Theatre as a Consciousness Transforming Event
Jun 01, 2016 11:29AM
by Juliette Jones
“Our long habit of diversion has made us forget the idea of a serious theatre, which overturning all our preconceptions, inspires us with the fiery magnetism of its images
and acts upon us like a spiritual therapeutics whose touch can never be forgotten.”
––Jean Paul Sartre
Theatre performance is an ancient art which first emerged with the dawn of human awareness. At that time, the revered shaman-actor-priest unified and transformed the primal community through sound, costume, movement and ritual around a flickering fire. Today, television is a poor substitute for these foundational longings. Asolo Repertory Theatre, however, is a better one.
Over the millennia, innumerable schools of thought have proposed to define and theorize the methods, aims, functions and characteristics of this particular art form. In our present epoch, we look to the theatre as a social experience through which we hope to find entertainment, reflection and, optimally, transformation into a higher state of wholeness or enlightenment.
If ever there were ever two pieces of theatre that should be viewed consecutively, they would be the recent Asolo Rep offerings Faces of Change and Disgraced. This viewing tandem was a conscious presentation strategy, as Faces of Change adopted its theme from Disgraced, Ayad Achtar’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama which examines the implications of being a Muslim American in a post- 9/11 world.
Faces of Change, a community-based documentary theatre project using local residents as contributors and performers, initiates a particularly relevant and perplexing cross-cultural query––how does faith both unite and divide American society? Faith, in this context, appears as the common denominator for religious tribalism, not necessarily the outgrowth of a universal spiritual understanding.
During this production, multiple faith and non-faith perspectives were delivered up and contrasted in a rhythmically coordinated, thought-provoking and often entertaining manner. Afterwards, both the performers and director held a forum with audience members where everyone received the opportunity to ask questions or reflect. It became obvious that practically the entire audience had been moved to look deeper into the themes expressed. The outpouring of conversation even continued throughout a reception, following this interlude.
Depending on one’s point of view, the take-away impressions were bound to be diverse. The point I personally concluded is this: So long as religious views and practices remain on an ego-based level, human cultures and religions will remain in conflict, lacking the powerful psychic/soul energy to transform human consciousness beyond its current state. Without such a change, our species cannot evolve and move forward in harmony.
In his genius, Albert Einstein summed up this concept perfectly: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” In my view, only a profound, authentic level of spiritual self-realization could accomplish a degree of conscious evolution sufficient to change things. The question has been raised many times––how can we become a self-realized species?
Many have concluded this sort of thinking is idealistic, impractical and impossible. In fact, during ‘60s when World Peace started as a movement, the mainstream culture laughed at its efforts. Now, having seen what destructive forces have been unleashed on this planet by humans in the last half-century, many are concluding that we will have to shift consciousness in some major way to survive.
Although this might seem impossible, I am comforted by the understanding that we are far from realizing our spiritual potential. At this moment, the human ego has grandiose ideas about the scope of what we think we know. However, we have hardly scratched the surface. We ought to be humble before the Creative Power of the universe because, in actuality, we know hardly anything.
Disgraced courageously examines the darker truths of aspiration and assimilation in religio-cultural (and personal) relationships within the modern American community. The main character Amir fears that his identification as a Muslim would prohibit upward mobility in his law firm, as he is acutely aware of post-911 perceptions and prejudices in urban America. Only those in Amir’s inner sanctum know the truth about his cultural background, but do they know the real Amir? Does Amir know the real Amir?
This concealment of his cultural and religious roots and powerful repressed feelings about his cultural origin explodes with a vengeance that collapses both his personal and professional life. Amir’s fatal flaw is that he does not appear to possess the capacity for self-examination at depth––a characteristic shared by his social milieu. Granted, this is never an easy thing to do, but without such a turnaround, his trajectory seemed inevitable.
Is the American Dream so material that it has begun evaporating? From my perspective, this play wasn’t all about conflicting religions or cultures. In fact, much of the plot focused on the failure of all concerned to realize a deeper sense of identity and, at a more spiritual level, self-realization. The performance itself was a remarkable piece of professional theatre on every level. Unfortunately, I lack the space here to comment more fully on the dynamics of this presentation itself.
Taken together, these productions lead me to the Conscious Evolution movement which theorizes that we have actually reached a tipping point in our human experience for the “evolution of evolution” to occur. While conscious awareness has been evolving for billions of years, is it now possible that we could evolve into something greater as a species? Can we co-create a future of greater possibilities? Do we possess something within us that can trigger such a change, or will we remain tethered to our cultural upbringing? Will we shift toward devolution and chaos, or can we evolve into a higher complex order?
Great theatre is such a magical thing, and clearly, the highest value of performance is to transform consciousness. Perhaps, we need a “Theatre of the Exceptionally Marvelous” where a consensus of consciousness somehow brings us into stride with the upward, progressive dynamic of conscious evolution and Spiritual Diplomacy between cultures. Maybe Asolo Rep will come up with some shining project that will reflect such a dynamic? I know that, if they chose to, by using their exceptional collective of creative power, they could move mountains.
“Spiritual Diplomacy attempts to resolve conflicts between nations and within state
borders by relying on the people’s spiritual values. This may be the only remaining
strategy that provides a true key to the survival of the human race.”
––Mikhail Morgulis, founder Spiritual Diplomacy Foundation