The Maelstrom Reckoning

“Theatre is a superstitious craft...and this implies a magic. We rarely ask what it is, we always know when it is. So much of our training is a recapturing of things we have lost. For the adult it represents a balance between the logical and the intuitive. For most of us this balance is a rare and precious thing. For the actor it is a minimal necessity.”

I wrote these words to my cast in New York City in 1973 when we opened our first theatre, the Colonnades Theatre Lab. From the beginning we saw it as a laboratory to learn from and fine-tune the actor’s craft to understand why it was so difficult to drop our personal masks that we hide behind. Some 48 years later I am still trying to answer that question. As I look around, it seems more pertinent than ever.

There is an epidemic of hatred on the rise around the world, an underlying defensiveness about who we are and are not. We feel it in our public spaces, in the disintegration of productive dialogue, in the manipulation of social media, and the growing support for authoritarian leaders. And we are experiencing an even more dehumanizing and divisive development—a growing fear of empathy itself.

Until now all of our productions have explored binary conflicts—two sides across a single divide. Our next project, entitled, The Maelstrom Reckoning: Reconciliation, Rehearsed, expands exponentially upon what we have done before. It will commission theatre communities from six continents to incubate and create stories of their inherited conflicts. They will be incubations, developed in their own languages, working under the radar of their national politics to unpeel the historic source of their current fears, distrust, and hatred.

Each incubation cast will follow one single rule of engagement: that they move backwards in time across generations, uncovering its layers, embodying their own ancestors to face the genesis of the revenge cycle that brought them into violent conflict in the first place. This structural theme was inspired by our most recent production, See You Yesterday, where a young cast of circus performers from the streets of Battambang, Cambodia employed it to break through the veil of silence that genocide had cast over them and their elders. When these individual incubations are completed they will come together for the final multi-language interactive rehearsal where they will blend their discoveries, becoming both audience and performer for each other. In their movement across time they will naturally become migrants and refugees in each other’s culture flow. At first it will be messy and quite risky, but it is this very messiness and risk that allows the actor to search for truth where unexpected humor allows masks to drop and taboos to be re-examined.

This entire journey will take three years from start to finish and will result in an interactive collaborative theatre and film Festival, to premiere in Paris—the crossroads between the Americas, Asia, Africa, and The Middle East, and streamed to other cities (including the original incubation theatres) so that every city can participate simultaneously in the international dialogue. But most importantly, audiences will be able to experience not only the theatre pieces themselves but the process of perceptual and emotional change that allowed a globally-diverse community of strangers to re-engage a human connection that had been lost in the past.

Michael Lessac
Paris, December 2019

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