CoArts: What’s the big idea?
“To be shaken out of the ruts of ordinary perception, to be shown for a few timeless hours the outer and inner world, not as they appear to an animal obsessed with survival or to a human being obsessed with words and notions, but as they are apprehended directly and unconditionally by Mind at Large — this is an experience of inestimable value to everyone and especially to the intellectual.”
Aldous Huxley, The Doors of Perception & Heaven and Hell
Context Oriented Arts (CoArts) posits that the arts in general and theatre in particular because it most closely mimics our lived experience, has the power to change consciousness. Consciousness is changing from moment to moment naturally, but the change we suspect is possible through the arts is a profound and to varying degrees long-lasting shift in the way we perceive reality and our place in it. But it can only do this by focusing on the context of experience – awareness itself, and not the content – that which we are aware of.
This, of course, is a paradox because once one is aware of something it becomes the content of consciousness. So while we can use words to allude to what we mean by CoArts, complete understanding is not possible. As is often expressed by audiences and participants, it needs to be experienced and even then it is not easily explained.
CoArts has three facets – approach, practice and integration. The approach relates to allowing that grasping, that trying to contain and control what arises from context, to rest awhile. We do this by inviting ourselves to wonder – what if, all there is, is this. This being whatever is happening inwardly and outwardly. Meaning that everything we are currently experiencing is just what it is and there is nothing elsewhere, nothing to be done, nothing to be explained. Also, what if all that is happening is not happening to anyone i.e. experience is not personal. It only appears so to a person who has as much substance as a character in a play.
By practice, we mean the construction and performance of CoArts – the doing bit. Here again, we encounter the paradox because what we are inviting is the possibility of doing being. In a way, theatre provides the perfect conceit within which we can pretend to be, which is what we are always doing anyway. Only in theatre, it is explicit. So what happens if we perform nothing or rather if we stand on a stage and in that magical pregnant empty space we allow ourselves to be theatre.
The main method of performance in CoArts and therefore the main form of practice is Sensory Labyrinth Theatre (slt). 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 traveler in the performance.
Sensory Labyrinth Theatre allows us to explore the third, proprioceptive mode, of theatre. While classical theatre is a metaphor of the Cartesian model of consciousness and participatory theatre is a metaphor of the intersubjective mode, immersive theatre such as Sensory Labyrinth Theatre is a metaphor of the non-dualistic mode of consciousness – consciousness unbound. Being an audience to and performing in slt is the practice we have found to be the most direct way to experience the profound transformation of which we speak.
Once we have experienced the transformation of consciousness then there is a never-ending process of integrating this insight with the world as it exists. What we call here a culture shift that people undergoing that transformation, creative citizens, work towards together through peaceful and pro-active means. Indeed, the approach to social transformation is the same as the approach to the practice…and so the facets assemble into a spiral, steps that unfold in front of us as we walk them.
How CoArts achieves this is by recognizing that theatre is an externalization of consciousness and that participating in different modes of theatre brings 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 intervenes 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.