RE Andie Arthur’s “Towards a Holy Theatre”
I’ve recently discovered the goddess Red Tara. Tara is an ancient Hindu goddess, a goddess found in cultures all over the world, a goddess mostly known as the principle feminine divine of Tibetan Buddhism. Tara has twenty-one aspects—twenty-one ways to help us to enlightenment. Red Tara is the aspect that is always present in the world. She is always here as an avatar as a sixteen year old (or so) girl. Red Tara’s purpose in the world is to grant us wishes. Whatever we wish for, she grants. The way she grants the wish helps us to become better people. Why she grants us wishes is that we can not develop properly if we are pining over an unfulfilled desire. So she grants it, and we, gratified, can move on from that particular bump in our way.
I’ve had a wish…
For the past number of years, I have been studying Indian film. Indian film is an extension of India’s sacred dance theater. Indeed, I’m currently reading a book referred to as the Fifth Veda, The Science of Drama (the Natyashastra). The Fifth Veda is not really the book The Science of Drama, it is the theater itself. The Science of Drama is the writing that explains how and why theater came to be and preserves the ancient rules, principles, and techniques of India’s dance theater. Theater, as a Fifth Veda, is to unite the performers and audience with a greater understanding of the gods, magical beings, and mortals. Theater accomplishes this through emotion. By being caught up in the emotional reality of the theater, performers and audience are caught up in a communion with the gods. “Our lives are echoes of the gods” Hinduism teaches, and by having set before us theater, a play, a dramatic work, we see how our lives are filled with challenges, hurts, triumphs, even epiphanies and we feel these experiences deeply, caught up as we are with this lively art we assemble to view or perform in.
Typically a Bollywood film begins with an image of a deity. This is the diety with whom the film experience connects us by giving us a tale that mirrors some aspect of the mystery cycle of the deity. The deity is not always a Hindu one. Jesus as represented by a church or Christ on the Cross are frequent choices for stories concerning the plight and wisdom of children and for stories of sacrifice. The image of the deity at the beginning of the film reminds the audience that Indian film has not lost its sacred connection. Islam and Buddhism, each religion practiced in India has its place on the stages of the Fifth Veda. In India it is understood that film, as another manifestation of theater, is also the Fifth Veda.
As a Westerner, as a Pagan, as a woman of the theater, finding this definition of theater as a holy work, an act of communion with the divine, gives new meaning to the ancient Greek and Roman plays which we Westerners mark as our dramatic beginning. Oedipus Rex becomes not a mere story of kismet, a view of the cruelty of ancient, dead gods, but a current, living story of how natural balance must be regained even at great cost when mortals err so greatly. The plays of Shakespeare, conceived as “secular theater” for all their references to Christian values, remain a Fifth Veda, gripping us their beauty and meaning. The wild stompings and screeches of Artaud’s Theater of Cruelty is better understood as sacred drama as Artaud intended. Every ten minute play, every new musical, every production of children’s theater, every drama of social commentary, every theatrical performance remains a holy theater so long as our emotions are engaged, caught up in an experience that is not exactly our own because it is that of characters, but is also wholly our own for it involves us so deeply in the transcendent moment of a collective experience that is shaped, dramatically, to a resolution.
In your Christian termed phrase of theater as a “ministry” you are completely correct, though as a Wiccan I term theater as “sacred rite.” Theater, the Fifth Veda, speaks to every understanding—secular and non-secular for it is able to express every desire, satisfy every desire, and so relieve us of that particular bump in our way.
A theater that is a church, with each production considered in terms of what form of enlightenment its secular or non-secular point of view provides; a theater that is a church where the young are taught those values so important to theater artists; a theater that is a church which draws its participants—audience and performers—up into that unique experience of stepping out of our normal reality into a very different realty so that we may know our selves, divinity, and the magic that is life more clearly—this is my desire, to create this theater that is a church.
But I can’t do it alone. Where will I find someone who has a similar desire?
Oh, what an interesting blog this blog of yours is, for it expresses the desire I see as mine.
I have recently discovered Red Tara, she who grants us our wishes.