PREPARATION FOR THE 2017 INTERNATIONAL
SUNDAY 9th APRIL (from Nanjing, China):
A little over a week ago I met up in Beijing with my colleague Adrian Brett from Byron Bay in Northern New South Wales. Together with eurythmist and painter John Stolfo from Hong Kong, we have just completed a one-week speech course for teachers of the Lezhi Waldorf School in Beijing. It is the third module we’ve done in what we hope will be a six-module course, taking place over three years, and this one was by far the best because of the breakthroughs made by participants, both in their speech and in the way they were able to write creatively.
We had decided that writing would be a major part of this third course. People often ask me how it is possible to work in a language you don’t know. (Adrian, John and I are about equally inept in Chinese!) But the sounds of speech originate in Zodiac and planets and are universal. They are then taken hold of in particular ways by different peoples; some of the sounds are lost and, of course, all of them may be subtly modified in the various languages. The child learning to speak at first makes every sound and only later loses some and takes up one particular language. Returning to what we have in common in language is an enriching experience and a little like learning to speak all over again.
We were guided in this course by the work of Alfred Baur whose development of the “sound circle” gave us every morning a theoretical basis for understanding the different sounds. Baur groups sounds according to fire sounds, air sounds, water sounds, vowels and three different kinds of plosives or earth sounds. Every morning when I talked about the sounds, I was between two blackboards: one was of the sounds in their connection with Zodiac and planets and the other was this diagram of the seven families of sounds, showing how they are formed when they are spoken on the earth in the realm of the four elements. By the end of five days it was possible to feel how familiar these families of sounds had become to all present. These great powers give themselves for our earthly use – they are our friends and assistants whenever we try to communicate or create through speech. They can be used or misused by us. The deeper we get to know them, the more we will be able to use them creatively in our work and the better they will be able to help us.
Every morning Adrian first of all took us for some singing. After an opportunity for participants to say whatever might be on their mind from the previous day (we listened without discussion, but sometimes themes would come up that would echo on in that day) we went outside for a quarter of an hour’s Tai Chi, taken by one of the participants, and then returned inside for eurythmy. Our themes in eurythmy were the four elements, planets and Zodiac. Then came the period of study already described and, after a break, the first actual speech work.
Adrian has done a lot of work outside of anthroposophical trainings and has brought together many aspects of voice work into a nemonic: “B BRAVE” – body, breath, resonance, articulation, variation and energy. We all block the flow of energy being given to us from the cosmos in different ways; how we speak makes the reality of who we are quite tangible; this is something extremely scary but, if one has courage to face the fear, great transformations can occur. Change the way we speak and we change ourselves; after three courses, this has now become something absolutely real for these participants. Their work in the classroom is very much to do with speaking and they know very well from their own experience that it is often not so much what they say as how they say it that is important for the success of a class. It is inspiring for us to work with such professionals who have seen that speech can assist their teaching and their general relationship to life and are prepared to go into the cauldron of self-transformation that working with the voice entails.
After lunch we worked with creative writing. Our goal was to let the participants feel the qualities of the different sounds and write, not out of intellectual thoughts, but out of the gestures of these sounds. They then were asked to speak aloud what they had written. This all brought us into much interesting dialogue as we wrestled with the possibilities of the Chinese language. On the last day it was palpable how fine these poems were and how open to the different qualities of the sounds the participants had become. Adrian and I both had a feeling we had never before seen to this extent the beauty, flexibility and strength of the Chinese language as a medium for expressing the language of the soul. In speaking many participants radiated the light of their higher self. As a speech teacher, this is what we want to happen, but whether it does or not depends on many factors. At this course something very definitely happened! The students speech suddenly changed.
We kept the various poems created, illustrating some of them with black-and-white stroke drawing, and this will become a book that will be able to be used as a resource for the Lezhi teachers for many years. Perhaps it will grow; perhaps it will even be used by other schools. Certainly it will be the record of a most inspiring week.
One of the founders of the school in his summing up said how he been present at many teacher-training sessions but usually these were in the form of lectures in the same way that a class teacher would talk to the students. We had only half an hour a day of lectures – the rest was all putting the theory into practice. He said for teachers his experience was that this way of working with the sounds as we did in creative speech worked more strongly than any other method.
John has now gone back to Hong Kong and Adrian and I are in Nanjing. Unfortunately the course – a first module with brand new participants – was cancelled at the last moment. Luckily for us I have a good friend who has leant us her family’s two-bedroom apartment. We have the gift of time, which is something very unusual for both of us, and we will do a mixture of our own work and exploring Nanjing and Shanghai. We feel very lucky – but behind it all there is a sad feeling in me that the course in Nanjing, for which we had prepared in some depth, has not been able to happen. Will we get another opportunity to be here? I even offered a one-day free workshop to give people a taste but this was declined. Those who would have participated may never even know what they have missed!
SUNDAY 27th MARCH (Easter):
There has been a three-week gap since the last entry. I’ve been all that time in Sydney, but in a few days the tides will carry me away from Australia again – to Beijing and Nanjing for speech courses, to London and other parts of the UK for the Shakespeare Festival and following performances, and to the US for the three “readers’ theater” events in which the new mystery drama will be read to the public for the first time.
Much of the time in these three weeks has been spent working on the text of the new mystery drama for publication. I have a deadline for early in April, but I know from experience how hard it is to do anything while teaching voice in China, so I am determined to get as much as possible done before I go. It is not only the text: A background into the mystery dramas had to be written, a summary of the action of the four plays by Steiner and the new play by me, words about the characters, an account of how the play got to be written, a reading list, acknowledgments, a dedication – it’s certainly filling my days.
In the middle of it all came the need to give a public lecture at Steiner House in Sydney on the topic of 9/11 as an event of Initiation for Humanity. This took place on the Tuesday evening in Holy Week. In the original Holy Week, Tuesday, the day of Mars, was a day of great conflict with words as Christ met with all those who were trying to entrap him and discredit him. It was like a redemption of this and the other side of the activity of the Word when, that evening, he gave his intimate teachings to close friends on the Mount of Olives, sometimes called the Little Apocalypse. In these teachings, as Emil Bock states, Christ provided his disciples with teachings that would serve them for millennia. I don’t think we broke through to the peace of the evening in the Mount of Olives, and there were some rumblings of conflict sounding throughout the talk. It sill amazes me when some people refuse to apply critical thinking to the “official” account of 9/11 that they have been given for fourteen years and simply cannot perceive all its flaws or be open to the very great implications behind it. However, I believe it was important to go into this area from an anthroposophical point of view and it was certainly a charged sort of evening in which at least no one was in danger of going to sleep!
The last couple of days have seen me break the back of the work on the mystery drama text. I’ve had wonderful help from a young man in England, Ryan Kouroukis; I could not have done all this without his assistance. Now there is much else that needs doing: preparation for China and finalizing my itinerary for England and many other things that have been put to one side while focusing on the two books.
I will also have to do a final proof-read with that first book, A Spiritual Roadmap, which is presently with the publishers. Although the two books are quite similar in some ways – both about that phenomenon that Steiner called the Threshold – I would never have wanted them to be going out within a few weeks of each other. However, that is what happens in this world. The first readers’ theater event in Copake near Great Barrington in New York will probably be the launch of both.
I take off on 31st March and fly to Beijing. There, I’ll meet my colleague, Adrian Brett, and we have more than a day together before things start, so that we can spend some time looking together into what we’ll be teaching. Adrian is a very creative person and I look forward very much to working with him for the two courses.
Finally, I’ll give the performances that are confirmed to take place in the UK. If you know anyone in any of these places, let them know that one-man Shakespeare is on the way!
Friday 22nd April, 2pm: Steiner House, London as part of the Shakespeare Festival, 21st – 24th April, 35 Park Road, NW1 6XT, London; Tel: 020 7723 4400.
Tuesday 26th April, 7.30 pm: Emerson College, Forest Row.
Weds 27th April, 7.30pm: Bristol Steiner School, Redland Hill House, Redland Hill, Bristol BS6 6UX
Friday 29th April, 7.30 pm: Grange Village Camphill, Littledean Rd, Newnham-on-Severn, Gloucestershire, GL 14 1HJ.
Saturday 30th April, 3 pm: The Christian Community, Stroud. 73 Cairnscross Rd, Stroud.
Between 2nd and 8th May, three performances are in negotiation – at Glasshouse College, Stourbridge, at Glencraig Camphill Community, Belfast, and at Milton Keynes. Now that I’ve finished the mystery drama text perhaps I can get back to work on what’s necessary to be done to make these happen.
I hope everyone in NZ, or wherever it is that you are reading this, is receiving new strength from this Easter celebration.
MONDAY 7th MARCH:
For a period I don’t have to travel and therefore haven’t written in this blog for two weeks. Day-to-day life seems less exciting than being in exotic locations… Hm, I think it only seems so. What we do on quite normal days prepares everything else.
I’ve been getting two books ready for publication. I thought one would come before the other but that is life – they both need to be ready at the same time, and last week I had almost more than I could do.
The script of the new mystery drama is ready now. Of course there will be more changes, but these changes will arise out of the reality of working with the director and his or her creative team, and this feels like the right time to be publishing a text that is not focused on any particular interpretation. A director will have his or her preferences; it is normal that they will cut some things and bring out others. The published version will be like the basic blueprint from which certain directions will be followed and others discarded. Also, the play is definitely too long for performance. At its last reading in Ann Arbor we timed every scene and it clocked in at a few minutes over seven hours. Mystery dramas are longer than other plays – you watch a few scenes, have a meal, watch a few more for half a day. But seven hours is probably too much for most people.
The first writing was done in May 2012. The first draft set the direction, but six more drafts have followed. It has seemed a never-ending task. This time, when I worked through the whole script there were few places where I was uncertain. So many changes have been urged on me – sometimes by people with very strong views. But a turning point for our group was reached when the producer, Marke Levene, called a halt to this, recognizing that there are many ways to do things but that we need to follow the inspirations that have been given to us.
At the same time another book I’ve been working on for even longer is going to press. This is A Spiritual Roadmap – Walking the Path in the Twenty-first Century and I began it while living in Wellington in 2010. It is a good accompaniment to the Mystery Drama; its theme is the way in which that phenomenon we call the threshold approaches us in our time. There is a second sub-title and this is: An investigation into the “threshold” – what it is, how humanity is meeting it today and how it can be crossed. It is being published by Steinerbooks and it looks as if it will come out just before the mystery drama.
Last week I was under great pressure to proof-read and make corrections one final time, and as I did so I made more changes in the text – something very annoying to my editor who felt that it was too late to be still rewriting it. However, sometimes the spiritual world has its own laws. Quite new ideas came to me while working on the last chapter. I even pulled everything together with a poem that summarises the whole book. Part of it had been written before but I’d never felt that it was finished. Only on this final editing did the poem allow itself to appear. I’ll finish this entry by giving that poem:
ALWAYS THEY COME
This is the path
where you can plunge into the abyss
and rise up three days later
with the scent of roses on your breath.
Who is there who believes in the path today?
Who walks the path today?
Always they come whose names are called.
Always they yearn
for what they never will be able to possess
unless all that belongs to death in them
is given back to death.
And then creative power
will work through them
to transform chaos, decay and death
to greater life.
TUESDAY 16th FEBRUARY: I celebrated being back in Sydney by getting sick for a few days. It was a chance to do nothing and let new energies prepare. The tour was quite grueling and at the very end of it I, who had never ever felt the curse of what is known as a bad back, was suddenly crippled with back spasms that made it sometimes impossible to walk. It all started when I had to get up at 3.30am on a cold winter’s day in Maine to travel to Austin, Texas. I was delayed by the TSA and had to run to the plane and only just made it. When we got to Atlanta where I had to change flights, I suddenly found I could barely move. I resisted the temptation of a wheelchair and somehow hobbled down endless rows of boarding gates unassisted feeling very miserable!
And that night I was doing the Shakespeare! I decided this would be a rather limited performance – more of a speech performance alone. The audience was forewarned that the actor was not quite 100%. And yet as I got into it the pain went away and the back righted itself. It was as if the movement body could not function until the higher ego found its way in and the higher ego could only come through via a performance. Pyramus may have killed himself a little more gently that night, but not much else was different after the first twenty minutes. This was quite a lesson to me. Art is a huge power – it bathes us in energies we often do not know we are carrying.
Unfortunately the trouble didn’t end so easily as the back went out again early the next day. I had to go carefully and put a lot of energy into this particular place in my physical body. I believe there are a number of reasons for such a thing having happened. Events at the airport were only a trigger. I think I am feeling the importance of the new mystery drama but aware that at this point it is such a small group who are carrying it. My back, I suspect, articulated this area of doubt that is in me.
I finished the tour in a very nice way with three days with a good speech friend of mine, Daniel Stokes, in his apartment in Los Angeles. We visited the Getty Art Museum where the highlight was standing in front of a Monet painting of a stook of corn in a winter scene. As I confronted it there welled up a similar painting that I had seen just weeks earlier near the start of this tour in the Chicago Art Museum – almost as if one painting (the Los Angeles one) was calling out to the other (the Chicago one) and drawing it up out of the unconscious. And we also did some speech together. Daniel showed me a poem he is working on for a conference. It’s called Lost Generation by Jonothon Reed:
I am part of a lost generation.
And I refuse to believe that
I can change the world.
I realize this may be a shock but
“Happiness comes from within,”
is a lie, and
“Money will make me happy.”
It goes on like that until the end mentions a reversal. “And all of this will come true unless we reverse it.” And so you repeat the poem, and it sounds very different the other way round:
“Money will make me happy.”
is a lie, and
“Happiness comes from within,”
I realize this may be a shock but
I can change the world.
And I refuse to believe that
I am part of a lost generation.
We discussed different ways this could be done in a speech chorus. Here’s a couple of ways others have done it:
MONDAY 8th FEBRUARY: The whole of this week has seen me in the vicinity of Phoenix, Arizona. I also had a two-day visit to a city named Flagstaff which is 200km north of Phoenix. In both places I did the Shakespeare show as an adult evening performance and also children’s shows to children and high school students. Every student in these two schools (Phoenix goes to class 12; Flagstaff to grade 8) saw at least one performance of the reduced Shakespeare or The Selfish Giant or The Very Old Donkey. The interesting thing about the two schools that I performed in is that they are “charter schools” – schools that accept state money in order to keep the education free. The existence of charter schools is a fairly recent development in America and there has been some controversy about them in the past among the teachers of conventional schools, although it seems as if now the two approaches are working much better together.
That there are Charter Schools that follow the Waldorf approach means that a whole group of children who would otherwise be excluded from this kind of education now have the chance to do Waldorf. The key issue is of course whether anything is lost through state involvement. One prerequisite is that charter schools need to do a certain amount of testing of the children. If one slavishly follows this and – as the state recommends – threatens to hold a child back a year if that child has low grades in particular academic subjects, then education would certainly suffer. However the people I saw and talked to are enlightened in their views and do not intend to slavishly follow dictates without working through how they can best be made to suit the children’s needs. Testing is done but it is not elevated to a great measure of the child’s progress – these teachers are keeping in mind the whole child and not being blinkered by academic results alone. And no child would ever be compelled to repeat a grade because of academic results alone.
On my tour I have been able to see some very fine independent Waldorf Schools. One of the best of these would have to be High Mowing School in Wilton, New Hampshire, which I wrote about a week ago. Their facilities, the attitude of students, the engagement of the teachers I spoke to – it was all most encouraging, but only a small number of parents can afford to send their children to such a school. I can report that from my limited experience of two charter schools, standards were high and there was a great spirit in each school. Some people have very great hopes for the charter school movement in this country and I myself feel optimistic. Much in America is dying or is clinging to old ways of thought – I see little cause for optimism anywhere in established systems in America and no political party that will haul America out of its problems through mainstream solutions alone. But everywhere there are small initiatives that do carry immense potential. Along with the destruction, I could sense great tendencies for renewal emanating out of many different places. It is nice to be able to report good things about America!
Wherever I go the Shakespeare and the children’s performances are really just the curtain raiser to bringing news about the new mystery drama initiative. I talk after my show to people about how the idea of a new mystery drama was born and how it had to incubate 17 years before the next step was taken. I talk about our times and the theme of the Threefold Social Order, which Rudolf Steiner said would have a new chance 100 years after his attempts to launch it in Germany at the end of the First World War. 100 years since 1917 is, of course, very close to 2016. I point out that the Threefold Social Order is a major theme of the new mystery drama. I believe that performing this play in 2017 (September 2017 is the date we are aiming at) will be something that will assist the social movement of renewal that we can feel is everywhere in its very different forms trying to take place throughout the world.
In a week’s time I’ll be back in Sydney and will try and give something of a summary of this tour and look ahead to what will next happen.
MONDAY, 1st FEBRUARY, 2016: I begin this journal while in Phoenix, Arizona. The purpose of my trip has been to prepare the way for our planned Festival Tour in which there will be a new Mystery Drama, a play by Shakespeare and a symphonic eurythmy concert. Such a project needs organization and funding on a scale that has never happened before in the anthroposophical world – at least, not in the English anthroposophical world – and I am making a small beginning in drawing attention to this project through my performing.
This tour began soon after Christmas with a meeting of the planning group in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The work to write and stage a new mystery drama that follows on from the four written by Rudolf Steiner has been in preparation since early 2012, yet it is only after this January meeting that we could feel a strong and determined will in the planning group that made us certain that the project could happen. Not everyone is completely happy with the script I’ve written – for one thing, it is too long – but they all know it will go through more development with a director and people are happy that the script is strong enough that we can begin with it. And thus there is a kind of unity in our group and that unity gives us the strength to do what individuals alone could never do.
This was, therefore, a good beginning to my travels. Since Ann Arbor I’ve visited Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee, Chapel Hill and Ashville in North Carolina, New York City, Princeton, Portland in Maine, Wilton in New Hampshire and Austin in Texas. The highlight – that would have to be getting stuck in the strongest blizzard that has hit New York City in living memory. I was in Princeton at the time, and it was actually great fun to spend time with a very nice family and watch the snow stream down from the comfort of a warm house. The trip was held up two days but, through a number of changes of plans and a bit of good luck, I was able to get to my next venue, High Mowing School in Wilton, on time. That performance to the entire High School – about 110 students from class 9 to class 12, has to be the artistic highlight so far. High Mowing is a very special school and the class 9 students who then did a workshop with me were less inhibited and more ready to act than any group I have yet worked with.
Tomorrow I shall be performing my short story The Very Old Donkey three times and The Selfish Giant twice. The school is Desert Marigold and is a charter school which means it is paid for by the government. It will be nice to get back to work after a couple of days off. This had better be enough for the first entry. In future, while giving news about the places I go to, I’ll also write more about why we are doing this project – how it came about and what we hope to achieve by it. Until next time then…