Ecstasy Research Theatre
California Institute of the Arts
Interschool Project Proposal
|The twentieth century, in the footsteps of the nineteenth, has difficulty with the notion of art as ecstasy. Yet that is the traditional notion and I believe it is the right one. It is quite easy to live at a low level of sensibility; it is the way of the world. There is no need to ask art to show us how to be less than we are. Art shows us how to be more than we are.|
|The best of the romantic theatre, the civilized pleasures of the opera and the ballet were in any event gross reductions of an art sacred in its origins. Over the centuries the Orphic Rites turned to the Gala PerformanceÑslowly and imperceptibly the wine was adulterated drop by drop.|
| (Except where indicated, these characters can be played
by either men or women. Thus, I have used non-gender specific pronouns wherever
| this is a guru figure who arrives bearing some sort of
message or wisdom to share, and around whom the play revolves. His central
message is essentially Hindu: that each of us is actually god dreaming that zie
is human. But this philosophy is problematized in various ways, most importantly
by the Traveler's also professing to worship an apparently transcendental
| this ruler is desperately seeking some form of peace or
enlightenment. Zie has a history of seeking out guru figures like the Traveler,
from whom zie hopes to find this enlightenment. In the past, however, each guru's
teachings have invariably failed to provide the enlightenment that the Ruler
craves. In disillusionment, the Ruler has the gurus put to death. But in the
past, the gurus have always come to the Ruler. The Traveler is too smart for
this, and stays out in the desert, outside of the Ruler's jurisdiction. The Ruler
eventually seeks out the Traveler.|
|The Court Astronomer:|
| The Astronomer is loosely based on the physicist Stephen
Hawking. Much of hir ideas will come from Hawking's writings. Like Hawking, the
Astronomer is confined to a wheelchair, and is mute. Zie communicates through a
laptop computer equipped with a voice synthesizer. The Astronomer is an
exploration into the life of a mind almost completely divorced from the
|The Court Philosopher:|
| A close friend to the Astronomer. Much of the ideas explored
in this play will be explored through philosophical discussions between the
Philosopher and the Astronomer. The Philosopher acts in some ways as an
intellectual bridge between the scientific philosophy of the Astronomer and the
spirituality of the Traveler. The Philosopher perhaps wants to be a guru figure,
but, having seen what happens to the Ruler's gurus, limits hirself, at least
publicly, to a frivolous sort of philosophy, to "juggling ideas for hir
|"Maenads" (anywhere from 2-10, gender should be mixed):|
| these are people who have joined the Traveler in the desert.
They are not exactly the Traveler's disciples: they are too independent for that.
They are the Traveler's friends and lovers. In some ways, they form an opposite
pole from the Astronomer: where the Astronomer explores truth through the mind,
the Maenads explore truth through the skin. This is not to say that the Maenads
are mindless: when they speak, they have some of the clearest ideas of any of the
characters. But of all the characters, they are the ones most aware that the
world of the intellect is only a small slice of the world which we as humans can
| these will be giant puppets, dark shapes half-seen just
beyond the edge of the firelight. The Monsters are portents of the coming of the
Goddess. The Monsters are the horror of existence, out of which grows the only
|The Goddess (female):|
| her arrival is alluded to throughout the play, but she does
not actually appear until the end. She is the wild card, the divine excess of the
real, whom none of the characters' neat philosophical systems can entirely
One night, the Astronomer sneaks into the Philosopher's room, takes the suicide kit, and uses it. The Astronomer takes the sleeping pills, puts the plastic bag over hir head. We watch as the bag inflates and deflates with the Astronomer's breath, and then stops. An Angel appears, removes the bag, kisses the dead Astronomer. The Astronomer rises from hir wheelchair, and dances with the Angel. The Astronomer finally experiences, in death, the knowledge of the body.
The next morning the Ruler and the Philosopher discover the Astronomer's body. The Astronomer has left hir suicide message on hir laptop. Hir final words are read by the same synthetic voice that communicated hir words while living. Throughout the rest of the play, the computer continues to communicate the Astronomer's mind, in the absence of hir body. The Astronomer has used the computer to create hir own ghost.
There is a mysterious place, just beyond the reach of the firelight, a place of awe and nightmares. "What is there?" the Ruler asks the Traveler. "Only yourself," the Traveler replies. The Ruler journeys to the mysterious place in the darkness. Monsters rise up from the shadows, and descend upon the Ruler. We hear the Ruler's screams, and then silence.
At the end of the play, as the portents of the coming of the Goddess are reaching a climax, the Traveler finally explains, with a clarity which had been lacking, hir message: that we are all God dreaming that we are finite and human. "Then why all this?" the Philosopher asks. "Why this audience? Why these performers? Why this pretending?" "No reason. Which is every reason. Why? Because of the stars. Because of skin. Because the Goddess is near, and this is how we have chosen to worship."
The Goddess arrives. She is naked. The Traveler takes off hir clothes, and kneels before the Goddess. The Goddess accepts this worship, and then raises the Traveler. The Goddess then kneels before the Traveler, returning the worship. For in truth, we are all gods and goddesses.
The performance ends with a ritual feast, drumming, dancing about the fire. Those who wish can spend the night with us out in the desert: dancing, watching the stars, telling stories around the fire. All good performances should end with a party.
Play is an essential part of the creative process. Through games, improv exercises, movement explorations, we as performers build the connections with each other that can take a performance beyond mere craft, to a place where wonder is possible. For the first two weeks, we won't even look at a script; and we will continue our explorations throughout the process. Right up to the performance, even as we polish and fine-tune, we will continue to go back to the source of art, in play.
Ecstasy Research Theatre is non-hierarchical. All decisions are made through consensus. The performers cast themselves, after having explored the script from different angles and through different characters. This can be time-consuming, but it is necessary, and it works. What we are trying to create cannot be assembled mechanically, from the outside. It must grow, organically, from within, and this can only happen if everyone is given a voice in the creative process.
As you can see, a number of people have already agreed to participate in this project, but we still need more. At the very beginning of spring semester, we will post flyers around the institute advertising our first rehearsal, open to everyone. At this meeting, we will attempt to communicate what Ecstasy Research Theatre is about, but more importantly, we will show what we are about, by jumping right into the creative process with games, movement explorations, improv exercises. Those who choose to commit to the project will do so because they want to be part of this thing which they have seen, not because someone "talked them into it."