Theatre can be watched. Ritual must be enacted. Why does this feel risky? How are the two connected?

Convener(s): Lucy Neal

Participants: John Hale, Cheryl Pierce, Catherine Eccles, Ywan Brioc, Roddy Maud Roxby, Katherine Fry, Rikki Tarascas, Nicky Petto, Bruno Roubicek, Ruth Ben-Tovin

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:

The site: Grapes (Ywan’s) sat in the middle. We sat around. We had moved from the hubbub of the hall to the (relative) quiet of the corridor.

Theatre is a place where something happens. When Phelim announced on Saturday that he was going to perform a small ritual, he chinged 2 small symbals and walked around the circle. Something happened. What?

What were the qualities of the ‘something happening’ in theatre and the something (different) happening in ritual?

This is where the conversation began.


90 minutes later we had discussed labyrinths, hands, burials, museums, masks, The Elephant, drums, sound, consciousness, the cosmos, death, liminality, drunkenness, peace, forgiveness, emptiness, community, connection, brokenness and all the grapes had been eaten.

It was declared a good session and the following is an attempt to capture something of the kyris-time circles of conversation.


Lucy began by describing a public ceremony she had attended in Adelaide in 2002 where the statue of Queen Victoria was ritually washed as part of the opening welcome to the festival. The action accompanied by a welcome to 50,000 inhabitants of Adelaide and international visitors involved everybody and was felt to be intensely significant and renewed the city’s ‘story’ if itself. For the first time ever,  200 yrs of colonisation was reconciled to 60,000 years of indigenous history.

Did anyone have any similar experiences in their own private/professional/public practice of such events or possibilities?


Ricky: Phelim’s bells brought everyone into the situation in the hall: our attention was drawn to the same point at the same time: a pitch of sound that penetrated the mind. A focus.

Such moments mark the start of entering a different kind of space, a time that is out of time, a not being. An emptiness in readiness for something new.  Phelim has asked us to pay attention to each other carefully and take note of who we were with in the room. A certain solemnity entered the room.

Bruno: described the action on stage of pouring a cup of tea and how one might do that ‘ritualistically’. Nicky also talked about cups of tea, and how when you are making a cup of tea for someone else, particularly if they have never had a cup of tea before, that you would do it differently, carefully. She brought into this the idea of witness and how important witnessing is in both theatre and ritual.

Ywan: spoke about Victor Turner and his writing on ritual. Its ability to connect us to something beyond ourselves, the cosmos.  Ywan’s own work with Community Rituals was involved with creating sacred spaces for people. A lot of work was done with labyrinths, partly inspired by the work of Enrique Vargas, who runs labyrinth workshops, based around the 5 senses. The labyrinth brings people ‘into the moment’ and becomes a ‘container of the chaos’. People’s perceptions of their inner and outer spaces blur. Sense of time and space collapses. There is terror and compassion and a sense of peace.  The ritual holds people’s pain.  It moves people on. Something changes. It serves a function.   He agreed that there was a lack of this in public, there is a lack of cultural leadership. Rituals are created in time and space and create communities. In the health sector now, ritual is increasingly used. Cognitive behavioural therapy now includes ‘mindfulness’.

Roddy said that Neuro Linguistic Programming refers to rituals. He went on to  speak of his experience with masks, and the opportunity they gave for you to be seen as someone else and therefore the opportunity, as a consequence,  to be someone else. Things happen that you will remember for the rest of your life. Ritual taps into a desire for belonging. We experimented with concentrating on our hands with a view to how we would show them to someone else.We will all probably remember the moments of handtime that we had. Ruth said that in the ‘faith’ discussion, they had also created a ‘moment’ between them in a similar way.

Cheryl talked about performance art and how it often involves ritual.  Franko B for example, when he bleeds.

Ywan: maybe there are scales of ritual that move from performance to community to liminal to the sacred.

The Elephant’s visit to London was referred back to several times, in the way that it created a community in London and that both the little girl and the elephant had their daily rituals (washing, dressing etc) and the way people paid attention to acknowledging each other. It was a frame for compassionate feelings, of bigness and smallness.

Ricky: talked about practices he had been involved with at Welfare State who had pioneered so much work around the celebratory and rites of passage. Much of this practice had been adopted by many others and evolved. 

(Lucy and Ruth had both done the celebrant training course, Marking The Moment)

Was there such a thing as a bad ritual?  If the intention of the ritual was a bad one could that make it bad? Was narrative the enemy of ritual? (because it didn’t open possibilities out to be inhabited.)

John: pointed out (following a story of Ricky;s about a funeral and children filling the grave with earth, when adults were reluctant to follow an instruction to do so) that ritual is not about efficient functioning. Ie to fill in a grave quickly why don’t you just get a bulldozer. You want to do it mindfully.The action allows you to be present.  He described a course for business men he had run and how they became very captivated by certain excercises that gave them a sense of ‘being’. A sense of knowing together. He also related this to an audience question about how a design can cause interaction, emergence and invitation.

Lucy said it was interesting stating the intention of a ritual was important for it to be enacted meaningfully. She talked about theatre productions that sometimes ended up (often unwittingly) as being commemorations and gave the example of Deborah Warner’s St Pancras Project, commemorating the lives of the chambermaids who had thrown themselves down the staircases from over work.

Ricky talked being involved in a performance at the time of the death of a parent and that the performance became an enactment of something different. He talked about shamans, and the fragmentation that shamans hold. The need for something to be broken in order to be stripped back to nothing, in order to be made whole, renewed.

Ruth talked about ceremonies (naming, partnerships etc) allowing increasing numbers of people to mark important moments in their lives and that the uncle (eg) who doesn’t want to be involved represents a microcosm of everyone’s fear of not wanting to be involved. Not a time for sitting on the fence. Lucy added that people can be sad and happy at the same time. How does one ‘grow’ new rituals in a secular society that allow for ‘knowing together’ and renewal.

Roddy talked of a museum that allowed you to leave your old beliefs behind.  You could collect a new one.

On this note of renewal I stop trying to write notes of this discussion.  Hard to write sensible notes about this, but I hope this touched on something. At the end there was an expression of interest in finding a way of continuing the shared ideas and further developing practice.

16.08 Sunday 14th Jan (Kronos time)