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Altered Consciousness
in Performance:
West and East
Phillip B. Zarrilli
Altered Consciousness in Performance
This essay addresses the complex question of altered (or alternate) states
of consciousness (ASC) in performance. Given the clear limitations of a
strictly materialist account of mind/brain/consciousness and the definitional problems surrounding consciousness (Austin, 1998; Block, 1995,
1997, p. 227; Carden a, 2009; Di Benedetto, 2010; Nunn, 2009), for
purposes of this essay, I assume that there are ordinary states of consciousness (or modes of conscious awareness) and that there are transition or
borderline experiences between and among these ordinary states of consciousness (Austin, 1998; Tart, 1975b). Carden a (2009) explains how
we transit between and within these states of consciousness and that
such states organize experience, cognition, physiology, and behavior.
In addition to ordinary states of consciousness and their borderlands,
I also assume that there are what Austin describes as extraordinary discrete
alternate states of consciousness that are rare, highly valued, distinct states
that represent a sharp break from other states of perception or intuition
(1998, pp. 306307), and within which new logics and new ways of
perceiving are experienced (Tart, 1975b, p. 28). This essay selectively
addresses some of the complex patterns of alternate consciousness
assumed in specific approaches to performer training and performance,
patterns that reflect systemic logics, ways of perceiving and experiencing
assumed to be different from ordinary consciousness and that may lead to
a transformation of consciousness.


Altering Consciousness

What Is Performance?
Derived from the Middle English verb parformen, performen, performance is the act or process of enactment, of bringing something to completion. In the field of contemporary performance studies (Schechner,
2006), performance refers to a broad spectrum of human activities including discrete genres where an act or process is brought to completionritual/shamanic performancesaesthetic performances across a range of
activities including contemporary mind-altering, participatory secular
festivals such as the Burning Man Festival (Bowditch, 2010; Di Benedetto,
2010); [see St John, this volume]; performances in everyday life (Goffman,
1959); embodied practices such as sports, martial arts, yoga, and other contemporary forms of body work; the use of drama techniques in applied/
therapeutic contexts (Woods, 2009); forms of imaginative play (Huizinga,
1970; Winnicott, 1971); and contemporary mediated performances, among
others. In this essay, I focus on discrete types of live performance (ritual/
shamanic and aesthetic performances) and embodied practices used to train
performers today.
Ritual/shamanic and aesthetic performances are usually framed or set
off from daily life in some way as a time out of time. They possess a
structure and performance score shaped by performance conventions. A
performance score consists of all the specific tasks/actions that constitute
the visual, auditory, enacted, tactile elements made available in the performance by the performer(s) for the audience/participants. (In improvisatory performance, the score may be a set of rules that delimit and
shape what it is possible for the performer to do.) When enacting a score,
the performer embodies and deploys an optimal mode of embodied consciousness, a state that may be described as an extraordinary discrete ASC.
Well-established genres of ritual/shamanic and aesthetic performance
often have processes of initiation, training, or apprenticeship through
which the performer is initiated, achieves virtuosic performance skills,
and attains the ability to actualize the extraordinary ASC necessary for a
successful performance. Although there are underlying biological commonalities to the states of awareness/consciousness discussed here, the
nature of altered consciousness in performance is also shaped by cultural,
contextual, aesthetic, and religio-philosophical factors. Depending on the cultural and historical context, the performers optimal mode of embodied consciousness may or may not be self-consciously articulated or reflected upon.
Given the highly reflexive nature of aesthetic theatres and the desire of
actors to create virtuosic performances, not surprisingly actors and critics
across a broad spectrum of historical periods and genres have reflected

Altered Consciousness in Performance

on the nature and training of the actor or on the aesthetic principles that
inform artistry and audience reception (see Cole & Chinoy, 1970, on
Western acting; Hare, 2008, on Japanese noh; Ghosh, 1967, and Zarrilli,
2000, on the Natyasastra in India).

Research on Altered Consciousness in Performance

Because achieving an ASC may be central to the efficacy of ritual/shamanic performances, anthropological, ethnographic, and ethnopsychological studies often focus on its nature and how the performers/participants
actualize or are transported into these extraordinary states (Besmer, 1983;
Goodman, Henney, & Pressel, 1974; Hobart, 2003; Kalweit, 1988; Kim,
1998; Laderman, 1993). Until recently, studies of aesthetic theatre in the
West have only occasionally studied theatre as a phenomenon and focused
directly on issues of consciousness. In the past, studies of Western literary
theatre often assumed that meaning resided in dramatic texts, to be appropriately conveyed by the actors to an audience that would understand particular meanings. This limited semantic/semiotic view of performance did
not provide an adequate account of the performance experience. In addition, the dominant view of theatre in the West has historically been framed
within representational and mimetic discourses; therefore, considerations
of acting have often conflated the self of the actor with that of the character
and thereby also the everyday experience and emotions of the actor with
those of the character.
Arguably the most important historical study of Western theories and
practices of acting is Roachs examination (1993) of how historically variable scientific and medical discourses and paradigms have shaped theories
and practices of acting. The issue of the actors awareness or consciousness
is explicitly in the foreground when Roach discusses the actors double
consciousness in Diderots paradox of acting, and in subsequent
Western theories and practices (1993, p. 147ff.).
Given that non-Western paradigms of acting are usually informed by
nonrepresentational aesthetic theories and practices, there is a recognition
that aesthetic sentiments are not the same as moral, real-life emotions
(George, 1987, p. 156); therefore, non-Western acting processes are understood as potentially open[ing] the doors to other states of being (George,
1987, p. 156). Research on non-Western theories, practices, and aesthetics
of acting often address issues relevant to the consciousness of the actor
and audience (Quinn, 2005; Ortolani, 1995; Riley, 1997; Zarrilli, 2000).
When Max Hermann in Germany began to focus in 1914 on theatre as
an embodied phenomenal event, he called attention to the importance of



Altering Consciousness

addressing issues of the experience within the theatrical event (Carlson,

2008; Fischer-Lichte, 2008). This shift was reflected in theatre and
performance practices of the 1960s as they moved away from a literary
understanding of meaning residing in texts to a completely new, desemanticized understanding of how meanings arise during a performance
event. As Fischer-Lichte explains, perception grasps something as something. Hence something is not first perceived as something to which
meaning is subsequently attributed. Rather, meaning is generated in and
through the act of perception (2008, p. 141).
In the moment of experiencing a performance event, the spectators are
affected physically by their perception throughout that event and the associations that arise from it. They are experiencing the performance as phenomenal beings and cannot, in the actual moment experiencing the
event, understand it (Fischer-Lichte, 2008, p. 156). Any attempt at
understanding, interpretation, and/or criticism takes places retrospectively. In addition to Fischer-Lichtes research, other researchers have utilized a postMerleau-Ponty phenomenology to analyze the experience of
the performer and/or audience (Fraleigh, 1987; Garner, 1994; States,
1971; Zarrilli, 2009).
Some theatre scholars are drawing explicitly on recent developments in
cognitive neuroscience to examine both the experience and consciousness
of the actor or audience (Blair, 2008; Di Benedetto, 2010; McConachie &
Hart, 2006; Soto-Morettini, 2010). The essays in McConachie and Hart
explore a variety of models proposed by cognitive scientists on issues such
as theatricality, audience reception, meaning making, identity formation,
the construction of culture, and processes of historical change (2006,
p. 19). Blair examines how developments in cognitive neuroscience . . .
might be used in a new generation approach to help the actor, in Stanislavskys words, reach unconscious creativeness through conscious technique
(2008, p. xii). Di Benedetto explores how theories drawn from cognitive science and physiology affect live art practice and the experience of those who
attend performances and how the senses shape our consciousness (2010,
pp. 1, 5). The most sustained of these contributions is Soto-Morettinis interrogation of mainstream Western assumptions conceptualizing and questions
about acting. She focuses on the difficulties of conceptualizing our inner life
(2010, p. 90), the actors self or multiples selves in performance (2010, pp.
91103), and emotion (2010, pp. 115155). She questions and reviews various models of consciousness assumed by paradigms/theorists of acting such
as Stanislavsky and Chekhov (2010, pp. 6970).
Before addressing issues of consciousness in performance and performer training directly, I provide a brief overview of some of the complex

Altered Consciousness in Performance

issues of the historical relationship between ritual/shamanic performance

and aesthetic theatre.

Ritual, Shamanism, and Theatre: An Historical and Cultural Perspective

Ritual and shamanic performances share some features of aesthetic
forms of theatre such as masking, costuming, impersonation, dance, music,
narrative, and humor (George, 1987, 1998; Schechner, 2006; Zarrilli, 1990;
Zarrilli et al., 2010). Rituals are often performed to be efficacious, that is, to
allow access to certain powers or to effect a change or an end such as healing
or initiation. Some ritual performances achieve their effects and also please
the gods, ancestors, and/or humans gathered to participate or witness. To
achieve their ends, rituals are performed by cultural specialists understood
to possess the ability to access special powers to diagnose and/or heal an
illness, read signs of the future, conquer an opponent or an enemy army,
or uphold the universe itself. Therefore, many ritual specialists are understood to enter an ASC. In some cultures, these ritual specialists are known
as shamans, a term deriving from the original Siberian Tungus word, saman,
meaning one who is excited, moved, raised (Laderman, 1993, p. 7).
Shaman refers to a traditional branch of religious specialists believed to be
able to heal a variety of illnesses, counteract misfortune, or solve personal
or social dilemmas after entering an ASC to communicate with powers in
the unseen world [see Winkelman, this volume].
The issue of the performers consciousness is usually one of the important ways of differentiating ritual/shamanic performance from aesthetic performance. As Besmer states with regard to the ASC of the Hausa performer,
When a medium enters possession-trance he is believed to be inhabited
in Hausa terms, riddenby a supernatural being, and this is evidenced
by one or more of the following: talking and acting like the possessing spirit; lapsing into a comatose state; speaking unintelligibly to the observer
though subject to translation by adepts or musicians; exhibiting such
physical symptoms as twitching, wild dancing, acrobatic displays, frothing
at the mouth and nose, and heavy perspiring. During this time the mediums own identity is invisible, and everything he does or says is attributed
to the possessing identity, and [ . . . ] typically, when he returns to himself
he is amnesic about the activity of the spirit which possessed him. (1983,
p. 140)

Anthropologist E. L. Schieffelin describes Kaluli spirit possession seances

in Papua New Guinea as highly entertaining, even thrilling events



Altering Consciousness

where if anything, it is the spirits themselves who perform; the spirits

speaking through a medium have more of the character of a telephone
conversation than the trappings of an aesthetic performance (1998,
p. 203).
Schieffelin provides the following description of the effects of the relationship between dancers and spectators in the Gisalo ceremony of the
Kaluli of Papua New Guinea:
In Gisalo, the dancers sing nostalgic songs about the lands and rivers of their
audiences community. Members of the audience are moved so deeply they
burst into tears, and then, becoming enraged, they leap up and burn the
dancers on the shoulder blades with the resin torches used to light the performance. Indeed, this remarkable response could be interpreted as virtually
necessary to the performance, since if the audience is not moved and the tension between the performers and audiences does not rise to the pitch of violence, the ceremony falls apart and is abandoned in the middle of the night
[ . . . ] [A]fter a successful performance, the dancers pay compensation to
those whom they made weep [ . . . ] It is real grief and rage that are evoked
[ . . . ] The performers are held accountable for the painful emotions they
evokeand the retaliation upon them (and the compensation they must
pay) return that accountas well as those emotions being an indication of
the beauty and effectiveness of the performance. The dancers and song composers [ . . . ] are extremely pleased if they have managed to provoke numbers
of the spectators to tears, despite the consequences to themselves. (1998,
p. 203; 1976, pp. 2125)

Those who gather at ritual/shamanic performances are often expected to

participate in and/or be affected by the ritual. From this brief summary,
it should be clear that ritual/shamanic performances have long been
understood to create alternative realities and require their performers to
enter an ASC. In contrast, the reality effects of theatre are aesthetic and
in the West are considered fictional. The modes of alternative consciousness performers utilize to achieve aesthetic affects are similar to but usually different from, those of ritual/shamanic performance. George argues
that the view of aesthetic theatre in the West has long been informed by
a classical western logocentrism and that theatre creates its own forms
of a strange reality in that its space, time and persons are all radically
different from those we experience in other realities (1998, p. 13). Until
recently, these other realities have been ascribed some greater degree of
truth (1998, p. 13) than reality effects achieved aesthetically. Studies of
theatre should therefore recognize the complex cognitive feat assumed
in aesthetic performance:

Altered Consciousness in Performance

The ability to conceive of other worlds, alternative realities, and to perform

them; to see one person as both character and actor and to adopt a split
consciousness and a split affective system as well; to live in two planes of
reality simultaneously, projecting oneself into other consciousnesses, other
space-time matrices with different rules, which presuppose the ability to
conceive of other consciousnesses and other realities; and to translate
signs into cognitive operations, and it would not be at all difficult even
on the basis of such a rudimentary listing of its presuppositions to derive
a religious consciousness from a theatrical consciousness. (George, 1987,
p. 156)

In aesthetic performances, the state of consciousness embodied when

one creates theatres strange realities is different from ordinary states and,
depending upon the context, may be considered altered or extraordinary.
But in most genres of aesthetic performance, the performers consciousness
is not understood to be altered in the same way as in spirit possession. Unlike
the Hausa example above where another entity takes over, in aesthetic performance the performer is usually assumed to remain him- or herself, able
to recall and reflect upon ones performances. This distinction is of course
not absolute, and there is a vast phenomenal territory ranging between the
amnesic paradigm of forgetting at one end of the spectrum and the aesthetic paradigms assumption of remembering and reflection.

Between Ritual and Theatre: The Historical Problem

Until recently, theatre historians accepted the argument that theatre
was born out of ritual. This theory was put forward by a group of Cambridge University classics scholars known as the Cambridge Anthropologists: Gilbert Murray (18661957), Francis Cornford (18741943), and
Jane Ellen Harrison (18501928). These arguments have been revealed
as spurious, since they are based on a mistaken notion of social Darwinism. Underlying social Darwinism is the assumption that cultures have
evolved, so they can be viewed hierarchically from the primitive culture
at the bottom to the great civilizations at the top, with such Western
genres as tragedy considered the pinnacle of theatrical culture. This
theory of the origins of theatre is now thorough discredited (George,
1998; Noel, 1998; Rozik, 2002; Schechner, 2006; Zarrilli et al., 2010).
The assumption that it is possible to find a single origin of theatre is in
itself a problematic proposition. Theatre is not one thing but rather a
complex set of human communicative activities involving, as does the
practice of ritual, fundamental human desires to imitate, play, imagine,
and structure the experiences of both actors/performers and audiences.



Altering Consciousness

Although the origins of all theatre are not in ritual or shamanic performances, in a few instances it may be argued with a certain degree of historical certainty that there is a direct relationship between early forms of
ritual/shamanic practice and the development of a specific genre of aesthetic theatre that emerged, in part, from these earlier practices. The clearest example is Japanese noh theatre, discussed below.

Asian Psychophysical Modes of Altering Consciousness

As Tart asserted long ago, direct experiential knowledge is central to
many non-Western modes of psychophysical practice (1975b). The daily
practice of psychophysical training processes in Asia is one of the primary
means of attaining actualization of a certain type of virtue and/or self, as
well as a potential means of transformation or enlightenment. Across Asia
there exist an array of techniques for altering consciousness including
yoga, Zen meditation, martial arts (Chinese taiqiquan; Kerala, Indias kalarippayattu), and performance genres such as Indias kutiyattam and kathakali and Japanese noh [see Maliszewki et al., and Shear, this volume].
As Japanese philosopher Yuasa Yasuo explains, the concept of personal cultivation (shugyo) . . . is presupposed in Eastern thought as the
philosophical foundation because true knowledge cannot be obtained
simply by means of theoretical thinking, but only through bodily recognition or realization (tainin or taitoku) (1987, p. 27). As exemplified in the
Indian and Japanese descriptions offered below, an array of daily psychophysical practices are believed to actualize alternative, nonordinary,
extraordinary modes of consciousness or awareness appropriate to the
practice of that specific art/discipline.

Yoga-based South Asian Modes of Transforming the Bodymind

The term yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root, yuj, meaning to yoke
or join or fasten . . . make ready, prepare, arrange, fit out . . . accomplish
(Monier-Williams, 1963, pp. 855856). Yoga encompasses any ascetic,
meditational, or psychophysiological technique that achieves a binding
or uniting of the bodymind. A variety of yogic pathways developed historically in South Asia including karma yoga or the law of universal causality;
maya yoga or a process of liberating oneself from cosmic illusion; nirvana
yoga or a process of growing beyond illusion to attain at-onement with
absolute reality; and hatha yoga or specific techniques of psychophysiological practice. Classical hatha yoga includes repetition of breath-control
exercises and forms/postures (asana) combined with restraints/constraints

Altered Consciousness in Performance

on diet and behavior. These practices are understood to act on both the
physical (sthula sarira) and subtle body (suksma sarira) most often identified with Kundalini-Tantric yoga.
As early as the Rig Veda (1200 BCE), ascetic practices (tapas) are mentioned. The earliest use of the specific term yoga is in the Katha Upanisad,
where the term means the steady control of the senses, which, along with
the cessation of mental activity, leads to the supreme state (Flood, 1996,
p. 95). Yogas psychophysical/spiritual practices have therefore never been
confined to any particular sectarian affiliation or social form (Flood,
1996, p. 94). As a consequence, both yoga philosophy and practices are
ubiquitous throughout Southern Asia (Feuerstein, 1980; Varenne, 1976;
White, 1996), and inform all modes of embodied practice including
Indian wrestling/martial arts and moving-meditation practices such as
the Tibetan trul khor (magic circle), as well as the visual, plastic, and performing arts.
From the earliest stages of its development, yoga developed as a practical pathway toward the transformation of consciousness (and self) and
spiritual release (moksa) through renunciation by withdrawal from the
world and the cycles of rebirth. Some yogic pathways provide a systematic
attempt to control both the wayward body and the potentially overwhelming senses/emotions that can create disequilibrium in daily life. Rigorous
practice therefore can lead to a sense of detachment (vairagya) through
which the yogin withdraws completely from daily life and its activities
and is understood to achieve a state of kalalita where s/he transcends time.
However, yoga philosophy and its practices have also informed and
been adapted by non-renunciants, those who keep both feet firmly in the
spatio-temporal world. Traditionally, this included Indias martial artists
in the service of rulers and a wide variety of performing artists who lived
and acted in/upon the world. Performers were expected to bring pleasure
and aesthetic joy both to the diverse gods of the Hindu pantheon and to
those they were serving and entertaining.
In contrast to the yoga practitioner-as-renunciant who withdraws from
everyday life, for practitioners of psychophysical disciplines such as martial and performing artists, psychophysical techniques quiet the ego and
the emotions so that the practitioners bodymind is transformed into an
alternative, nonordinary consciousness better able to act within his or
her respective sociocultural domain. Within the martial arts tradition of
Indias Dhanur Veda (the science of archery), the yogic paradigm is a
leitmotif in the earliest extant text (Agni Purana) dating from the 8th century (Pant, 1978, pp. 35). Circumscribed by rituals, the martial practitioners training progresses from preliminary body postures through



Altering Consciousness

mastery of specific weapons techniques to attaining single-point focus

to ever-subtler aspects of mental and psychophysiological attainment
where having control of the hands, mind, and vision . . . .[one] conquers
even the god of death (Yama) (Dasgupta, 1993). This yogic pattern
of transformation is part of the contemporary practice of Indian
martial arts including Manipuri thang-ta and Keralas kalarippayattu
(Zarrilli, 1998).
A yogic paradigm also underlies the traditional Indian performers
assumptions about the performers state of embodied consciousness. Consider the following example from the kutiyattam style of staging Sanskrit.
In 2004, when Usha Nangyar began to instruct Gitanjali Kolanad about
how to enact a set piece known as head-to-foot acting within this tradition, Usha instructed Gitanjali how to visualize and thereby become or
transform into the goddess:
Breathe through the eyes whenever there is a point of emphasis, as in
this solo acting when visualizing the goddess. Close off all other avenues
of breathdo not use your nostrils, but inhale/exhale through your eyes.
Hold all the orifices closed, and close your ears. It is like looking as
in yoga. (Zarrilli, in press a)

Ushas instructions focus on the actors relationship to and use of the

breath. In South Asia, the breath, wind, or vital energy (prana-vayu)
is the conceptual and practical link between the gross, outer, physical
body and inner experience of the subtle, yogic body. Taking the goddess
in through the breath awakens, enlivens, and communicates the connection between the actor/character and the goddess before her in order to
provide the audience with an experience that itself transports them into
a nonordinary aesthetic reality. Only through long-term forms of psychophysical training is the Indian performer able to achieve the type of virtuosic alternative mode of embodied consciousness required to become
(Zarrilli, 2000, in press a).

From Shamanism to Acting in Japanese Noh

The earliest pre-Buddhist/pre-Chinese forms of performance in Japan
are Shinto-inspired shamanistic propitiatory ceremonies and dances.
Shinto is a set of utilitarian ritual practices intended to harness the natural
forces of the environment in which it is assumed that everything (trees,
birds, seas, animals, mountains, wind, etc.) has its own soul or spirit
(kami), sometimes identified as a divinity. When Buddhism came to Japan,

Altered Consciousness in Performance

it did not displace Shinto; rather, Buddhas and kami were and are often
worshipped side by side. In addition, contact with China also brought
the influence of Daoism and Confucianism.
The centrality of supernatural beings and ghosts and the traces of shamanic practices in the early development of noh theatre is seen in mugen
nohphantasmal or dream dramas (Ortolani, 1984, 1995). It was under
the leadership of Kanami (13331384) and his son Zeami Motokiyo
(13631443) that noh evolved into a unique form of Japanese theatre
and drama. In phantasmal noh, the shite (doer/central performer) often
appears as a restless female spirit who remembers a past event through a
dream or unsettling memory, encounters the waki (sideman/secondary performer, usually a wandering Buddhist priest) who reveals what is troubling
her, and is pacified or transformed in some way. Inspired by a chapter in
The Tale of Genji, Lady Aoi (c. 15th century as revised by Zeami) enacts the
story of the mortally ill and pregnant wife of Prince Genji, Princess Aoi, represented on stage by an elaborate folded robe in the middle of the polished
wooden floor. She has been possessed by the angry, restless spirit of Lady
Rokujo, Genjis former mistress, whose living spirit leaves her body when
she sleeps. A female shaman performs a ritual to call forth the spirit possessing Lady Aoi. At the far end of the bridgeway (hashigakari), the curtain is
lifted by stage attendants, and from the green room emerges the spirit of
Lady Rokujo, performed by a male actor in an exquisitely carved female
mask. Lady Rokujo eventually reveals her true identity:
In this moral world ephemeral as lightning,
I should hate nobody,
nor should my life be one of sorrow.
When ever did my spirit begin to wander?
Who do you think this person is
who appears before you now
drawn by the sound of the catalpa bow!
I am the vengeful spirit of Lady Rokujo.
(Goff, 1991, p. 135)
Since the female shaman only has sufficient power to call forth but not
exorcise this invading spirit, a male Buddhist mountain priest (yamabushi)
is summoned to perform the exorcism. At the conclusion of the play, her
restless spirit is pacified.
Although phantasmal noh dramatically enacts such transformation
scenes, the actor-dancers state of consciousness in performance has been
shaped by Zeamis concerns with the development of the performers



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superior artistry informed by Buddhist and Daoist thought and practice.

One of the fundamental aesthetic principles that Zeami utilized in shaping
noh is yugen. Although yugen can not be translated, it has been described as
mystery and depth and as what lies beneath the surface; the subtle, as
opposed to the obvious; the hint, as opposed to the statement (Hare,
2008, p. 472). Phantasmal noh may be likened to an echo chamber of
allusions (Quinn, 2005, p. 14).
Ultimately, Zeami located the source of yugen in the underlying sensibility of the actor himself, the informing, embodied intelligence that
mediates all stage techniques (Quinn, 2005, p. 10). As he developed his
approach to noh performance, Zeami moved away from imitation and
mimesis toward poiesis (production of something new). To embody,
express, and enact this poiesis, Zeami developed a nuanced, subtle, and
sophisticated process of cultivating and attuning the actor-dancers voice
and bodymind through progressive stages of development. Following the
pathway of Buddhist meditation-based pedagogies [ . . . ], selfcultivation of the body can lead to a higher epistemological perspective
[ . . . and] such a perspective, in turn, is correlative with the ontological
status of reality (Quinn, 2005, p. 17). The training and cultivation of
the actor-dancer is, like Buddhist meditation, fundamentally a transformative process in that it creates a new mode of being that is removed from
everyday ego consciousness (Quinn, 2005, p. 17). The transformation
of the actor-dancers consciousness from ordinary modes of being/doing
to an extraordinary state of being/doing in aesthetic performance is fundamental to noh training as developed by Zeami. According to him, the performer ideally reaches a state of nonduality where striving for effects is
something that is not part of the actors conscious orientation (Quinn,
2005, p. 5).
Although Shinto, Daoism, and shamanism played an historical role in
the development of noh, for Zeami the noh performers ideal state of consciousness is a fully embodied state of nondual awareness/consciousness.
To attain this state, the actor must train until he reaches a level at which
his innermost intent is beyond his own discriminating consciousness
(Quinn, 2005, p. 229), an active state of mushin (no-mind) that lies
beyond active intellectualization and where the effects of a performance
are not the result of the actors conscious intention (Quinn, 2005,
p. 226). Zeamis treatises and the example of noh illustrate the fact that
performers and master teachers of embodied practices have long reflected
on their processes and how best to achieve a transformation in and
through long-term trainings that cultivate an optimal state of nondual
bodymind awareness deployed in performance.

Altered Consciousness in Performance

Contemporary Performer Training: Psychophysical Techniques

for Accessing Alternative States of Consciousness
Since the late 19th century when the Russian theatre director Konstantin
Stanislavsky (18631938) began the revolutionary process of developing
a systematic approach to training the Western actor, a vast array of techniques and processes (yoga, Asian martial arts, songs, night running,
dynamic exercises, or ritual/shamanic techniques) have been utilized
to explore how the performer might transcend bodymind dualism
and secure a dependable process for actualizing the ASC required of the
Stanislavskys use of the term psychophysical for acting was an innovative, historically limited, and not always successful attempt to solve the
relationship between the psycho and physical elements of textually
based character acting. Roach explains how:
The Stanislavski System is a means of manipulating levels of consciousness
to achieve certain specific effects on the body, especially the illusion of
spontaneity. [ . . . ] He believed that an inner dialogue runs within us
without interruptiona stream of consciousness sustained and constantly
redirected by subconscious impulses and sensory stimuli . . . This is the
life that the actor attempts to emulate by living the role. (1993, pp.

In order to accomplish the task of living the role, Stanislavsky drew

on two main sources, the work of psychologist Theodule Armand Ribot
(18391916) and the limited versions of Indian yoga available in turnof-the-century Russia, filtered through then-popular occultism and spiritualism (Carnicke, 1993; White, 2006). Stanislavsky described how the
actors physical score, once perfected, must go beyond mechanical execution to a deeper level of experience that is rounded out with new
feeling and [ . . . ] become[s], one might say, psychophysical in quality
(1961, p. 66). In My Life in Art, Stanislavsky described the actors optimal
state of awareness or concentration as one in which he reacts not only on
his sight and hearing, but on all the rest of his senses. It embraces his
mind, his will, his emotions, his body, his memory and his imagination
(1948, p. 465). Stanislavskys ideal was that in every physical action . . .
there is concealed some inner action, some feelings (1961, p. 228).
To help achieve this optimal state of awareness while living a role,
Stanislavsky drew upon and adapted his limited knowledge of yoga exercises and principles to heighten the actors sensory awareness in



Altering Consciousness

performance. Arguably the most important material element Stanislavsky

borrowed from yoga was prana, the breath(s), wind, vital energy, or lifeforce understood to circulate throughout the body from your hands to
your fingertips, from your thighs to your toes creating thereby an inner
rhythm (Carnicke, 1998, p. 141). Stanislavsky translated his work with
prana into the actors ability to radiate feelings as a character to communicate with fellow actors-as-characters.
After working with Stanislavsky, Michael Chekhov (18911955)
developed psychophysical exercises, psychological gestures, and radiation in order to penetrate all the parts of the body with fine [ . . . ] vibrations (Chekhov, 1991, p. 43). Byckling (2005) quotes Chekhov as saying
that the training of the body is [ . . . ] a training in awareness, in learning
how to listen to the body, how to be led by it. Chekhovs actor works
from body awareness to psychophysical composition. The actor senses
and feels the form of the psychological gesture as she creates and inhabits
it. Although utilizing limited elements and principles of yoga, Chekhov
and Stanislavsky did so in order to develop the kind of alternative consciousness necessary for an actor to perform textually based character
roles in mainstream aesthetic theatre. As Soto-Morettini explains, the kind
of second order intentional thinking necessary to understand and analyze a dramatic text at the beginning of rehearsals must be forgotten once
onstage (2010, p. 206). Actors are engaged in a dual form of forgetting;
they both pretend to forget and they pretend to be the character (2010,
p. 206). This dual forgetting is the essential quality of acting and
requires of the actor fictional immersion (2010, p. 206). Quoting
McGinns (2004), fictional immersion occurs when the work disguises
itself as reality, while never concealing the fact that it is a disguise (SotoMorettini, 2010, p. 207).

Between Ritual and Aesthetic Performance: Artaud and Grotowski

During the 20th century, a series of practitioners working away
from mainstream Western realist theatreAntonin Artaud (18961949)
in France, Alexander Fersen (19112001) in Italy, Jerzy Grotowski
(19331999), and Nicolas Nunez (1946) in Mexico, among others
have drawn inspiration or specific techniques from ritual/shamanic practices in order to explore both alternative approaches to acting and/or
processes of audience/performer communion. These explorations have
often taken place over a lifetime in laboratories, spaces set aside for
focused, in-depth development of the performers consciousness. Most
practitioners divest their work of the traditional belief systems in which

Altered Consciousness in Performance

the source techniques were historically embedded as they attempt to

achieve a secular sacredness.
In his rebellion against textually based theatre, Artaud wanted to create
a new actor who was an athlete of the heart. As Cardena explains, Artaud
was one of the first if not the first theatre practitioner to explore the
territory of the performer as shaman (1986, p. 299). Artauds vision of
the performer was as a master of the attainment and induction of altered
states with the purpose of healing a degraded humanity (p. 299). In a
series of manifestos inspired in part by his encounter with Balinese dancers and visits to Mexico, Artaud called for actors to become crude empiricists who examine the material aspect of the expressive possibilities of
their bodyminds. Artaud postulated that the actor, through breath control,
would be able to place the breath in specific locations in the body in order
to cause psychophysiological vibrations that would increase the internal
density and volume of his feeling and provoke . . . spontaneous
reappearance of life (in Cole & Chinoy, 1970, pp. 236, 239). Artaud
assumed that these emotional states have organic bases locatable in the
actors body; therefore, for every mental action, every leap of human emotion, there is a corresponding breath which is appropriate to it (p. 236).
The actors task is to develop an affective musculature which corresponds
to the physical localizations of feelings (p. 235), the actor must cultivate
the emotion in his body (p. 239) by training the breath. As the actor
becomes able to localize control of the breath, s/he will be able voluntarily
to apportion it out in states of contraction and release, thereby serving as
a springboard for the emanation of a feeling . . . [Once trained] with the
whetted edge of breath the actor carves out his character (pp. 237,
239). In spite of the speculative specificity of his vision of the actor as an
athlete of the heart, Artaud was never able to develop an actual psychophysical technique actualizing this vision.
Although he always viewed his work as a continuation of the explorations of Stanislavsky, Polish theatre director Jerzy Grotowski embraced
and actively engaged the territory between ritual and performance. As Wolford argues, Grotowski is not so much a person of the theatre as one whose
interests, for a certain period of time, passed through theatre, but always
with an orientation toward elsewhere (1998, p. 85). Schechner has
described Grotowskis projects, whether the early theatrical phase (training
actors and making performances) or his later post-theatrical phases (Theatre
of Sources, Objective Drama, Art as vehicle), as informed by his pursuit of
spiritual, mystical, and yogic interests even though this pursuit never
grasped after a definite and particular kind of spiritual knowledge
(1997, p. 463). The psychophysical processes of actor training he explored



Altering Consciousness

early in his career provided a necessary structure for the performers inner
search where theatre became a means rather than an end (Wolford,
1998, p. 85). Since 1986, Grotowski focused on art as vehicle, carried out
as a practical research program at the Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and
Thomas Richards in Pontedera, Italy. Grotowski described the work as
focused on actions related to very ancient songs which traditionally served
ritual purposes, and so can have a direct impact onso to saythe head,
the heart and the body of the doers (Wolford, 1988, p. 87). Grotowski also
described the work as a type of yoga, noting that while, in one sense, Art as
vehicle is very much concerned with elements of performance craft, the
interior goal of the work is analogous to that which is sought in meditative
disciplines (p. 88). This work is autotelic, focusing on the experience of
the doers. It becomes a tool by means of which the human being can undertake a work on her/himself (Wolford, 1998, p. 88).

Mnemodrama: An Actors Version of the Ritual Journey of the Shaman

One of the often overlooked pioneers exploring the territory between
shamanic models of consciousness and acting is the Italian theatre director
Alessandro Fersen (19112001). From 1957, when he established a theatre laboratory for research on acting, he began a lifelong journey of exploring the mythopoetic territory between ritual and theatre. John Green
(1993) provides a comprehensive account of how Fersens years of practical research in the studio, inspired by the ecstatic figures of the shaman,
was eventually codified as mnemodramaa studio-based exercise in which
the actor progressively explores advanced steps in the techniques of abandon (Fersen, quoted in Marranca, 1984, p. 22).
The memory of the mnemodrama does not seep through the protective
filters of consciousness: it has its own hallucinating nakedness, like meat
skinned off its epidermis. It draws not just from the individual past, but
also from an antenatal or ancestral past. Its behaviors have little in common
with remembering or having memories. (Fersen, 1980, p. 74)

Fersens research was based in part on exposure to Carnival, Samba,

and Candomble in Bahia, Brazil, and subsequent collaboration with Italian
anthropologist Alfonso Di Nola. Fersen claims that in mnemodrama, the
actor experiences an ASC where what one inhabits is not a life, nor a second life as a character, but It is a second state of mind, which has an
oneiric quality (Fersen, in Marranca, 1984, p. 20).

Altered Consciousness in Performance

Fersen characterized the exercise he was creating as an actors version

of the shamanic journey where the actor abandons himself [ . . . ] to
the unknowns of the possible event [ . . . ] (Fersen, 1980, p. 75). Modeled
on ritual practices, Fersen interprets his work as a dialectic operating
between abandon techniques and control techniques (1980, p. 65). Ultimately for Fersen, his attempt to allow the actors process and experience
of mnemodrama to touch textually based character acting failed because
there was an unsuccessful suture between the two (Green, 1993).

Subsuming the Self into the Whole

Another example of those working between ritual and aesthetic theatre is
the lifelong work on communal co-presence of Mexicos Nicolas Nunez.
Nunez founded the Taller de Investigacion Teatral or Theatre Research Workshop (TRW) in 1975 at the National University in Mexico City. Since founding TRW, Nunez and his collaborators have undertaken practical crosscultural research between ritual and theatre, actively exploring ASC accessed
by means of specific psychophysical techniques drawn from both preHispanic Mexican traditions such as the Nahuatl conchero (shell dance) and
Tibetan Buddhist monastic Black Hat dance (Middleton, 2008, p. 43). TRW
aims to effect psychological, physiological, and spiritual change through the
dissolution of negative psychophysical modes of behavior (Middleton,
2008, p. 44) both in ritual dynamic training sessions and in performances.
Nunez describes the actor as a sacred animal, alongside the bull, the
deer, etc. Actors/participants access heightened states of being in which
perception alters (Middleton, 2008, p. 45). For Nunez, the actor and shaman alike are able to go into an altered state of consciousness [ . . . ] at
will and thus can perceive reality directly with no interference of any
kind of thinking (quoted in Middleton, 2008, p. 45). Middleton
describes Nunezs dynamics as follows:
Attention is focused in the moment-by-moment somatic experience
through intentionality, breathing technique or use of mantra. Receptive
consciousness is engaged through the necessity to remain within longdurational activities, abandoning end-gaining strategies and timeconsciousness. Conceptual activity is subdued, partly through intention,
and partly through the psycho-physically strenuous tools of running, energetic position, etc. Energies are dilated through physiological effects (such
as adrenalin and endocrine release), and this in turn intensifies the somatic
nature of the experience. (2008, p. 48)



Altering Consciousness

Nunezs dynamics as well as the participatory performances he creates

with TRW are intended as rituals of personal transformation bringing
together mythology, cosmology, and personal transformation (Middleton,
2001, 2008).

Cultivating a Nondual Bodymind Awareness/consciousness

Often inspired by Artaud or Grotowski and influenced by nonWestern principles and techniques, cultivating a state of nondual awareness so central to Asian modes of embodied practice has become a
main if unarticulated tenet of many approaches to performer training
today (Hodge, 2010b; Zarrilli, 2002). Daily training in Japanese butoh
(Fraleigh, 1999), Suzuki technique (Suzuki, 1986), Gardzienice Theatre
Association techniques (Hodge, 2010a; Staniewski, 2004), or Zarrillis
(2009) martial arts/yoga-based psychophysical training all provide indepth embodied experiences through which one can achieve the type
of nondual state of consciousness/awareness required in meditation
where one is both being attentive and not thinking (Blackmore, 2003).
Their modus operandi may be compared with concentrative meditation
(Blackmore, 2003). Citing recent cognitive scientific research, SotoMorettini differentiates between attention training and [ . . . ] attention
state training (2010, p. 214). The former attempts to control thoughts
while the latter induces a state of restful alertness, enabling a high
degree of awareness of body, mind and external instructions (2010,
p. 214). This is a state inducing or coming very near a meditative state
(Soto-Morettini 2010, p. 215). Each approach to training in its own way
awakens, shapes, focuses, and concentrates the performers energy,
attention and awareness through specific psychophysical exercises/tasks.
Butoh performer Hijikata Tatsumi developed butoh-fu in the 1970s as
modes of visualization (Fraleigh & Nakamura, 2006) through which
the performer could enter and sustain a dynamic embodied state of
awareness. Gardzienices night running takes the performer into an alternative mode of openness to others and the environment when having to
negotiate running without illumination (Hodge, 2010a; Staniewski,
2004). Like some forms of concentrated meditation, Zarrillis psychophysical training begins with breathing exercises and attentiveness to
the breath (2009). But these approaches also differ from forms of meditation that take the meditator out of the world into a different reality.
Here, the performer, like the martial artist, always remains responsive
to the immediate environment.

Altered Consciousness in Performance

Phenomenal Consciousness and Performance

Ned Blocks nuanced discussion of the differences and relationship
between phenomenal consciousness and access consciousness (1995, 1997)
provides a useful way of describing aspects of the performers nondual consciousness. Block explains that phenomenal consciousness is experience;
what makes a state phenomenally conscious is that there is something it is
like to be in that state (1995, p. 227). P-conscious states are sensations,
whereas the paradigm A-conscious states are propositional attitude states
like thoughts, beliefs, and desires, states with representational content
expressed by that clauses (1997, p. 384). Access consciousness serves
more of a functional process than phenomenal consciousness because it carries specific types of information generally available for the organism. These
are not absolute categories since thoughts may be P-conscious and
sensations/experiences often have representational content (1997,
p. 384). Performances and modes of performer training may be understood
as practices that shape culturally and historically specific forms of extraordinary nondual phenomenal consciousness that are different from ones ordinary states of consciousness.
Although the performers phenomenal consciousness is shaped to
embody/enact the performance at an optimal level of attainment such as in
the example of the noh actor, since a performance score is a repeatable structure when the performer is not performing the score one can self-consciously
review that score mentally. The performer uses access consciousness to
review and reflect upon the performance of a score or structure or to reflect
more generally on his or her artistry as an actor/dancer. When performing,
a specific score is available as representational content at the periphery of
ones phenomenal consciousness even as one embodies/enacts that score.
The representational content of the score in its entirety and of each task/
action that constitutes the whole is available; however, the performer
ideally does not use access consciousness to become directly conscious of a
task or action within the score as it is being performed.
Block also calls our attention to what he calls monitoring consciousness,
the notion that there is some sort of inner perception or P-consciousness of
ones own states (1997, p. 390). Because performer training techniques and
performance are highly repetitive modes of embodiment, P-consciousness
may be characterized as conscious awareness where an embodied, sedimented relationship to the performance or doing is experienced as a residue,
an echo, or resonant shadow. At the periphery of P-consciousness in the act
of doing is an inner perception, sensory awareness, or consciousness of the



Altering Consciousness

doing, sometimes described by performers as the feeling of the form. There is

often a what it is like for me state viewed from the first-person perspective
inside the process of embodying a specific performer training process and
when enacting a specific performance score. This mode of inhabitation is different from ones ordinary mode of consciousness, it is experienced as extraordinary. Performer training and performing can therefore be described as a
special form of P-consciousness with awareness where the performer inhabits an awareness of the doing at the same time the actor remains completely
inside the feeling of the doing. The feeling of the doing is the additional
layer of resonance within the performers consciousness. For actors, it is the
listening or hearing within oneself in the act of speaking. It is what makes
a performance that may look like everyday life more than everyday life.
Two caveats are in order. First, the description provided above is the
optimal ideal assumed in virtuosic performance and therefore is often
not achieved during initial training or in performance. Second, in this process the performer ideally never becomes self-conscious, the actor does not
think about what she is doing but remains within the flow of phenomenal consciousness as appropriate to the training or the dramaturgy of a
specific performance (see also Cardena & Cousins, 2010).
The actors phenomenal consciousness has often been described as a
double consciousness or multiple consciousness, apt descriptions of
the feeling of the form and the presence of the score/structure at the
periphery of phenomenal consciousness. The performer constantly
adjusts this specific performance to the stimuli in the performance environment moment by moment (Blair, 2008; Yoo, 2007; Zarrilli, 2009).
From the performers perspective inside this embodied process, as one
practices, performs, or plays within the structure of a process, there is
often a strong autotelic element to that engagement. One enjoys the practice/act of performing.
Systems of actor training like those described above are designed to
shape the performers phenomenal consciousness to achieve an extraordinary discrete alternate state of nondual consciousness. The phenomenological account that concludes this essay provides one example of how
the actor shapes and focuses her or his energy, attention, and so on in
order to enact a particular dramaturgy/performance score.

A Phenomenological Account of an Actors Performance Score

Cocreated by Kaite OReilly, Jo Shapland, and Phillip Zarrilli, Told by the
Wind premiered in Cardiff in 2010 and continues to tour internationally
(see Figure 14.1). Inspired by but not attempting to reproduce its sources,

Altered Consciousness in Performance

Figure 14.1 TOLD BY THE WIND. Structure 5: Male and Female Figures
move point/counterpoint within the earth square.
(Photo courtesy of Ace McCarron.)

it draws on phantasmal Japanese noh dramas, Oto Shogos theatre of quietude, and the minimal work of Samuel Beckett. It is a fragmentary performance piece consisting of 10 structures, described by critics as hypnotic,
a meditation, dreamlike. Throughout the performance, a Female and a
Male Figure are onstage but never make direct visual contact. There is no
dialogue per se, but Male Figure delivers fragments of suggestive text during
4 of the structures. Female Figure occasionally mouths words that either
remain unsaid or are barely whispered and remain inaudible. Male Figures
intermittent spoken text is delivered during approximately 11 minutes of
the total running time. Except for the barely audible white noise in the
background throughout the performance, there are lengthy periods in
which no overt and little inadvertent sound is made by the actors.
In the first structure, the two actors are discovered onstage: Female
Figure is seated in the center stage-left chair, and Male Figure is seated
in the upstage-right chair at a writing desk looking out the window frame
in front of him, suspended in air. Their backs are to each other. Between
them is a square of earth on a diagonal surrounded by evergreen branches.
In silence, for approximately 3 minutes the two figures only make subtle,



Altering Consciousness

slight physical adjustments to their positions as they listen in the silence.

This is my description of the actors work and consciousness in playing
this nonverbal structure:
When Jo Shapland and I step into the playing space and are seated to begin
Structure 1, our initial performance task is to open and engage our peripheral awareness to the possible presence of an other in the environment.
From my perspective inside the performance, the act of opening my
peripheral awareness means using indirect visual focus, my eyes do not
attempt to focus specifically on anything/anyone/anywhere. Because my
visual focus is secondary and indirect, my energy and awareness open to
and attend to the spatial environment surrounding me. The other to
whom I am opening my awareness is not a specific individual, but rather a
possibility or a question. This other is constituted by a series of embodied
questions, such as
Is someone/something there?
Is she present?
Is she there? Where?
There . . . there . . . or there?
I do not literally ask myself these questions in my mind, nor is this
other or this she given a specific name, identity, or history. Rather,
I psychophysically engage my embodied consciousness in subtly responding to the impulse of a question or possible presence if/when/as each
question/possibility emerges in the moment of performance. It is important
that this embodied process of questioning/probing remains indeterminate.
My focus/attention should not land or resolve itself. It is a constant process of active searching/questioning.
Half way through Structure 1, this initial probing becomes more specific
as both Shapland and I attune our auditory awareness to our possible
other. We actively engage psychophysically in what may be described as
attentive listening, opening our ears to the sonority of the immediate environment. The psychophysical task here is to let go and abandon oneself
completely to this state of deep, profound listening where all that exists
is a question. Nancy asks, What secret is at stake when one truly listens
and thereby encounters sonority rather than the message? (2007, p. 5).
We are listening, but what is there remains a secretunknown to each
of us. There is no message. No thing and no one emerges as an answer
to the psychophysical questions posed. Our embodied consciousness/
awareness is always on the edge of meaning; however meaning and
understanding never emerge. As Nancy explains: To be listening is always
to be on the edge of meaning, or in an edgy meaning of extremity, and as
if the sound were precisely nothing else than this edge [ . . . ] (2007, p. 7).
The kind of listening I describe here is not a passive act of the ears
hearing, but an act of absorption so full that ones embodied consciousness

Altered Consciousness in Performance

is woven in the moment. Optimally, this process of embodied, aural attunement absorbs and re-directs our energy and awareness in a process of taking in, searching, and questioning . . . We are still but not frozen; rather,
each of us is animated from the inside-out by constantly being active and
reactive. Our performative engagement with deep listening may be
described as opening a space of possibility within us as performers/stagefigures. (see Zarrilli, in press b)

Thus, in a successful performance, we reach an alternative state of

nondual awareness/consciousness.

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