9th Hour is committed to physical ensemble theatre that explores ideas with an embodied voice. What does that mean?
Let’s start with the body. We experience life first and foremost through our bodies—watch any baby breathe, move, feel, or express. Our bodies keep us grounded in a reality that most of us would agree has a lot to do with everyday existence. As we grow out of infancy, our brains try to make sense of reality, i.e., what is true or false about actual existence. This is no easy task because reality is quite complex and triggers both positive (such as love, joy, hope) and negative (such as fear, grief, rage) emotions.
We use theatre as a cultural tool to remind ourselves and our audiences of what it means to be human, what humans are for, and what makes for human flourishing.
As we age, we apply reasoning skills through frames of interpretation to process highly charged feelings in our bodies that help us navigate reality. Think of these frames like windows that allow us to see a limited or distorted view of reality. To get a fuller and clearer view of reality, we might add more windows. In the same way, we use ideas to understand reality and often group our ideas into categories, called ideologies or worldviews, that give meaning to our lived experiences. Some of these views include emotional, psychological, and spiritual frames that add meaning to what we are experiencing. In this way, our bodies inform our minds and vice versa about reality. We use our voices (now informed by the wisdom of our bodies) to share our ideas about what we believe to be true or not about reality.
This is where 9th Hour lives—to present stories that engage its actors and audiences in the reality of death and the joy of life!
This is important, we believe, because it runs contrary to the disembodied voices that are seeking to dominate our culture, especially the powerful influences of social media, virtual reality, and fake news, as well as the inclination towards social distancing, virtual meetings, or virtual reality. The body is literally ‘missing’ from these public discourses. We might see the body as an object on Instagram. But the lived experience of a voice—the history and development of its bodily wisdom—is not included in a Tweet or TikTok video.
Computer intelligence and the internet are developing so fast that futurists envision a ‘singularity’ in which these trends converge to a point where computers will attain consciousness and Artificial Intelligence (AI) in some form that will not only drive our cars but run our lives. Dystopian fantasies populate our digital devices, and feature stories about machines that turn humans into slaves or, worse, make them extinct…humanoids will replace humans.
But computers are not human brains and will never be human beings because they are not body and soul. At 9th Hour, we have a bias towards human beings. We use theatre as a cultural tool to remind ourselves and our audiences of what it means to be human, what humans are for, and what makes for human flourishing. We think of human beings as storytelling creatures who seek meaning in a hostile world. We view theatre as a vehicle for exploring ideas that help us find solutions to the problems of living…such as death.
...that is what theatre is for in our view—to provide a safe space to explore with creativity and imagination a subjective lived experience in a way that is active, embodied, and fundamentally emotional.
What happens to us after we die? This question has sparked the formation of many ideologies, including stoicism, atheism, existentialism, as well as religions, which are more than ideas; they are stories. We prefer stories that feature humans as physical, emotional, thinking, and spiritual beings that don’t have to live in fear of disease and death. However, we are willing to explore all ideas related to the problems of living.
For example, while there is no evidence that computers can solve the problem of death, 9th Hour might explore the idea of a computer that does…that is what theatre is for in our view—to provide a safe space to explore with creativity and imagination a subjective lived experience in a way that is active, embodied, and fundamentally emotional.
Our bodies keep us grounded in a reality that most of us would agree has a lot to do with everyday existence.
We want our audiences to see bodies and hear souls engaging the problems of living by communicating important lines in a script to each other through action and emotion. An emotion is a signal that something needs attention because there is a change in our personal situation. Basic emotions, such as fear--“I’m scared of dying!”--are a precondition for action. This is the stuff of drama. This is where 9th Hour lives—to present stories that engage its actors and audiences in the reality of death and the joy of life!
~ GEORGE DUTCH is a regular blog contributor and 9th Hour Theatre Company's Associate Artistic Director and Dramaturge.