Writings of a 17th Century Samurai

Miyamoto Musashi, an undefeated samurai, retreated to a cave near the end of his life in 1643 to put his technique and advice down in writing, The Book of Five Rings. His writings are better suited for meditation than analysis, so I will simply reprint selections here.

Brandon Brockshus

The Earth Chapter

Buddhism is a Way of salvation for men, Confucianism venerates a Way of culture, and medicine is a Way of curing various diseases… It is a rare person who relishes the Way of the Martial Arts.

To learn about the principles of battle, meditate on this book; for the teacher is the needle, the student the thread. As a student, you should practice without end.

By knowing the large, you know the small; and from the shallow, you reach the deep.

The mind that defeats one man is the same for innumerable opponents.

The Way of this style is the mind that obtains the victory with anything at all.

It is essential that each person polish his own Way well.

You cannot ignore rhythm in any of the arts and accomplishments.

For those who would study my martial art, there are rules for putting it into practice:

1.      Think without any dishonesty.

2.      Forge yourself in the Way.

3.      Touch upon all of the arts.

4.      Know the Ways of all occupations.

5.      Know the advantages and disadvantages of everything.

6.      Develop a discerning eye in all matters.

7.      Understand what cannot be seen by the eye.

8.      Pay attention to even small things.

9.      Do not involve yourself with the impractical

The Water Chapter

In both everyday and military events, your mind should not change in the least, but should be broad and straightforward, neither drawn too tight nor allowed to slacken even a little.

Act so that your opponent cannot understand your mind.

…make the everyday body the body for the martial arts, and the body for the martial arts the everyday body.

The eye of observation is strong. The eye of seeing is weak.

In all events, grasp your sword with the intent of cutting the man down.

Immobility means a dead hand; mobility means a living hand.

To the extent that you handle the sword well, you will handle it tranquilly.

It is essential to think that anything at all is an opportunity to cut him down.

Applying Glue: The difference between being sticky and being entangled is that stickiness is strong and entanglement is weak.

In the midst of the fight, if you are intent on making your opponent flinch, you will have already obtained the victory.

Encountering Many Opponents: Above all, be intent on driving your opponents into one direction like a school of fish. When you see that they are falling all over each other, you should wade into them vigorously and without any pause.

The journey of a thousand ri proceeds step by step, so think without rushing. Understanding that this is the duty of a warrior, put these practices into action, surpass today what you were yesterday, go beyond those of poor skill tomorrow, and exceed those who are skillful later.

See to it that you temper yourself with one thousand days of practice, and refine yourself with ten thousand days of training. You should investigate this thoroughly.

The Fire Chapter

Who in this world can obtain my correct Way of the Martial Arts? Whoever would get to the heart of it, let him do so with conviction, practicing in the morning and training in the evening.

Taking the Three Initiatives

·         The Initiative of Attack is when I attack my opponent.

·         The Initiative of Waiting is when my opponent attacks me.

·         The Body-Body Initiative is when both my opponent and I attack at the same time.

Pressing Down the Pillow means not letting your opponent’s head up.

Stepping on the Sword is taking your action immediately upon your opponent’s action.

Being drawn in is something common to all things. Becoming sleepy is infectious, just as yawns and such are infectious. Time, too, is infectious.

Agitating your Opponent: There are many kinds of agitation. One is a feeling of danger, a second is a feeling that something is beyond your capability, and a third is a feeling of the unexpected. You should make great efforts in this.

Fear resides in all things, and the heart of fear is in the unexpected.

In fighting your opponent and using the principles of this Way, there may be times when you appear to be winning on the surface, but hostility remains in your opponent’s mind. Accordingly, he may be defeated on the surface but not at all in the bottom of his mind. In such situations, it is important that you suddenly adjust your own mind, destroy you opponent’s spirit, and make sure that he has been defeated in the very bottom of his heart.

The true Way of swordsmanship is to fight with your opponent and win, and this should not be changed in the slightest. If you grasp the strength of wisdom of my martial arts and put it directly into practice, there should be no doubt of victory.

The Wind Chapter

Yet, can it be the true Way if it has been made into a saleable item?

In my style, there is neither entrance nor depth to the sword, and there is no ultimate stance. There is only seeing through to its virtues with the mind. This is the essence of the martial arts.

The Emptiness Chapter

A warrior learns the Way of the Martial Arts with certainty, makes strong efforts in other martial accomplishments, and is not the least bit in the dark about the Way of conducting himself as a warrior. He has no confusion in his mind and is never lazy at any moment of the day. He polishes the two hearts of his mind and will, and sharpens the two eyes of broad observation and focused vision. He is not the least bit clouded, but rather clears away the clouds of confusion. You should know that this is true Emptiness.

 

In Emptiness exists Good but no Evil.

Wisdom is Existence.

Principle is Existence.

The Way is Existence.

The Mind is Emptiness.

 

The Way of Walking Alone (or the Way of Self-Reliance)

By Miyamoto Musashi

·         Do not turn your back on the various Ways of this world.

·         Do not scheme for physical pleasure.

·         Do not intend to rely on anything.

·         Consider yourself lightly; consider the world deeply.

·         Do not ever think in acquisitive terms.

·         Do not regret things about your own personal life.

·         Do not envy another’s good or evil.

·         Do not lament parting on any road whatsoever.

·         Do not complain or feel bitterly about yourself or others.

·         Have no heart for approaching the path of love.

·         Do not have preferences.

·         Do not harbor hopes for your own personal home.

·         Do not have a liking for delicious food for yourself.

·         Do not carry antiques handed down from generation to generation.

·         Do not fast so that it affects you physically.

·         While it’s different with military equipment, do not be fond of material things.

·         While on the Way, do not begrudge death.

·         Do not be intent on possessing valuables or a fief in old age.

·         Respect the gods and Buddhas, but do not depend on them.

·         Though you give up your life, do not give up your honor.

·         Never depart from the Way of the Martial Arts.

 

Do the Work Every Day

“Creativity is a habit, and the best creativity is a result of good work habits,” writes Twyla Tharp in her book, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life (with Mark Reiter, Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2006). Tharp lays out the habits that have worked for her in her career as a dance choreographer in New York City. She writes of the solitude, preparation, skill, and persistence necessary for creative endeavors. Tharp acknowledges that luck and chance play a large part in success but claims, “In creative endeavors, luck is a skill.” According to Tharp, hard work is the most important ingredient in one’s recipe for creative success.

When you have selected the environment that works for you, developed the start-up ritual that impels you forward every day, faced down your fears, and put your distractions in their proper place, you have cleared the first hurdle. You have begun to prepare to begin.

Tharp writes of the importance of ritual to her daily routine. Rituals give us a sense of control over things and events which we actually have very little or no control. In this way, they empower us to put aside our fears and get to work. Rituals are a way to eliminate the “why” and skip straight to the action. Tharp writes of her daily habit of waking at 5:30 each morning, getting in a cab, and going to the gym for two hours of stretching and weight training. The ritual is not in the exercise, the ritual is in telling the cab driver where to go. Making this a ritual eliminates choice, and that is the power of habit.

Forming and accessing a creative vocabulary is also important. Tharp writes that metaphor, the language of art, relies on memory. We have different types of memory. Muscle memory is skill imprinted through action. Virtual memory is the “ability to project yourself into feelings and emotions from your past, and to let them manifest themselves physically.” Actors use this memory to access emotion on stage. Sensual memory is a flood of related memories triggered by a sensory input - a smell, a texture, a color, a quality of lighting – that suddenly transports one to a complete scene from one’s past. Institutional memory is locked in the files and memories of people in a company, school, church, or other institution. Ancient memory is ancestral, genetic memory that is recognized through a gut feeling. “It feels right.” Access to all these memories grants the artist a large pool from which to draw ideas and inspiration.

However, “you need a tangible idea to get you going.” Tharp calls her search for ideas “scratching.” She thinks of scratching for ideas as scratching away a lottery ticket to find the numbers behind or scratching at the side of a mountain for a toehold. Lots of little ideas and one or a few big ideas go into any creation, so much scratching is needed for any project. Tharp writes that scratching is a place of desperation. It is the artist at his/her most vulnerable. So, she has rules for scratching: “Be in shape. Scratch in the best places. Never scratch in the same place twice. Maintain the white hot pitch.”

It is difficult to be desperate for ideas. It is near impossible to find the ideas you need if you are out of shape. Rust forms easily on our creative muscles. “You’re only kidding yourself if you put creativity before craft.” This is why a dancer must dance, a writer must read and write, a musician must practice his/her instrument, and an actor must manifest imagination through action every day.  “You may wonder which came first: the skill or the hard work. But that’s a moot point. The Zen master cleans his own studio. So should you.”

Daily persistence, hard work, continual improvement, and increasing creative output are the hallmarks of successful creative people. This book is a call to action. Through metaphor and anecdote, Tharp weaves an easily accessible book with solid practical advice for the working artist. She includes exercises to get the creative muscles working and plenty of autobiography. The Creative Habit is a must read for anyone wondering where to begin on their first or next creative project.

Brandon Brockshus

Overload

Brandon Brockshus. Middle Iowa Film Group. 8 June 2016.

Sound

Black screen. Radio static. Through the static, bits of jazz, voices, tabloid talk show.

“What do women really want in bed? We’ve got that and more at 8.”

“So, this morning my guy walked in on me, and I was, you know, watching porn, and he got all upset…”

Heavy metal music

“The book of Revelation tells us there will be a great reckoning…”

Smooth R&B

“fanatics in the middle east have captured another city, the story at 11”

Upbeat pop

“are you having trouble losing those last five pounds? Try lipid-ex elixir, it worked wonders for me”

Old time gospel

“Jesus said, ‘And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

Static. Plunge through water. Oscillating hum of binaural beats.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

A woman’s voice. “How did I get here? Have I been asleep? What does all this mean?”

Her eyes open. “Who are you?” Black screen.

Sight

A screen pops and fizzles ‘on’ to a grainy, time stamped video recording. The same woman is sitting in front of the camera with wet hair wearing a bathrobe.

“This is day 5 of the sixteenth week of my study in sensory deprivation paired with binaural beats. The psychometric tests have been improving exponentially, and cognitive recall is up 300%. The paranoia has worsened, but more astonishing is the realization that I can now access repressed memories. This realization came nine hours into last night’s session. There are many small patches and some alarmingly large patches of time that were previously blocked from my conscious self. I now know that I did things not of my own volition- things I did not remember doing before last night’s session… Consider this a confession of things I know I did without consent. October 6, 1997 I pushed a man onto the tracks of the E line as it pulled into the World Trade Center. May 23, 2004 I stole a Glock 23 and planted it in the luggage of a young Persian man on his way to the Des Moines International Airport. I lost fifteen months in 2008-09 during which time I gave birth to triplets and nursed them before four men in suits took them away. I’m sorry… I ended the session with that memory and began my usual tests…”

A pounding at the door. “What the…” She rises and answers the door. We do not see the person at the door. “I knew it was only a matter of time.” An arm rises from behind the door. Its hand is holding a handgun. Gunshot. The woman spins and falls. The shooter approaches the camera. Video static.

Touch

A hand reaches onto the screen, pulling the video out of full screen, opening a menu, and deleting the video. We zoom out with the hand to reveal the shooter. There is a picture of him, the woman, and their parents on his desk. He moves to a reel video projector (or record player) and starts “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” as sung by Virginia Bruce in Born to Dance. He sits to watch (listen), and falls asleep.

The man is walking down the street, gently grazing his fingertips across people’s hands. At his touch, each person turns with a glazed expression and changes direction to do something strange or bizarre. One man takes a can of processed cheese and crackers from his jacket and passes them out to passers-by. A woman starts dancing with passers-by, clinging to their necks, whispering in their ears, and laughing. Two people start playing patty-cake in the middle of the street, enjoying it like children. A man goes home and starts an argument with his wife. He becomes abusive. She scrambles for a gun in the bedside table drawer. He takes it from her, shoots her, then himself.

The shooter wakes up, and his eyes focus. The reel (record) is finished and clicking. He turns it off then walks to a closet. He presses his hand to a hidden pad in the back of the closet, and a door opens to a white, fluorescently lit room. In the room is a table filled with forensic evidence, a corkboard with crime scene photos, and a white board with lists of names, places, and corporations. There is also a full chemistry laboratory with various consumer products and a hydroponic vegetable garden.

Taste

The camera turns back onto him now in full personal protective equipment (PPE). He turns on an audio recorder.

“It has been eight weeks, three days since my sister was murdered in her lab. I am no closer to finding her killer or knowing why she was killed, but I can’t escape a feeling of familiarity surrounding this case. Also, the dreams are becoming more vivid, and I’m starting to suspect there is some truth in them- as strange as that sounds. A week before she died, Verity begged me to start a vegetable garden using seeds she had left over from her research at the Vavilov Institute of Plant Industry using only rain water and non-commercial nutrient sources. I laughed and said her conspiracy theories would be the death of her, but something in her eyes made me take the seeds. Since her death, I’ve been eating only from the stockpile of food she gave me, following her notes on nutrition. I also started the damn garden using her instructions. Things are… different now. I’m learning and making connections faster. Her conspiracies don’t seem so crazy anymore.” He puts down the recorder, tends the garden, picks up and starts to eat an apple, then turns to the whiteboard. He sees something- a new piece to the puzzle. He strips off the PPE and rushes out the door.

Smell

The shooter walks with purpose, but confused. He knows where to go but is unsure of what to do. He goes through a shopping mall, where he is sprayed by cologne and perfume samples. As other people are sprayed, they react (laughing, etc) then go into a store and buy fad, expensive, unneeded items. The shooter is aware of this, but no one else finds it strange. He is noticed by men in suits and earpieces who chase him into and through a sewer. They fight. The shooter is very quick. He disarms and dispatches each of the men while unarmed. He does not kill any of them.

He finds a lone white chrysanthemum at the exit of the sewers, smells it, and exits to a trash dump. He is walking with renewed purpose now, the mum in his lapel. Some way into the dump, he comes across a beautifully kept flower garden with a woman dressed all in white. She stands and turns from her gardening and greets him, “Hello Brother.”

Oversight

The shot pans around and out, goes digital hazy, and blinks out. A man’s voice, “The siblings are reunited as you foretold. They will know the truth.” The shot pans away from his face, over his shoulder to the Oversight Supercomputer. (Two yellow HAL9000 -like eyes). OS responds, “Do not fear, they will never be free.”

Slow fade to black. Binaural beats. Static.

Theatre as Meeting Place

Theatre is an ephemeral art that exists within the relationship of artists and audience. It is an art form that must be re-born at each performance and never breathes the same way twice. In this way, it lives only in the present. Essential theatre starts with the question, “Why theatre at all?” This is the premise of The Empty Space by Peter Brook, 1968.

The book addresses theatre as a social art form and the responsibilities of the parties involved. “Theatre’s unit is a few hours of public time.” Because theatre cannot exist without artists (actors, directors, designers), subject matter, and audience, each bears responsibility for the quality of the theatrical experience. Any party can be deadly, so all must work together toward a living, essential theatre. Brook writes from experience in mid-century, post-war European and American theatre. From this experience, he comments on the commercial models of theatre where actors and audiences seek protection in the agency of critics to protect the audience and agents to protect the actors. Poor press can seriously hamper the financial performance of any show – whether the show is good or not. “The vital critic has clearly formulated what the theatre could be and is bold enough to throw this formula into jeopardy each time he participates in a theatrical event.” Here, Brook claims that critics take an active role in shaping theatre and so share the responsibility for success and failure. Brook deplores increasing ticket prices while acknowledging the system that makes them necessary and writes a great deal on the need for actors’ continuous learning. He recognizes that the current system does not always encourage nor prioritize artistic development over (or even hand-in-hand with) career advancement. How do we change this system? Can it be changed? Should it be changed? These are questions with which we must wrestle in our pursuit of a living theatre.

The Holy Theatre and the Rough Theatre, as defined in this book, stand at odds. The Holy Theatre makes the invisible visible through ritual, addressing lofty themes and grand truths. It is theatre that transcends life. The Rough Theatre approaches truth in another way. The Rough Theatre is the popular theatre, operating in poverty with whatever means available. It is revolutionary in that it is the theatre fighting for survival, turning tools and debris into weapons striking at social sensibilities. It speaks to its audiences simply and truthfully, and its audiences rise to meet it, recognizing a human struggle and drive to share its experience, to be heard, to matter. It attains through context and topical devices a connection polished sophistication cannot. It is dirty, crude, and base – not ironically, but out of necessity. Even though the Holy and Rough are at odds, both can exist in one play. Brook acknowledges that Shakespeare was a master of counterpointing the Holy and Rough.

Brook finishes with practical concerns in his chapter “The Immediate Theatre.” The looming deadline of opening night galvanizes the group of people working on a play in the same way war unifies government.

No tribute to the latent power of the theatre is as telling as that paid to it by censorship. In most regimes, even when the written word is free, the image free, it is still the stage that is liberated last. Instinctively, governments know that the living event could create a dangerous electricity – even if we see this happen all too seldom. But this ancient fear is a recognition of an ancient potential. The theatre is the arena where a living confrontation can take place. The focus of a large group of people creates a unique intensity – owing to this forces that operate at all times and rule each person’s daily life can be isolated and perceived more clearly.

Here, Brook sums up the great potential of theatre. At its best, theatre transforms its audience and sends it out to the world charged for action. Theatre can disturb, provoke, inspire, teach, entertain, enlighten, activate, heal, purge, disgust, raise, and lower audiences. It is not the artist’s responsibility to force these things on the public, but to prepare the way for them. An actor meets an audience after preparation, discovery, and repetition. It is in the meeting place of performance that theatre is re-born each night.

Brandon Brockshus

Elements of Originality

How do we build and protect a culture of creativity in a corporate setting? What elements are necessary to this culture? Why do successful companies make bad decisions? Once established, how do we protect this culture of creativity from the inevitable conservatism brought about by success? These are just a few of the questions Ed Catmull, President of Pixar and Disney Animation, addresses in his book, Creativity Inc.: overcoming the unseen forces that stand in the way of true inspiration (with Amy Wallace, Random House, New York, 2014).

Creativity Inc. is part autobiography, partly a biography of Steve Jobs, and mostly a dissertation on management in a creative setting. Catmull masterfully weaves personal stories, anecdotes, quotes from colleagues, and thoughts on management into an easily accessible yet profound read for anyone seeking a balance between the forces of art and commerce. Balance is approached throughout the book.

While the idea of balance always sounds good, it doesn’t capture the dynamic nature of what it means to actually achieve balance. Our mental image of balance is somewhat distorted because we tend to equate it with stillness – the calm repose of a yogi balancing on one leg, a state without apparent motion. To my mind, the more accurate examples of balance come from sports, such as when a basketball player spins around a defender, a running back bursts through the line of scrimmage, or a surfer catches a wave. All of these are extremely dynamic responses to rapidly changing environments.

Here, Catmull presents a picture of balance as a dynamic, constantly changing force. He advocates trading rigid control for a more fluid sense of guidance. He devotes an entire chapter to balancing the needs of the “Ugly Babies” (new projects) and “The Beast” (the systems and overhead accumulated by a successful company and necessary to continued success). “The Beast” must be fed more work to stay alive, but turning over new ideas (films) to the Beast (production team) too early results in an ill-formed, mediocre product. At that point, the project becomes an expensive rewrite.

Catmull consistently refers to the balance of leadership at Pixar between John Lasseter (art), Steve Jobs (business), and himself (technology) and the ways these people and principles intertwine and augment one another, often blurring the lines and dipping into one another’s areas of expertise. He quotes John Lasseter, “Art challenges technology, technology inspires art.”

Catmull states in the introduction, “The thesis of this book is that there are many blocks to creativity, but there are active steps we can take to protect the creative process.” In creating the culture at Pixar, Catmull and his colleagues focused on three principles – self awareness, candor, and fearlessness. If creative collaboration relies on trust, this trust is built through honest, selfless communication. There is an enormous amount of risk involved with making something new, so there is naturally a lot of fear. Catmull claims we must change our approach to failure so as to defang fear.

In a fear-based, failure-averse culture, people will consciously or unconsciously avoid risk. They will seek instead to repeat something safe that’s been good enough in the past. Their work will be derivative, not innovative. But if you can foster a positive understanding of failure, the opposite will happen.

This idea of seeking the new, innovating, creating original work pervades the book. Catmull recognizes that it is very easy, especially in film, to become derivative. He shares a story of a team working on a film with giant corkboards filled with still frames from other films these filmmakers loved. These filmmakers shared their ideas with one another in the language of other films. Because of this well-intended but misguided notion, all their work on the new film felt derivative, hackneyed, old-hat. He also provides an antidote, a way to foster innovation through research trips. Filmmakers at Pixar travelled to world class restaurants in Paris while working on Ratatouille and travelled to Ivy League campuses while working on Monsters University. They were able to draw inspiration and detail from life rather than copying other work in their medium (film). These research trips lend freshness and integrity to Pixar’s films.

“Candor is forthrightness or frankness… the word communicates not just truth-telling but a lack of reserve.” Catmull claims candor, honesty without regard for ego, a selfless problem-solving method, is necessary to a healthy collaborative process.

A hallmark of a healthy creative culture is that its people feel free to share ideas, opinions, and criticisms. Lack of candor, if unchecked, ultimately leads to dysfunctional environments.

At Pixar, a group of trusted colleagues called the Braintrust serves as an advisory board to the directors of each film. In Braintrust meetings, individuals attack problems ruthlessly. This is possible because everyone leaves their ego at the door. All involved recognize they are there to create great films and to remove obstacles to success. The solutions proposed by the Braintrust are not always used – they are not mandatory, but other solutions are found. The Braintrust’s strength is diagnosing problems in films. It brings fresh perspectives and new eyes to a project throughout the creative process. This serves as a check on wasted resources due to pursuing a bad idea and a spur toward innovation. These meetings keep everyone involved on their toes, ready to actively tackle problems together. And action is an antidote to fear.

Catmull approaches mistakes as learning opportunities. “I came to think of our meltdowns as a necessary part of doing our business, like investments in R&D, and I urged everyone at Pixar to see them the same way.” This approach takes much of the fear out of failure.

Left to their own devices, most people don’t want to fail. But Andrew Stanton isn’t most people… He’s known around Pixar for repeating the phrases “fail early and fail fast” and “be wrong as fast as you can.” He thinks of failure like learning to ride a bike; it isn’t conceivable that you would learn to do this without making mistakes – without toppling over a few times. “Get a bike that’s as low to the ground as you can find, put on elbow and knee pads so you’re not afraid of falling, and go,” he says. If you apply this mindset to everything new you attempt, you can begin to subvert the negative connotation associated with making mistakes.

 

This approach to failure is an empowering one. Rather than forcing people into inaction through fear of failure, it enables people to act, to try new things with a fierce curiosity and courage, safe in the knowledge that they can try again if needed.

Self awareness means knowing and acknowledging your own strengths and weaknesses. It leads to humility and constant self improvement. Self aware people are easy to work with and promote collaboration. Catmull shares the story of a couple with whom he and his wife were vacationing. The husband was driving the four of them in a large RV with dual wheels in the back. While navigating a roundabout, one of the rear tires blew. The couple started arguing about whether or not the tire had blown, and it soon became clear that they brought a lot of baggage into this argument. They were arguing one another passionately without addressing the problem at hand. Eventually, Catmull interjected and asked them to pull over so they could change the tire. Catmull uses this story to illustrate that old problems and arguments in well established relationships (baggage) can hinder our ability to tackle the problem at hand. A great deal of self awareness is required to avoid this pitfall.

Most people have heard of the Eastern teaching that it is important to exist in the moment. It can be hard to train yourself to observe what is right now (and not to bog down in thoughts of what was and what will be), but the philosophical teaching that underlies that idea – the reason that staying in the moment is so vital – is equally important: Everything is changing. All the time. And you can’t stop it. And your attempts to stop it actually put you in a bad place. It causes pain, but we don’t seem to learn from it. Worse than that, resisting change robs you of your beginner’s mind – your openness to the new.

Resistance to change causes pain. It also hinders our ability to see things as they are, to perceive truth. At Pixar, the culture is built in such a way to embrace change, to ride the dynamic wave of balance, and to acknowledge the unknown. The systems in place are flexible and subject to change because they are built on self aware, candid, and fearless individuals. Catmull claims people are more important for a company than ideas because ideas come from people. He says that a great idea given to mediocre people will produce a poor result, but a mediocre idea given to a great team will result in excellence.

Self awareness, candor, and fearlessness are the hallmarks of Pixar’s culture. It is the application of these principles to their goal of making great films that has led to Pixar’s success. Catmull addresses more specific methods to removing or navigating obstacles to creativity in Creativity, Inc. He provides eight mechanisms in place at Pixar to promote flexibility. He also addresses the issues of change and randomness, seeing the hidden, and the challenge of applying his management principles to another company, Disney Animation, while maintaining the integrity of the cultures at Pixar and Disney Animation. It is a great read with much more to offer than I can in this limited space.

Brandon Brockshus

Theatre's Spiritual Power

Theater is a means of accessing life as theater’s Double is a means of accessing great and terrible secret truths of the spiritual realm. Modern theater, however, has lost its teeth- its ability to channel its Double- due to modern theater’s subservience to text. A new language is needed if theater is to regain its ritualistic power to transform society by bringing it face-to-face with the metaphysical realm and the abstract powers that reside therein. These are just a few of the major claims Antonin Artaud makes in his collection of essays published in 1938, The Theater and its Double.

 Artaud’s life was spent in revolt against the banality, mediocrity, complacency, and apathy of modern bourgeois society. He was a poet, a film actor, and a theater director. Artaud also used and abused various chemical and narcotic substances and was committed to an insane asylum for a time. He undertook pilgrimages to Mexico and Ireland in search of metaphysical truth and was interested, if not involved, in various ancient philosophies and religions and the secret powers they held. He was described by a contemporary as “the metaphysician of the theater.”

Artaud opens his book with a preface titled “The Theater and Culture” in which he equates culture with civilization. He claims, “The world is hungry and not concerned with culture.” How can hungry people create or even be concerned with theater? Artaud says that the power of hunger can be utilized for other purposes than to sate it with food. Here, we see for the first time Artaud’s perception of a realm separate and parallel to reality. He approaches this realm not from a philosophical view, but in a state ready for action. He would do away with forms (intellectual concepts) and language to communicate directly with life, “that fragile, fluctuating center which forms never reach.” Artaud sees theater as a spiritual access to life, transcending forms.

He outlines the power of theater by comparing it to pestilence in “The Theater and the Plague.” Through descriptive and visceral language, he describes the effect of plague on the human body and claims the plague purges society, forcing the survivors to become noble heroes.

The theater, like the plague, is in the image of this carnage and this essential separation. It releases conflicts, disengages powers, liberates possibilities, and if these possibilities and these powers are dark, it is the fault not of the plague nor of the theater, but of life.

Artaud describes essential theater as a dark avenger, an angel of pestilence that purges society of lies and hypocrisy. It galvanizes the populace to confront truth and act upon what it learns. In this way, theater serves as a call to action, a call to see life as it is, a call to do away with spiritual corruption. Artaud finishes the essay with his own call to action:

And the question we must now ask is whether, in this slippery world which is committing suicide without noticing it, there can be found a nucleus of men capable of imposing this superior notion of the theater, men who will restore to all of us the natural and magic equivalent of the dogmas in which we no longer believe.

In “Metaphysics and the Mise en Scene,” Artaud defines the mise en scene as the parts of theater that belong solely to theater. It is comprised of gesture, intonation, light, shadow, plastic and concrete elements- basically all elements of theater except Dialogue, which can be written down and communicated without being played on stage. “I say that the stage is a concrete physical place which asks to be filled, and to be given its own concrete language to speak.” Artaud proposes this new language of theater will speak to the senses as language speaks to the mind. He also outlines the power of theater to act on society, or at least to raise social debate. “I believe, however, that our present social state is iniquitous and should by destroyed. If this is a fact for the theater to be preoccupied with, it is even more a matter for machine guns.” Artaud would abandon modern theater’s focus on psychology “in order to recover the religious and mystic.” In this way, theater will regain its power to access the ineffable.

Artaud’s essay “The Alchemical Theater” furthers his claim of spiritual power in theater.

Where alchemy, through its symbols, is the spiritual Double of an operation which functions only on the level of real matter, the theater must also be considered as the Double, not of this direct, everyday reality of which it is gradually being reduced to a mere inert replica – as empty as it is sugar-coated – but of another archetypal and dangerous reality, a reality of which the Principles, like dolphins, once they have shown their heads, hurry to dive back into the obscurity of the deep.

An alchemist seeks to refine physical and/or spiritual material, through conflict, ciphers, and secret operations, into a pure substance. In the physical realm, this substance is gold. In the spiritual realm, it is a place of no conflict- enlightenment. Artaud sees parallels to theater in that both alchemy and theater work through signs, symbols, and conflict to approach truth. Again, he seeks an active way to apply spiritual theories to creating theater.

The rest of his book expounds upon and clarifies the ideas laid out in these first few essays. Of special interest, he outlines a method of eliciting emotion in an actor through breath in “An Affective Athleticism.” He says, “The actor is an athlete of the heart.” Also included are his thoughts on Oriental versus Occidental theater, two manifestoes on The Theater of Cruelty and several correspondences in which he clarifies his thoughts on cruelty and language.

This is a book I have now read twice, and I will wrestle with its ideas and implications throughout my career in theatre. Antonin Artaud was a visionary. He argued for a theater of ancient and profound power, a theater of ritual and magic. He sought to reclaim for theater the power of spectacle relegated to circus and cinema. His vision for a theater tied closely to Myth will certainly inform my own journey.

Brandon Brockshus

Progress

Hello, friends. I am making progress toward our first show and am very excited! I have booked eight of our twelve venues and have nine of our twelve actors lined up for "Fahrenheit 451" by Ray Bradbury produced by special arrangement with Dramatic Publishing Company of Woodstock, Illinois. I'm also actively seeking advertising partners to purchase ad space in our playbill which will be seen in all twelve towns we play. Please contact me if you know of someone that can help me toward these goals.

Last night, I saw some staged readings of new works by local Ames, Iowa playwrights at DG's Taphouse downtown Ames and was blown away! I'm very excited that Iowa has so much talent to offer. I look forward to tapping into that talent to tell important stories in Iowan communities.

Be A Light

Brandon Brockshus

Hello World!

Thanks for joining me for the launch of our new website! I'm incredibly excited to be working with some fantastic people to bring you "Fahrenheit 451" by Ray Bradbury produced by special arrangement with Dramatic Publishing Company of Woodstock, Illinois. Shows are this May in 12 different towns across central Iowa. I have most of my cast and crew but am still seeking 4 men to act, advertisers, and local collaborators to aid in our poster campaign coming up. Contact me today if you'd like to work with us on this provoking project!

Check back regularly for my weekly blog posts to stay current with how we're progressing in our vision for a community of theatre artists in Iowa and all rural America- it's a daunting challenge and one I hope you'll join me in achieving! Until next week, my friends. Be A Light.

Brandon Brockshus