In August of 2010 the Academy sponsored a play on the life of St. Francis. It was a heartfelt and moving performance that inspired both the cast and the audience. Here is an article about the behind the scenes process of the production.
Behind the Scenes (by Mihai Huber)
Ananda is a worldwide spiritual community founded by Swami Kriyananda and based on the universal Yoga principles taught by Paramahansa Yogananda. Ananda Europa, now in its 30th year, is in Italy, in the wonderful region of Umbria, near Assisi the birthplace of Saint Francis. Members of the community were engaged by Dana Lynne Andersen, artist, playwright and director, in the project of putting up a play based on the life of Saint Francis. One of the main ideas behind the play was to try to spread the wonderful message of simplicity and love of the great saint through theatre, and to remind people of the basic spiritual values of life from which we have distanced ourselves in all the rush and difficulties of daily existence. People from the nearest cities came to see the play and gave a wonderful feedback at the end.This was a very courageous project for the community. The play was to be an expression of ‘awakening art’, a new approach to the arts that is at the core of the emerging Academy. The process of creation focuses not merely on the production and consumption of art, but on the awakening and healing of the soul through our inborn creativity and receptivity. The Arts, such as theater, can awaken and heal the artists’ soul by triggering their creativity; and it can do this for the audience by touching the chords of their receptivity. The performance of the play was only the final result of this inner process of unfolding of creativity, which brought personal transformation to the majority of the people involved. In Taoist philosophy it is said, “The way is the goal”. The same is valid here: the goal of the art is not necessarily the final product, but more the path towards it, a path that gives life to the creative process. Art itself becomes only a proper medium for the expression of creativity that is an intrinsic part of each human being, whether or not they are aware of it. It is not only confined to the world of artists. By paraphrasing a Buddhist saying, we could add: “there is no way to creativity, creativity is the way”. We cannot prepare ourselves, or study to become creative; we just have to start being it, flowing with it, because we all have that power inside of us.One special aspect of acting in this play had to do with the text. Usually the actors have to learn their lines by heart and reproduce them exactly during the rehearsals and performances. The approach was different this time: the text of the script represented only a guide line for the actors which were free to change its form, sometimes even its content, according to what their intuition and feeling was telling them to do given the specific context of each scene. The director gave a lot of freedom here to the actors who could in this way better express their unique nature and their special creativity. The idea behind this unique approach is that ‘awakening art’ focuses no longer on the form, but on the energy and movement. The text represents the form and is like a base framework that has to be modified, extended or deepened by the creative power of the actor. This new approach also took away the huge pressure that actors usually have regarding the exactness in the reproduction of their lines: this time they had only to remember the meaning of the line and could improvise the words to some extent, giving to the lines the special colour of their unique nature. This lack of tension regarding the memorization of the lines gave way to a lot of lightness and joy during the rehearsals. There were various difficulties in the creation of this event. Participants in the play could work only in their free time, so rehearsals, set creation and costume design had to be reduced to a minimum of time. Apart from the director of the play, Dana Andersen, and the lead actor, Antoine Musitelli, all the others were beginners without any knowledge of how to act or produce a play. Moreover, the play was performed in Italian, a language that the director, being American, did not speak. In fact, the entire project seemed to be from the onset a very courageous one, almost impossible to do. Dana Lynne Andersen, nevertheless, managed to help people discover their own creative potential, and the play was a great success despite the difficulties of a short rehearsal period and low budget. In the end it worked, because doing art in this fluid and open way creates an enthusiasm that is contagious and breaks every barrier. The audience could witness only the final result, not the incredible amount of joyous creative energy behind it- but perhaps they could feel it. Since the budget was low, set creation and costume design had to be improvised from the few materials available. Instead of becoming an obstacle, this was once again a challenge for the creativity of the people involved. The set crew had a lot of fun creating the sets and props- we could say – out of nothing. Even here the director had an important role: she showed the set designers how to abandon themselves to the flow of creativity and how to be able to create things using the power of this flow. In the end, sets that are extremely difficult to design, for example the castle of the duke of Perugia, or the chapel of San Damiano, materialized for the performance. Seemingly from nothing, we ended up with an abundance of set objects. The subtle effects between the lights and objects enhanced the beauty of the set and gave it a mysterious touch. Another important element of the play was the music. The concept of awakening arts involves all the various forms of Arts. Music is one of the most important modalities because it is the most direct and pure form of vibration, strongly connected to the astral realms of our soul. In fact, in her painting courses, Dana Lynne Andersen uses music as the first input for triggering and stimulating the process of creativity in her course participants. Music was a constant part of this theatre event, with live music before the play and during the intermission. Most of the music was written by Swami Kriyananda, the founder of the Ananda community, who has written extensively on the power of music to effect consciousness. Music accompanied almost all the scenes and emphasized certain crucial moments of the play. Music was also used when passing from one scene to another in order to fill up the inevitable gaps. The style of the music was mostly medieval and renaissance helping the audience to imagine themselves more easily in those times. Apart from instrumental music, there were also various choir pieces throughout the play, lending the production a touch of a musical. These moments when the actors were singing together were especially beautiful because they gave a certain lightness and merriness to the dramatic life story of Saint Francis.The play and all the effort behind the scenes also strengthened and increased the bond between the community members involved. All of us- whether actors, musicians or costume designers, enjoyed sharing this experience together. Even if there were sometimes difficult moments, there was an increasing joy of working together to create the event, a joy that culminated with the two nights of performance. Up until the last day, because of the lack of time, the play could not be refined completely, so there were certain small gaps and little errors here and there. Amazingly, the incredible flow of energy, triggered by the creativity and enthusiasm of the community members involved, helped to correct all inadequacies in the two nights of performance. All went incredibly well and the play was a great success. In the end, we all experienced an irrepressible energy flow. An especially interesting aspect of this theatre event was the inner transformation that took place inside some of the actors. One actor, in particular, entered so deeply in his character that he impressively changed inside: from being a person that could be called “in the clouds”, he became noticeably more present and available.As an actor in this play I am grateful to have shared this beautiful experience and recommend all of you to join in such projects. So many of us are not aware of the creative potential that lies inside of us and when this potential is awakened, a deep inner transformation starts. As a result, life changes somehow: everything becomes easier, more playful and more joyous. The inner child that has been suppressed for so long time awakens and wants to play, and this is maybe one of the most beautiful moment in our life. We should always let that child play, no matter what the others think about it, because it’s probably the most authentic and hence spiritual part of us.
Text © Mihai Huber. This article was recently published in the Academy of Art, Creativity and Consciousness newsletter.
Please contact Dana Lynne Andersen for more information.