Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Theater for Ritual

1.    Describe the origins of theatre and how it relates to ritual in at least one ancient Indo-European culture. (300 words minimum)
Theatre is defined as “dramatic quality or effectiveness” or “dramatic literature” (Merriam-Webster).  By this definition, theatre requires drama to be effective.  So what is Drama?  Drama is “a piece of writing that tells a story and is performed on a stage” (Merriam-Webster).  Theatre is something that I have typically thought of as a bardic art from the Medieval or Renaissance time periods.  However, theatre has existed for much longer than this.  In fact, ancient Greek and Indian cultures present us with examples of early plays and dramas from over 1000 years before William Shakespeare was born. 
            Theatre played an important role in Greek festivals.  Theatrical performances were used as a form of both ritual and entertainment for the people, often acting out the myths that the festival was dedicated to.  Tragedies were some of the earliest theatrical works written, dating as far back as 500 BC.  Three of the most well known playwrights from ancient Greece are Sophocles, Euripides, and Aeschylus (Robinson).  Sophocles wrote numerous dramas, including Oedipus Rex, which initially used only three actors and 15 members of the chorus to tell the tale.  These limitations made the performances very stripped down and personal.  Additionally, most Greek tragedies were based on either mythology or historical events, often exploring their psychological motivations and search for the meaning of life (Robinson). 
            Theatre also had an early start in ancient India with the oldest fragments of Sanskrit plays date to the first century AD (Richmond, Zarrilli and Swann 27).  There are several different plays and dramas, but some of the most popular are the romantic dramas written by Kalidasa.  Kalidasa was a Sanskrit poet and dramatist that lived between the 4th and 5th century AD. There are three plays that are attributed to Kalidasa:  Malavikka and Agnimitra, Urvashii Won Through Valor, and Shakuntalaa Recognized (Malaiya).  Each of these plays is several acts long and includes a hero and heroine, along with the entertaining tale.  There is little social commentary, and these performances seem to be aimed at entertainment over education. 
            Theatre played an important role in both ancient Greek and Vedic societies, providing entertainment during festivals and other important events.  Theatrical performances within both of these cultures were broken into several acts and often included both heroes and heroines.  However, many of the Greek theatre performances focused on mythology and historical events, while several of the Vedic plays were more relaxed romantic dramas with little social or historical commentary.   There are exceptions on both sides of that though, with some Greek dramas with little historical narratives, and Vedic plays, such as Mahabhaṣya, which was a commentary on Sanskrit grammar rules (Meyer, Burn and Cotton). 

2.    Explain "intentional movement" and why it is important in ritual. Include how movement can both aid and detract from the ritual experience. (100 words minimum)
Intentional movement can be a very useful and important tool in ritual.  Intentional movement is the idea that all movement and gestures made during the performance of a ritual should be done deliberately, with intent and purpose.  From the moment you process into a ritual space, to the time when you close the rite, the way you move will have an impact on the ritual itself. 
Intentional movements can show confidence in your performance while also guiding the focus of other ritual participants.  It is important that these movements and gestures are large enough to be seen, and not “half-heartedly” (Thomas, The Well-Trained Ritualist). If you are going to do a movement, do it completely and purposefully.  Additionally, if all the participants of a ritual are using the same intentional movements, the ritual will look more unified and can help with the flow of energy.  Simultaneously, unintentional movement, such as fidgeting, can be distracting to the celebrants of a ritual, causing them to be less focused on the ritual and instead focused on the movements you are doing.

3.    Explain your understanding of the circles of concentration. (200 words minimum)
In terms of ritual performance, circles of concentration are the various areas that a good ritualist should keep focus on during a ritual in order to perform effective group rituals.  Rev. Kirk Thomas identifies four of these circles of concentration: the ritualist, other ritualists in the rite, the attendees, and the otherworlds (Thomas, Concentration in Ritual)
The first circle of concentration is what Rev. Thomas calls “the critic.”  This circle encompasses being aware of yourself and where you are within the ritual space.  It also includes acknowledging the little voice, or critic, in your head that tells you when things are going wrong or working well.  While this voice may seem distracting, it can also help you to know when you need to change your performance to make the ritual more effective (Thomas, Concentration in Ritual).
The second circle of concentration is “the connection.”  This circle focuses on the connection you build with the other ritualists participating in the rite.  This includes two separate aspects of connection. First, the emotional connection you have with the other ritualists, trusting that they will help you perform the best ritual possible.  Secondly, the physical awareness of them in the ritual space, to keep you safe (Thomas, Concentration in Ritual).
The third circle of concentration is “awareness.”  This circle spotlights the importance of the folks attending the ritual.  Maintaining focus on the folks helps you to build a connection and energy flow with them.  It also helps you to sense drops in energy and to realize when someone cannot hear or see what is happening in the ritual.  Concentrating on the folk can help provide a more positive ritual experience for everyone involved (Thomas, Concentration in Ritual).
The fourth and final circle of concentration is the “boundaries.”  This is the circle that embraces the Otherworlds and allows us to best interface with the Kindreds (Thomas, Concentration in Ritual).

4.    Describe the advantages and disadvantages of the three ritual configurations (proscenium, thrust, and round). Note how a ritualist can maximize the advantages and minimize the disadvantages of each configuration. Offer at least one type of ritual that would work best in each configuration. (100 words min. for each configuration)
Proscenium is the type of layout most often found in modern churches.  The audience sits in rows facing a single direction, where the ritual will take place. In this type of layout, it is important for the ritualist to face out toward the audience in order for them to be heard throughout the ritual space.  Turning your back to the audience can make it very difficult for the audience to hear your words, while also limiting their view of your actions. This type of layout works well for weddings as it allows for the focus of everyone to be facing toward the ceremony itself.  There are not often many participants during a wedding ceremony, and typically any participants can be seated in the front row to make it easy for them to approach the ceremony to do their part (Thomas, The Well-Trained Ritualist).
      Thrust is the layout that involves having an audience on three sides, while the fourth is reserved for the ritual to take place.  This configuration allows for movement, and allows for the celebrant to perform the ritual without turning their back to any other participants.  It also makes it much easier for ritual participants to approach the altar and retreat easily, making it easier to share parts of the ritual if you desire to do so.  This is the layout that my grove uses for our public ritual because it allows all participants to see the ritual well and participate without worrying about someone in front of them (Thomas, The Well-Trained Ritualist)
      Round ritual configuration is exactly what it sounds like, the participants of the ritual form a circle, and the rite itself is performed at its center.  This ritual layout can be very difficult because no matter which direction the celebrant faces they always have their back to someone.  One way to address this issue is to have the people participating in the ritual stand in the circle with everyone else until their part of the ritual.  When their portion of the ritual occurs they will step forward into the space to do their part, and then return to the circle for the remainder of the ritual.  However, this doesn’t completely avoid having your back to someone in the ritual (Thomas, The Well-Trained Ritualist).  
5.    Choose a being of the occasion appropriate to a specific high day of your choosing and describe a theatrical method of conveying the mythology of that being to others during a public performance. (300 words minimum)
For the Prairie Shadow Grove Lughnsasdh ritual in 2015, we chose to honor the Hittite deities, focusing on Telipinu.  Telipinu was the son of the mighty storm god.  He had a strong competence in fostering agriculture, and with his help, fertility was abundant, so honoring him during the harvest season seemed appropriate for us.  The ritual we originally performed went well, but we are always looking for new ways to make our rituals more involved and entertaining for everyone participating, so performing the myth of Telipinu as a short skit with an assigned narrator could be enjoyable.   We have several younger children who frequently attend our rituals and love to be involved, so some of the parts were kept very simple to make it easier for them to remember their parts, while still giving them an opportunity to take part in the rite.
Our grove rituals are performed in a “thrust” formation with the altar on the fourth side.  This format also works well for a performance of this type because it makes it easy for everyone to see and hear what is happening.  The parts could be assigned before the ritual in order to give time to rehearse as needed.
This play has 7 parts, but parts could easily be combined if less people are available, or the narrator part could be split if more people wanted to be involved.:
·      Narrator
·      Telipinu
·      Shining One
·      Shining Two
·      Hannahannah
·      Citizen One
·      Citizen Two

Narrator: Telipinu was the son of the mighty storm god.  He helped the plants to grow, and with his help, fertility was abundant.  One day, Telipinu was angry. He put his left shoe on his right foot, and right shoe on his left, and with this all happiness seemed to leave the world.  Plants wouldn’t grow, fire wouldn’t burn, and mist filled the world. In that moment, Telipinu went away!
Telipinu:  I’m so angry! I’m going to hide in the valley where no one can find me!
Narrator:  So he did! Telipinu went away and took with him all the grain, growth, and abundance the people depended on. He went to a moor and hid from the world.  While he was there, the world began to fade.  Even the Thousand Gods began to feel his wrath, finding themselves hungry and thirsty. 
Shining One:  I’m so hungry!  No matter what I eat, I can never get full.
Shining Two:  I’m thirsty!  Where is Telipinu?
Narrator: The gods began to worry and searched for Telipinu from the high mountains to the deep valleys but no one found him.  Days went by, and still no one knew where Telipinu had gone.  The days kept getting worse and worse.  Finally, Hannahannah decided to get involved.
Hannahannah:  I will send my friend, the bee to find Telipinu.  He is wise and knows the hills and valleys better than anyone else. 
Shining One: The bee is much to small and weak to find Telipinu!
Shining Two: Its wings are to small, it will take forever!
Hannahannah:  I disagree. I have faith in my tiny companion.  You can keep looking if you wish, but the bee will find Telipinu.
Narrator:  The bee flew off and searched the lands high and low until finally it came upon Telipinu, sleeping in the moor.  The bee tried to wake Telipinu gently, buzzing around his ears and resting on his face, but Telipinu didn’t stir.  Eventually, the bee decided he could wait no longer and began to sting Telipinu’s hands and feet wake him and Telipinu finally began to wake.  However, Telipinu was still mad.  He knew he had to return to the city, but he was still quite displeased, so the people of the city began to make offerings.
Citizen 1: Mighty Telipinu! We offer you honey, a gift from the bees.  May it sweeten his temperament and remind you of the beautiful growing flowers.
Make offering of honey
Citizen 2: Glorious Telipinu!  We offer you grapes and the goodness that lives inside.  Each grape bears the gift of wine behind its skin.  May the grapes bring goodness to your heart.
Make offering of grapes
Narrator: Finally, the people began to pray.  
Citizen 1 and 2: Telipinu, anger is a burning fire, and just as this fire….
Put out candle burning on the altar
…let your anger be extinguished. 
Narrator:  This prayer finally got his attention.  Telipinu looked at the land around him, and saw the consequences of his actions.   He began to calm and as he did the mist left the winds, smoke left the homes, and altars were again in harmony with the gods.
6.    Explain how you would prepare and deliver three of the following pieces for public performance, and include an audio or video clip of your performance of each. (50 words min. each explanation)
Selection 1: Strong meter and strong rhythm
When reading poetry that has strong meter or rhythm, you should try to avoid following the natural rhythm in a way that makes the poem seem monotonous.  I restructured the poem into a prose form to help avoid that rhythm.  Moving the poem into prose requires you to focus on the punctuation to know how to read each sentence.  The link to my reading can be found here:
Ye who love the haunts of Nature,
Love the sunshine of the meadow,
Love the shadow of the forest,
Love the wind among the branches,
And the rain-shower and the snow-storm,
And the rushing of great rivers through their palisades of pine-trees,
And the thunder in the mountains,
Whose innumerable echoes flap like eagles in their eyries;-
Listen to these wild traditions,
To this Song of Hiawatha!

Selection 4: Prose
In reading this piece of prose, I initially reviewed the names and made note of pronunciation so I could try to pronounce the words as accurately as possible since they are not names I am familiar with.  I then read through the tale and highlighted the areas of dialog so I could make sure to make those clear.  I also read through the piece several times to identify natural pauses in the reading. Emotion is also very important in prose, so I tried to show the humor in the inflection of my voice by smiling during the reading.  My reading of this selection can be found here:

But Skadi, daughter of giant Thiassi, took helmet and mail-coat and all weapons of war and went to Asgard to avenge her father. But the Aesir offered her atonement and compensation, the first item of which was that she was to choose herself a husband out of the Aesir and choose by the feet and see nothing else of them. Then she saw one person's feet that were exceptionally beautiful and said:

“I choose that one; there can be little that is ugly about Baldr.”

But it was Niord of Noatun. It was also in her terms of settlement that the Aesir were to do something that she thought they would not be able to do, that was to make her laugh. Then Loki did as follows: he tied a cord round the beard of a certain nanny-goat and the other end round his testicles, and they drew each other back and forth and both squealed loudly. Then Loki let himself drop into Skadi’s lap, and she laughed. Then the atonement with her on the part of the Aesir was complete. It is said that Odin, as compensation for her, did this: he took Thiassi’s eyes and threw them up into the sky and out of them made two stars.

Selection 5: Strong meter and strong rhyme
Reading a poem with strong meter and consistent rhyming, I find it quite difficult to not become monotonous or sing-songy.  It’s additionally difficult for me because I memorized parts of it in high school emphasizing the meter in rhyme, so it’s a challenging habit to break.  I tried to break this poem into a more prose-styled format to go against the rhymes.  This also makes it easier to pause only with punctuation and not at a line break as the poem indicates.  My reading of this selection can be found here:
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door;
Only this, and nothing more.”
Ah, distinctly I remember, it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow; vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow, sorrow for the lost Lenore.
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore,
Nameless here forevermore.
And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me---filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating,
“’Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door,
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door.
This is it, and nothing more.”

7.     Write a statement of purpose for a rite of your choosing and one invitation for each of the Three Kindreds. Submit a video (of no more than ten minutes of total length) of your performance of all four pieces.
The video for the following pieces can be found here:
Statement of Purpose
We come here tonight, unified as a community to deepen our spiritual practice, and foster our relationships with the Kindreds.  May this ritual help to build positive relationships, both with those Kindreds and among all of us.
Three Kindreds:  Ancestors
            Ancestors, you who passed before us, ancestors of blood, land, and heart, you who guide us with your wisdom and your experiences, we ask that you join us in this rite. Welcome, Ancestors!

Three Kindreds: Nature Spirits
 Nature Spirits, you who share this realm with us, spirits of land, sea, and sky, you who provide us both sustenance and companionship, we ask that you join us in this rite.  Welcome, Nature Spirits!

Three Kindreds: Shining Ones
Shining ones, great gods and goddesses, deities of our hearths, and others, both known and unknown, we ask that you join us in this rite.  Welcome, Shining Ones!

Works Cited

Malaiya, Yashwant K. Kalidasa: life and works. 16 January 1996. September 2015. <>.

Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster Dictionary. 2015. February 2016. <>.

Meyer, William Stevenson, et al. The Imperial Gazetteer of India - Sanskrit Literature. 1931. September 2015. <>.

Richmond, Farley P., Phillip B. Zarrilli and Darius L. Swann. Indian Theatre: Traditions of Performance. University of Hawaii Press, 1993.

Robinson, Scott R. Theatre and Drama in Ancient Greece. 2010. 2015. <>.

Thomas, Kirk. Concentration in Ritual. 22 December 2009. February 2016. <>.

—. The Well-Trained Ritualist. 19 November 2009. February 2016. <>.

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