Theatre, therapies and religion: can there be a dialogue (If so, how and where?) 

Convener(s): Lizzie Crarer       

Participants: Claudine, Sam Pallis, Kath Burlinson, Emily Kempson, Marieke Audsley, Regina, Tom Hughes, Daniel Copeland, Johnathan Petherbridge


Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:


Adrian Howells: ‘Foot Washing for the Soul’ one-on-one performance art/theatrical event/purification ritual

Mystery plays – bringing the ‘community’ into the equation. The acting out of a narrative which affirms the collective identity, which orders the world and relationships within it

‘Return to Silence’ ‘Curious Directing’ theatre co. Explored the story of a woman who had a stroke and experienced a complete transformation of her view of life and a connection with the rest of the world as a consequence of altered brain state

‘The Decalogue’ Polish film based on the Bible

‘The Wolf’ immersive site specific performance by Kath Burlinson and 8 other performers, exploring psychology, mythology and physicality of the wolf and its relationship to people.

‘Contact with the Gods’ Marija del Guardo  - book on directing which regards the director as channelling a ‘higher’ spirituality into the room. (problematic? Undemocratic and open to abuse)



Johnathan Kay – has a very specific system. Explored the tension/interaction between ‘sacred’ ‘scared’ ‘scarred’

Raisa Breslava

Byron Katy – a simple technique for processing how you deal with/ habitually respond to other people 

Song of the Goat

Ewan Downie – works with song of the goat, has his own company ‘Hidden Birds’ – holds workshops  

Paul Ortel – with Nancy Steiner. Approach to spirituality/meditation/performance originating in research done at the Nirupa University of Colorado

Kath Burlinson (participant) Interested in facilitating artists/performers who want to unblock themselves, open themselves out into a more holistic approach to their work

‘The Tell-Tale Brain’ book by Oliver Sachs on Neuroscience



  • ‘Leave your issues at the door: the rehearsal room is not about therapy’ Katie Mitchell Is the idea of ‘theatre as therapy’ self-indulgent/unhelpful? How is the audience to be involved with something so personal?

+   It depends how you interpret the notion of ‘therapy’. Everyone brings all of themselves to the work – not just the nice, polite, socially acceptable bits. You have to cultivate an awareness of your own psychological habits/blocks in order to access the true state of ‘flow’, (‘in the moment’). It’s a ripple effect. If you can cultivate it in yourself (through your interaction with other performers), you are better able to create this dynamic in the audience. But first you must take responsibility for your own mental/emotional constructions. The individual unconscious is the source of knowledge and the means of accessing something shared – a collective unconscious… 

  • How do you access/channel the unconscious?

+ This is where religion and theatre can talk. There are methodologies and wisdom pertaining to each discipline that are relevant. Religious practices have the ‘tried and tested’ authority of thousands of years…(medidatitve discipline) and the attendant philosophy potentially providing helpful models/modes of description . For example: self as dynamic rather than fixed. Cultivate an awareness of the composite, relational nature of the individual self, we are in a position to acknowledge a larger group identity – the company becomes a single ‘body’ (techniques involving shared rhythms, choral singing are relevant here – see above practitioners…then can this spread out into the audience..? 

  • Okay so you work at creating shared awareness/ dynamic within a company. WHAT ABOUT THE AUDIENCE? Can we facilitate their awareness of their unconscious

+ When authentic non-cognitive presence and responsitivity is witnessed onstage, it is magnetically engaging and engenders an actual connection with the work. ‘Dogs bark when you’re scared’. When we see real feeling/vulnerability we EMPATHISE we are connected with those vulnerable bits of ourselves.

+ Psycho-sensory manipulation? Dim the lights turn up the heat…anything else? Smells? Sounds?  

  • All this is very well, but isn’t it a bit airy-fairy and unquantifiable? What about the financial practicalities of a holistic approach?

+ There is plenty of stuff in neuroscience which gives observable, chemical explanations about what happens when we facilitate the left brain….AND how this is beneficial. Empirical psychology &more to the point neuroscience speaks the language of funding forms which require quantifiable ‘observable outcomes’. THEATRE CAN BE TRANSFORMATIVE! LET’S FUND IT!



Through understanding what the brain does and how it responds to stimuli, we are in a better position to understand the type of stimuli which we should create in order to facilitate the kind of awareness that is helpful.

Music/rhythm/walking has been shown to bore the right brain into submission to the left, leaving the left brain able to take the reins. The left brain is non-dual/non-linguistic – thus facilitating a sense of connection with the universe and others on a more profound level…

Further – evidence for a ‘collective unconsious’ – a shared sub/pre-conscious aspect of human existence…(drugs which make you able to play the piano even if you’ve never done it before…the woman who had the stroke and then experienced the sense of unity…)

IDEA FOR AN EXPERIMENT Rachel Lynes [email protected] (starting point, forming part of R&D for an exploration into non-verbal communication – or part of performance itself? Or filmed?)

Send a group of no less than ten who are not very well-acquainted to a big house in the country, far from civilisation for a long period (no less than 48 hours). Food, booze, all home comforts, art materials and large movement space provided – the rule is no verbal communication whatsoever. Objective – how do we develop ways of communicating with each other when we can’t speak? Is this hard? Is it profound? HOW DE WE CONNECT?