Performing Dark Arts: A Cultural History of Conjuring (Intellect Books - Theatre and Consciousness)


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Drawing from performance practices in Africa, the Caribbean, the United States, and black Britain, this landmark collection delineates the cultural specificity of an African diaspora theatre that, while it appears to 'wear the mask' of conformity to EuroAmerican values, enacts a profoundly different world view aimed at confronting an oppressive past and reaffirming the humanity of black peoples. The anthology's analytic rigor and creative insight set a challenge for subsequent generations to engage.

It is a feast of powerful critical and theoretical reflections on the past and the future of Black theatre in this country and in other parts of the African diaspora. Without the slightest nudge toward racial absolutism or essentialism, the volume is a model of how 'race' can be deployed as a subtle and progressive analytic category in contemporary dramatic and cultural criticism.

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This book should be compulsory reading for every student of contemporary theatre scholarship. It belongs on the shelf of anyone studying black performance. The editors succeed on many levels with this collection of compelling articles This book illuminates, challenges, and expands the consciousness.

It also inspires the reader It belongs on the shelf of anyone studying black performance This text is a valuable contribution to current critical, historical and theoretical debate about this rich and varied field. NS Consequents anubhava are defined as means of histrionic representation. In the above example, the erotic rasa in union should be represented on the stage by "Consequents such as clever movement of eyes, eyebrows, glances, soft and delicate movement of limbs and sweet words and similar other things" NS To each of these aspects the Natyashastra devotes several chapters.

The movements are also specifically related to the space of the stage NS, chapter Costume and make-up will function mainly through the sense of sight, affecting the emotions. The symbolic nature of theatre affects mainly the intellect.


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Gestures angika abhinaya , function through the sense of sight, and language vacika abhinaya through the sense of hearing. I have also shown that the Natyashastra functions on two levels: it is a description of what actors who live in a higher state of consciousness would automatically, spontaneously do to create a specific aesthetic effect rasa in the given spectators in a given performance. Repeated exposure to Vedic performance i. In alternation with ordinary daily activity, actors and spectators alike retain more and more of the experience of pure consciousness throughout their waking, dreaming and sleeping, thus developing higher states of consciousness, which are characterised by permanent experience of pure consciousness.

The process functions in analogy to ancient methods of dying cloth:. In an earlier section of this paper I had identified the level of pure consciousness as the level from which all laws of nature operate. The more people are enabled to experience pure consciousness, the more will they be able to behave without making mistakes, without being intentionally or unintentionally of harm to themselves or their environment. In particular, the laws of nature will inform their desires; the action they carry out to fulfil their desires will be increasingly in tune with the laws of nature.

Vedic theatre serves as a means of developing higher states of consciousness; action on the path to that goal is increasingly in tune with the laws of nature, and action in a higher state of consciousness cannot, by definition, cause harm, offence, or any violation of any law of nature. Vedic theatre can thus serve to reduce violence and terrorism in any individual exposed to it.

This claim, that Vedic theatre serves as a means of reducing violence and terrorism and, for that matter, any other behaviour that violates any law of nature is open to empirical research. Establish parameters, or indicators, of well-being and reduction of violence or other detrimental behaviour, expose a given number of subjects to Vedic theatre both on the production and reception side , and see whether well-being increases and violence decreases in those subjects, as predicted.

Such a study could find that the amount of increase or decrease, respectively, correlates with differences in frequency of exposure the more often the exposure, the stronger the impact , and on the subject in question: performers might show stronger changes because they are exposed longer and more intensively to Vedic theatre than spectators. Personality variables may come into it as well, of course, for example, people who already practice forms of meditation may turn out to be effected by Vedic theatre more than others who do not practice meditation.

At the beginning of the 21 st century, hardly any theatre is full-blown Vedic theatre, although some theatre shows aspects of it: for example, higher states of consciousness are implied, or alluded to, though various techniques in theatre see Malekin and Yarrow, , Full-blown Vedic theatre would need to be re- constructed, re- invented and re- created from existing sources such as the Natyashastra , and some surviving forms of theatre in India, such as Koodiyattom. Conventional theatre, most of the theatre we can see at any point these days in London or elsewhere in the UK, Europe and the USA at least, will not currently have the impact Vedic theatre can have.

Certainly all theatre will have some impact on the production team involved, and on the spectators, whether those exposed to theatre in production or reception know it or not another claim open to empirical research. Many theatre artists have tried, very hard indeed, to achieve change, on various levels. Audiences were educated, intellectually, to think differently about certain issues presented in plays. Well-known examples for this approach are Brecht and the wave of politically motivated dramatists in the UK in the s.

The comfortable, plush and cosy ambiente and atmosphere of at time purpose-built boulevard comedy theatres supports the intention of giving the audience a good time, making them feel happy during and after the performance.

All those ideals art reminiscent of descriptions of higher states of consciousness as proposed by the model of consciousness in Vedic Science. However, those states are only rarely achieved, and so far, there seem no reliable methods available to achieve such higher states of consciousness in the actor and through the actor in the spectator systematically, intentionally, at will, and thus repeatable in performance after performance. The success is patchy, at best, possibly due to an eclectic or, to put it more colloquially, pick-and-mix approach: adopting and randomly combining, aspects of theatre practice from a wide range of cultures and epochs, possibly at times without in-depth knowledge of the adopted techniques.

Empirical research might clarify whether an in-depth approach rooted in the practices of one culture might be more fruitful, and to what extent experiences of higher states of consciousness are indeed beyond culture and time, i. I want to end this paper by claiming that Western theatre can increase well-being and reduce violence in the production team and spectators systematically, and more so than previous attempts, if it meets a number of conditions.

Below I offer a number of such conditions, by way of hypotheses, which can be subjected not only to further development and counter-argument, but also to empirical research:. It is likely that not all plays written so far in the history of theatre are equally conducive to develop higher states of consciousness.

A new canon may need to be established, containing plays found to be conducive. Such a canon can be achieved by theorising what the criteria for plays conducive for developing higher states of consciousness might be, and then testing the criteria in practice. The alternative approach is to start from experience. The second stage would be then to analyse the plays predominantly found to have a good impact on spectators: what characteristics do they have in common? Such research would also be able to establish to what extent plays that constitute Western theatre history have an effect of developing higher states of consciousness In establishing the revised canon, aspects of production will also play in important role.

Some kinds of plays, such as, probably, most of the s UK In yer face theatre, are unlikely to achieve any positive impact on consciousness independent of the elements of the production. In other cases, the same play may have an overall positive or negative impact depending on the chosen production style. According to Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, violence depicted in the Mahabharata has a cleansing, purging, and in that sense cathartic effect because it was written from the level of an enlightened mind.

Some of the violence in Shakespeare may well have a similar impact; violence written from a mind that is more distant from pure consciousness, and limited to the relative levels of intellect or emotions, will only increase the tendency towards violence in anyone exposed to it. We saw that in Vedic theatre, the means of histrionic representation themselves serves as techniques, or tools, of developing higher states of consciousness for actors and spectators.

The means of histrionic representation in Western theatre do not have that function in themselves. Either, techniques are adopted from Vedic theatre, or dramatists and the production team have to engage in other available techniques, independent of theatre, such as meditation. It is, in the first place, much more challenging and interesting to create consciousness-raising theatre intentionally, than to continue creating conventional theatre that may, more by coincidence than intention, be conducive to developing higher states of consciousness.

It is much more challenging to write an interesting play about a friendship than to deal at length with yet more aspects of psycho-pathology. Summary In this paper I address the potentially redemptive impact of the arts, the questions. Within that methodological framework I selected the model of the mind proposed by Vedic Science. According to that model, any form of violence is based on an inability to fulfil desires, which in turn is due to an underdeveloped state of consciousness.

The solution is to raise the level of consciousness, which implies that the levels of crime, violence and terrorism are reduced. They don't explain how spectators are convinced and rightly so that is the same signed card that is being torn it is , and the same signed card that is later shown to be whole again it is. They don't explain how it's possible that such a feat be interesting to watch, and why; they don't explain psychological, emotional connotations at play in the feat; they don't explain, in short, why such a feat really works on the audience, and why.

Another way of putting it could be this: magicians spend a life time trying to understand magical feats in relation to their audience: to understand, for example, on which beat to execute a particular move, or which words to precisely use, or how to use the gaze, etc.

And it is the interaction of bodily and perceptual decisions, actions, pauses, gestures, and words, together with the spectator's own interpretation and elaboration of the whole situation, that constitutes the 'real' method: it is this larger and subtle interactive choreography let's call it that truly allow spectators to fool themselves. At the risk of sounding pedantic I know I am! One could try and describe all the subtleties and principles at work.


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  • But that would take a huge amount of work: a life work, in fact, learning, refining, questioning, and changing approaches. And that is what magicians do. I was recently interview by Dr Matt Pritchard a.

    Performing Magic on the Western Stage

    The camera shakes a few times, and you'll need to adjust the audio, but nevertheless here is a postshow discussion filmed after presenting 'The Chore of Enchantment' in Norwich, May Some really interesting questions and thoughts emerge, around the status of magic today is it really having a renaissance? Thanks to all who were present. The show was sold out seats , and despite some technical issues, it was a great one. I'm especially happy as the show seems to be finding its feet, after slightly lost its way during Edinburgh A short essay of mine has just been published in the academic journal Platform Royal Holloway University.

    It's a first attempt at verbalising how magic is a form of theatre, and how magic's role is to perhaps question theatre itself. But perhaps the same goes for most magic acts You can access the article here , for free. The full journal is accessible here. Last summer in Edinburgh, deception psychologist is that right?

    Richard Wiseman told me of an academic position that has opened up at Carleton University, in Ottowa, Canada: very likely the 1st of its kind, this is a Chair in Conjuring. As of yet, the post remains vacant. I thought this was an interesting development, given pockets of academic interest in conjuring and magic are beginning to emerge see my blog post on this here. Magic needs to be studied and analysed more, especially outside of the insular world of magicians and magic conventions. There is an incredible wealth of magic literature though mainly by and for magicians , and the ways in which magicians learn and develop sleights and psychological misdirection - sometimes over decades of study and practice - deserves serious study.

    Searching the web about the Carleton post, however, I quickly came across a scathing dismissal of the scheme. In the context of cuts to humanities subjects classics, English, literature, etc , the author sees the Chair in Conjuring as a way of further trivialising serious university study.

    Let me try to qualify this. Of course for those serious magicians out there, triviality is a badge of shame, something to fight against daily. We all want recognition for the hard work, as well as public appreciation. However, part of the appeal of magic, to me, is its cultural invisibility, its perception as mere trivial trickery. Triviality offers a perfect disguise of sorts for magic.

    What better misdirection could we ask for? Therefore, we have an ideal situation for maximising on the build up, from the trivial all the way to a sense of genuine mystery and awe. Whereas a visitor at an art gallery might might come with a pre-established taste for paintings, rarely do audiences come to magic when they do with a pre-established taste for card tricks. What a perfect starting point for taking the audience on a journey it's harder for painters to do this, as so much is already known, analysed, studied, etc 3. So how else can magic be presented?

    Performing Dark Arts: A Cultural History of Conjuring (Intellect Books - Theatre and Consciousness)

    In other words: Magicians! Only then might a university post on conjuring not strike other academics as an aberration. The recent passing of Ricky Jay see previous blog post has led me to re-watch David Mamet's House of Games , a rather delightful film, if at times troubling see the Post Scriptum at the bottom. Jay plays a small role, as part of a gang of suave confidence tricksters, or con men. He first appears, and this really is his scene, sitting at a poker table, engaged in a fraught high-stakes game.

    He ends up winning the last round, but things turn nasty when it transpires the game's main loser doesn't have the requisite cash. However, just as Jay's character pulls out a gun out and places it menacingly on the table, the film's protagonist, a psychologist, who has been observing the game all along, offers to step in to cover the missing money. The psychologist signs a cheque, but just before handing it over, spots a few drops of water seeping out of the gun, prompting her to refuse handing over the money; instead, she makes a comment about the nonthreatening water pistol is.


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    In response, Jay's character and the other card players suddenly stop their act: it transpires that the whole game was merely a set up, a con, to trick the psychologist out of her money. She initially fell for it, and so did we, as film viewers. What's memorable about House of Games is the way this scene, which occurs towards the beginning, establishes much of the the premise of this film about cons and about cons within cons.

    This is quite different from magic-themed films such as The Prestige or The Illusionist , which use a Sixth Sense -like approach of fooling the viewer right up until the final twist: in these films there is always the "ooo" moment at the end, where you realise it was all staged to to make you believe in a very different reality than the one you've been following all along. It's a kind of 'who dunnit' structure, operating at the level of the whole narrative: and so it turns out, for instance, that there were really two identical twin magicians all along, or that the main character's love interest had only pretended to die, etc.

    In House of Games , after the Ricky Jay scene, we are invited on a similarly deceptive narrative journey, except that here we have been clearly told that this will be the case, and shown exactly the mechanics at play unlike in The Prestige and The Illusionist. The initial Poker-playing scene is there to tell us: "See, this is how a con is done. These people are pretending, they are 'acting' as though there is a gun, a threat, real money.

    You have been warned It grants us the intelligence to be able to see through the illusion, and to then appreciate it as such. It doesn't just fool us. It first tells us, and shows us, exactly how it's going to fool us; and then it does it. And this is such a valuable model for magic and magicians. For thinking about a magician's relation to the audience: do you merely show them something amazing and unexplainable?

    Or do you let them in on the dynamic of illusion and magic without spoilers , and then proceed to do illusion and magic? PS The 'note' I mentioned at the top has to do with the gender dynamics in the narrative, which are a little let's say "dated" read: chauvinistic male fantasy. There is a theme of 'loving your captor' underlying much of it, and the captive is a woman.

    That said, there is much appreciate here that doesn't rely on regressive gender politics. PSS On an unrelated note, I love this sentence that the protagonist writes on a bar napkin, after she returns to the dingy bar: 'The necessity of dark places to transact a dark business'. I came across and read a profile by the New Yorker, from way back in At the time Jay was preparing his defining show, Ricky Jay and his 52 assistants. On a day in which there might be pause to reflect on what matters, the unashamed promotion and business-as-usual is especially jarring.

    Inevitably the buyer gets bored, and so new products must fill the void, the frustration, the difficulty of maintaining an ongoing relation with the art form. Just click here to purchase this item. Ricky Jay who was most likely an imperfect person, from what I gather carved a path that was unique, merely because he cultivated his interests, and fashioned them into his performing persona.

    A brilliant magician, but also a model to emulate artists do exactly this: follow their path, work hard at it.

    Read Performing Dark Arts: A Cultural History of Conjuring (Intellect Books - Theatre and

    Call out a demeaning culture of greed for what it is. No art form, no scholarship, no interesting events can develop in such a market of short-lived gizmos and toys. To all sellers of magic products: find your income elsewhere. There are alternatives. In short and this is more for magicians. We need to cut off this ridiculous addiction and develop slower forms of study, practice, rehearsal and exchange that can re-define the field.

    Performing Dark Arts: A Cultural History of Conjuring (Intellect Books - Theatre and Consciousness) Performing Dark Arts: A Cultural History of Conjuring (Intellect Books - Theatre and Consciousness)
    Performing Dark Arts: A Cultural History of Conjuring (Intellect Books - Theatre and Consciousness) Performing Dark Arts: A Cultural History of Conjuring (Intellect Books - Theatre and Consciousness)
    Performing Dark Arts: A Cultural History of Conjuring (Intellect Books - Theatre and Consciousness) Performing Dark Arts: A Cultural History of Conjuring (Intellect Books - Theatre and Consciousness)
    Performing Dark Arts: A Cultural History of Conjuring (Intellect Books - Theatre and Consciousness) Performing Dark Arts: A Cultural History of Conjuring (Intellect Books - Theatre and Consciousness)
    Performing Dark Arts: A Cultural History of Conjuring (Intellect Books - Theatre and Consciousness) Performing Dark Arts: A Cultural History of Conjuring (Intellect Books - Theatre and Consciousness)
    Performing Dark Arts: A Cultural History of Conjuring (Intellect Books - Theatre and Consciousness) Performing Dark Arts: A Cultural History of Conjuring (Intellect Books - Theatre and Consciousness)
    Performing Dark Arts: A Cultural History of Conjuring (Intellect Books - Theatre and Consciousness) Performing Dark Arts: A Cultural History of Conjuring (Intellect Books - Theatre and Consciousness)
    Performing Dark Arts: A Cultural History of Conjuring (Intellect Books - Theatre and Consciousness) Performing Dark Arts: A Cultural History of Conjuring (Intellect Books - Theatre and Consciousness)

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