Vision Distillery
Circles Research Mill

Ideas evaporate easily.  Constructing them again in public view, so that others can probe and query their structure and validity is a vital step if our gems are to survive.  Fighting for my favourites is a classic manoeuvre of the journey home. Hammered out mid-flight, these don’t always amount to common conceptual breakthroughs… usually, they end up wallowing in the bottom of a digital briefcase.

Since the health of any organisation is reflected in the thoroughness of its self-evaluation, I feel the need to preserve at least something for the mix.

I left our collective weekend retreat just about as clear headed as I arrived — it seemed a sincere case of win some / lose some.  Some of us aren’t naturally patient enough to be content with an approximation; I expected more…. While airing occurred, so did obfuscation.   Operating through a mild cloud of pain and painkillers, I wasn’t always diplomatic.

At my bruskest, I blurted out :  Facilitation makes things facile. –  Them, at least resembles, fighting words.  (note:  Facile in some languages simply means easy; in High English it denotes superficiality.)  My challenge boils down to : ‘Did we go deep enough ?’  Do we now know both what we are doing, and why doing it weaves into a greater strategy? (The often tempting ‘how we do it’ is always the longer process involving considerable doses of that old favourite – trial and error.)

So what gets us deeper?  Personal urgency?  A vision that lifts us out of our immediate concerns; that aligns our potential efforts with some truly massive social cohesion priorities?  Coming home to the presence in our kitchen of a genuine guerrilla fighter fresh from the front, provokes humility.  

Musing in our several garretts
In our world, many of us spend most of our waking hours living in our laptops.  We expound upon our own ideas more than we absorb those of others.  It may not yet have dawned on us that sending a message out into the ether offers no assurance that anyone has ever read it.  If they have, it may be as a passing crumb in the midst of a cascade of equally pressing communications that each drag the consumer in yet another direction…

What I might personally hatch out as a house vision is therefore not so very relevant unless it can be shared.  The finished product may look impressive, but it is infinitely more useful when several voices have provided the component parts and actively participated in assembling them.  Facilitators call this ownership; it helps to be able to point to one’s own contribution.  It goes slower; it runs deeper.

I spoke up at the planning meeting:  I was looking for a banner title for the weekend.  It is a familiar tool in my work with “Non-toxic Propaganda”.  In the theatre, we work with clear units – everyone needs to known what we are focusing upon.  Bold poetic labels are preferred over ambiguous generalities.  We search playable verbs.  I hatched a suitable suggestion:  Distilling Vision.  It was politely brushed aside as useful but belonging perhaps somewhere else in the process; it didn’t merit a mention in the next day’s preliminary sketch.  Pity.

Rooting vision in such a floating collective as ours* may sound overly ambitious – if we operate with the lifestyle badge of artists, aren’t we then meant to be somewhat nebulous?  But rooting is a highly playable verb:  dig a hole, climb in, provide fertiliser, introduce your best seed, initiate symbiosis, and give sufficient warmth and raw time for very organic processes to kick in.  What one mustn’t do is climb out of the hole prematurely; pointing back to its conceptual existence, proclaiming therein lies our growth.  Prolonged wrestling with your very essence is often rewarding.

Ye olde Whisky Distilleries are among the height of human ingenuity.  Clean grain is spread across the wooden sprouting floor.  It is then carefully moistened for four days until the tiny roots and budding leaves reach the most potent phase of aspiration.  After a precise number of hours, the malt is gently smoked dry before being subjected to life as a mash.  Fermentation has its own pace; the mash must bubble.  Heat and pH are monitored.  Tasting occurs.  It is only once we reach an advanced stage of ennoblement that we can approach distillation itself.  Heat is applied; pressure builds up.  The vapours rise through a set of tubing and then condense, rise and then condense a second time.  But the idea of the whisky is not even near finishing.  Now, it will be put into wooden barrels for ageing.  After four years with periodic rotation; it is suddenly deemed intoxicating enough to be scurried across the yard and behind the high gates.  Now it is subject to quite other laws…

If only the manufacture of bathtubs could provide an equally fitting metaphor…

There were at least two other cannon blasts out of me during the weekend.  One failed to be ignited.  I wanted to acknowledge the daily linguistic imperialism with which I write this post.  Canadians are meant to be familiar with multilingualism; we are trained to make at least token gestures.  I was obviously too out of it with my pet pain to remember to make the plotted amusing after-dinner toast to the linguistically oppressed.  The other blast was likely even more essential because I cannot remember it —  Ahhh, I got it…

It was on our investment in the Circle Economy.  That I, perhaps naively, assumed that our partaking in Circles and paying our keep in Circles local currency meant that I would contribute to at least daily endless group process to pursue key deeper understandings in community efforts.  I still suspect that this is essential to fulfilling the contract of exploring Moos as life-form.  (The formula of one third practical work, one third personal projects, one third contributing to the collective project has been mentioned.) But could the house tolerate such a discipline?  It would dictate a lot of life rhythm — how soon would it sour if 1/3 of our waking day was dedicated to the house’s spiritual precision?  Is there a balance to negotiate? (In Jo-jo’s podcast from Costa Rica, that circulated yesterday the community had its group circle life down to 25%.)

Ahhhh – now, I remember, it wasn’t the clever rework of the Circles image that was my big theme. What I wanted to pound into Moos Lore, was the potential in deconstructing and then extrapolating upon the term Residency itself.  This got a partial mention and reinterpretation, but then got pushed off the agenda.  Pity.  The central point was that language remains a most powerful tool.  Again as a Non-toxic Propagandista, I wanted to dissect that which we truly wished to accomplish and then encapsulate it in fresh terms which could then stand forth in resonant Deutsch as a resounding picture of which we are on about.  Notes were made in a small group, only to evaporate.

And so a return to the theme of this old scribe’s utterances:  the suspicion that while some of this re-evaluation may have be going on privately, until the inner machinations of each other’s brains are rendered transparent, personal ideas lack the vital potency of shared understandings.  I look forward to our next circle…

*The We this time is a collection of activists/artists perched above a restored bathtub factory in Berlin South. Time will tell what evolves.

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Horrible Man Witnesses Theatre

Litt tilfeldig bilde: Bodil synger grunnløvsparagraf §112 / bilde Jacob Lysgaard

I am livid.  Once again I’ve been forced to witness ‘presumed’ theatre:  now is the time for directness — the naked concept unswathed in cumbersome allusion or metaphor. 
A chorus of aspiring somethings have let themselves be recruited by their earnestness.  The brains behind the project appreciated them; couldn’t they become unadorned stand-ins for humanity?  Their very lack of stagecraft would itself signify sincerity.  

I have endured such before.  Many times.  Called in as an understanding Uncle, I am meant to delight in the purity of action as sketchy symbols are leant against one another in an at best tentative structure.  My task is to approve of this deft reconstruction of the elements of performance.  I am not to get bored…

My problem is that, in my antiquated mind, the theatre remains a sacred space.  Things could happen, plots could unfold, transitions might move you.  Indeed, stage persons may even challenge the outer limits of their skills.  As my true love, living theatre is rooted in mad invention.   We are sharing the pilgrimage of rehearsal, the fruits of collective voyage.  Is it my burden to be weaned in an age where organic improvised explorations were always considered good taste, where the pivotal moments of a production’s growth are not your own, but the palpable breakthroughs of your fellow players?

But to have breakthroughs, barriers have to be approached at some velocity.  The play is to be played.  Polite indications that in that direction lie many a profound association, don’t really carry much weight. 

Still, I’m not demanding the exoskeleton of the well-wrought vehicle for the stellar actor propped up by his props in the ninth month of a West End run soon to be a major studio film adaptation.  Such a well-lit Saturday matinée can also easily slip within the range of boredom.   I seek something more primordial.  My naked shaman is by definition a minimalist; in my world the only essential scenic element required to render an event – theatre – is an audience, a movable audience.

The unfortunate dilemma with last night’s offering was that I constructed it entirely myself.  The flimsy premise, gnawing tedium, my crankiness and familiar disappointment were all supplied by my own dreamtime.  So walking wounded have I become that my subconscious presages that this evening’s realtime, perhaps under-wrought covida-adapted, unveiling at the dance festival might just fail to remove my socks?* Having seen it all before, have I become the veteran bee-keeper whose immune system won’t allow him to go anywhere near a living hive for fear of that one more sting that will trigger his last anaphylactic spasm?

*In fact, that evening’s event proved crystalline unpretentious and honest. 
Clearly ‘Uncle-land’, but what we saw was what we got; both were something.

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The Utter Theatre of Liberation


Many things are inevitable. Some just take a long time. For reasons unbeknownst to me, I said yes. It couldn’t have gone better…

Being swaddled in the vestments of a bloody artist may have gotten me as far as a pensioner existence, but it hasn’t yet blessed me with a cult following. Yesterday evening, I may just have found a short-cut.

Of course, I broke all the rules. The traditional laboured pace of stand-up comedy: peppering not necessarily innocent observation and measured pithy quip with gaps of subtle breathing designed to ease the extraction of a well-known dairy product, didn’t quite fit my subtextual morass. Rather, this would be skin of your arse survival, baby. It helped to be on.

An administrative glitch had meant that any reconnoitring of the town’s comedy culture would have to be done in situ; I begged myself a spot in the second set. The preceding parade of keen contributors kept so surprisingly clear of underpants and farting that for some awful seconds I contemplated doing a runner. Mercifully, the infectious spirit of amateurism intervened – presenting myself to the compere in the interval, I also begged off joining in the rudimentary participatory theatre games inserted in the program as an amuse bouche: “I didn’t wish to expose my persona.” Some things remain sacred.

My agent self hadn’t gotten off his arse to forward my bio – my intro featured but one as yet unjustified superlative, and no hint, had I lost count – that it was my turn. Eight steps from the stage, there was no reason to suppress immediate muttering; if the mouth was going to save me, it couldn’t really be subject to decorum. I was handed my first ever contact with a dreaded microphone beastie – even if I had prepared a witty line of reasoning with which to dissect its presence in my left fist, I swear that was the last I saw of it. Although, now that you mention it, this morning’s stiff neck may stem from an internalised cramp.

Going out empty-handed is the basic plot of every actors’ nightmare: the dream traces the show’s flavours and premise, and then, presto it is opening night. Nothing is where it should be, least of all your head. For some reason your fellow actors are not always thrilled by your otherwise healthy impulses. You are doomed.  On the other hand, going out empty-handed for a clown turn may have its blessings – it enforces minimalism, you get quickly immersed in your vulnerability.  Somehow the nakedness feels contagious – the room fathoms the absence of conniving rehearsal hijinks, your breathlessness becomes their breathlessness…

At an early point the fever set in. Moments vanished in time. None of the measured composure of the chronically suave, this was the frenzied rant of the dispossessed. Unleashed among his passions, and not protected by the faintest glimmer of a dramaturgy, the performer felt more performed than performing. Any soothing rehearsed character progression were rudely sacrificed for, at best, scattered snippets of life’s universal themes. Reference points were established, ignored, trounced upon and almost coincidently retrieved in the nick of time.

Maybe I started with psychic confession – who knows? After no more than 45 seconds, I was prematurely declaring that this was going brilliantly.  Forced by the responsive splash of laughter to justify this perhaps rash observation, I inadvertently exposed a trade secret: the comic monologue that you witness is ‘iceberg material’. Our meeting actually began long ago, popping up in unclaimed moments for up to several weeks – in the shower perhaps – the fantasies of meeting your very own, wonderful audience people…  If there was a theme it had little to do with the ponderings of my innards, and much to do with the forces rampant in the room. Asked afterwards if I had prepared any of the material, I had to admit that some elements were vaguely recycled from once long ago when I amused myself on the collapsable lecture circuit with something once deemed theatre. But then, bound by artistic considerations of good taste, and enduring the heavy responsibility of providing a wonderful evening, I would take standard protective measures; a text had been harvested, culled and winnowed. Now, in the identical generic costume, but without the props or transition management schemes, I was freed.  No longer the host, I could launch a guerilla attack on the more predictable rites of the peripheral stand-up industry. Given the flimsy frame of ‘fill eight minutes’, it would be a mad scramble to the top of the only available pinnacle in the house. Survival was not an issue.

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XRcising XR

Mining the Metaphor II

Art by committee can be questionable amounts of fun. Hopefully, the grand idea
gets propped up from multiple directions; but it can easily take a democratic pummeling.
A project’s success may depend less upon one clear image, than a capacity to revel
in the raw variety of human expression…

The local team of eXtinction Rebellion had a mission: one the city’s more magnificent palaces, designed to celebrate the previous previous century’s benign attitude towards species extinction, had had a refurbishment. After six years behind scaffolding, one of the town’s signature buildings would reopen. A hometown girl, the Prime Minister herself, would come to regale us with at least one charming anecdote in her warming native dialect.  Despite crisp morning sunlight mercifully visiting our strip of coast for the occasion, she reminded us of a different, damper reality. Visiting her grandparents’ flat just down the hill, could generate much pent up child energy:  the family cure for a rainy Sunday was — the Bergen Natural History Museum. Built in a more edifying era, when social beneficence was marked, not by shuffling off to an tax haven, but by raising a self-aggrandising cathedral popular; many in the crowd nodded when the PM noted the pinnacle of her trip was always the grand hall at the top of the stairs. Generations had gazed skywards into a suspended whale skeleton.

The irony was not lost upon XR. We had come prepared: among the twelve delicately chiseled mock tombstones was perhaps our pièce de la resistance: the Atlantic Grey Whale. Coincidently, the extinction date carved into our gravestone was identical with the building dates for the original museum. In a pun that resonated a bit better before translation, we declared the whale as ‘deeply missed’.


Bring your own paparazzi
The goals of poetic protest are delicate. The meta-image has to feed multiple depths of field at the same time; while it has to be instantly decipherable for the journalistic panorama, the subjective close-up has to be calibrated to the focal length of an individual by-passer. Your interface is everywhere.

We had trawled our chosen metaphor with some care. The grandeur of the temple featuring stuffed animals from the golden years of colonialism could easily overshadow the precarity of less humble species of today. While the museum’s vaults held a world renowned collection of bumblebees; recent field trips in the region indicated a massive cut in prevalent species. Our central complainte was had the museum reserved sufficient space for upcoming generations ?

The XR central message is ‘Face the Facts‘. We would both mourn the already passed, and warn of the pressing situation for creatures on the endangered list. Our gathering of gravestones included dramatic classics such as the dodo, and the most recent addition of the single remaining male white rhino who’s death had been reported three days earlier. We also regretfully made at least tentative gravestones for the threatened ash tree, local coral fields, and some beloved mountain birds.

sdrDesigning Demos
The XR ‘artivist’ workshop had deftly jettisoned the central committee’s more cumbersome commission of pallbearers supporting a casket (even with the lightest available corpse.) While human extinction may provide eerie background music, as a unifying image it seemed more prudent to wait in queue behind other species nearer an afterlife aided by taxidermy.  Internally, some confusion reigned: could we mourn the future without summonsing the sorrow for past species? One visit to a local graveyard, provided some clues: among the carefully cultivated recent arrivals, were the intelligible moss-covered remnants from previous centuries. A good funeral provides context. What’s gone is gone, but it is not to be forgotten.

Much as every menu needs umami, good propaganda embraces its own critique. A viable slogan isn’t as much pronounced — as distilled within the recipient. Purity of message has its virtue, but an oft repeated slogan can quickly fall into self-righteous monotony. It is wiser to assemble the elements of a vision through point and counterpoint: among the savoury or bitter, a touch of sweetness… [ see our video of the 1990 prototype: Future Protection Agency : Sweet and Sour Demonstration Relay. ]

But this remains not self-evident to all. Responsibility for the daily operations of a touring circus are divided among two castes: the Kinkers and the Roustabouts. The Roustabouts raise the tent, pop the popcorn, sell the tickets; the Kinkers perform.  Although it is obvious that neither could exist without the other, neither seemingly approve of the other’s lifestyle. Similarly, healthy political organs cannot be dominated by the Roundheads. To exclude either poets or number crunchers, is to invite a stultifying narrowness in favour of temporary stability.  Designing your interface to orchestrate accessibility to both friend and foe is vital.


davActive Irresistibility?
Abandoning a central element in our briefing, the XR team perhaps overstepped their boundaries when they deceitfully penetrated the VIP section of the gathering in the museum square. Wearing appropriate mourning black, we thought ourselves indistinguishable from the attending guests and university employees let loose for the occasion. However, our numbers, and the tell-tale placards may just have given us away.  Ever watchful, a local constable had for some reason decided that a conversation with me would be well worth his time. I’m afraid he overestimated me ( or under-estimated the value of his time); he got a respectful earful. In the back of my mind I scanned the precepts of the Extinction Rebellion Non-violent Action training programme that I’d recently attended. I vaguely recalled that it decreed minimal cooperation; however, this didn’t seem the most viable option here.  Instead of passive aggressive passivity, I deftly switched into hyper cooperative modus; judging that the more that I wrapped up his time enthusiastically filling his head with my newly acquired wikipedia of salient facts about extinct species, he’d a) have less time to go in search of the others, and b) he might deduce that we were a harmless bunch of well-meaning kooks. I think I succeeded…

I did remember to deceive him a little bit: I denied belonging to an organisation. It would be hard to call us organised, no one has ever extracted membership fees; technically we were rather a group of incidental friends coincidently sporting matching cardboard gravestones. Oddly, he wasn’t that interested in the fine print of my protest sign (it included a discrete XR logo), our convivial tone was such that he had to endure me reverse-interrogating him about his childhood connection to the museum’s whale display, and my mock apologies for being the one carrying the most light-hearted sign that mourned neither flora nor fauna — but rather the recent demise of the Norwegian National Railway.


Hidden away in the minutæ of our demonstration paraphernalia, was a thematic anomaly.  For some it was a jarring inconsistency, deviant from the party line; for others it reflected an übernorsk salient detail that added a poignant punch with significant aftertaste. It mourned the passing of a very human creation; NSB, the national railway system had been disassembled this past year by the day’s guest of honour.  The conventions of the graveyard’s streamlined minimalism allowed us to bear our grief expressed in six letters, one award-winning logo and the telling dates 1905-2019  (1905 being a magic number etched into the racial memory of Norwegian nationals everywhere.)  As an expression of yearning for the recently departed, it clearly hit a palpable nerve among the assembled masses.

Listening Stations
The sub-goals of street theatre can be subtle. The non-subtle bit is of course to draw attention to the cause; however, once one has captured attention – what does one do with it?  Part of the thought process behind the Institute for Non-toxic Propaganda is that much of the work is best done one on one. Instead of confronting people with your appraisal of their contradictions, you adroitly reverse your status; by allowing oneself to become victim of one’s own imagery, you tactically invite passers-by to appraise you being confronted by your own contradictions. If we are all in it together, everyone’s logical conclusions are somehow equally relevant. I call these staged interactions: listening stations. We are out collecting the inevitable conflicting arguments.  The more we the performer are the victim of our performance, the more we empower the point of view of the observer. Once you have established this human bridge, defensiveness often evaporates in the face of our innocence; deep systemic doubts can be aired and implanted in the vicinity of the audience’s core beliefs — without rudely hammering home your own conclusions.

XR graveside

Of course, we momentarily became a cause celébre on the hidden reaches of the local media; for some reason the minor flutter of a few metaphorical hankies became the lead story:  XR visits a dignitary

all photos: Odin the one-eyed

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Follow-up is Quite Something


Full Moon, 16-19 September,
Kokkinopilos, Mount Olympus

Once again the unMonastery succumbed to our favourite fetish:  whenever possible, we place major our occasions along the notches of the Saros cycle. It is as if we still harbour the belief that the heavens might teach us something. While the October Harvest Moon fitted better for some, the logistics of key personnel moved things to September, and the autumn equinox. The Full Moon showed as per schedule.  The same cannot be said for our proposed team…

The meeting mandate decided during the Summer unSummit was clear: Assemble the key players to an i situ core group alignment session. – this with the added calculation that our speedy return to Kokkinopilos would also impress upon local stakeholders the seriousness of our intentions.

Group alignment might prove a hard task. Design principles as to where and how to focus the efforts of the unMonastery as a coordinated practice had taken a great leap back to basics at the Summer unSummit Camp, but not everyone had participated equally in the pleasure of this visceral reinforcement. Pulling the diverse strands together might be painful. Some of us trod carefully, others tramped loudly.  One withdrew gracefully; two others just didn’t show up.

Our party boldly retained its mission:  laden down with copies of the newly completed unMonastery Scriptorium ToolKit to be distributed along the route, and ripe from a warm, if slowly fading summer camp adventure, this was a repeat, more precise journey.  The design of our return gathering had been conceived to fold the unMonastery back upon ourselves. The invigorating challenge of living half-rough, with barely running water and absolutely no kitchen, was be translated into a viable project proposal for our next stage of operations. As a working framework for the gathering itself, two unMonastery classics were to be recycled: Day One, labelled “Mountain Day” would be a transplanted version of the ‘Listening to the Walls’ exercise devised for the original unMonastery in Matera. The suggested concrete task at hand was to locate a site for the legendary Rysjek’s ‘Negativity Pole’ as proposed at the proto-unMonastery founding meeting with Edgeryders in Strasbourg. This was devised as a necessary device to prevent progressive activist organs from succumbing to group disharmony once they start to get anywhere. The Gods know that we have explored the disharmony territory – The Walls we would listen to would inevitably include our own…

But first some practicals… Item one on the agenda was a rash attempt to impose structural elements from the Summer Solstice gathering upon a new constellation of people. Now, exactly three moons later on the equinox, would not the difference in the angle of the heavens dictate a different response (and waking time)?  Wiser heads prevailed; morning practice became a rousing mountain walk—- there beyond the pastures just below our school house hung a breath-taking vista; at a certain moment the rays that illuminated the far away peaks would slide over Olympus itself to bless our mountain meadow. Dodging cow patties, we found our way to a natural outcrop that put a fountain of stone at our backs, and offered a dramatic perch suitable for cleansing and contemplation – could this spot be the negativity pole we sought that would help ground all future discord? 

The post-breakfast re-tox session involved self-interrogation. What walls were we proposing to create, which would be weight bearing, what would be necessary to hold the space for the spirit of the enterprise to protect the unMonastery idea from the vagaries of everyday life? As usual the unMon Card Set and the Book of Greater and Lesser Omissions supplied valuable clues – we seem prepared…

The rest of the day we expanded our listening arc to the designated taverna.  A valuable articulation of the perceived needs of the local community, and their designs upon the school house, provided key input.  A planned lunch meeting with Viktoria and Giorgos demanded a follow-up tour to some local historic sites.  The original row of temples dedicated the Big Twelve had recently been unearthed in the valley below – the remnants long since plundered to build local sheep sheds, we met the foundation stones to temples to Poseidon, Apollon and Artemis, archeologists assure us that the rest of the crowd still lay there, unexcavated.  The more well-known Disneyland option on the beachy side of the mountain were in fact the Roman-built equivalent and a mere 1900 years old; here were the genuine stones – and look, there above us, nestled on the mountainside – the village of Kokkinopilos.

Day Two was flagged before our arrival as “Garden Day”  – the thought being that: a family that breaks nails together, lugs pails together. An active unMon garden is conceived as a supplementary meeting place to the trusty taverna; the simple strategy is that by sharing the ins and outs of gardening, both our inexperience as peasants, and/or our access to innovative technologies and sustainable approaches to horticulture could grow into a collective concern for our immediate nosey neighbours. The key unMonastery rallying cry of  ‘Cultivating the We’ would take on an additional literal meaning in the interest creating a not necessarily verbal meeting place.  Meanwhile, while focussing on the logistics of preparing a plot and meeting seeding schedules, the extended theme of Day 2 was to layout the range of our first strategically designed testLab. ‘Gardening’ implied both planning and maintaining growth. We plotted.

An attempted backroad tour into more ancient ruins was aborted as too challenging for our hired car. Besides, another tribe of the Godly had made their presence known; acting on a hot tip we found ourselves on the far side of the valley looking for Taverna Dionysos – and a small crowd of retro-worshippers who would be performing their seasonal rites upon yet another neglected heap of stones. Wild flowers, wine, fire, ancient Greek prayer texts and a tortoise would offered up in acknowledgement of not-forgotten Gods.  Ecstatic for the international attention (and potential participants under 60), Our Valeria was soon recruited into the role of the fair maid, Persephone. If we turned our backs upon the proceedings, we too would face Olympus; Kokkinopilos was once again glimpsable above the foothills.

Afterwards, back at Dionysos, some truths would emerge. These intrepid pagans had far from just a passing interest in preserving the ancient deities – they were also dead keen on preserving all things Hellenic – we’d landed among a hornets nest of hyper-nationalists. The dessert, served with a sauce of anti-semitism and conspiracy theories, wasn’t quite as appetising as the main course. We beat a hasty retreat back to more nourishing ground.

The people of Kokkinopilos are not actually Greeks – driven up into the valleys of Northern Greece are pockets of a variety of nations. In Kokkinopilos, they speak Vlac. As descendants of the Roman pre-bysantine presence they are linguistically Latin speakers akin to Romanian, French and Italian. This provides several advantages; the psychology of being a noble minority is very much a positive value in a community that seems to comprise of many retirees who have come back to a community that finally allows them to freely speak their mother’s tongue. Also, we unMoaners from afar may find it easier to learn the language, even if it is spoken by as few as 800 people.

Obtainable Objectives and Hidden Assumptions
UnMons travel on their OOs and HAs. The announced OO of our autumn meeting was to hammer out the contours of a potential future collaboration. A hidden assumption that appeared in at least one person’s notes stated that: Working constructively upon a goal will bring forth strengths and contradictions in our understandings.  We feel that we got a clear step forward towards meshing the perceived needs of the villagers with a realistic version of what we and any supportive groups from the MAZI conglomerate can deliver. The village association has a bold vision to keep the village alive by developing services for a stream of alternative experience seekers who wish to meet more of Mount Olympus, and on less commercial terms, than the the coastal approach; we sketched an area where accumulated unMonastery website and cultural skills can support their plans in both prepping fund raising efforts, profiling the community, and providing off-net interface tools that provide information on the pre-image management version of the Olympians.

There was one invisible stakeholder that towered above all others. On the morning of our final night, we were awoken by thunderbolts. Zeus himself was intent on making himself heard – we held no doubts as to whom were the intended recipients.

Properly chastened, we held up to three closing circles both pre- and post cleaning out all signs of our visit. Some decisions to be made were voiced, and personal commitments aligned; our working plan was augmented by some last details and a renewed vision of reality; the next unMonastery seasonal gathering was mapped out in accordance with decisions made during the unSummit.  One last visit to the committee at Antonia’s taverna was in order.

Despite the initial annoyance of having been left in the lurch by half of our conceived delegation, our pared down group proved especially effective in building our interface. Without swamping the taverna culture with our foreignness, we were absorbed into the prevailing mood of mischievousness. That Valeria was revealed as growing up speaking Romanian had a special benefit: the always gregarious Vasilis had perhaps unearthed some long, lost relations down the valley – could she come up to the house and phone a number in Bucharesti of some people who shared his last name? Indeed she could: they returned triumphant seven minutes later with an agreement to visit family that had migrated northward some 180 years ago.

Major elements of Project Design haven’t been solved. Particularly, a collective push to match available funding is necessary. The idea as sketched stands as a three month 2017 TestLab that may or many not blossom into a future operation. Concrete suggestions as to a non-MAZI collaboration that may be interested in absorbing the long-term running of whatever we can cultivate, were aired. We reckon that a core group of 5-7 people could provide stability. A recruitment drive among our natural collaborative partners may help locate additional curious. However, we acknowledge the wisdom of working with an inner group of the ‘devout’ and an outer circle of the perhaps curious…


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First Steps II

my sacrificial offering

The Fossil Record is ambiguous. Paleontology cannot detect the minor evolutions in the alignment of bone fragments that could conclusively indicate that a branch of the humanoid family suddenly spent large amounts of time exploring choreographed sequences. Physiologically, it all shows up as the regular drudgery. Any such deduction may just have to be left to the neuro-anthropologists, and frankly, since the painstaking laboratory hours required to render such observations acceptable industry standard working hypotheses would clearly subtract from time spent enjoying the glee of dance floor fieldwork, who can be bothered.

To pinpoint the precise moment in evolutionary history when human beings first formed the dance and /or the dance first formed human beings would require considerable nitpicking. Far from the world of footnote and academic reference points, let it suffice to launch the simple supposition: we can, therefore we did. Dance is so central to every human culture that at some point the swirl of the village wedding evolved from the need to emulate each other’s rhythms in order to best sample the pheromones of prospective mates. Given the propensity of proprioceptors assigned to managing just such a task, we are mostly stuck musing: which came first the sheer joy of it or the sheer joy of it? 
The dawn of paleolithic shamanism may have involved some life or death wrestling match, but hardly more life and death than for your average flock of baboons. The question may boil down to: can a toddler’s capacity for gleeful repetitive movement be dependent upon the attention it generates from a parade of aunties; does a diapered ape left alone in their gyrations cease telegraphing how pleased they are with themselves? We intuitively know the answer…

Dance Talks
Contemporary understanding holds that language evolved to reflect the intricacies of social relations: we didn’t say anything until we had something to say in a context where it would have significance to those within earshot. Consciously or reflexively sound, and then gradually word, carried intention. Is it fair to assume the same with the dance? This may not provide a seamless correlation, arguably one may make the case that one could dance independent of intention. I’d prefer to think not: to repeatedly access the somatic satisfaction of movement in times otherwise available for more energy efficient contemplation implies that a human need is being met beyond a self interrogation of the sinew as a reminder that underutilised neurological pathways await your command. Moving in sync with one another, We address the Us.

This exercise of social cohesion did not require complex protocols of trans-clan diplomacy. Long before we had the intricacies of a conditional tense necessary to politely bid each other up for a twirl, we were already up and at it: the reflexive, individual stretch stretched into the intoxicating social warmup.


Living six months as a troglodyte seemed inviting. The vista was superb, the local cuisine nourishing; however, one aspect of the caves of Matera disappointed grieviously. The porous, readily carvable rock within which the town scraped out over 240 rupestrian churches didn’t actually provide fabulous acoustic properties. Time and time again one entered awestruck, pulled forth ones vocal chords in the manner of actors, and struck lead. Even when the good people carved vaulted roofs in the shapes of their own craniums, the sound wouldn’t soar…

The Missing Link
The archeology/anthropology debate keeps getting mired down in my out-of-date library. No doubt, as the old Gods in the scholarly firmament die out, the lines on the jungle floor are rapidly re-sketched. The tug of war between the bone people and the chipped tool fragment/carved artifact people likely still struggles to pin-point the dawn of human language along the continuum from bipedalism to first fresco. Significantly, somewhere along this line, heroic spelunkers have spotted signs of the theatre of the first shaman and deemed it a clear indication of expanding consciousness. Not really so curiously, some believe that they have finally solved the riddle of why much of the most glorious cave art was sequestered away on the most inaccessible of walls…

The creative act of applying pigment to reproduce meticulously observed bison and lions could perhaps be pure reflex gratitude; a function of sharing the planet with such magnificent creatures. However, there may be a more comprehensive impulse for going to such lengths. That which indicates the most plausible theory builds upon the observation that the often inaccessible walls chosen for adornment were in the spots that offered the best conditions for group chanting. The melodies may not show in the fossil record, but the resonance of rhythmic choral breathing and synchronised tonality may have had just as much to do with expanding our brain function and making us intellectually agile as did the development of the manual dexterity required to smite hand axes. Negotiating vital group harmony may primarily have occurred while vibrating our skulls in search of vital group harmony.

Similarly, the ultra human activity of the dance has never been contingent upon the invention of shoes. The mental proprioceptors are all there – among their first survival skills the human infant is neurologically programmed to internalise and mimic the movement of others. Incorporating (giving body to) the need for social alignment within the extended family band, either into the collective expression of totemic emulation, or into moves replicating the visceral satisfaction of plucking a bounteous bush of berries does more than provide a good party; it hot-wires motor-neurons along the path of the universal social admonition which declares that: ‘together we prosper‘.

It may be pushing things to propose that bipedalism evolved from the survival potential advantage inherent in an unconscious experience that ‘the family that jives together thrives together’, but the message of the collective dance easily predates any articulated text declaring this to be so. Dance is social grooming without artefacts; we’ll have to keep digging.

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A Grammar of Acting

ViS web
A Speech of Parts – the Language of an inspired Actor

If theatre is a language, it could conceivably have a stable grammar and strict grammatical rules. But languages evolve, and we who grew up speaking them as our mother tongue are rarely dependent upon an objective understanding of the rules to be functionally literate. Grammar reigns in the realm of the subconscious; in practice, while paying subliminal lip‑service to convention, we would never ascribe these conventions a pre-determining role. Our human creativity is dependent upon rule-breaking, upon tugging and twisting at convention to shape new and unique linguistic constructions.

This paper is non-scientific. It is perhaps no more than an indulgent exploration of word-play. However, the why of why one might make such an exploration, can easily be given a scientific or at least pseudo-scientific rationale. We will here  illuminate the role of the actor, and the perceived role of the actor, through using the terminology of grammar. I will propose that at various occasions there exists a Theatre of the Noun, an Adverbial Theatre, a Verbal Method; I will make a case for a Theatre of the Preposition – and I will speculate as to if any of us are engaged in anything akin to a preverbal, subconscious theatre that must have been our collective pre-language starting point.

I likely risk considerable interjection along the way, but this is a desirable byproduct and by no little co-incidence this linguo-wandering will also serve as a working demonstration of the tools and tactics of the Institute for Non-toxic Propaganda. And so we have already arrived at our first tangent. To be brief – the Institute for Non-toxic Propaganda champions “issue illumination without inflammation”.  We offer practical theatrical applications based upon studies in non-confrontational therapy, and seek to be a non-allergenic agent for those who for some reason may wish to turn to the theatre as a solution to all their problems. Our approach is not solely mechanical and we stubbornly refuse to abandon Art. In a world where aesthetics habitually yield for politics, we insist upon the necessity of being Poetically Correct.

******* Continue reading

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Jagdschloss Göhrde — a potential unMonastery school?

Two Annual Gathering designs as inspired by meeting with Göhrde.

In early September 2015, three veteran unMonasterians descended for two days upon Göhrde, an hour south of Hamburg.  Ben flew in from Istanbul, Katalin came from Lausanne, and Bembo dropped by from Bergen on his way to Athens, Sicilia and ultimately Alessandria.

The unMonastery was contacted through several channels to please investigate a unique resource in Lower Saxony.  Göhrde, in luscious rural surroundings, the site both of historic occurrences and non-occurrences, starts with an incongruously monumental brick chalet standing by an almost imperceivable miniature and overgrown train stop.

One finds out later that it was erected in the dawn of the Prussian railway system as the most convenient stop for the Kaiser and companions on their way to his annual soirees at the imperial hunting lodge in the densest forest of the region.  Confusingly, the station is called Göhrde even when it is in the village of Breese.  We would soon find out why…

History had not always been kind to the Hunting Palace of the King of Hanover.  His conflicting duties had left the resource badly underused and at some point (1827) the magnificent palace building built to echo the grandeur of Potsdam and Versailles was subject to pillage by antecedents dead keen to recycle some hewn rock.  This would not be the last round of plunder.  However, it is that which is left standing that concerns us most…

There are seemingly unlimited pleasant rooms for human habitation; facilities for establishing a meaningful kitchen experience are not beyond reach.  The surrounding countryside houses several sources of pristine food stuffs.  Meetings can be had indoor and out.  Ready to go lecture theatres abound.  That which is more questionable is year-round residency.  The heating system was proportioned to do all or nothing – so until the community exceeds sixty or so, it is a prohibitive economic constraint.

Göhrde complex

Can something be done in the pleasant months then?
Indeed it can.  The impulse to hold the next annual unMon summit there say April/May/June garnered quite some enthusiasm.  At least three buildings can house as many as we can supply; while providing a trial run for logistics issues.  Ideally we could send a pre-summit crew to lug furniture about and polish the candlesticks.  Even more ideally, a group could extend our presence by a week or two to start the annual programs of The Model School of the unMonastery: offering to host broader gatherings built within unMonastic disciplines and employing the social pedagogic practices of the unMonastery community.  

Two annual TestLab designs came to mind…

1)   unMon Workshop Workshop
  an open clinic in refining and polishing seminar and symposium presentation skills.

Many people have dreams of making a living being inspirational.  However, that which gets presented at many a public forum is tragically pacifying.  In the polite middle class atmosphere of mutual supportiveness (I’m thinking TED here) one can get away with some pretty bad theatre; a conspiracy of head-nodding may hold artificially alive a carefully sculpted guided tour of your conceptual darlings, but not for long.  While, armed with the mandatory parade of impressive visuals and a pleasing demeanor, the perpetrators may survive a few rounds on the circuit, however, we aspire to something more vital in the realm of mobilisation.  We want our audience up and roaring; What can raise your project beyond a wise and careful presentation to a profound confrontation with the core of the matter?

Using the invigorating unMonastery shell of concentric neo-liturgic disciplines – this Re-boot camp is designed to move social initiatives further faster.  It works by harnessing the energy of a wide variety of brilliant ideas by creating mutually supportive cells of parallel concerns.  You don’t just present once – you hone your thinking within a collective process infused with some basic visceral understandings as to the nature of the task of hosting meaningful gatherings.  Depending upon the mass of participation, cell composition may evolve from natural constellations, or be refreshingly diffuse in choice of tools and strategies.

I can see these as cycles of on going seminar/clinics where participants:

  • present raw material – peer to peer
  • extract feedback through a series of exercises
  • stretch out their goals in participant groups of 4-5
  • absorb coaching on performance issues
  • design accessible participatory elements
  • share final version

One version of this process solves a lot of logistics questions: if people roll in as it fits them, they then place themselves in queue to do each step.  As fitting, we’d need a dry run with known faces on year one.

George_I_of_Great_Britain_-_1715 King George II

2) Georgie’s unTongue-tying Clinic of unBroken English
When His Most Serene Highness George of Hanover was summonsed to the British Throne in 1714, it scuppered some of his royal plans.  He had recently commissioned a French architect to build a relatively vast complex at Göhrde for him and his hunting buddies.  Built in 1709-12 under the supervision of Jean Pierre Quelquechose to serve as a main source for royal sausages, protocol would only rarely allow the main building to be taken into use, ( Otherwise occupied by his day job, George I managed only 5 trips back to the old country before his death during the last one in 1727.)  George II was back and forth a bit more, but usually with a military mission.  As it was, the main building fell into disuse; it was dismantled in 1827 some years before the Prussian Kaisers converted the standing stables into an ornate ballroom and installed their residency appendages to host the annual imperial hunt.  Yet a century later, the remaining 8 buildings and 20,000 sq m of land were augmented with a new garden level sleeping pavilion and a functional meeting rooms to host unsuspecting Europeans among the incongruous grandeur.

Besides Handel, the Hanoverians major contribution to British culture was linguistic inaptitude.  Never quite mastering English pronunciation became a perverse virtue that certain strata of British society never quite recovered from.  Lingo-historians differ but during the first two generations of Hanoverian monarchs the fashion in court became either to adopt ironic elements of a strong Germanic accent as required pronunciation, or to over enunciate every syllable so that your Royal Highness wouldn’t be forced to ask what you were on about.  Either way, the nasal calisthenics and the stilted elongated vowels of the English upper classes still reflect the painful dialog between King and subjects; the language of Shakespeare contorted to accommodate a curling stiff upper lip and the haughty inflection of permanent disdain.

“Pain in the Language”
It is only right that the hunting lodge at Göhrde now assembles expertise to reverse this unfortunate evolution: the legacy of a broken English that hampers much international dialog in our de facto lingua franca as diplomats, scientists and others each enter into a personal wresting match with “Pain in the Language”

Much of the agony is psychosomatic; years of betrayal by one’s vocal apparatus, and with a chronic mourning of the erudition in one’s mother tongue has left many 2nd and 3rd language speakers cramped by perpetual helplessness and with a residual tongue tiedness.

Not based upon technical vocabulary nor grammatical formations, the work of this second rebootcamp is to refurbish the connection with the basic mechanisms and neurological wiring that accompanies the performance of elusive precision and clamps your learning curve.  Employing the social pedagogical practices of the unMonastery community, the clinic activity recognises speech impediments as as much psychological as mechanical.  Dismantling coping patterns through both physical exercises with vocal and verbal stretches, it also addresses detoxifying the culture of mastery through confession and a sharing of triumphs.  The Hanoverian hunters finally decode the speech of the masses, to jump hedges and mingle with the locals.  (That the Jagdschloss also was home to German Esperanto community — and that its forgotten archives in the attic are in a sorry state of affairs, is not lost upon us lovers of language.)

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Alessandria — Teatro Comunale

300px-Lejeune_-_Bataille_de_Marengoremit:  When he heard of the unMonastery project, local co-working social activist, Giorgio Baracco, took an impulsive trip to Athens to inquire if we could be interested in a massive project:  his historically pivotal city of Alessandria at the edge of the Piedmont floodplains had a reflex reaction to pesky foreigners…   Concrete actions:  (down at the bottom)

Alessandria has previous: when their fierce defense caused Holy Roman Emperor Frederik Barbarossa to pull out some medieval hair, he changed the name of the city to Keizer – the locals reinstated it at first opportunity; when Napoleon Bonaparte routed the Austria-Hungarian forces, and underlined his disapproval of the papacy by ripping out the local Cathedral, a taller, vaguely finger-shaped spire was erected on the rebuild; when what is diplomatically designated anglo-American forces fire-bombed the beloved classical theatre edifice that had long been the social nucleus of the class that counts, it would damn well be resurrected bigger and better…

The house is cavernous.  Built at a time when the largest theatre in Italy was something to crow over, it is now as viable as a sandal maker for Mastodons.  Location is everything; if it didn’t occupy the centre piece end of the green wooded square facing the railway station, it could be quietly let out cut-price to IKEA.  Closed five years ago after an operational error had spread a nasty batch of asbestos powder through the entire ventilation system, it may soon be nearing a partially functional level.

Teatro 1

Problem however, is what to fill it with: who of the locals have the vision, media pull and international contact network to be able to pack the building with significant reasons to climb out of your favorite sofa?  The framed stars of yesteryear that tradition decrees must smile at you from the stairwells are no longer such pleasant company – the current generation  of their replacements certainly don’t shine as convincingly.

The two – three most grand spaces have an architecture that takes the breath away.  The main foyer stretches long and rises high.  Looking down on it, are at least one elegant mezzanine gallery.  The backstage of the main theatre with a fly space 26m high is as inspiring as any cathedral.  Its massive wooden floor is an unknown commodity in the modern age.

Both these spaces should be considered common property of the populous.  Beautiful operations could be performed there.  If three hundred people a day get to stand stage front and centre, everyone in the city can experience this once a year.  Rationalise this down to thirty people, and each citizen gets several photo ops in a lifetime.  As a monument to the transcendental powers of cooperative effort that theatre personifies, the house cries out for intense human activity.

In the meantime the building has been hit with yet another sort of bomb.  Off-limits while work teams remove its immediate chemical toxicity, the city itself went through the embarrassing honour of being Italy’s first municipality to be rendered legally bankrupt. Funds acquired to refurbish its innards in the direction of past glory may just pull it back to square one, but at this juncture, rebuilding even more bigger and better can no longer be a useful operating principle.  These twin devastations, economic and environmental, require a unique future oriented response.  The city is not alone in this dilemma; if it could generate the consciousness to respond in a smarter, subtle manner it could truly become a monument of international importance.

The Culture of the Enterprise
— an unMonastic approach —

A municipal cultural institution of this size represents some 15-20 salaried and politely pensioned positions in a well-worn hierarchy.  This is a lot of patronage, influence peddling and jostling of egos — such schemes rarely generate world-shaking art.

The soonish to be reopened massive municipal theatre needs a raison d’être; I was witness to two gatherings to test the waters.  The first, dry and predictable in an antechamber at the city hall, invited the local self-styled theatre types to air which of their plans could inhabit the building.  The second, potentially equally dry and predicable, gave them one more chance; it asked the apposite question: given that local self-styled theatre types only had use for 10-15% of the building’s capacity — what else would you like your actors/audience to experience here?

Gotta love that Latin; as meeting prep I had best augment my rudimentary Italian – wondrously, the key unMonastery rallying cry of  ‘social cohesion’ translated seamlessly into coesione sociale.

The most intricate gathering during my one-man scoping mission to determine if Alessandria was fertile ground for unMonasticism was the last.  Invited to co-working space:  Lab121 were some repeat faces from the cramped roundtable gathering in the city hall to discuss their desires as local theatricians.  Giorgio and I had a rough meeting plan. Start with something not too challenging, but angled as if everyone among us was an experienced actor; assess their own contribution, and then bore them a bit.  Then as they went into the familiar positions, try to lead their thinking outside the boxing ring…

Operetta for the Provinces
The pull to trump past heights is deeply ingrained in the local populous.  Now, when the modern scourges of asbestos fibres and the downside of deficit financing had besieged the biggest theatre stage in Italy.  Voices clamoured for the restoration of past splendor.

But could this possibly swing?  Designed in the heady days of cheap oil and shaky two-tone television reception, it had served as a convenient stop-over for national tours plying the well-worn circuit across the lucrative North.  The fare: charming clunkers featuring stout defenders of the faith.

Our meeting was designed to stay low key.  Premature visionary design can trigger ingrained nostalgic expectations.   The inflated role of imported whiz person could easily generate the usual gang of suspicions: resentment, passivity, intransigence, and a militant ‘wait and see attitude’ that we know only too well.

Having budgeted with twenty minutes of at best predictable circular discussion – we would then pull the plug and raise the directed focus of the discussions.  We retreated earlier than planned-  thinking we’d better remove the foreigner factor as much as possible, Giorgio would play my earnest straight man in the local dialect.  We gathered around the ubiquitous il business model canvas:  it did its trick – within less than the allotted time we were heavily bogged down in consultant jargon and spinning out of control.

Asked persuasively to introduce my mission, I, with an authorised translator by my side, succumbed with an anecdote.   I told the story of a café meeting Lars during his visit to the unMonastery prototype in Matera.  He told of a business management professor who had based his doctoral studies upon the one large institution that always delivered as promised right on the predetermined minute of opening night: the theatre.  I had stood up from our table, moved 120 cm to my right, shook and wept —  Someone somewhere had acknowledged the depth of our knowledge:

Theatre is a Rehearsal for life:
Skills and disciplines are exercised
that are of acute importance for a functional society.
Not the inflation of the need for self-expression:
the easy, noisy bits,
il teatro dello sperleffo;
not the fantasy extensions of storytelling and veiled fable,
but the invisible knowledges and clear truths.  
The most important message of the theatre is subliminal:  
the miracle of the ensemble and the extreme sport of the collective.  
— Group breathing, group confrontation, group transcendence.

teatro com museo attivo
It may not have been diplomatic to describe a beloved institution as a dinosaur, but everyone conceded that this was by no means underestimating the size of the problem. While larger monuments may exist in a few spots around the globe, at issue wasn’t even if there was available nourishment enough to support such an endangered species — refurbishing the same scale drain on the municipal budget in an age where gentlemen ceased to go with Borsalinos* would clearly be an act of fiscal mismanagement.  Better a humane assisted death and some inspired use of its skeleton in a manner that includes a larger selection of the audience that the historic opera-goers.  The collision would be with the traditionalists.
*Alessandria is the ancestral home of this hat-making empire.


Expectations can paralyse many a cause. Catering to nostalgia is much easier that feeding people unknowns.  Dramatic shifts in focus are often necessary to lift the discussion past the familiar logjams. Adjustment was in order —  some familiar words dominated the airwaves of our meeting: teatro and spettacolo were clearly being used as a shorthand.   If we continue to say and think teatro –  the only imaginable deliverables are dance, concerts, musicals and comic farces.  To diffuse this, I interrupted.  In trade lingo, we’d always talk of our operation as not ‘the theatre’, but ’the house’ – was this translatable?  Yes, in Italian it was also ‘la casa’ .  Would this help re-proportion expectations?

The strong graphic presence at the foot of the park announces:  “Teatro___Comunale” with an unnaturally large space between words.  It cries out for vandalismo; over a series of café tables we plotted a tagging design:  T-super-C, T-post-C, T-avanti-C were voiced and rejected.  My informants, more soaked in the local argot than I, had to be listened to. The current favorite, that definitely needs go before a marketing poll, simply hacks two letters out of the second word making something close to Community become Common — Teatro Comune.  No longer the municipal showcase, it becomes of the people.

Two interventions addressed the ‘model’ itself.  I interrupted: Stakeholders are obvious, don’t spend the time on this, although please note that in the unMonastery we learned to include the invisible stakeholders – the Future.  Also, the language proffered by the standard exercise board used at the Co-working Lab was too tame and academic; the flimsy claims as to moments of concern were not the language of the theatre… In the theatre we need to use strong, playable verbs to describe our actions :  You are speaking careful of tentative proposals: we need to embrace dreams…


  1. The building has 2-5 architectural spaces that can give in the citizenry an inspiring experience of being/doing together.
  2. However the largest main spectator space , originally designed looking backwards at fallen glory, is of such proportion to dwarf any realistic use for more than 20 evenings a year (seats 1200).  The auditorium is clearly the most costly renovation project – it is also the space most hit by pollutants.  It should be possible to practically and symbolically to seal this space (for possible future use) as a monument to false delusions of grandeur.  The artistic loss would be frankly small; the savings substantial.  It can still be viewed via the solid glass window of the lighting booth.
  3. Backstage is a truly magic room that has previously been off limits to all but a handful of stage technicians and performers.  Sadly, it is likely that its full height and technically capacity has never been fully explored.  Behind the fire curtain an enormous wooden floor with a 26m high ceiling.  It itself is an inspiring, flexible space with moderate restoration expenses.  With the height and acoustic properties of a cathedral it is suited for public rituals, arena theatre, concerts, dance evenings, a specialised genre of giant puppet theatre, an aerial ballet troupe and other cultural practices yet to be devised.  Every citizen should at some juncture in their life have the opportunity to feel themselves the subject of this splendid room.
  4. A home for activist/citizen organisations, preventative active health care, media library. The building has many other rooms: offices, dressing rooms, and smaller halls that have functioned as cinemas.  These can be used to provide non-performative services where the daily human traffic can benefit from cross-fertilisation with a culture house.  An obvious example is psychological counselling where instead of anonymous, intimidating corridors, patients would be able to pass through the impressive foyer space.  **An exciting coincidence is the idea of web-based Bilancio Partecipativo (participatory budgeting) that has long been on my list of desirable unMonastery tools; apparently the current municipal government campaign with this as part of their platform.  The local BP co-ordination function would be a clear indication of the new intentions for the house; it could also function as a regional hub/resource centre for implementing BP elsewhere.**
  5. Foyer – a magnificent three story space with a glass front that lets the park in; it is currently divided by a front of house monstrosity used to keep people out!   As a first visible, public step – the ticket desk, display walls and assembled equipment now gathered here should be given to an international sculpture symposium to mark the reclaiming of the house. Material gets recycled into sculpture that enriches the park.  The foyer and several of the mezzanine balconies can form a major communicative hub for the house functions and a smoke free area for choirs, tango club, stunt poetry readings, yoga classes, an aviary, a hands on permaculture clinic, bridge club, etc.
  6. One problem and its ingenious solution presented themselves back to back:
    Would the citizens trust the civic assurances that the internal climate of the building was finally free of the toxicity of the past?  The very next evening, at the FabLab Arduino Centre in Torino – I came across an exhibit of ELiSE – environment live sensing, a technological sensor for air purity. If we can arrange a marriage of this technology to the house, it could provide both a dynamic survey of air quality and provide an app by which users can use to monitor local conditions; their anxiety can be assuaged while the house’s cutting edge tech savvy gets a strong symbolic example.
  7. Ensemble of Social Cohesion Workers – What if the building were run in a monastic like structure as a community of caretakers whose major job is to support preventative health services with an ensemble of ‘social cohesion’ workers?  As I recall, the actor’s dressing rooms are far too underground to be healthy monks‘ cells — could full spectrum lighting, piped birdsong, and water-based negative ion generators provide a conducive atmosphere?  unMonastery could form/train the host crew of house caretakers.  Before closing five years ago, two cleaners took charge of the entire house — unMonasterians (perhaps living on site) do not receive/use conventional economic resources to such a degree; for a lower cost a five-six people team could perform the tasks of cleaning crew and ritual leaders, house hosts, café workers.
  8. Possible opening project?  The unMonastery’s key co-operative organ Mazi has been approached to contribute to Smart Cities: Gross National Happiness day in regional capital Torino (March 2016).  The form this takes has yet to be decided; but Mazi contemplates holding our semi-annual gathering at this occasion.   Since BD has been asked to hold a theatre workshop in Alessandria sometime this winter, we will put forth a proposal that can combine these efforts.  The possibilities are many…
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Revisiting Pochinko

all photos:

It had been some years.  Many thanks to the ubiquitous Book of the Face, the past has acquired an even more tenacious habit of catching up to one.  Now, the possibility having been circulated for a good year and a bit, fate ejected me free of fancy and footloose in approximately the right neighbourhood; East would meet West in the glorious South,  I’d blow in from the North for a refresher course in the fun stuff.

Some forty years back, I’d jostled discretely in the swarm around our master.  He was good, a generous soul who had accumulated a well of secret ingredients with which we could access desirable tools.  Understandably keen to absorb such treats in our life’s journey; we did.  Our holy rituals felt very much like holy rituals.

Since then I’d been, if not a very, very devout one, a covert disciple. – I jumped when he died, but oceans away, felt no immediate compunction to further his legacy.  Except that I already had… 

My first job in the New Country fell upon me like this:
“Excuse me while I take this phone call.  An as yet impenetrable conversation of a few sentences that added distinctly local colour to an impulsive meeting with a matriarch of the West Country League for Amateur Theatre  : “Oh, that was the Worker’s Illumination Association looking for a clown teacher.  I had to tell them sorry, we hadn’t anyone like that on staff.  You couldn’t, could you?” “Well, yes, I ‘ve got previous. I probably could.” “I’ll phone them back, their office is just across the street.”   Them that have greatness thrust upon them…

mud manFrankly, I lack ambition in this direction, it could be because of childhood trauma inflicted by a birth name that goes awry in a lot of people’s cultural assumptions.  In any case, my pedagogic arch was not lofty; not about to presume an earth shattering contribution when giants in the field were operating elsewhere, I wouldn’t be replicating the solar system during the six or eight courses with alternating adults and kids that the local demand threw my direction.  It would suffice to deliver an elemental approach to clown liberation as handed down to my humble self.  If I at all quoted my sources, I may have justified the madness with an anonymous mention of ‘my teacher’ in a passing sentence.  Otherwise, as is only right for a foreigner fresh off the boat – I said little and badly.  Any cognitive process was a private matter; the journey would not be theoretical.  There have been some triumphs; a moment or two may have furthered the movement.

Some years later the fun got a wallop.   I got exposed to those howling, intrusive types out of France who rudely pepper the poor clown with external demands.  Profoundly anti-everything I held dear from Richard’s friendly bio-organic environmental nurturing approach,  my clown could but run from the playing field thoroughly aghast.

trioBy late September, the slopes of Western Sicily have surrendered their nourishment to this year’s crop – the olives, pomegranates, lemons and grapes need but complete their internal ripening processes before someone should be at hand to pluck them.
Cianciana, the hill town that would host us, was not on all the maps. (Although, due to the particularities of branding, I did notice that the likely smaller village of Corleone in the neighbouring valley repeatedly merited a mention.)  This year a crowd of mostly unknowns to me would gather; ninety-five percent of the correspondence dealt with the whats to bring and hows to get there, the accompanying decree of artistic intention may have passed me by…

The Great Richard Pochinko Workshop of 1974 was perhaps unique.  Two solid months at home base before two weeks fieldwork getting our socks wet as part of the Royal Bros Circus crew.  Clearly North America’s most moth-eaten remnant of the Big Top tradition, our embedding would be a clash of cultures.   At home in the National Arts Centre, our preparation had been somewhat more meditative.  Veterans and newbies alike would explore the colours of mask trance and element baths, gingerly absorbing these layers into our sensitive clown personas.  It was an orchestrated meeting with the self in the safe room before the audience would show up:  the upcoming rude awakening in the centre ring would be indeed a rude awakening.
(Might Paul Saltzman’s film program be on Vimeo/YouTube/NFB archives?) 

I was double booked on my journey; held up in Athens, the currently besieged capital city of one of the many ex-colonial powers that had once claimed Sicily as its turf, it was politic of me to trade one of my standard miracles at the pre-conf practical workshop, if I could skip the drone of the paper givers.  By the time I arrived in Cianciana, two actual working days in, the clown crowd was focussing intently on inner resources.  The day before, an existential crisis of ‘what am I doing here?” had assured that no one would lightly return to such inquiries in the conceivable future. 

We had also been farmed out en masse to a very effective community relations wing –  suddenly three ‘meet the locals’ gigs tumbled vigorously into our collective lap; this might be an experimental exploration of core techniques, but it would be us who were the guinea maskpigs.   A residual question niggled: would I have a genuine rekindling my roots, or had the tree been so consistently grafted as to bare strange fruit indeed?  Nearing completion were a collection of oddly reminiscent distorted mutant masks that could frighten many a small child.

It is a central wisdom of pedagogics that everyone teaches through their own neuroses. Teachers of clown being called upon to be more neurotic than most, it became news to me that there have become more keepers of the Pochinko flame than the obvious suspects of my generation.  It seems my dear master has become a veritable industry with people brandishing not only his System but also his Method.  The wincable wince; then we get all understanding.  If I can contribute anything at this late date, I’d suggest his approach would be better described as a Strategy.

Brother Ian is old school – he had always been there, he had absorbed the wisdom, he practiced the practice.  He may also be the most intuitive person I’ve ever met.   Intuitives rarely operate with a strategic filter.  They know stuff; it is not necessary to understand the whys and wherefores, things just are.   In clown, he was perpetually astonished; the world happened to him in a flash.  The palms of his hands turned out in pure innocence, we were to share his amazement.  He could not connive; it would be hard to imagine Ian’s pedagogical plot ever thickening – he gives what he has.

We are not the same creature: if you roll a marble into the intuitive Ian machine it would zip through instantaneously to emerge all marvelous and sparkly.  That same marble rolled into me would trigger one of those exceedingly intricate cause and effect contraptions that engineer kinetic artist types float on the YouTube.  My love of resistance, teetering, angle of incidence, expansion, the fiddle, arch of inclusion, friction,  domino theoretics, and disturbed waddling ducks inevitably suck all my attention.  If I get lost on the way, I hardly notice.  Fascinated by the minutiae of pure invention, the whereabouts of our marble by now a forgotten detail, any observable product is simply a by-product of an honest journey; profoundly valuable fun gets had.
Self-diagnosis is risky business: my neurosis was once called ‘paralysis of integrity’ (other phrases have been used) – let us say that from a militant actor’s liberation perspective, I am reluctant to risk muddling and would rather leave well enough with the free supported space to figure things out by themselves.

mud people

I was moderately taken aback at Camp Cianciana.  Freshly plumped down in a chair for my first cup of locally brewed tea, some of the mask pasting types were sent off on a scavenging trip to the clothes cupboards.  To my ears this was shockingly off-handed — a deeply treasured precept of the work I’d learnt was impertinently swept aside.  Can it be that the realities of modern teaching market could dictate ones adaptive neurosis; that the pressure to get things done invites short-cuts?  To my orthodox upbringing this struck me as painfully – for want of a better word – wrong.  Classic Pochikoism proffered a technique that I always held as a pillar of the process:  Objective esthetic considerations for sculpting designer clowns have never been in our immediate cards – the impulsive infatuation with serious bad taste may often be just what we’re looing for; hence the recipe:  ceremoniously enter your mask for the first time, ritually perform your morning ablutions, and only then head off to the shops.   ( Indeed, during my above mentioned earliest teaching foray, one most attentive student so embraced this ritualised approach to discovering ones outfit that she ecstatically returned from amongst the flying elbows at the collective rummage sale absorbed with a most delightful plastic bag. ) When the work offers a path that consistently rewards with miracles — opting for a labour saving compromise seems more churlish than inspired.

My only notes from the time of this rude confrontation reveal a deeply troubled being:  faced with the most presumptuous of exercise titles ever ever- the Ultimatemelons Clown – my bowels baulked.  While an acute, realtime pain in my right buttock didn’t ease matters, some kind of hubristic überimpulse was here promising us a visit from the almighty Gods  — deliverance was nigh.  Something stuck in my receptive matrix…

In truth, the offending phrase may very likely stem from Richard; though of course he wouldn’t put it quite that way.  Chronic four-year olds don’t do hubris.  In the guise of his particular neurosis the sheer glee of opening such a birthday present would have blown to smithereens all my silly little details such as can there morally exist such a creature as absolute ultimateness ?  He would have reveled in the pure delight of the possibility of the possibility. 

On their way to becoming certified terminology other Pochinko observations seem to have met a similar fate:  I had met my table companion before; erudite, effervescent, tactile and female, I was inclined to absorb her retirement plans – save for one detail. Oh, she’d been pursuing clowning á là RP – now she had graduated to ‘Baby Clown’.  This too formed an unwelcome clump in my earhole.  “Richard never said this” bubbled unsaid up inside me.  Save that he did – perhaps more than twice…

Thing is with child rearing, one can tread overly careful.  Modern parents get labelled many things; on a range that includes: fussy, stern, protective, most begin with overly.  Let it here suffice with overly-engaged…  In the hands of the wrong neurosis the ‘baby clown’ approach can intrude upon a lot of tumbling territory.  The horrors of a big North American city daycare facility may not have such common roots with the upbringing of a post-war prairie farm boy.  If Richard said ‘baby clown’ he did so in the persona of a moderately older brother: he was delighted, he was inordinately proud of his sibling, there was no way he was about to change a diaper or offer deeply reasoned child-rearing plans.

As neuroses go, constant delight is singularly palatable.  As a currency of instruction it is hard to do overly gleeful.   Accompanied with curiosity, and the belief that the next breakthrough would be the best yet – he left us alone on our journeys.  I cannot recall a barrage of helpful noise from his direction – more than perhaps comments of short, clear encouragement.  Much as the rule was not to speak in mask nor nose, my recollection is that we were only exceptionally spoken to in mask or nose.  (Similarly, adopting the foreign idea that we had such a fear of open spaces that a directional beacon of drum beats should reassure us that Mummy/Daddy was near, is to risk clogging the airwaves.)

Instead, the bulk of Pochinko approach was front end. Not recipes and technical tricks, but preparation.  For those of us who arrived somewhat post-infancy from the adherent discipline of acting this was inherently logical.  Character work was best refined internally, growth was organic.  Respecting everyone’s developmental curve in an esthetic that held that own discovery was infinitely more valuable than responses to result-oriented prods. The value that so permeated our sessions was a profound faith in the process.   Process was everything: assemble your tools, check your alignment, and head boldly off upon the voyage; rewards would be forthcoming.

oddrei Of course, this may have reflected the working conditions at the Ottawa gathering of ’74: we were a large group (27+?), more than several showed signs of adulthood, 70 hour weeks were the norm – teaching could only be approached tribally  The group worked in sync: mass suggestion and collective ritual, assembly line individual work, interwoven private moments.  If we dispersed, it was to gather nourishment for the whole.  The quietest moments were filled with the endless communing of paste brush with paper as we constructed our string of six concentric masks.

Our current workshop couldn’t be so meditative.  Squeezed into that thin slice of time between when the daily bake finally allowed you to both think and stand upright and when the global lighting system disappeared beyond the Sicilian hills, we had about two and a half hours for concerted cavorting with the Gods.  The rest of our desirable internalising of the elements of all creation would bounce directly off each person’s catalog of childhood memories:  steep dusty hills, freshly fallen fruit, grazing herders and their beasts, fish in the swimming pond, the business ends of oh so many biting insects, and vista, vista, vista.  Immersed in all this, we had little need to conjurer up a magic space.


As I received it, the approach to clown through mask had a simple formula: stimulate elemental connections with the forces of life, invoke shamanistic trance openness, indulge in the presented whims offered us by the greatest mask of all – the audience.

New to the cognoscenti since my previous exposure was a switch in mythologies governing the six mask progression: the classic philosophical  Mediterranean quartet of four elemental elements had been replaced by a sextet of directional forces from the hereditary thought trails of the first N. Americans.  I had missed out on this re-wiring and the days of fasting, chanting and dance that no doubt accompany this.  I’d bravely brave a refresher course, but the Cianciana work proved less a measured exposure to inspirational ideas, and more an immersion in raw playing time.

photo: sara tilley

photo: sara tilley

If truth be told, I had descended with a vague lust for rekindlement. The premise of the workshop may have been a cost/gains analysis of the wisdom of compressing the meticulous process of exploring  multi-facets of the self into a quick-meal of six-in-one.  Other more pressing matters may have intervened, but Pochinkoists know their neutral and new beginnings, a renewed connection could take many forms.

The clowns met a lot of people often:  clowns on street, clowns wading through rows of preschoolers, clowns as circus gladiators battling off the hordes.  It would provide a breathtakingly brave learning curve for some.  Others relied on the pathetic old hat; the age old glue of clown life remaining as always rhythm, gag structure and spatial choreography. Permeating our final scheduled performance that politely coincided with a very fullish moon that later that night blossomed into a seldom fabulous lunar eclipse, was a bravery and commitment to subject oneself to the ‘audience mask’ of tribal passion.  It became a dangerous meeting of bare hands and the mob; this in a land where many a grape had been thrown before now.  That we emerged triumphant seems all part of the process.

Conversation with Ian Wallace in the taxi on the way to the beach, final day:
Was it so that we were taught that in the tradition we sought to emulate, the wooden mask was carved into a living tree, and that once removed, the tree was ritually sealed with sap: its continued growth vital to the power of the soul carved out of it,  – or had I been feeding impressionable co-workers an attractive myth?. — OH yes, this was a tenet of that we adopted – hence
you made youpepplesr mask of clay that I’d hand dug in the ravine. — AH, so my impulse to cast a mask of onion skin responds to our tradition, for although I once reveled in a mask of food wrap and masking tape, my prejudice in favour of all-organic materials reflects this – hence the choice of aquarelle over acrylic, and my eschewing plastic noses in favour of starting all groups with an opening sewing circle for creating self-styled cloth noses   Hmmm Interesting – said Ian: I must make sure to get this in the book. 

A colleague took me aside to confer about her recently completed class.  She had once been the best kind of course participant:  one that remembers her old teacher and recruits him for a fully paid adult position at a stage in life where a year among the salaried, teaching things I care deeply about, wouldn’t hurt a bit.  I was plodding around in Shakespeare, she had her group approaching clown.  Her triumphant story was about an exercise involving a spatial voyage through three imaginary worlds to a place where one finds a magic object that one then returns with through the same three worlds.  I expressed something like understanding or approval; she wanted something more.  She asked if I recognised it, but drew a blank: apparently she’d done this with me some fifteen years previously.  The marble dropped.

clown beach

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