Chance plays a role in everything in our lives, beginning with the chance occurrence in which one sperm conceives us, out of millions. We are constantly choosing and being chosen. Chance hovers over us incessantly, saying yes, saying no, perhaps for a reason, possibly as a game. We are the result of this continual throw of the dice. Even evolution plays, and if recent theories about our "multiverse" are true, so does cosmology.
My dream was to create an ensemble willing and able to work their butts off to learn the art of total free improvisation—in my view the most difficult art form existing on this planet. I've done it. I've given a name to this amazing group of people. It's called Tohubohu!, Extreme Theater Ensemble.
Total free improvisation is difficult because it is an amalgam, an assimilation of every conceivable art form and its application, not by a single person but by a group. And the art is represented not by physical work alone (the instrument, body, and voice) but is the result of a number of brains working in unison, of senses picking up each other's conscious or unconscious messages, of attitude rendering total respect to and connection with everything around you, be it human, nonhuman, light, sound, object, gravity, mood, color, choreography, temperature, or any palpable and sensorial emanation that forms the constellation of that moment in the space, at this time.
"Tohubohu" is an Ancient Hebrew word meaning chaos, collision, hurly-burly, and hubbub. It is now part of the French language and is slowly and tentatively entering English. It doesn't depict what we do but what we have to go through and combat to achieve the order and composition we are after. "Extreme theater" depicts the sort of effort we put into achieving our form, and "ensemble" describes the closeness and togetherness this requires. How do we approach this ideal? Mainly by perceiving the work we do as sacred, with everything about it being sacred too.
The word "sacred" is often misused and confusing. Does it only pertain to religion? How does something become sacred? What becomes different about this something when it is thus depicted? How does the word apply to our theater? Our improvisations can often be construed as the opposite of sacred (in content). I insist on making the work sacred because we must enter the stage in a state of reverence, no matter what the content is. What we do once we're there is another story. The respect we pay to the space, the "boards," the "being there" is a given and must be experienced. One enters the sacred space with attention, cleanliness, and no distractions such as chewing gum, giggling, or adjusting hair or T-shirts. A small trance is preferable to none at all. A state of being fully present is mandatory. You gather yourself, as well as everything else on the plateau.
To render complete obeisance and to become part of this momentary constellation, there is only one way: It consists of imparting to the stage event a sacredness that will connect all the participants in the now, to each other, and allow them to fly on the wings of collective creativity. This "sacredness" opens doors. And what emanates blows your mind.
Rachel Rosenthal, artistic director and founder of the Rachel Rosenthal Company, is an interdisciplinary performer who has developed a revolutionary performance technique that integrates text, movement, voice, choreography, improvisation, inventive costuming, dramatic lighting, and wildly imaginative sets into an unforgettable "total theater" experience.
The Rachel Rosenthal Company's Tohubohu! Extreme Theater Ensemble debuts Feb. 19–21, 8:30–10 p.m., at Espace DbD, 2847 S. Robertson Blvd., L.A. Reservations required. (310) 839-0661. www.rachelrosenthal.org.