By Maria Padhila
Theater started out as magic ritual. In the right hands, with the right practitioners, it still is (Hi, Amanda and Fe!).
The San Diego Tantra Theater Troupe is all about the magic. It’s right there in its mission: “combines ritual and performance to transmute sexual guilt, shame and fear into art, healing and liberation. We celebrate that every aspect of life’s drama is sacred.”
With shows like “Sacred Slut” and “Shaman Story,” they may sound just too woo-woo. But believe me, they are also all about the fun. Check out some of the videos on their website — smart, funny, and not above poking fun at themselves. If you can’t deal with laughing at spiritual struggles (or at sex), this probably won’t work for you; but if you can see both the beauty and the humor in the human condition, you’ll get it. As well as doing performance in San Diego, the group also travels to conferences and festivals and leads workshops.
I got to participate in a workshop led by the theater founder Kamala Devi at the Poly Living conference put on by Loving More earlier this year. The technique of doing improv based on relationship stories from participants resulted in many memorable moments, some very touching (in both senses). One of my favorites was seeing Devi’s acting partner working through the story of a man in a relationship with two women, standing with his arms outstretched and singing “I’m the V, I’m the V,” like an outtake from a very special episode of “Schoolhouse Rock.”
I’m in line for an interview with Kamala Devi in two months, after she gets through with a project. In the meantime, I got to reading her blog on the theater website, and asked if I could quote from one entry: “Theater Improv has the same rules as Sacred Sex!” Here are a few pieces that struck me. Points are her words; pieces in brackets are mine:
• The more someone ‘acts’ in bed, the less sacred the sex is.
• You cannot learn it from books. It is a whole-body experience that must be practiced with devotion.
• The first and most important rule that must not be broken is agreement (also known as “yes… and”). Agreement forwards the action. If there is no agreement in the scene it falls apart. The improvisation dies. It becomes rape! [That’s her word -- I don’t always go that far in using that word. I tend to use it only for the actual crime, never as a metaphor -- I feel the same about the word 'slave' and its derivitives. Nevertheless, the principle holds true for me.]
• A true practitioner must give up all control without any attachment to how they think the scene should go.
• If you adore and admire your playmates, their expression becomes brilliant and by making them look good, you will look better and have more fun! [Totally agree. Several studies I’ve seen quoted around and about over the past few years say arousal is located most strongly in seeing someone else’s excitement. That’s why all the 'women don’t like porn' truisms aren’t true to me. What this woman doesn’t like about porn is faking and less-than-attractive men. That’s why gay male porn is the best!]
• Get out of your ego and let a larger story be told.
• No matter how much laughter and play is involved, you must have deep reverence for the craft and the scene must be taken seriously. [This is a hard one for many to get. It can be difficult to hold both mirth and reverence in your heart, body and mind. My airy mind will keep trying to come up with funny lines long past the place where it’s useful, and humor becomes a defense rather than an enhancement. No one wants to feel like they’re being laughed at, especially during sex. If you have a lover who can switch between the two, or do both at once, you have a really evolved person, in my opinion.]
• Unlearn your stock responses. Let go of whatever you were planning to say. … Don’t try to create an effect in your audience, but be true to the deepest impulse that arises in you. [Both porn and romantic portrayals have set up a lot of stock scripts in our heads and stock moves in our bodies. One of young women’s big complaints is that men have watched so much porn that they expect certain responses to certain moves. Women are nervous about everything from the looks on their faces to whether they’ve got the latest style of wax. It’s a challenge to shuck these stock roles off.]
• Listen deeply to what your partner is saying, not only in their words but in their body language. Take notice and be responsive. Try to recall what they are saying or doing and reflect it back to them later in the scene when it will illuminate new meaning.
• Don’t be afraid of the silence. Pausing at the right place can be dramatic.
• All rules are just suggestions. There is an exception to every rule.
It seems counterintuitive that we could get to a deeper level of sincere expression through the study of theater, but again, that’s what art is actually intended to do — bring us home to ourselves. Real acting isn’t pretending. If you’re a performer, I’d love to hear about what you think some of the connections are among performing, relationships and sex. And I hope you’re looking forward to hearing more from Kamala as much as I am.