THE PHOENIX RITUAL
a directive performance about theatre waste
Rituals across the world celebrate fundamental aspects of life including coming of age, environment, leadership, agriculture, union, sex, and death, such as harvest festivals, graduations, coronations or funerals. They are celebrated through costume and performance. They can be powerful, raw, difficult, intense and honest performances that are part of a societies’ lifestyle. They can become an important tradition as a way of understanding the world or overcoming challenge.
Environmental sustainability as a pursuit to overcome the difficulties of climate change is a paradigm change and a difficult cultural aim that seeks to use materials and energy more sensibly. If sustainability became ritualised, then it would be celebrated in the cultural conscience and become a routine part of life.
Senufo Wambele Funeral Masks in the Ivory Coast. Photo credit and copyright: Beckworth and Fisher, 1994
Sketch plan of the Phoenix ritual showing the vessel layout
by Hamish Muir
‘The Phoenix Ritual’ is the blueprint design for an sustainable act within a production cycle that takes place on the stage after the end of the show run.
The ritual is based around the following fable: A phoenix that has spent its life creating a nest and home has now come to its end. In the act of its death, the phoenix must deconstruct its nest in order to create new life by pollinating the earth with the nest materials, its body and spirit. This passes on their craft and knowledge to the following new form phoenix that it reincarnates as. It is a story of passing on and new life.
The idea is that this is a ceremony that takes place in the theatre at the end of a production run. The old production is the phoenix dying that passes on to give rise to a new performance. Actors and dancers play the old phoenix dying, carrying material used on the stage into vessels that are designed to look like plants, flowers or nests. They place the material in the vessels, like bees pollinating flowers or the giving of a gift, or the laying of a body in its final resting place. Respect for the material is the paramount intention. The vessels represent the four elements – earth, water, wind and fire. A different material represents each element e.g. fire (wood), wind (plastic), water (fabric), earth (metal). The spirit of death directs the dance and a new phoenix rises out at the climax of the ritual.
The vessels are essentially bins that have materials already separated into them through the performance. The material can be reused by the incoming production or recycled externally.
It is an outline concept, which is important because it can be interpreted in different ways and develop in new directions to suit a variety of settings. It can tie in directly with the themes of the play or exist as its own entity. There is room to do the ritual in the style that is suited to the constraints and ideas of a particular theatre company. The ritual can be enhanced with light, music, costume and other materials but should aim to re-imagine the usage of the materials in theatre to see the show in a new light. This means the ritual will be different each time it takes place. It does not have to be staged after all productions but could be performed seasonally or as part of a yearly festival inspired by celebrations of nature, seasonality, landscape, harvest, and life/death.
Presently, the construction and deconstruction processes do not earn the theatre any money and are utilitarian operations that have to be carried out in order to deliver the production, but if these phases were made artistic processes then they would encourage investors, artists and an audience. It would also encourage thinking about the whole supply chain rather than one part of it. 'The Phoenix Ritual’ is an attempt to make the disposal process part of the artistic package and the theatrical craft. It is treated as an embedded operation or tradition of theatre, like rehearsals, the bow, or a press night.
It seeks to show the materials on the stage in a new light and think about them in a new way. It is theatre beyond the curtain with the production process as part of the performance. It seeks to change the way we do theatre - making it more sustainable, fundamental, potent, honest and creative.
Visualisation sketch of the Phoenix ritual showing the different vessels an a large group of actors taking material between the vessels. Created by Hamish Muir