Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Spirit and the Soul in Theater 6.23.09

For years I have enjoyed boggling minds and baiting my friends with the question: "What is the difference between the soul and the spirit?" I have yet to get an answer that is really satisfying until recently. I did reach a little peace (but really will never know when I get the answer, if there is one) when I distilled it to this: the spirit is to the soul as the flesh is the body.

Here we could begin a lifelong discussion about souls, spirits, life, death, etc. But we won't. Instead we'll move on to talk about theater, which is probably why you're reading this anyway. I tend to connect discussions of spirit, soul, and theater because the theater is my temple, the stage the altar. It is here that I "nourish" my spirit to strengthen my soul. And it is here that I commune with God.

Obviously I am not an atheist. I am not a churchgoer either. Yet when I walk into a theater, I do so with the same reverence that you would enter any place of worship. I wish they would place some water at the entrance to cleanse one's feet prior to entering. Of course all they usually do is place a wastebasket for the empty coke cans, chip wrappers or programs to be deposited after the show. And that's important, that's important.

I like being the first to enter the theater when we are preparing for a show. I enjoy walking into the empty space that is just a venue at first, but will soon be transformed into a living room, a park, a desert, and any place you can imagine. What a wonderful space that is. I usually lie on my back, close my eyes and do a yoga corpse pose to listen to the sounds this wonderful space makes. How many different shows have been here, how many different audiences have laughed, cried, cheered or remained silent (at the wrong time) in this space.

I believe that some of that energy, that spirit remains in these spaces. Not as ghosts, but as a sum of the hard work, the love, the passion, the paint on the floor, and the gouges from the dropped props that were brought into the space by many, many actors, designers and crews. These are the marks, the "sum" of what has been created here. Some great works, some not so great works, (but is the passion, the love, and the hard work any less? I think not.) So lying on the floor puts me, in my own way, in contact with the past, as I prepare for the future.

Then the designers arrive with their crews. The lights are moved and positioned, the scenery unloaded, assembled and painted, the props and costumes, and the sound cues are played for the first time, adjusting their levels. The place has come to life. The spirits are present.

Later, the actors add their presence and their souls to the mixture. Voices trying to establish themselves in the space that at one time belonged to other voices. All of the above being done in preparation for one last piece of the ritual; the audience.

I love audiences. They are different every night. No matter how many they may be, they become one as the curtain lifts. Their energy, that is clearly felt on the stage either powers the actors or sucks them dry. But in this whole space, for the time that the performance is happening, there is a unity between all these elements that is to me spiritual, a gift of God. Lifting all the souls in this space, creating that community, and this is when I realize that we are one and the same. That if we can continue that recognition after the curtain closes, after that trashcan is full of empty cans, candy wrappers and crumpled programs we would all be much better for each other. This is one of the reasons I do theater. This is one of the reasons I love it so much.

1 comment:

Beto said...

What I love is theater's long history with spirituality. The Ancient Greeks and even before in Egyptian sun rituals. Really most religous ceremony has a flare for the dramatic.

Speaking of, I don't know if you have ever heard this but the traditional Japanese Noh belief is that the gods live underneath the stage. Pretty cool, ya?