In the weeks leading up to the holidays, we explored the concept of ‘wisdom’, and what it means to be a ‘wise person’. During our Wednesday building and writing workshops, we looked through old PARC photographs to seek out images of ‘wise people’. After choosing three photographs each, we discussed the concept of ‘wisdom’, and we explained why we chose particular images. We then wrote a short description or imagined monologue for the person in one of our chosen pictures, which we each read out loud to the group. The following week, we began to construct puppets based on this monologue and image. Sonja directed us through a process of first sketching a portrait, then creating a sculptural base out of dowel, tinfoil and oven-bake clay, and finally sculpting a three-dimensional version of the image. The puppet heads are approximately three inches high and two inches across.
I have wanted to connect sound choir activities in the basement with the writing and construction activities happening on the second floor, and I thought that it might be fun to create voices for the puppets. I thought to experiment with gestural speech, as in gibberish or glossolalia (the act of speaking in tongues), because puppets are limited in their physical movements and I think that their voices should match. I also like the idea of the ‘wise fool,’ who is simultaneously innocent and deeply intelligent. I think that gibberish is an ideal tool for expressing such contradictory nature, because the non-verbal voice communicates through instinctual, sonic gestures. I think that such direct means of communication can pierce the habitual emotional armours that we create through words, leaving us with direct, deeply emotional and spiritual meanings.
In our final sound choir workshop before the holidays, I asked the group to come up with three adjectives that could be used to describe their ‘wise person’, which I had asked them to visualize. I then worked with each person to develop a gibberish voice for their puppet. I first asked John to isolate his adjectives so that he could practice a vocabulary of different voices. It was interesting for me to see how subtly each adjective affected his choices: The terms ‘rugged’ and ‘straight-up’, for instance, both produced a fairly gruff demeanour, but the ‘rugged’ voice was emotionally closed and continually grumbling while the ‘straight-up’ voice spoke in clearly articulated, impassioned gestures. I then chose another person from the group, Alice, and I asked her to perform the same exercise.
I noticed that both Alice and John instinctually used exaggerated physical gestures, as well as sound, to communicate. I decided to experiment with turning the voice exercise into a physical theatre exercise, and I had them rise from their chairs to their feet and face each other. I asked them to imagine that they were the characters associated with their adjective-voices, and that they had something to say to each other as they passed in the halls of PARC. This produced peals of laughter, as Alice’s ‘silent’ person (who communicated via low and extended creaking growls) encountered John’s ‘rugged’ person (who was generally angry). I asked them to add in other adjectives, creating voices that were simultaneously ‘rugged, straight-up and wise’ or ‘silent and slow’.
This exercise was highly effective, as each person was able to develop a voice and physical stance that expressed a certain combination of adjectives. Everybody in the group was laughing, and eventually even Michelle (who had been extremely reticent) volunteered herself. We culminated by creating a ‘drop-in’ scene followed by a ‘bus-scene’. We worked together to imagine scenarios that might happen on a bus, such as a ‘bodacious’ person trying to steal the seat of a ‘gentle and silent’ person. I think that the adjectives were somewhat lost as people began to act out their characters – in general, the characters seemed to become louder and more ridiculous as the exercise went on, and I think that original intentions were sometimes lost. I think also, though, that the group developed a kind of rhythmic cohesion that I haven’t witnessed as prominently in the music-based workshops. I was also pleased with the level of full-bodied attention that each participant (including myself) was able to maintain throughout the workshop, and also with the frequent occurrences of laughter, followed by more serious devotion.
Within the Making Room group, it seems that loud and ridiculous activities can serve as an effective contrast to our more contemplative rituals. I am curious to explore possibilities for creating a more definitive and ritualized workshop structure, and it is useful to have discovered an apparent desire for energetic expression. Perhaps instead of starting with a ten-minute sit, as I have been facilitating, we should start with a loud warm-up or theatre activity, followed by increasingly thoughtful activities, and closing finally with a sit.