In the theatre, one starts rehearsals in a bare room or a bare stage and when the show is over, everything is swept away. At the end of a performance, at the end of a play, it is over. So in a way something is born, something dies and in the empty space no trace remains. One is in a privileged position of observing a process that starts in nothing, ends in nothing but which can reach a totally different nothing in the middle if the exceptional, luminous great silence falls. Repeated experiences show in a concrete way that there is not one nothing but at least two nothings. This may sound linguistically impossibility but what it means is quite specific. There is a source, out of which comes these grades of quality. When there is no quality at all the zero is purely negative. When, through a whole complex series of factors, everyone is stimulated to an unusual intensity of perception, then the actor, the actor’s body, one actor’s interrelation with another, the whole group’s interrelation with one another all create a new form of interrelation with the audience. Out of this comes a genuine participation of all who are present because there is a living flow that is uniting the separate entities into one field of life. When this happens, the shared experience turns from being a negative zero into a zero that is climbing up a scale of quality, until it eventually reaches a level of perception in which the zero is positive. This vibrant zero, this “nothing” could never be perceived by the same people! whether performer or audience when their perception level is at its starting point. At this level, Nothing can come from Nothing. The dynamics of performance can bring something out of nothing, until a true nothing that comes from nothing returns to nothing again.
This is linked to something very, very simple. I’m sure that you all know that theatre people are said to be naive. In fact, my brother told me just now that Ernest Jones said that “One of the characteristics of genius is gullibility” and that gullibility is something very natural. Theatre people are emotional, excitable, sentimental and gullible and although they do not like being told that, basically naive. This is our greatest aid.
It is very interesting that Brecht, who has become a symbol of heavy didactic thought, who wrote more theoretically about the theatre than almost any other director, above all treasured naivety. In his work, Brecht, to the astonishment of the people who collaborated with him, constantly used the word “naive”. He said: “We must make naive theatre” and in fact his performances were very far from what any one would imagine after reading his theories. The performances that he directed himself all glowed with the joy of intuition, an intuition heightened by the activity, the vitality of working with other people.
It is very important to weigh this question of naivety. Naivety is innocence. Today in the West, in a capital city surrounded by all our present problems, it is easy to believe that to touch a present-day audience, the theatre must draw its material out of experience. In theory, experienced people write, direct and act out of their experience for an audience that is interested in experiences. So where does innocence come in? It is not a question of choice — either innocence or experience. Experience only becomes meaningful if it is constantly illuminated by an innocence that is potentially there. It is through this that the audience can receive an experience as terrifying as the confrontation of reality that a tragedy can bring and yet be reawakened to the different understanding which comes from this innocence, which may be completely submerged, but never completely lost. If one looks very carefully, one can see that in the rare moments when one has the impression of a transformation of quality, an innocence and an experience are coexisting. And at that moment, a healing process can take place. And the healing process acts on everyone present.
So one question remains permanent and central — what process, what approach can be found so that actions on one level can become illuminated by another? What is healing?
The question remains open and as we are here to exchange questions, I would like now to stop talking and put a question to the psychoanalysts and the psychiatrists who are here tonight. There is something I would like to understand with your help. In the writings on psychiatry that I have come across at different moments I have been very struck by one commonly-used word and that is the work “dark” — “in the darkest regions of the heart”, “the darkest regions of the soul”, “the darkest areas of the human psyche”, or else the word “deep”: “in the hidden depths”. I have never come across “in the lightest portions of the hidden psyche”, “in the highest areas of the human psyche”. So I would like to ask you a question, I would like to understand this better, because to me it is very clearly related to the meaning of behavior and the meaning of healing. Why is the most hidden portion of the psyche considered a “dark” place? Why not “light”? Cannot the unknown beyond our everyday consciousness contain “up” as well as “down”, “high” as well as “low”? For healing.
Maybe Psycho-Analysis isn’t very good on happiness.
He says that with a smile, so he is clearly a happy man! But I wonder whether one could take that remark very precisely and investigate what in fact it really means.
I am not a psychoanalyst, but I just would like to venture to say that maybe it is because it’s an unknown place. It is dark because it is unclear.
Yes, I think we understand what you say, that we’re surrounded on all sides by the unknown. It is vital to us to know by direct experience a little more about the unknown, and so naturally one wants to throw light on what is hidden in darkness and one uses that expression, “throw light”. But one can’t talk about throwing light on one’s darkness without asking “then what is light?” Just coming out into the open, out of the closet, isn’t enough, that isn’t throwing light. So, I would still like to know if we could try to penetrate into the question. Where is the source of the light you try to throw?
I am not an analyst either, but isn’t it something to do with the fact that it is only in darkness that you can truly see the light, which is a kind of religious metaphor? It is only in the darkness that you can actually see light, see the light in its intensity, beauty etc.
Well, I wonder whether analysts would agree with that.
Could I say that I am not a psychiatrist or a therapist, but I am a theatre person? I think maybe because that is where much of the repression and the human conflict is, as opposed to when you talk about a lighter side. I would imagine the lighter side we are talking of is the much more socialized part of human nature.
I think that what you say only intensifies the awkward question. Is the socializing need of the human animal truly the counterpart to this primeval territory called darkness? When Ernest Jones wrote about Hamlet, he wrote with tremendous knowledge of all the different versions of Hamlet. He was very well versed in Shakespeare and in the whole history of the play. He points out how in the early pre-Shakespearean version of the same story — the drama of the man hearing that his father has been murdered and taking his revenge — is all played in the outside world so that the early pre-Hamlet Hamlets were all social in that sense. The action was outside, the conflict was outside. Ernest Jones underlines how Shakespeare, step by step, took away everything that could make you think that the real conflicts were on the outside. So that for Ernest Jones, there was absolutely no question that what in a cruder play took place in the outside world now is really taking place, in all its complexity, in the inner world of Hamlet. In fact, I think he also uses this expression, “in the darkest areas of his soul”. But I am sure Ernest Jones would forgive me if I now ask “Is this all?” Isn’t Hamlet’s inner struggle animated by intimations of meaning that take their source in the unknown, light and superconscious levels of the subconscious?
Once one recognizes this notion of a tremendous unknown cataclysmic whirlpool going on inside, invisibly inside the human being, is it too ridiculous to talk about light? Or else, isn’t one compelled to wonder whether this isn’t “something else” somewhere within his psyche, and, if so, what? Everyone can recognize the word “awe” — the sense of awe is a quality that at different moments every single human being has the capacity to experience. Where is awe? Awe is an inner experience, just as much as fear, hatred and terror, violence, the wish to murder. It is a different experience within the same complex organism. What feeds it? We can talk about what feeds terror, about what feeds fear, and about the counter-forces repressing fear that can lead to explosion, or to indecision, that can lead, in the case of Hamlet, to paralysis of the will. We need to examine what feeds awe, openness, the freeing of the will — what is wonder, wonder that leads us to the light parts of the psyche? Why can’t we recognize these sources as well? If the theatre has anything to offer it is a taste of something that can’t be explained and can’t be defined, but which can be experienced as a concrete reality.
You said just now that we were exchanging questions, can I ask you one of mine, which I think in fact joins up with what you have just been saying about what feeds this experience. I was very interested in how you described the zero quality, ascending up a gradient of awareness until something new can happen. Can you say something about how you set the conditions for that to take place?
Yes, very simply. We’ve been working it out for a number of years in different parts of the world with actors from different cultures, from many different backgrounds and cultures; from the East as well as from the West, bringing them together. And we have found that there is only one technique and that is something, which sounds terrible, but really is the noblest technique there is, which is “brain washing”. You get actors together, a Japanese actor, an African actor, an American actor, an English actor. You sit together and everyone recognizes that their brain needs washing. They have to recognize this. People say to me how do we get into your company? I don’t dare say, “You have to come to me saying I have a brain that needs to be washed”. But that is the secret reason and you smell out people who feel that they need this. When we begin to work, we sit together in a circle. Why? There are all sorts of things in the brain that are swept away if you are just sitting together in a circle. That is the first washing.
I did a workshop 10 days ago in Berlin with a number of people who came with all the intellectual complexity of the German mind, which go far beyond any other complexities one knows anywhere, and today is full of frustration, bitterness and anger. And in this workshop, which was for young directors, we sat together on the floor, not on chairs, which was a surprise to everyone, and just started by doing something very quietly, a little tiny exercise in silence. At the end of the day, one of the German girls said to me, a girl from the East, marked by very strong, tough experiences, she said. “You know, sitting in that circle was like entering paradise”.
Well it was very exaggerated, very touching but what she meant was that a simple situation — sitting quietly — temporarily had washed her brain. When the ordinary brain is washed in that way a very different quality is immediately aroused. After this, a simple exercise, for instance just standing up and sitting down again; walking or just taking a chair and putting your hand on it, looks and feels different. The person who is willingly making him or herself more empty becomes through emptiness a receiving instrument for a finer sensitivity and this challenges a whole number of deeply held beliefs. One of them is that the director and the performers start their work in the mind, where they decide what they want to do and then use their bodies to show their conclusions to others. But are you there to show — or are you there to discover? This is the choice. If you are there to show, you accept the tradition according to which good work starts by everyone sitting around a table for several weeks discussing what they intend to do.
This is a time-honored tradition, which is taken seriously because it is considered worthy of grown-up, intellectual people living intelligent lives. So a play is first discussed from every point of view: psychological, social, political. Only when agreement is reached on intentions, when this sort of seminar is over, then the work, the theatrical work, starts which is finding good ways of making the notions vivid to an audience. So in fact the process is: we agree what we are trying to do, amongst ourselves, with ourselves, and then we try to see how to show it, so eventually you have a “show”. When instead of “showing” the aim is “discovering”, then the brainwashing doesn’t end on the first day. You realize that once you start washing, you must wash away not only the obvious, argumentative clutter in the brain and all the background clutter of “artistic” thinking that is in the brain, but also the whole body needs its own special washing — because after all what instrument is there in the theatre except the body?
The whole body with its manifold areas of thought and feeling has to be cleansed. You do an exercise with one foot — for instance, actors do an exercise in which they have to use a foot with the same imagination that a speaker can have with words — now, a Japanese actor, an African actor can do this very easily, they don’t have to have it explained. They can immediately think, dream, imagine and create as much with one part of the body as with another. But for many other actors it is inconceivable to find this sensitivity and lightness without practice and exercising. So that the process for practice and exercising is not to acquire skills, nor to acquire methods to reproduce mentally prepared intentions. What began as brainwashing now leads to the total shower by which the whole of you becomes receptive and out of that receptivity come shapes, gestures, rhythms and actions and this in turn makes the actor still more receptive, so showing and discovery become one and the actual moment of performance is a moment in which everyone is clarified. This doesn’t happen in 2 steps — preparation and result — it happens at its best in one single instant, when the audience is there and the performance is under way. The theory is simple but it takes a long time to achieve.