"We inhabit and move our bodies as mythical temples. There are many Gods and Goddesses, and each one has his or her temples and rituals, each God has its own "theatre". A cultural approach to voice and movement studies their images and principles in the roots of culture, in the figures and in the stories of mythology. Placing voice and movement in a context of cultural diversity and esthetic differences encourages multiplicity (all mythic wars start with exclusions!), as well as critical confrontation."
This is one of the oldest Pantheatre projects and was the theme of the 1989 "Myth and Theatre" Festival (James Hillman gave a series of lectures, and Enrique Pardo presented his work under the title of "The Alchemical Theatre" with a company of 7 actors). The project included improvised performances and lectures, and was presented throughout Europe; the biggest production was a month-long collaboration with Boreas Teater in Oslo , including nine Pantheatre actors and singers, plus twelve Norwegian actors (Black Box, Oslo, 1993). A similar production was set up in Palermo, Sicily , thanks to Patrizia d'Antona, one of the original actresses in the project. An article on the genesis of this project, by Dr. Paul Kugler, with an introduction by Enrique Pardo, can be found in Sphinx Journal, Issue 2, London .
Western Alchemy at its peak, during the 16th and 17th century was an incredibly mixed bag of all possible esoteric, mystical, pharmacological, metallurgic, astrological traditions, including some invented off the cuff by wonderful alchemical artists, or greedy charlatans (often you cannot tell the difference...) But one thing it was: great fun and an incredible fund of metaphorical inspiration. Shakespeare was steeped in alchemy: his plays are full of alchemical references - he uses alchemy to speak about emotion, power, love, character - the stuff of dreams and theatre. With the religious persecutions of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, Alchemy went underground and all but dissapeared, but its metaphorical (and pagan) way of seeing the world continued... mainly in the workings of Fine Arts, and especially of Poetry (the West's greatest metaphorical tradition). Many late 20th c. artists, (especially post-modern), have resourced themselves, knowingly or not, in models handed down by Alchemy - think for instance of Joseph Bueys.
This is the perspective that Enrique Pardo proposes on Alchemy: that it is the West's great tradition of the "Arts of the Imagination", of a metaphorical relation to the world. For him it is not a spiritual discipline ("save your soul", or "discover the gold in yourself"). Alchemy is the depository of an extraordinarily broad-minded wisdom on the creative process: how matter is allowed to speak metaphorically, to transmute its 'self'; how imagination creates, transforms, experiments. And if the alchemist thinks he has been successful, discovered gold, or hit upon the philosophical stone, Lady Alchemy usually turns the tables on him or her!
Enrique Pardo uses alchemical language and metaphors to comment the "choreographic theatre" work he proposes, including feedback on individual work. During workshops and theatre projects, he presents different perspectives on alchemy in lectures, with slide projections of classical alchemical images. One of his lectures gives an alchemical perspective on the main 'schools of theatre': mercury (improvisation schools), sulphur (energy, truth and 'guts' schools) and salt (repetition and conservatories).
The Academy of Boredom is both a chaotic and a ritualised laboratory for the study of acting with objects. It gives priority to imagination as perception, listening and observation (which includes the notion of "service"), and analyses the ways in which we read and use objects metaphorically, and, by extension, the way we 'read' the world.
Mythologically, the Academy invokes an uncanny alliance between two divinities. Great Pan, the God of panic, who embodies the caprice and emotion of the so-called inanimate world. At his legendary death, which coincided with the advent of Christianity, the rocks and shrubs are said to have moaned and cried, they were heard for the last time (the end of paganism). The other divinity is Kronos, the tyrant God of chronological and melancholic orders, Father Time, the Roman Saturn, the keeper of the eternal and repetitive dream of a Golden Age, once upon a time, while he reigns by swallowing his children.
The more militant, philosophical, premise of The Academy of Boredom is the notion of "objective imagination": imagination as belonging to the world, to the objects (and not to the actor-subject); objects are the teachers - the rulers of animation. This is a concept akin to polytheistic animism and also, as mentioned below, to many traditions of puppetry, where the anima (soul) of animation belongs to the objects, to its figuration. It is close to superstition: perceiving what the world has to say, and far (very far!) from Walt Disney!
Inventive heroes (inventive actors) take to the stage to play out their scenarios, to show how clever, original and different they can be. Dramatic heroes (dramatic actors) storm the stage with cultural 'missions', usually to express their identified plights, their capacity for subjective emotion. The Academy of Boredom tempers both (and sometimes excludes them!) in order to read other 'sub-missions': the voice and character of objects, their will, the patterns and tragic undercurrents in the world, its deeper rumors, the gossip in the landscape, in the context, in the subtext.
The Academy of Boredom sets up highly ritualized structures for the study of acting with objets. In its performing projects, usually a series of scenes are created based on a choice of 6 or 7 different types of objects. Some of these objects are unique, alone on stage; others serial, leading to work on repetition. Objects on stage are given the strongest status: they are the protagonists, calling upon themselves connotations such as totem, fetish, tabernacle, idol - what is generally implied by "colossus": objects that carry and radiate mythological figuration and fascination. Colossal qualities are not necessarily to do with size, gigantic: a small object can achieve colossal figuration.
The work of object-metaphor that develops is not unlike many traditions of puppetry where the actors-manipulators, even if in full view of the spectators, make themselves invisible, absent presences that defer to the power and magic of the objects' animation. Furthermore, all scenographic aspects are geared to emphasize this formal, ritualistic primacy of the objects, especially lighting, with the beauty and irony of minimalistic temple-like settings.
Against this 'colossal' and purposely intimidating scenographic installations, the actors (between 8 and 12), work choreographically and speak their texts. Their work involves the displacement of the objects in ritual re-arrangements; these choreographic tasks, based on "moving objects", are perturbed by all sorts of incidents, anecdotes and accidents, including catastrophes coming from the way the objects 'behave'. Most rearrangements are "mission impossible": the objects are too large, too awkward, too difficult to be cleverly controlled and manipulated. In fact, most of the time, failure is the point, bringing in the emotion of tragedy, or the hilarity of comedy - or, better: both together.
The stories assembled in these sessions, which include the texts and the way these are re-interpreted in these scenographic and sometimes catastrophic contexts, have the forbidding (and forebidden!) qualities of gossip in church: they bring out the anecdotical and even sacrilegious aspects of mythological stories. The work combines, at all levels, monumentality and humor, myth and gossip.
Technically, the project requires close collaboration between plasticians (sculptors, scenographers, puppet-makers, lighting designers) and the work on acting, dancing, story-telling, playwrighting.
The performer's professional profile is open to actors (who can move) and dancers (who can act). It also requires a certain 'sympathy' for working with objects that can only be judged in practice by audition.
- the performing project needs minimum a performing area of 80 square meters
- the work should be presented in close proximity to the audience.
- it can be adapted to different forms of staging (frontal theatre, gallery spaces in the round or with spectators on 2 or 3 sides).
- performance presentations consist of a series of 6 or 7 scenes (corresponding to the 6 or 7 types of objects), with a possible intermission.
- these 6 or 7 scenes vary considerably in rhythm, theme and mood, ranging from terror to comedy. As a performance project, it addresses all adult publics: if the research can be very specific and 'advanced', its public presentation should be fully accessible.
- the corresponding 6 or 7 texts (one per scene) are usually chosen from contemporary authors, allowing them to be seen in a completely different light, out of the contexts for which they were written.
- most aspects of these scenes are fixed: objects, texts, musics, lightings, actor's roles and tasks. The pattern and finality of the ritual, its objective story-line (how the objects are to be moved) is also made clear. It is the behavior of the objects that opens improvisation: they will be build and set up in such a way that accidents will inevitable occur, leading even to the total upheaval of the procedures.
Workshops for professionals and spectators can be organized around the project, as well as debates and work exchanges with other companies whose ways of working that could be tried out within the framework of The Academy of Boredom.
The Academy of Boredom
April 2007 New York Project Presentation :
The Academy of Boredom ", is both a chaotic and a highly ritualized laboratory for the study of acting with objects. Mythologically, it invokes an uncanny alliance between two divinities: Great Pan, the God of panic, who embodies the caprice and emotion of the so-called inanimate world, and Kronos, the tyrant God of chronological and melancholic orders, Father Time, the Roman Saturn, the keeper of the eternal and repetitive dream of a Golden Age, where he reigns by swallowing his children.
Enrique came up with this idea while directing a laboratory in Bologna , Italy , where every participant turned out to be an amazing Harlequin. After a couple of days of being entertained Enrique asked if they had an alternative to comedia dell'arte . Three archetypes were then excluded : babies (imagination handed over to spontaneity and 'curing' curiosity), the eternal child (Harlequins: clever, mercurial, original) and the dramatic actor (lots of personal drama but little meaning.) What's left once Saturn swallows these children of the imagination?
The answers are rich, exacting, deep, exhilarating, adult. They give priority to imagination as perception, to listening and observation, and analyse the metaphorical ways in which we read and use objects, and, by extension, the way we read and use the world. One of Enrique's definitions: "superstition is the ecology of the imagination."
The weekend will include basic training in choreographic theatre, voice performance and setting up of texts. Participants are asked to bring a working text of some 150 words learnt by heart (any genre, not necessarily theatre.)
A Model for Imaginal Perception
Superstition and the poetics of mantics have been a theme of central importance in Enrique Pardo's work in the last years. The definition he has proposed is the following: "Supertsition is the ecology of the imagination", where, to put it very succintly, superstition creates a link between nature, the objective world, and the imagination. Superstition means listening to the world. The radical bias, and open militancy of such a positioning, questions the emphasis on subjectivity in contemporary theatre, and art in general: the preconception that imagination is a subjective, personnal, internal inventive factor. It leads to the notion of an "objective imagination", a proposition which counters most contemporary philosophical definitions.
Notes towards the year 2000
Romans were notoriously superstitious, with a special place for birds' overview (omens, auspicious, auguries all come from words related to birds): the work on superstition is based on similar forms of listening - 'reading the signs' - in order to enrich imaginal perception. They are about the meeting of voices and images in emotional landscapes.
Hermes (in Rome we should call him Mercury), the God of thresholds and of luck, of the "ambiguities of communication", protector of thieves - himself a smuggler of souls, did not take to guard-dogs barking at barriers. Often, it seems, after the God's passage and the proverbial silence that falls when "Hermes passes", many an overzealous guardian dog was found with its throat slit.
'Bird watching" in ancient Greece must have been a very popular sport for Aristophanes to devote a whole play to the subject: when his birds go on strike, communications break down between Gods and men.
Legend has it that the dogs of the hillside district of Fourvière, in Lyon , fled the area one week before the landslide that destroyed it. Those locked-in, that could not escape, went mad, howling, smashing through windows or tearing their necks with the chains that bound them.
If one evening a black cat crosses our path, what a loss it would be if we no longer felt that shiver of awe and adrenaline - the visitation of a pagan emotion. If our imagination is disturbed, altered, provoked, is it Hecate going about her business? Or maybe Pan himself, with a dash of panic... Or to go all the way with pagan imagination: it is an epiphany as should be the presence and behaviour of any animal. Animals are gods.
We touched upon superstition during the '95 Myth and Theatre Festival, dedicated to Magic. Enrique Pardo proposed the definition: "Superstition is the ecology of the imagination", or, to return to Hermes, an imaginal hermeneutic. Ginette Paris, writer, specialist in mythology, and one of Pantheatre's inspiring partners, said at the time that she had always thought of superstition as "the graveyard of the imagination", where each image is entombed in a fixed niche in tidy dictionnaries of symbols.
Enrique's, and Linda Wise's improvisation laboratories refer constantly to 'reading the signs', to imagination as perception, to keeping one's attention tuned to what the world and its creatures are saying.
The Greatest Linguistic Teacher
The calling on Hate as master teacher must be seen as part of a pagan working ethic (and esthetic), i.e. one that "that welcomes myth, personification, fantasy, complexity, and especially humor, rather than singleness of meaning" (James Hillman). Stirring the semantic hornets' nest makes for an artistically 'happy' Hate, one that stings with insight, poisons naive interpretations, and fosters a theatre that lets fly its tempers, emotions and intelligence.