The Shaman's Baudy

Theater gets weird again.

I've been trying to remember my dreams because I'm certain there's a great deal of information therein to help guide my waking life. Unfortunately, I tend to bounce out of bed and make coffee, a practice that herds the dreams out like dust bunnies caught in the eddy of an opened door. Later, there are just fragments--disjointed, disassociated bits of sensory memory--but seemingly meaningful bits. Although clearer instructions from dreamtime might be handy, it is in exactly that kind of space--between bits of memory and dream--where art is born.

Alas in a culture where we have either a) reduced art to its value as a commodity, or b) developed a critical language about it that is nearly as incomprehensible as the origins of the creative process itself, we tend to disregard the unquantifiable weight of psychic and emotional response. However, if art is not so rudely severed from life, plot and narrative may step back for less literal powers. Thus, we have, for instance, Chekhov. And thus, Shamanic Theater.

This weekend you have a chance to experience what can happen when art casts off its trappings as a commodity and returns to its origins in ritual as Theater of the Strong Eye presents Tongues of Beauty, Tongues of Grief. This company's first full-length public performance is, at its core, the inspiration of Jack Halstead. Halstead, whose career began with alternative theater in the 1970s, is currently a teacher at Pima Community College. He has compiled, arranged and adapted the text, and directed the production with the assistance of movement consultant Kathy Halstead.

The performance consists of drama, dance, poetry, music and ritual. Halstead has gathered a diverse and multitalented cast, given them the guidelines and let them -- make something happen--what he calls "non-ordinary theater." Theater whose goal it is to bring performance back to its shamanistic roots--a "give-away" to the spirit world that surrounds and supports us--and to "restore art to its sacred and at the same time practical function in our lives."

The text is a collage of numerous authors, including Samuel Beckett, Martin Prechtel, Sam Shepard, the company members and Halstead himself. Chekhov is not among them, but I thought of him when I saw the excerpt TSE performed at last month's Zuzi benefit. The cast is led by To-Reé-Neé Wolf Keiser as "The Sayer," with Cindy Knapp, Chris Kemler, Mary Williams, Richard Hatter and Joe Breck accompanied by musicians Josh Ratcliff on didjeridoo and Halstead himself on percussion. Keiser is, as always, the consummate performer, and the cast is eerily perfect: Each member the everyman/woman whose life, though fragmented and incomprehensible, awaits the artist's eye and gesture and voice to weave its meaning out of the stuff of dreams and so re-enchant it.

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