Vital Matters originated with an ensemble of students at Kennesaw State University in the fall of 2019. It is an ensemble laboratory for exploring our relationship to ourselves, each other, and the non-human world in this moment of climate crisis. We use the environmental/immersive theatre framework of The Performance Workshop (originated by Richard Schechner), and Somatic Movement approaches such as Jamie McHugh's Somatic Expression to enable deeply embodied engagement with existential as well as immediate social and political questions. It also draws upon the ideas in the Climate Lens Playbook, a working document developed by Una Chaudhuri and others dedicated to exploring the ways performance can address climate change. In this pilot version of the project at KSU, we invited our audiences to share some of the questions we had been exploring for ourselves. The basic framework of Vital Matters, which addresses both local and global aspects of climate change, can be adapted to different communities in different environments.
A core practice of The Performance Workshop is the Rasaboxes, a form of actor training based in the classical Indian theory of "rasa." I have been developing and teaching this work for the past 20 years, and find it particularly relevant to this project, which engages us directly in our relationship to the earth and the elements. Rasa means juice, flavor, or essence, and in the wellness and culinary practices of Ayurveda, pertains to the tastes of foods, their elemental qualities, and their capacities to balance our physical, mental and emotional selves. In theatrical context, rasa refers to aesthetic enjoyment--specifically, the flavor of emotions performed and savored by performers and spectators. Rasaboxes training offers a playground for performers to investigate, express and apply the eight basic emotions (and their combinations) described in the Natyashastra through body, breath, voice and movement. Engaging with the full palette of rasas, including the ninth rasa, shanta (an opportunity to practice peace and equanimity) in the context of work with climate change provides opportunities for experiencing and expressing all the vital energies that allow us to sense, feel, and express our relationship to the material with our whole being.
Vital Matters is about what is vital in both senses of the word; what makes us feel alive and gives us the necessary energy to move, act, and relate in a time that can be paralyzing and isolating, and what is most important and urgent right now. Rather than address this urgency through the business as usual intensities of politics and activism, this project is an invitation to slow down, connect with self, other, and the natural world. The rhythms and textures of water, air, earth, trees and stones, the smell of essential oils, the taste of home cooked foods open up a space within the chaos to remember what "home" is to us, what is sacred to us, to connect with one another through our differences.
The performance at KSU, which took place in a large dance studio, was based around a combination of personal material students generated during The Performance Workshop and research on climate change. The 50-minute experience unfolded in an immersive environment that included both group performance and intimate experiences the performers created for 3-5 audience members.