There are a number of sacred spaces, for any of us I’m sure. Churches and temples, to name the obvious. Then there are canyons, mountain tops, streams and according to many indigenous cultures, any place water meets land. Cool and yes. For theatricals and those audience members who have been, as I have, blessed to experience a performer who becomes a transparency to universal Truths, the theatre can also be a sacred space.
Lately, I’ve been in rehearsals for a swell new play and as I entered the room yesterday I could not help but feel that the rehearsal room qualifies as a sacred space as well. I’ll do my best to explain to you, why.
Rehearsals are for the most part held in large empty, make that sterile rooms in which three tables are set up along the periphery. One smack at the center of the back wall for the director and stage manager. Usually, to the side walls, one for props that have been assembled for the actors’ use and experimentation. A third for waters, teas, coffee, maybe some snacks and well, anything else. Various chairs too are assembled in a row along the back for the actors, to recuperate, to study, to watch from and stay in the zone during the course of rehearsals.
On the floor of the empty space in front of the director’s table is taped the outline of the set which is adorned with only the essential furniture bits. The participants of this journey about to get underway collectively imagine the walls, stairs, levels, etc., that the designer has envisioned for the actors to move into. For the actor that is the ocean into which we are about to dive. First day is as exciting and nerve wracking as a first day of school. Folks are bright eyed, smell good, are reasonably well groomed at the down beat of any given work day. Particularly so day one. Everyone has trained to get there, oft times for decades, and bring their best game. It’s always humbling to look around a rehearsal space at any given company and ponder the years of training, resilience and sacrifice represented in those assembled.
Barring emergency, everyone is on time and ready to work as they cross the threshold. Anticipation runs high. In the “meet and greet” there is a sense of adventure in the air as well as that crucial downbeat of trust. We begin, usually with a first read through of the play. In the beginning, after all, was the word. The first pass at those cranial vibrations, hearing your fellow actors speak their roles begins to illuminate jewels, queries, questions, mysteries that we’ll have to mine together. In this womb, the focus is all encompassing, the commitment fierce and senses heightened. Over the course of the next few weeks as we barrel toward being in front of an audience, a blending of souls takes place during which everyone brings their best selves into the room. Things like gossip, negativity are shut out. Baggage, in other words, stays outside.
You work. The director observes and leads, giving insightful notes and guidance from an objective view ever mindful of the tale’s larger arc, themes and rhythm of language. As the play’s shape begins to take form externally, internally actors are taking as deep a dive as they possibly can to get to the truths that are our duty to articulate. That’s what we signed on to do. Dig, dive, go into the cauldron, illuminate what portion of humanity we’ve been allotted to the best of our abilities. Optimally it is a safe place, filled with respect and support in which you must strip emotionally. As if by magic if you strip, the truth in turn strips for you. My brilliant composer friend Hugh McElyea reminds me that the word sacred shares the root of the word sacrifice whose derivation means to “make holy through loss.” I’ve seen actors fall apart emotionally in these rooms and rise, phoenix like from their own ashes. We seek transformations, transparencies. Just the effort counts. Atleast in my experience that for which we strive in those spaces comes but rarely, however, the ritual of being there, the effort-ing, creates pathways. This is the thing that makes it sacred.
I’ve had the chance to spend time in rehearsal rooms as an observer in such far flung cities as Paris, Beijing, and Moscow. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have worked in rooms in Monaco, Tokyo, New York and more. There are constants. Like the inspiring beauty found in nature, the reassuringly perpetual movement of water, like an altar, those tables, chairs and taped floors become the vessel and oasis both for whatever transformation we undertake. Journeys to any sacred space involves effort. Everything from challenging physical exertions, to getting the kids dressed, fed and out the door in a Saturday or Sunday morning scramble. We arrive variously to a place where roles and rituals are respected be it for safety and/or reverence. Disciplines of the mind, body and soul all come into play. Sacred spaces are a place of refuge where we go at times to wrestle something through with our God. Where we call on intercessions, enlightenments, make demands from the above and from the paradise within if only we can find it.
I have to head out now to rehearsal. What failures and discoveries await me I have yet to know but I am grateful beyond measure that this particular space, indeed these spaces, await. We have but to make our way there…into that cauldron of the wild and sacred space.