"The Song and a Prayer Lab"
Autumn 2006; Oct. 1st through Dec. 18th
Finnish Brotherhood Hall, Berkeley




Monday Dec. 18th 2006.
This lab started with the intention of learning an early Armenian choral work as the basis for developing what I have come to term "ritual actions", precise and repeatable movements containing and expressing the essence and feeling of the song as it is sung. Our intention was to learn the song, find the actions and perform the results after three months of practice.

This process of discovering the intersection of song and action proved far more difficult than we initially assumed.

About five weeks into this project, I chose to drop the original intent. I felt we simply did not have enough time to do it right. We were not ready to continue working towards its performance due to lack of structural preparation on my part and an inconsistency of vocal talent in the group itself. Though we continued practicing elements of the song and movement modality, our ritual intent shifted towards the exploration of various prayer forms such as silent prayer, movement prayers and "sending" prayers (where rituals were developed to project prayers beyond our immediate time and space continuum).

I changed the name of this lab to "Song and a Prayer" to more honestly convey my perception of what we were actually doing. Though we all felt various degrees of disappointment at the collapse of our original intent, the shift towards prayer forms felt organic and somehow important. We continued in this vein for the following five weeks with good results until the intent shifted once more to an open-ended intention of "approaching the unknown". During the final few weeks of this lab, nobody knew what was going to happen or where we were going with each session.

We all agreed, albeit in various degrees of unspoken resistance, to approach this uncertainty as a direction in and of itself. I held myself to arriving at each session free of preconceptions about what directions to suggest and placed full faith in my intuition to guide each night with ritual forms based on my receptivity to the group spirit of each night we met. Approaching the unknown in this way eventually provided us all with incentive for relating to our state of increasing uncertainty as a creative process, rather than any anxiety-ridden reactions or negative judgments about lack of structure or consciously planned direction.

We unanimously agreed to culminate in a public witnessing of our final lab session, an event that I chose to call, whereabouts unknown. We were all clear that this was not to be a performance and that we would do this final session whether witnesses showed up or not. We also agreed not to consciously plan anything for the night beyond our usual warm-up procedures. I would, as before, call out the ritual directions based on my intuitive responses to the moment. As most of the participants of this lab are seasoned veterans of this process, I remain confident in our individual and collective discoveries of our "whereabouts unknown".

The night of our public witnessing could not have brought a more apt manifestation of our intent of approaching unknown outcomes. About sixty or so people flooded in while we were halfway through our physical warm-up; the available seating was completely filled and overflowing, significantly buffering the rich acoustics we were previously accustomed to. One small section of the witnesses -- maybe five -- arrived drunk and perhaps, ecstacy-drenched. Throughout the event, they erupted in spontaneous chanting, talking and sobbing until one of them got up and raged out the exit door, screaming. All the while, our commitment and focus deepened (it had to) through the group polarities of Cultural Static and Planetary Source, Love and Fear and finally culminating in a Group Ritual Prayer (from silent prayer to sending prayer). Afterwards, we convened in the center, as has been our custom, and shared notes with each other as sixty or so witnesses silently listened on. Then, we opened it up for questions from the witnesses. Everybody left the building by 11pm.

The week following this public witnessing was very difficult for me. I had the feeling of being somehow torn asunder, that I had stepped into a circle of vulnerability meant to remain private and not placed under the spurious gaze of a hundred prodding eyes. What's somewhat astonishing to me is how this had never happened before, as this was the first time in the thirty years of doing this work that I had invited the impersonal public to audit an actual lab session. And, for me, it was an important mistake with its yield of siginficant learning. I learned that any public presentation of the nakedness of this work requires a formal container, a structure, to bridge audience and performer. I wonder what led me into this recent arena of error. I think I needed to experience firsthand the specific and necessary limitations of where and how to present this paratheatre work and, now I know.

-Antero Alli


"Sirt im sasani" (my heart is trembling) MP3


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