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Lars Henning (DK)

The Radical Performer


In order for the theatre to have genuine raison d’être, the performer must have a radical approach, both in the etymological sense of pertaining to the roots of theatre, and in the sense of being thoroughgoing, extreme, or subversive, i.e. pertaining to a change from the roots. To me, the subversive radicality of the performer lies in the courageous sacrifice of Self-identity when they go on stage, akin to the Buddhist Ego Death, Jung’s Psychic Death, and the Sufist Fana (self annihilation). 


The performer must destroy their habitual, subjective sense of Self, thereby opening up endless new potentiality of being, and yielding to new integrative configurations of being in the world: Transformation. In this altered state of consciousness, where our sense of Individuality is (temporarily) annihilated, we can become anything–the Other. It may even be the state where “we are each Other" is revealed. 


The Western theatre tradition originates in the mystery cults of the Greek god Dionysos. Being both God and Human, both Man and Woman, both European and Asian, born by both mother and father, he incarnates the (unconsciously) ever-present Other. 


In one version of the Dionysos myth, he is dismembered, cut to pieces, and boiled by the Titans (incited by Zeus’ wife, Hera), only to be reborn after having had his heart implanted in Zeus’ thigh.


Thus, this radical imperative echoes forth from Ancient times to the contemporary performer.


Finally, for reflection and discussion, the talk proposes among other questions:


To what degree is it possible (and desirable) for the performer to unroot their subjective sense of Self, yet remain firmly rooted in the here and now of their performance?

Apart from fear, is there any potential risk in the often terrifying jump into the Unknown? 

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