Theatre In The Wild

Rediscovering the spiritual purpose of theatre
through stories that give meaning to existence

One of the articles in Earth & Spirit (IC#24)
Originally published in Late Winter 1990 on page 8
Copyright (c)1990, 1997 by Context Institute

"See these pools of light?" said Merlin the Magician, pointing to an expanse of meadow where high clouds spilled sun and shadow down in a patchwork. "Each one is a doorway into remembrance – and today you shall remember!"

– Dance the Dragon Home

Those of us who thought of ourselves as "the audience" were beginning to feel our roles dissolve in the warm sun. Merlin, a character in the play we had come to see, was relating to us as "just folks" caught up with him in a flow of magical events. We were on the inside of the story looking out.

The story unfolded over hillsides, across streams, in forest thickets and high plateaus. We met Terra Ann, a young runaway, and Gueneviere, who, along with Merlin, had somehow made a wrong turn on the path of alchemy and landed in the 20th century. We learned that "an impending configuration of moon, stars and tides" was about to cause a terrible flood, and that the key to avoiding this disaster lay in ancient Arthurian legend of the days of Camelot.

Suddenly we were all propelled back in time, trained as Knights of the Crown and sent off in quest of the Sacred Dragon of Old. We learned dances, enacted rituals and ceremonies, and walked on soft moss with fairies and nature spirits. We played hard, walked far, faced the Dragon, and cheered our friend Lancelot in battle. And finally, reunited with Terra Ann, we returned home to the 20th century, not altogether sure where the story ended and reality resumed – and perhaps not caring.

Dance the Dragon Home, a project of Theatre in the Wild, was performed at the Bloedel Nature Reserve on Bainbridge Island, Washington, in July 1989. As its name suggests, Theatre in the Wild’s work involves returning to theatre’s non-hybrid origins; it is theatre in its "wild variety."

In ancient times theatre played a crucial, spiritual purpose within the community. The actor/storyteller and the shaman/priest were one and the same. The "stage" was also a sacred space, a place of spiritual gathering. And the theatrical event itself was an enactment of a cosmic story, and the point of connection between the spirit world and the temporal world.

Theatre in its wild variety was the gathering of a community to witness and participate in the stories that explained and gave meaning to their existence – stories that provided an image of their place in the cosmos. Theatre was participatory in its origins because it was a structure for connection, for relationship, and ultimately for influence with creation and the creator.

Many of these original purposes and powers of theatre were present in Dance the Dragon Home. The myth of Camelot is still very close to the hearts of Western culture, so it was fairly easy for audience members to enter into its mythic world.

The key to providing that opportunity to enter the story is in the land itself. The drama was designed to be integral to the land, and it seemed to grow naturally out of it. In fact, the play was written by listening to the land, by asking, "What is the story that wants to be told in this place?"

The giant cedar in the middle of the meadow is not just a tree, but the veil between two worlds. On a hilltop overlooking Puget Sound the Dragon dances, and its High Priestess speaks with a voice that might have come from the thunder clouds behind her. She invokes the elements; an eagle soars over her head; the wind rushes into our faces and even the tall grass seems to speak. These images resulted from playing a story into the land, playing it in concert with the land.

This kind of theatre can nourish a sense of community, rekindle a deep connection with the land, and provide a vehicle for re-examining the myths that live in our consciousness. Through play and participation with others, we can then create new stories, new interpretations, new myths to live by.

Merlin himself put it this way: "When you understand that you are the authors, then you can retell the story."

Theresa May co-wrote "Dance the Dragon Home" with Larry Fried, who directed the show for its debut last year. For more information about their company, Theatre in the Wild, write to 9758 Arrowsmith Ave. S., Seattle, WA 98118.

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