
a theatre totally unsuited for Richard 111) or a Philip Seymour
Hoffman to put the US-of-A touch on theatre production that will
strike our LCD viewers with awe. Alternatively, we turn to the magic
and brilliance of Cirque
Du Soliel to fill our need for a repeatable awe inspiring
physical theatre event.
has always possessed its BOS Brigade: ie. the "BUMS ON
SEATS" realists who speak only in terms of providing bums on
seats and satisfying the "PUNTERS". Virtually no other
consideration enters into the equations concerning theatrical
presentation. All else is WANKING. And for this brigade, theatre is
so full of WANKERS; this fact, for them, being the essential problem
for theatre. The BOS Brigade has no time for the likes of Philippe
Petit unless such acts can be bottled and return a profit and so they
wouldn't see how any discussion of his work was in any respect
relevant for theatre. The BOS Brigade would however bow down at the
altar of Cirque Du Soliel simply on the basis of the huge financial
investments involved and the ultimate artistic and market success.
Brigade misses the point that the awe experienced by audiences at
performances by Cirque Du Soliel or by works imbued with the talents
of Kevin Spacey et al is an awe akin to the religious bliss
experienced by those in the presence of what some believed to be
"god". As a bridge between art, culture and individual
perception, it would be hard to imagine a more significant enterprise
than Cirque Du Soliel anywhere in the world. Just as a live
performance from Kevin Spacey is about as good as acting gets on the
practical sense, conceiving theatre as neurotheology provides a means
for utilizing physical and traditional / academic values for the
evoking of Faure's "eternal" and Artaud's "vautex
engulfing the darkness". It removes any divide between
"physical" theatre and "traditional" theatre and
focuses on allowing "witness to objects and events manufactured
by this stimulation" by theatrical presentation: whatever that
might be. Accepting the physical daring of Philippe
utilizing the controlled environment that is theatre, it might well
be possible to create the conditions of the God Helmut and the
dynamics suggested by Artaud.
however caution that "appeals to the audience on a physical
and emotional level"
enough to constitute a truly valid or significant theatre experience.
I also suggest that a lowest common denominator theatre offering as
suggested by the BOS Brigade is under-valuing the possibilities of theatre.
screaming girls at Beatles concerts in the 1960s were totally
connected in a very physical sense with some force that seemed to
take them over completely. What might have began with a degree of
marvelling at the fact of being present at a Beatles concert soon
gave way to much more than enjoyment or a degree of satisfaction.
Experiencing the event itself caused physical, emotional and tangible
mental changes within individuals. Both the presenters of the events
and the audience for the events were projecting
very different things on to each other. Yet both were
intertwined with the historical mood of the time and the releasing of
pent up energies that significantly were catalysts for change. The
cause of the screaming had little to do with artistic product: ie. music.
they make is that much of the experience is determined by what is
projected on to the performer. While their argument is mostly about
how performances are designed to play to the projections of audiences
by in turn projecting certain assumptions on audiences (through focus
group analysis etc). But the notion of a "para-social relationship"
and its functioning described as "para-social interaction"
is very useful here.
nothing can surpass the effect a theatre show in 1975 had on my whole
being. It was FLOWERSpresented
Kemp's troupe at the New Arts Cinema in Glebe, Sydney. A sense
of change and revolt from the sixties had given way to a need to
re-see the universe in a different light. Flowers depicted
cultural unease as nothing else had at that time. The individual
struggling with the need for re-evaluation of everything could find
the intimidation and over-whelming assault of Flowers as a
necessary shock to the system.
practitioners cannot ignore the deep psychological and sociological
power that is in their hands. Theatre can be a place of projection;
creating a neurotheological effect in a very real way by:
a meeting place between artistic intuition/insight/expression and a
particular audience and its
unarticulated dreams, desires and perceptions, the unanswered social
contradictions and the numinous
strength of the production elements themselves.
have contemporary access to another form of theatre projection in the
form of the late Sathya
Sai Baba. And in his case, there are videos, promotional and
critical! Here is a modern god/man who performed miracles: raising
the dead etc. rivaling anything Jesus was claimed to have done. His
promotional videos with pious and mystical sounding music could be a
model for Christian rock bands and perhaps even Josef
Islam, formerly Kat Stevens, who could take inspiration from the
Sai Baba song featured in the video. The lyrics of the song portray
the audience projection on to him; with such projection the result of
cultural and social conditions and the manipulation of this
projection by Sathya Sai himself.
consider this video and the extent to which aspects of Baba's
"magic" was contrived.
similarity and feel in this fundamentalist Christian song:
theatrical point of view, it would be interesting to argue that Sai
Baba was not solely a trickster as he certainly generated massive
developments in health care and support for the people who felt
little sense of hope without him. What if he was in fact the vehicle
like the "god helmet" through which his audience saw the
"presence" of something transcending themselves. In
theatre, since Stanislavski, we have become accustomed to asking
"what if". So what if we accept the notion of "para-social-relationships"
and further accept that Sathya Sai Baba understood clearly his
audience and so went about creating the object (being himself) on
which his audience might project themselves and ultimately the
solution for their existential dilemmas. And what if we were to say
likewise with other "mystical" prophets or gods?
accept there is a degree of audience projection on to individuals
within space and time parameters then we must also accept that our
theatre can have a profound effect on both the participants and
audience members alike even though there is agreement on the
artificial nature of its contrivance. Might it then also provide a
means for facilitating "mystical" and seemingly
"otherworldly" experiences; but experiences framed without
religious and specific claims of revealing divinities and created by
physical means (even tricks).
would seem the antithesis of Brecht's thinking. And it probably is!
His attempts to demystify the theatre works against such thinking.
His aim was to encourage people to think about their world and use
the stories of the stage and its poetry to reconstruct the real world.
a neurotheological theatre is the theatre inspired by Artaud. It
understands the nature of "projection" and then subverts
the concept. It aims to engage people in the constant disassembling
of fixed positions and opening the way to utilizing their engagement
with a constant movement. There is NO REAL WORLD to construct or
reconstruct. The actor is no longer simply representing; rather
he/she is providing the screen or form on which the audience is
stimulated to see their own act within a wider dramaturgy.
theatre would be a subversive theatre that undermined all dogmas and
set pieces of control. As such it might also be thought of as having
the qualities of apparitions; but with the shock and awe of
revolution and violent disruption. A theatre of this kind could not
possibly hold true to any belief outside its own ephemeral
explorations. And while all this might seem a truism, if we consider
that the content of the theatre is not just the text but is the
actual sum total of all elements contributing to the creation of a
kind of neurotheological experience, then we can see its
manifestation will be significantly identifiable and different from
the tradition stage.
collective minds gravitate to comforting dogmas, mindsets, belief
systems and religions, we can look to a long tradition of poetic
construction, including such constructions in theatre, that has
always challenged and provided alternatives or ways of subverting
such gravitations. One may look to Shakespeare as a model of such
creativity. But the most insightful initial identification of a
process was first articulated by John
Keats in his coining of the term "negative
Bysshe Shelley elevated poetry as a cultural and social agent of
change and challenge, Keats went much deeper with his describing a
mindset that not only accepted and looked at various sides to given
arguments and standpoints; but which actively engaged conflicting and
diametrically opposed viewpoints and forces. He went so far as to
insist that the poet negate the self and become a sieve through which
all things could pass. Of the poetic mind he said:
to the poetical character itself....it is not itself it has
no self it is everything and nothing It has no
character- it enjoys light and shade; it lives in gusto, be it foul
or fair, high or low, rich or poor, mean or elevated It has as
much delight in conceiving an Iago as an Imogen. What shocks the
virtuous philosopher, delights the chameleon poet"
the mind be a thoroughfare for all thoughts" (Keats:Letters:326)
describing "negative capability":
is when man is capable of being in uncertainties;
Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and
extension, if we subsume our theatre within the ambit of the
"poetic" rather than within the contexts of theatre as
propaganda or as "slice-of-life realism", we might
apply Keats' description of "negative capability". The
result is the creative urge in theatre being akin to the poetic
impulse rather than the dogmatic or activist strain within the minds
of the creators. This isn't to suggest the creators of any theatrical
work are passive or uncommitted. In other words, what might have been
the initial inspiration and motivation for writing or developing the
production, needs to be set aside so that the work itself becomes its
own journey free of the limitations of the creators. What it entails
is the ability to suspend whatever external commitment or activism
when the process of creation has begun.
Mishra, Professor of English, Govt. S.V.P.G.College Neemuch(M.P.)
article titled, Keatss
Negative Capability: Parallel Concepts in Derridas Theory of Deconstruction,
discusses the possible links between "Negative
Capability" and Derrida's
theory of Deconstruction. There are relatively few discussions
linking Keats with post modernist and deconstructionist thinking.
However, I suggest it is a key element in our search to shape a
theatre born of Artaud's ideas.
illusion of a unified work of art and of set meanings as conveyed by
the writer are challenged by deconstruction and by negative
capability. On the other hand, a purely physical approach to
theatre does not fulfill theatre's potential for expanding
perception. While the exploits of Philippe Petit may be described as
having theatrical value, such description is analogous and
metaphorical rather than accurately equated as theatre. It does have
common elements that compel an audience to be spectators at a
performance. But it is no more a work of theatre than is the climbing
of Mount Everest. With great feats of endurance and physical skill,
as in the case of an Olympic sport such as Gymnastics, there comes an
element of great spectacle. This element has been incorporated into
theatrical performances. Art Media is correct in identifying the
immediate audience appeal of such work. But almost by definition,
this theatre of spectacle negates the audience input. While it is no
doubt admirable; it is more a vehicle of escape rather than a means
kind of theatre that I am seeking, we need to consider the notion of
the "para-social relationship" and its "para-social
interaction". This forces a greater consideration of "projection"
from both the audience and from the performance. Within our paradigm
for making theatre, we then need to let go of the initial motivations
for creating a work of art and allow the attitude of "negative
capability" to go with the energy flow of a work. In
consideration of all of this, we need to set about creating the
mechanism, like the "god helmet", within our space
and our devising of performances to stimulate the deepest recesses of
people's brains to become open to experiencing the unfamiliar. This
means increasing our capability to unlock deep seated cultural,
emotional, psychological lock-in defensive mechanisms that result in
shut-down and tunnelled vision and restrictions on an ability to see
the other. In short it means opening access to the Jungian shadow of
both cultural and personal psyche.
paradigm suggests a radical approach to theatre; one that cannot be
seconded to push a particular social, religious or political agenda.
Whatever the views of its creators, the theatre remains open to
engaging with real human conditions without the imposition of belief.
In a very real sense, it is poetic and yet scientific (at least by
analogy). It evolves a model of action that becomes tested; but
without any undue or dogmatic impositions. Judgement is suspended.
capability when applied to theatre may be used to evoke:
of imagination that cannot be put into words;
that journeys into the locked-in recesses within collective imagination;
that shadows what appears to be reality;
with the vitality to allow for such explorations;
of potential for revealing what is beyond the scope of our individual limitations;
theatrical vision of significance to each viewer;
and metaphorical magnetic field through which the spectator
may engage the presence of something both within and without him/her self;
theatrical virus that installs itself within the individual and
achieve this requires something of the four elements suggested above.
Furthermore it requires the setting aside of personal ego, vanity and
artistic neurosis that can accompany artistic creation. As Keats
suggests, only with the subjugation of the self can a genuine
enjoyed this essay, you might have a look at: