The Art of Resonance.

Jun 14, 2021

In September, my new book, The Art of Resonance, will be published by Methuen/Bloomsbury. This past May I spent several days in a recording studio in London speaking the book into audio existence for Digital Theatre Plus (DT+), an online resource for those engaged in theater and arts education.  The recording will appear concurrently with the book.  I am enthusiastic to share the book as well as the audio version with you. 

I wrote the bulk of The Art of Resonance during lockdown in the UK, in London.  In some ways it felt strange to write about resonance during such tragic and stuck times. I worried that the subject of resonance would feel too rarified, too distant from the unfolding events, from the roiling unrest, the pandemic, and from the pressing issues that were floating to the surface and taking on great meaning in the world, day by day. 

And yet, I also understood that the pandemic as well as the ongoing social and political crises provided a unique opportunity to reexamine the fundamental tenets of theater and art making. Lockdown offered the opportunity to slow down and ask the most basic questions about the art of theater: What are we doing, how are we doing it and why?  What is the platform upon which we stand? What are the values upon which we may build a future?  How to adjust? How to return to making theater in a way that is inclusive and productive and that capitalizes on what the theater does best while addressing the issues and circumstances of our times?  

Over the past few years, it began to occur to me that resonance may be the most fundamental component of theater. Perhaps the success of a production can be calculated by the magnitude and quality of resonances activated by the experience. Resonance occurs between actors, between actors and audiences and includes the infectious reverberation of ideas and moments-of-being, through text, movement, musicality, images and differentiated moments-of-being. A production that we forget as soon as we exit the theater is one with very little resonance. Resonance is a physical, mental, and emotional massage triggered by an encounter. 

I returned to Peter Brook’s seminal book The Empty Space that begins with the proposition that what we need in order to make theater is a person who walks across the stage while someone else is watching. I would add the question, “what is the resonance that results from this encounter?”

For an actor, the fundamental ingredient of theater is action. A person walks across the stage, and someone else is watching. But this action is never in isolation, rather it entails a shared engagement, not only amidst the actors, but also with the audience. Theater is about moving forward in a group rather than in isolation and the resonances that arise in the theater evolve from the action taken in that unity. We come together to make something happen and everyone present has a job. We share mutual responsibility for the quality of the time that we spend together. I am responsible to the person next to me. In this way, the theater as a laboratory of relationality. How are we getting along? How are we resonating with one another?

As we have seen recently, being together can be dangerous. Before Covid, I often described theater as, “breathing common air.”  Then, during the pandemic, sharing space with others and “breathing common air” became dangerous. As Covid raged, I became intrigued with the idea of theater performed in tents. The metaphor of a tent also became quite fruitful in considering the principles of resonance.  Imagine that for every production we construct a metaphorical tent, an enclosure for the journey of the play. To construct a tent, the first step is to plant the tentpoles into the ground for structural support.  These tentpoles become the tenets, the values and means upon which a theater production is built. In a rehearsal, for example, each tentpole forms one of the cornerstones of the production.  All together these tentpoles become the primary support system for the project. The same is true for other artistic processes, each tentpole forms a tenet for the overall system. 

The book includes ten chapters plus an introduction and an afterward.  I imagined that each of the ten chapters would examine the different tentpoles, or tenets, necessary to create the conditions for resonance.  The titles of the chapters are:  On Resonance, Cast Down Your Bucket, Sensation and Perception, Powerful Triads, The Presence of the Past, Dissonance, Ambiguity and Paradox, Energy and Restraint, The Present Moment, and Civility. In addition to an in-depth dive into the practical uses of resonance, the chapters address how to start a career, how to reach deeper layers of perception in an audience, how to incorporate the past into the present moment and how to embrace dissonance, ambiguity, and paradox.  The book also examines the role of energy, the practical uses of restraint, the power of the present moment and the necessity for civility. 

Rather than leading with theory, I find it useful to describe how I first encountered certain concepts, insights, and ideas. In this spirit, The Art of Resonance is filled with stories from my own life and my adventures and misadventures in the theater. The theoretical fruits of these encounters, and the fertile and thought-provoking research that these discoveries led me on, are the result of direct experiences in rehearsal and in life.  The book also provides a window into the process of working within the context of an ensemble, specifically SITI Company. How we develop structures of equality, listening and constant reorientation.  How we examine issues together and open outwards rather than problematizing them. How we approach the theater as a place where idealism can abide.

I hope that The Art of Resonance will prove useful in providing practical and theoretical prompts about how to negotiate our altered landscape and how to re-examine our values, our methods, and our institutions. Can we question our assumptions about how we collaborate?  Do we have the imagination to conceive of other ways of being in the world? Can we engage in deeper and more inclusive conversations with a wider range of reference?  Can we create a shared space of mutual attention and listening? How to create theater experiences in which resonance may arise?