October 2014

A Benedictine Theatre? Michael Bettencourt - Scene4 Magazine Special Issue - October 2014

Michael Bettencourt

Years ago I went to the Brooklyn Academy of Music to see The Song of the Wanderers, a dance piece by an Okinawan group based on Herman Hesse's Siddhartha. In the dance they rained down four tons of golden rice; by the end, the stage was ankle-deep in the stuff.


During the usual post-show coat-gathering and watch-checking, a young man entered carrying a long-handled wooden rake. From the center he carved out a slow, deliberate spiral, every step distinct and planted. This one man doing this one meaningless act held the attention of these frenetic New Yorkers for 10 full minutes.


Why? The act had no "drama," but it had something - a state of being that was also a state of nothing, a place of rest or unmolested wholeness. A reminder of redemption. Of origins.


Later I read The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris, about being an oblate in a Benedictine monastery. "Ora et labora, pray and work, is a Benedictine motto," she states, "and a well-swept floor can be a prayer." Or a spiral etched in rice. Or an audience watching the man.


Prayer, rest, harmony, breath - what does any of this have to do with theatre, especially when we declare that art should disturb us for our own good? But for what end is all this disturbance? Do we leave better equipped because of it to make life bend toward - well, toward the rice, the praying and the work, the refreshment of the waters?  I just don't know.


I find myself less and less convinced that darkness is the proper light in which to see human life, even if darkness dwells within. I am trying to find where the rice can join the risk, where rise and fall is as much about breathing as about ambition and pride, where Jeremiah and Buddha can converse.


A Benedictine theatre - how possible is that?

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Scene4 Magazine: Michael Bettencourt | www.scene4.comMichael Bettencourt is a playwright and essayist.
He also writes a monthly column for Scene4.
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©2014 Michael Bettencourt
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October 2014



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