Reflections on the Prompts

Dec 11, 2013

The new Prompts for Anne approach to the blog has provoked some eloquent writing and thinking from various readers.  A few of the prompts impelled me to respond and others are self-contained observations and rich thoughts, which I will include below.  Please continue to send me prompts via email to prompts (at)

From Neil Utterback:

As a theatre maker and a theatre educator I find myself often wrestling with an ethical issue. A significant foundation of our training at Juniata is in Viewpoints and Suzuki. I’ve been lucky enough to train with SITI on a couple of marvelous occasions yet I have never trained with SCOT (well, not yet). I guess it’s a kind of Theseus’ Ship problem: How many generations out does a thing no longer exist as the original? For example, if I have never trained with Suzuki can I call what I teach the Suzuki Method? Or if I am making my own additions and alterations to how I teach Viewpoints can I still say that I am teaching Viewpoints? Or is it something else? Or is it just about transparency? I feel like, as the training becomes more and more incorporated into academia and other companies, we have to engage in a conversation about its evolution, the genomics of theatre pedagogy, if you will. Thoughts?

My response:

Thank you for introducing me to the Ship of Theseus Paradox story, which I was unaware of until now. For those who share my unfamiliarity, I can now tell you that in Greek mythology Theseus braved the Cretan labyrinth and killed the half-man-half-bull Minotaur, returning to Athens from Crete on his great ship with thirty oars. As a sign of veneration and celebration, the Athenians preserved the ship for posterity.  As time went by the famous ship required repair and bit-by-bit all of the ship’s planks were replaced until nothing remained of the original. During the first century, Plutarch, in his book Life of Theseus, posed the question that became Theseus’s paradox: If an object has all of its parts exchanged, would it continue to be the same object?

I understand your question about training and your concerns about the derivations and what one might consider “the original” in the guise of the Ship of Theseus Paradox. And I understand your desire to study from the source. For me, the question that your question invokes in me is, what makes a method or code original?  What does originality really mean? 

Aristotle wrote, “we do not have knowledge of a thing until we have grasped its why, that is to say, its cause.”  He proposed four causes or reasons that can describe a thing: the formal cause, the material cause, the efficient cause and the final cause. The formal cause is the form or the design of the thing.  The material cause is the matter that makes up the thing.  The efficient cause is how and by whom the thing is made. The final cause is the intended purpose of the thing. I understand from Aristotle that it is necessary to look at all four causes in order to understand an entity.

In the case of the Theseus’s ship, the design of the ship constitutes its formal cause, the wooden planks are the material cause, the specific tools used by the workers who fashioned the ship comprise the efficient cause, and the ship’s ability to sail would be the final cause.  To apply Aristotle’s method to understanding a particular training method may be valuable.

From Simon Tate:

I have recently been reading Yamamoto Tsunetomo’s Hagakure and I think this has inspired me to consider more about the power of gratitude and service. There is an obvious relation to what Anne has previously said regarding attention, but I think there is a different quality to these words and ideas than attention alone gives.

I was thinking about the power of gratitude today when my students – gifted teens attending a specialist arts school in Brisbane, Australia – filed out of the room at the end of a class and individually thanked me. Being in such a privileged position I have, regrettably, grown accustomed to this phenomenon as, while it doesn’t always happen with every year or every student, it happens often enough. I considered the fact that gratitude gives attention a value; more than being noticed the object of the attention is appreciated. If you’ve read Masaro Emoto’s ‘The Hidden Messages in Water’ then you’ll know that positive attention has a physical effect on all manner of things. On top of this, a sense of gratitude means that your thoughts and energy are externally directed rather than inwardly directed, creating positive change in the world.

This led me to the idea of selflessness and service. I often speak to my students about the nature of being an artist and its similarity to religious service – it is something that you are called to as much as you choose to do it; you are in service to a greater power and aspire to be its medium; you preach the power of this greater power’s ability to lift humanity beyond the mundane and everyday and while you work hard, it is a stoic and spartan existence with little physical reward. The other common factor is that you give thanks for your continued engagement in with and for this greater power.

Service is giving something back to the thing that you appreciate, whether that be your undivided energy and attention, your time or something more mundane like sweeping the floor. With humility we gain even more appreciation. This is something I am learning more and more as a teacher who cares very little for meager financial recompense for my work, but sees it more and more as a service to the future of my art.

My response:

Attention and gratitude seem to lie close to the heart of the seasonal moment of Christmas/Thanksgiving/Hanukah etc. What a timely series of associations Simon.

From Alex Heald

I love reading your posts because you connect so many ideas. I always come away wondering if you have read, or are at least aware of the book, Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, by Gurdjieff. I think that the scope and scale of the questions in that book are where I see the connection with your writing and thinking.

My response:

Although I have not encountered Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, I have read Gurdjieff’s book Meetings with Remarkable Men and also much of the writings of his follower Peter Ouspensky, including the book that I found most useful and instructive about Gurdjieff’s work entitled In Search of the Miraculous.

For those unfamiliar with G.I Gurdjieff, he was a Greek-Russian-Armenian mystic and teacher who was very influential with artists and seekers in the first half of the twentieth century.  Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, also called An Objectively Impartial Criticism of the Life of Man is the initial volume in his trilogy entitled All and Everything. What I find particularly compelling about Gurdjieff’s teachings is his central notion that everything is asleep and that our job as human beings (and, I would add, as artists) is to awaken what is asleep; beginning with our self. To awaken what is asleep is certainly the central tenant of art.  And, as Alex proposes, the “scope and scale” of one’s questions is pivotal to doing exactly that. Questions can awaken what lies dormant.

From Miguel Angel Rodriguez Abajo:

Following your question on community. I’ve been very interested lately in questioning encounter and it’s politics through theatre. I feel that nearly all our encounters in life are based in a power relation (in the job, with the state, but also in family or couple). Can the theatre be a space where everybody meets (creators, audience, technicians, producers) at the same level?  Can we meet in another way, or is this power relation intrinsic to being? What kind of play would be the one which doesn’t impose on the audience but also isn’t submissive to them and is inclusive?

My response:

Director Tadashi Suzuki once said:  “International cultural exchange is impossible, therefore we must try.”  In that spirit, I feel that living or working without power relations is impossible, therefore we must try.  Theater is inherently manipulative.  Directing is manipulative.  Power relations are inevitable.  That said, how one handles the inevitable is key to creating a collaborative environment in the rehearsal room and with an audience.  The first ingredient in the recipe for creating “a space where everybody meets at the same level” is to make real space for others.  Does the audience have space to participate?  Do the actors, designers and dramaturgs have space?  Has the playwright created space for co-creators? 

From Kim Wield:

You ask about how can patience become more than a skill, but also a currency that has value in our present cultural climate…I certainly don’t have any answers but here are a few of my thoughts as I have been sitting with this…

Tonight I am opening Congreve’s The Way of the World, up at Vassar.  I am deeply proud of everyone involved and the work.  It has also demanded acute patience.

We were in rehearsals for six weeks, four days a week, four hours a night.  Which is a ridiculously short amount of time for a five act Restoration Comedy.  I have found myself engaged in and thinking a great deal about patience, which for me, is deeply rooted in my relationship to Time, the art of listening, the act of allowing-allowing things to unfold without forcing.  I have also come to understand that my relationship to patience is connected to trust, it is connected to actively extending myself outwards, being open to what is received by others and returned to me – patience it is an active choice, a powerful choice, that requires a generosity of spirit.

It can also be misconstrued as a lack of interest, or being aloof, of which I have been accused of on more than one occasion when in fact I am deeply listening, reflecting and…being patient.  I know too, that having a deaf brother required I develop patience and has informed my development…how could it not.  

Souki used to talk about the velocity at which receive information.  We know that technology, its velocity, has changed us, our expectations of others – RESPOND TO MY EMAIL NOW! 

I think a lot about Robert Wilson, Pina Bausch, Peter Stein, Peter Brook, SITI Company (and in particular Death and the Ploughman – which I think about ALL the time), The Wooster Group, Foreman, how patience in viewing the work is, rewarded – we arrive at an altered experience of Time.  

From Maryjolayne Auger:

I read your blog recently and…I returned to some principles that I learned from Anthony Robbins, that I have forgotten.

Anthony Robbins`s work is very interesting in regard of questions. He found that the brain will always try to find an answer to our questions, for instance: Why is this always happening to me, why I am so miserable etc… and the brain will find answers for you. Because you are stupid, because your are too slow etc, even thought it is not based on reality. So he puts forward that we need to ask better questions. He suggests this exercise in the morning:  to find 5 questions that will lead you to empower you. One that he likes to suggest is how can do something difficult (like loosing weight, quitting smoking etc.) and enjoy the process? And because the brain wants to find solutions, that is how it is design, it will look for them and lead you on a path… Maybe you know all of this already, but I just thought of sharing it, in case…

The theme of your article came à propos as well, because we are at the time of the master program where we have to provide our teachers with 3 questions that will lead the creation of our performance project.  Choosing the right questions is crucial to launch develop our project.  I feel is setting the core of how much I can learn and expand.

The importance of the questions made me realize also, how much power we potentially have on our path, growth and success and they are a way to claim back our individuality, independence, and to develop our mastery! Thank you again for putting this in my face let`s say!  How easy we forget!

I am not ready to give any elaborated feed back on the 2 questions you finished your blog with, but I can share drafts of ideas:

During the course of a performance, when does an audience become a community?

The first that came to my mind is when an audience reacts together for a certain a period of time: when the audience laugh at a joke, when the clown makes the audience clap in their hands, sing all together, when a trapezist misses his jump and falls on the net, or succeeds his jump the audience either feel sorry for the mistake or mesmerized by the success at the same time.

But, I am not sure reacting, or having similar feeling is necessarily a sign of the audience becoming a community, because there is much more chaos and differences in a contemporary community? What kind of community are we having in mind? It seems to me that community is a different concept depending the culture and the physical space where we are…

How can patience become more than a skill, but also a currency that has value in our present cultural climate?

I can definitely say that it is clearly a currency in Ticino, Switzerland where I am and it is very much valued! It just start to feel better, but the change of speed from New York to Verscio, Switzerland is tremendous. People are asking me if I am late, to slow down because my speed is putting pressure on them!!!! My speed and my enthusiasm is actually not valued as it is in New York, it becomes for them something unrespectful, negative… work is definitely mixed with leisure, spending a good time together as we create something. Playing is more valued then producing on a reaction because we need to have a quick final product. It was very frustrating for me at the beginning, because it gave me the sensation of a lack of rigor, because I would think, let`s make quick decisions, so then we can work in depths and on details. I would see how much more work could be done…

A Swiss friend of mine explained to me one thing about Swiss culture. It is based on trust. People do not lock their doors here… In bigger cities, they leave the keys in their mailboxes… So, knowing that, you can basically go in almost any houses.

So, if we trust that people are doing their best and working and that the work will come together, that we trust life then we can be patient! So Swiss people are! Patience is definitely a currency here, just oneself integration and mental wellness!!!

I don`t know if all my thoughts are of any use, but if not the garbage can is always very close!

I want to finish by saying that being here, I realized how great all the company is! I had the chance to see already many performances and I can analyze artistic work much better now! I can here all your voices: Where is the conflict? What did you want to say, Is it the first time the character walks into that space etc. I realized how hard it is to be an articulated artist, how hard it is to think of all the aspects of a performance and how vulnerable we are! Even from the “big shot artists” performances, I will tell you a secret, I was not so impressed… I can see clearly now how aware you are of what a performance is and your understanding of it! It is like if you had given me a special pair of glasses that not everybody has and I start to see things that not everybody is seeing quite yet around me! So, it is a challenge to keep this awareness alive where I am right now, EXACTLY!