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The Glory of Ritual Theatre

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Sacred River explores spirituality grounded in religious naturalism & progressive ethics that is both non-theistic and non-supernatural.


12/06/2003

This is the first year in the last nine that I haven’t been involved in the Scarlet Woman Lodge theatre season. I wanted to...honestly. I even wrote half of a full-length play. Unfortunately, school took over and I knew I couldn’t pull it all off, so I quietly exited stage left.

While it was the right decision, I really missed being in this season’s duet of plays, both birthed by the evil mind of Omega Baphomet. Sitting on the sidelines has made me realize how much fun it all is. Sure, there are rehearsals to attend, and lines to memorize, and costumes to make, and props to build. But, for me, all the frustrations that attend these efforts melt away when the curtain opens. When I am finally able to step into character on stage, I realize what it’s all about...

These plays are ritual, pure and simple. For a brief moment in time I am able to take on the state of another being...sometimes a human, sometimes a god. When I am in good form, have all my lines memorized and my blocking well practiced, then I can get 50 to 100 other people to believe it right along with me. What a rush!

When we first started doing The Rites of Eleusis back in 1995, we didn’t do it for money or theatrical reputation. To a large degree, we did it just because we wanted to. Out of the seven plays that year, some were more elaborate than others (Content’s first Saturn remains my favorite of the seven productions), but they certainly didn’t match the work that goes into current theatrical efforts. It was fortunate that there were many people in the community who loved the theatre and had some good experience in it.

I played Mercury in the first Rite of Mercury, directed by Lillith...and boy was I was terrible (the award I “won” at the cast party was “Most Ephemeral”). For that Rite, there were no sets to speak of (other than what we already had in the mass temple), no music, very few lights, no chairs, and barely enough room to hold the audience. The actor playing the other big lead (Bel) got sick three days before the opening, so we got a last minute replacement (Pab). I was so nervous, I was shaking.

But it was glorious! It kicked off seven years of The Rites, and every year got better and better. I ended up writing and directing two plays: Luna (alongside Dave Blakely) and the last Mercury (which was a wonderful closing of the loop for me). By then we were calling ourselves The Willful Players under the tireless producership of Content. We had become a “real” company full of “real” actors.

Of course, after seven years, we had gotten a little tired of The Rites. We also were losing some of our best writers, actors, and directors. The level of enthusiasm had dimmed for most. We bravely continued the tradition of theatre the following season with Beyond Eleusis: The Rites of Initiation, which pared it down to three unique, wonderful plays.

As good as those last three plays were, I felt that something was missing. There was a certain spark no longer there. I had the feeling that we were doing all this because of tradition and also because we had learned to plan our budget around the influx of theatrical income. Before I put aside my play for this season’s Dark Flowers production, I held an audition. Only one person showed.

I believe it is time for the community to make a decision. Either we let theatre go and move on to other projects or we remember why were doing it all in the first place. Okay, so why were we doing it?

1. It is fun! Yes, even with all the hard work, it is fun to act and play make-believe.

2. It brings the community together. It really is a wonderful way for people to get to know each other. I have found that I can learn a lot more about people when I work with them weekly than when I chat with them every now and again at a party or after mass.

3. It is a great way to introduce our fundamental principles to a wider audience in an entertaining way. Even with comedies like Omega’s Funerary Games, the underlying messages come across to those who are listening.

4. It is celebratory magick. Since most of these plays involve godforms, it is an effective magical practice. Crowley wrote about it in Chapter XIX of Magick in Theory and Practice: “Their object is the invocation of a God, and that God is conceived of in a more or less material and personal fashion.”

5. The acquisition great new skills. When I first started in The Rites, I was a terrible actor. Over the course of years, I actually became a pretty decent one. More than that, the stagecraft I learned helped me substantially as a priest and initiator. Also, the vocal skills I learned really come in handy when I make business or academic presentations.

6. It’s Art. Theatre is a purely creative endevour, and I can always pride myself in knowing that I have put something new into the world.

I can think of other reasons, but these alone remind me of how worthwhile Scarlet Woman Lodge theatre really is. Some of the most amazing areas of growth in my life are a direct result of my participation in theatre. Furthermore, I love knowing that we are part of a grand tradition, going back to the beginning of time. I look back at the years of our theatre, and I am proud of everything we accomplished. More than that, I can see how it helped transform us as a Lodge into something great. If it is time for us to leave theatre behind, then so be it…but I would much rather look forward to another glorious nine years!