COT invites audiences, through a progression of theatre forms, to turn their attention towards the present moment – the sense of being alive here and now.
It asks us to play with the possibility that ‘all there is, is this’ – the ‘this’ that is happening inwardly and outwardly at every moment. And further, to imagine that it is not happening to anyone – but just happening.
This ‘play’ and the drama that unfolds therein is the material with which COT works. Through this process the aim is to move from behaviour that is conditioned by society and culture to creative action that arises from awareness and a state of being that is free from conditioning – giving birth to creative and responsive citizenship rather than conditioned and reactionary citizenship.
How COT achieves this is by recognizing that theatre is an externalization of consciousness and that participating in different modes of theatre bring about different kinds of consciousness.
The classical theatre represents consciousness where there is a clear separation between the observer and the observed, the audience and the play.
Participative theatre, such as the Theatre of the Oppressed, where the audience intervene in the play in order to change it, bring about a reflective consciousness that becomes aware that in some way what the observer does and their attention stance creates the observed reality.
In Immersive theatre such as Sensory Labyrinth Theatre there is no easy line that can be drawn between the audience and the players. The stage is everywhere including in the shared moment, so attention is distributed and the observer and the observed become one.
Sensory Labyrinth Theatre
Created by Iwan Brioc, Artistic Director of Theatr Cynefin, as an applied theatre methodology inspired by Enrique Vargas’s ‘Poetics of the Senses’; SLT ramps up the inherent but suppressed sensitivity of human sensory perception and the suppressed capacity of luminosity inherent in everyday experience. Individual audience members journey alone through a darkened three-dimensional labyrinth and along the way encounter moments and meetings that provoke subconscious sensory memories (sensory portals) into which they are gently invited to fall. In accepting this invitation constructs such as time and space, me and you, the inner and the outer start to collapse. Framed for the audience as ‘theatre,’ this space also takes on the added dimensions of the aesthetic space – memory and imagination: so that consciousness and this conditioned process of construction we call ‘reality’ can become an observable phenomenon – observed by the ‘character’ of the traveller in the performance.
In theatre terms this is an internalization of the Brecht’s Verfremdungseffekt or distancing effect‘ – “which prevents the audience from losing itself passively and completely in the character created by the actor, and which consequently leads the audience to be a consciously critical observer”. The character the audience is challenged to observe in SLT (and in Context Oriented Theatre generally) is the ‘I’ that is experiencing rather than the ‘Me’ which is the culmination of those experiences.
In Brecht’s Epic Theatre distancing is achieved because -“artist never acts as if there were a fourth wall besides the three surrounding him […] The audience can no longer have the illusion of being the unseen spectator at an event which is really taking place.” In SLT there is no fourth wall at all, the aesthetic space permeates all areas including the audience member’s internal mental state, so that the mind’s ‘I’ can no longer have the illusion of being the unseen spectator at an event which is taking place out there. Beckoned into the spotlight of pre-reflexive awareness a deep and profound insight into the participative nature of reality can emerge.
One function of this technology is to support the emergence of ‘communitas’-the quality, first described by anthropologist Victor Turner, without which community is just a term to describe a group of people and not a feeling of common humanity with a shared meaning within that group of people. Sensory Labyrinth Theatre has the capacity to bring about ‘communitas’, an unifying sense of meaning from having touched together the ineffable mystery of our being, undermining any cultural, religious or ethnic barriers that otherwise divide us.
According to some quantum physicists there are three properties to the universe – matter, energy and meaning: and the way they interact is creation. How these properties manifest in the human is through mind, body and spirit each of which can be realised to their full creative capacity through mindfulness, embodiment and vocation. By practicing these as individuals in community we raise our awareness and through practising transcultural dialogue with this awareness we realise creative citizenship. What results is a feeling of community (or communitas), personal transformation and greater peace leading to greater awareness and so on again around the circle. The more we do this the more the society we co-create demonstrates justice, security and truth.
Creative citizens are pro-active citizens who recognise that the ‘misery of reality when confronted with the richness of possibilities it contains’ is a product of our sense of separation. Writ large, by embodying mindfulness as a vocation, creative citizens transform society from the inside out by a reverse osmosis. In creating and participating in cultural works that destabilise the separation between the observer and the observed they make a radical and revolutionary impact on society at large.
In this way The Republic of the Imagination is a movement of and for Creative Citizens. It is also through the practice of Context Oriented Theatre, a creative movement for awareness of the creative movement of awareness.