|19. Private Rituals
When the linear reasons are cut away from the rehearsal process, what are usually called rehearsals can be seen as private rituals, valid within themselves, whether or not they lead to public performance.
My public pieces usually have a private aspect to them. Public pieces can turn into private pieces. In my work, there comes a point, which is different for each person, where there is a change from passive audience to active participant. Even watching becomes an act of involvement and vulnerability. At this point, a large number choose to leave the performance, which is in itself a vulnerable act of involvement. This turns the performance from a piece that my cast and I are projecting for the public, to an act, a magic ritual which all of the people there are performing together.
In reality, a large percentage of my public ritual work is made up of private and secret sections. Some of these private, secret sub-rituals take place before the performance, or within a hidden cave, locked box or vault, away from the experience and knowing of the audience. What happens within these secret sub-rituals greatly influences what happens in the public performances, even though there are no physical or linear links between the public and the secret sub-rituals. When the secret sub-ritual fails to reach the taboo-breaking intensity, the public ritual falls flat. Kristine Ambrosia has taken this aspect of the nonlinear principle further by performing secret rituals alone on a mountain top or in a hidden room while her public performance goes on many miles away.
Other sections of my public performance are private because they are only experienced within the mind and/or body of the person, or between the bodies of two people. I have several techniques I use to achieve this. For a large portion of the performances, the people are blindfolded and are directed not to speak. In this way, what she experiences comes without the influences of others. She is taken alone into caves without knowing what others have done or how they have reacted. She is told she can do whatever she wants, but not to reveal what happens within the room. This creates a freedom from taboos and from outside pressures.
As we have seen, the secret, hidden quality has always been an aspect of the kind of art we have been talking about. Today, one of the reasons to use secrecy is to draw a circle around the magic work that protects it from the prevailing taboos, morals, and judgements. This is especially important for a student just starting out, who cannot distance her artistic self from social pressures. But this circle of secrecy is not just for protection. The shaman did her art within secrecy because this focused the energy released by the act back upon the act. This feedback cycle intensified the power of the act. A good example of this is when Barbara Smith sat nude on a comfortable mat for a night in a room. Men could come in, one by one, and do whatever they wanted with her, but what was done in the room could not be revealed. For years after, rumors of what happened in that room grew up wildly, continuing to release imaginative energy. Smith has done public performances in which she had tantric sex. But on deep levels, this may be much less powerful than the performance in which she may have just sat on a comfortable mat. The magical trigger was the public secrecy.
All the qualities and hidden channels of effecting, healing, changing, dreaming, myth-giving powers that we have seen in private performances are also present in public performances; but in public performances layers of seductions, limitations, considerations, taboos, morals, ways of being politically correct are laid on the art and the artist by the powers either of the establishment or the "alternative" power systems of the present society or both. When I do a public piece, I am not swayed by how many people come or how many walk out, because I am still functioning, and rooted, in the channels of magical change that I became aware of by doing private performances. This rooting in private rituals gives the artist freedom from, and weapons against, the corrupting concerns of money, fame, competition, good taste, acceptance, and the search for an audience. This freedom is important in Shamanistic Art, which is art that acts for nonlinear change, because, by bringing new dreams, new myths, new visions into society from the universal underworld, it will radically change society. By being linked to a power system, be it establishment or alternative, the artist is trapped in a basic conflict of interest, because she has aligned herself either with protecting the social system or with a certain manner of change, when her true job is to carry the new visionary myths from the gods into this world through her body.
Photos by Tim Plummer