• Enthralling Books: Towards a Poor Theatre, by Jerzy Grotowski

    This is one in a series of essays about enthralling books. I asked my friends and colleagues to recommend a book that took over their life. I told them the book didn't have to be a literary masterpiece. The only thing that mattered was that the book captivated them and carried them into the world within its pages, making them ignore the world around them. I asked: "Did you shirk responsibilities so you could read it? Did you call in sick? Did you read it until dawn? That's the book I want you to tell us about!" See all the essays in the Enthralling Book series here. — Mark

    NewImageTowards a Poor Theatre, by Jerzy Grotowski

    I had not heard of Grotowski until 1977 when I witnessed a film document of his Polish Theatre Lab's performance of Akropolis. As I left Berkeley's Pacific Film Archive screening, I wandered the streets in shock and awe. Though I had eight years' experience performing, writing, and directing experimental theatre, nothing could prepare me for Grotowski's visceral explosive and revelatory "paratheatre." I immediately walked down Telegraph Avenue to Moe's Books and found a copy of Grotowski's book, Towards a Poor Theatre. Sitting there on the floor in the Theatre section, oblivious to the world, I was enthralled and astonished by what I was reading. Grotowski's radical premises were so dynamic, yet so clearly pragmatic, they advanced the culture of theatre beyond the previous gold standard of Stanislavki's method. My young 25-year old heart, mind, and body was on fire! I knew right then and there what I would be doing with the rest of my life and that was: some version of this.

    Cut to present time. For the last thirty-five years, I have been in the practice and teaching of a version of paratheatre I have been developing in groups with hundreds of actors, dancers, singers, and martial artists. It's not been a career as much as a calling that brought me to this place. Reading Towards a Poor Theatre lit the fuse on an internal time bomb that was already primed to go off to either send me to prison for very bad behavior or explode my meaningless life into smithereens. The book saved me from myself.

    The dog-eared copy became my bible yet I felt that I would betray my early theatrical experience if I followed it to the letter. Instead I chose to relate with the book as a source of inspiration in an ongoing process of developing paratheatrical experiments, new techniques, and eventually finding and defining my own version of paratheatre. I even wrote a book on my paratheatrical research (Towards an Archeology of the Soul; Vertical Pool Publications. 2003). To say Towards a Poor Theatre changed my life may be an understatement. It's more like the book gave me life. And when someone of something gives you life, I don't know about you but I feel like giving life back.

    Explaining the content of Grotowski's book is pretty much impossible; its luminous threads of white hot intelligence weave across the fabric of world theatre, the inspired madness of Artaud, numerous practical notes on the Actor's vocal and physical training, all towards a methodical science of the acrobatic body as the final source of energy and text as the critical framework for its articulation. My descriptions here fall way short. They also fail to convey the lucidity by which Grotwoski explains the fundamental principles and premises of his "poor theatre", a place where the actor is left alone without props and tricks, with only his naked self to plumb the depths of humanity and then, finally, share the revitalizing fruits of a terrible labor of love.

    Buy Towards a Poor Theatre on Amazon

  • Mind Blowing Movies: El Topo (1970), by Antero Alli

    Mm200This week, Boing Boing is presenting a series of essays about movies that have had a profound effect on our invited essayists. See all the essays in the Mind Blowing Movies series here. — Mark

    Mind Blowing Movies: El Topo (1970), by Antero Alli

    [Video Link]
    The first film to truly blow my mind was Jodorowsky's El Topo, which I saw soon after its release in the early '70s. Up until then I assumed that all films were made for entertainment purposes only. However, as a twenty-something, former acidhead living in Berkeley, California, my young mind was freshly imprinted to remain open to the symbolic levels of existence. Whether the "meaning" behind things whispered cosmic secrets to me or whether I made it all up mattered very little; what mattered to me was the freedom to not take everything so literally.

    In the first ten minutes of this movie, I saw right away that if I viewed El Topo in any literalist way, I would experience it as a mediocre spaghetti western, softcore quasi-snuff film. But after I shifted into a more symbolist way of seeing, the film unfolded before my eyes like an animated magical Kaballah.

    The main character was now The Ego on a spiritual journey to encounter and defeat four "masters," which revealed themselves to me as Body, Heart, Intellect, and Spirit. In this story, the Ego defeats the first three masters but is unexpected and indirectly defeated by Spirit. The Ego undergoes a death and awakens underground inside a hollow mountain filled with deformed humans that I saw as the Subconscious filled with distorted repressions of our human condition. Here, the Ego undergoes a series of initiatic encounters that leave him humbled and transformed. That's not the end of the movie but really, the beginning — it just got better and better after that.


  • RAW Week: The Cosmic Trigger Effect, by Antero Alli


    The Summer of 1979; Berkeley California. The back story of how I got here is far and away too convoluted to explain but here I am sitting on a couch in Robert Anton Wilson's living room, dumbfounded by the rapid-fire laughter and brain power of the intelligentsia bouncing off the walls around me. At 26, I was clearly the youngest person in the room, the baby of this illuminati of scientists, authors, mathematicians, magicians, and discordians. The person who stood out beyond all the other lights in the room was Bob's wife, Arlen, a wizened red-haired, full-bodied woman with a bawdy sense of humor and an astonishing literary intellect. There was something about Arlen that was simultaneously severe and merciful, critically observant yet very kind. Arlen was also clearly Bob's muse.

    Bob was in fine form that night reading excerpts from his as of yet unpublished book, The Trick Top Hat, from his Schrödinger's Cat Trilogy. I sat there astonished by the highly compact, information-rich writing style he had developed. It was as if every other word triggered a different chemical in my brain. Bob had this unique way with words that acted on my ear-brain loop just like drugs. I remember thinking to myself, "This is what writing is all about! Writing is all about magick." Certain books can change your life and Bob's masterpiece, The Cosmic Trigger, changed mine. Though it was not the first book to blur the lines between "reality" and "fantasy", it was the first one to suggest that no such lines existed beyond my beliefs in those lines. It was the first book to challenge my beliefs about beliefs, period. Cosmic Trigger was also where I first discovered Timothy Leary's Eight Circuit Brain, a stunning revelation that would eventually drive me to write two books of my own, Angel Tech (Original Falcon, 1986) and The Eight-Circuit Brain (Vertical Pool, 2009).

    The Bob Wilson I came to know (circa 1979-86) was at the peak of his game. As far as I could tell, this game was initiating his readers — in books and in person during his many worldwide lectures — to the most operational Einsteinian language possible and he did this in the most entertaining ways his epic imagination could conjure. I remain bewildered by just how he was able to contextualize quantum physics through the interactions of his fictitious characters and labyrinthian plot designs in the Schrödinger's Cat Trilogy and Masks of the Illuminati. Though Bob was clearly a master of this game, I never saw him treat actual living people as characters, or their interactions as games. He knew the difference and took the time to show others that he knew. Bob was very soulful that way. He seemed to simultaneously belong to two generations; the Caregivers of the World War Two era and the Hedonic Seekers of the Sixties. I suddenly saw Bob as a psychedelic mensch with a genius IQ, which for me was as hilarious as it rang true. Beyond all his extraterrestrial communiqués with the Sirius star system, his Pookaville of invisible rabbits, and his byzantine conspiracy theories, Bob consistently struck me as one of the most genuinely and clinically sane people I have ever met.