Circles of Awareness

The 13th leg of the virtual Camino. And our intention today is to focus on community.

The message written on the rock is “Be Positive”.

So the worn joke naturally comes to mind: “Oh, I am positive… this is horrible.”

We are slowly opening this week.

The country, that is, is opening incrementally. New guidelines, new contradictions – and new ambiguities.

Although it has been allowed here – all along – to gather in groups of 5 or less (keeping a responsible physical distance), I have not been around other people for social reasons for 43 days. Yesterday, I showed up for a friend. To be with friends.

I made a decision yesterday to remain diligent and responsible, but to let go of fear.

I know that fear is a useful emotion. But it is not a useful state-of-being. When E. and I hiked across the Hardanger plateau on our honeymoon, we had to ford some powerful rivers, and scramble along some steep screes, with 25 kilos on my back. I took note of the fear, and regarded it as an important signpost to heed, but not as something I needed to slip into my pack and carry with me.  I knew that would put my health at risk.

Yesterday I witnessed a work in progress – a site-specific performance that was beautiful for so many reasons. The performer was wearing a bright orange suit, and at one point danced her way down a long stretch of a pedestrian path. The sky was blue, the birds were calling, and I could hear water gurgling through a drain somewhere in the field.

It was a celebration of life. But watching her shrink in the distance as the path narrowed, it was impossible not to contemplate the fact that our lives encompass deaths.

Being with friends, with good food and good wine was nourishing. Witnessing the process of a theatrical artwork even more so.

Even respecting the social distancing guidelines, there is something fundamental about physical presence: in my mind, it is as essential to theater as paint is to the painter.

I know a lot of people equate “theater” with actors, and that actors can just as well act on film. But – for me – there is a difference. While the modernists went to great lengths to rediscover the theatrical in the face of new technologies, I think: that really wasn’t necessary. Like Grotowski, I would rid theater of actors before ridding it of presence.

Another lesson I have been teaching this week is Stanislavsky’s circles of awareness. Normally the students meander in the black box and try to become aware of their own circle of personal space. How it varies from one situation to another, from one posture to another. And how we respond differently when different people invade our personal space.

img_20200426_141628_4604531177254081998468.jpgUsually the difficult thing is allowing – or deliberately encompassing – strangers in our personal space. But last night, it was difficult keeping people I love outside of my personal space.

Theater creates community. If I ever had a shadow of a doubt, it is gone now.

And it explains why, during this virtual Camino, I’ve been increasingly drawn to return to a play I’d put aside. I understand now it isn’t the play itself calling me, it’s the prospect of doing my part in creating an ephemeral community. That is what theater does: just as my beautiful friend  proved yesterday.

It takes nothing more than intention and presence to create a meaningful “journey”.

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