Play and Performance in The Psychic Lysurgery at Sunrise: Another World
Thoulstone Park is a disused golf course that lays just over the border from Somerset in Wiltshire. A space once filled with sporting purpose and competition, a place in which the measurement of success was marked by a system of numbers and strokes, and where the process of self-improvement was mediated by the externality of an imposed standard. It was the oft repeated play of Deadly Theatre that was doomed for mediocrity and the retirement of the senses. Now, however, it is an empty space and as the director Peter Brook wrote:
“I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage. A man walks across this empty space whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged” (Brook 11)
Within that empty space in Wiltshire a stage was erected in late May, a world within a world, Sunrise: Another World. And there, within the newly formed boundaries of the festival arena, was plunged the players, who were, at once, the complexion of performance and audience. Distinctions like crew, artist, press and the humble festival-goer are parts that are dressed up but that are never allowed to predominate identity, each player can swim easily between them, taking whichever guise the act demands; meaning over four days one can be spectator or performer, or both. And through this complexion the many acts of the play arise as a multiplicity of butterflies.
The Psychic Lysurgery was a play, within a play, within a play; the actor, within the performance, within the stage. According to fellow co-(dis)organizer Dr. David Luke, it was a “wonky-tonk talks tent” yet for all the talking it also lived its brief flourishing in the spirit of the walk, the derive. Idea and practice, woven around the clear, colourless liquid of the psychedelic experience, is a ground without a distinct home—a place of wonder/wander that sparks connection and meaning. Indeed, when initially trying to find The Psychic Lysurgery, it had already vanished, only for it to awake in a space far, far away in the Terminal 2: Spaceport, ready for psychedelic play.
The psychedelic community is a plurality. It is a theatre-complex. For some it is the Holy, entheogenic, theatre; for some it is the Rough, popular, theatre; for others it is the theatre of mind and self; and still, for some others, it is all of these theatres and more—it is a complexion that appears through its performance. What, then, was The Psychic Lysurgery? It was the invisible abstraction of psychedelic plurality made visible through ritual—an act entwined with the meta-stage of Sunrise.
“I am calling it the Holy Theatre for short, but it could be called The Theatre of the Invisible-Made-Visible: the notion that the stage is a place where the invisible can appear has a deep hold on our thoughts. We are all aware that most of life escapes our senses: a most powerful explanation of the various arts is that they talk of patterns which we can only begin to recognize when they manifest themselves as rhythms or shapes” (Brook 47)
Whether Drs. Ben Sessa and Robin Carhart-Harris, discussing the medico-science of MDMA and psilocybin respectively, with their theatres of lab coats and molecules, or Sue Blackmore and Graham Hancock on the politics of consciousness, the social Rough theatre of our minds, or Danny Nemu on the ritual and songs of Santo Daime, the total theatre-complex emerged as a grand performance in The Psychic Lysurgery. The Spaceport aroused visions in the round, a futuristic perspective, which at night transformed into a ritual of dance, but was by day on Friday and Saturday morning, a perspective eloquently summed up by historian Mike Jay’s talk title Flying Potions and Modern Notions. It was a futuristic space in which the notions of past and present can be conceived of together.
The sacred psychedelic space, the generative God made visible, is a contested arena where the performers mimic and match or others realize the catch: “More than ever, we crave for an experience that is beyond the humdrum. Some look for it in jazz, classical music, in marijuana and in LSD. In the theatre we shy away from the holy because we don’t know what this could be – we only know what is called holy has let us down” (Brook 53-54). Yet, the act of the psychedelic is a theatre in itself. The Holy theatre’s audience lay in both the participation of Sunrise, and as a microcosm in The Psychic Lysurgery, but also in the act of psychedelia, when the Observer character emerges and one’s performance can be either heaven or hell. While the Holy psychological set is predominant in the world’s stage though, The Psychic Lysurgery edged further:
“We were denying psychology, we were trying to smash the apparently water-tight divisions between the private and the public man – the outer man whose behavior is bound by the photographic rules of everyday life, who must sit to sit, stand to stand – and the inner man whose anarchy and poetry is usually expressed only in his words” (Brook 58)
The set of both player and audience is the engagement of performance, however, the setting and, indeed, the manifestation of set and setting together, drives through the divisions of inner-outer. On Saturday afternoon and Sunday The Psychic Lysurgery reanimated itself in Eartheart: a café stage, filled with low-riding tables, stools and cushions, exquisite chai and a welcoming fit-for-all. Located outside the security-locked centre, yet inside the outer reaches of Sunrise, the space was a place that staged a performance both inside and outside the artificial divisions. Indeed, as Eric Turner so bravely and sleeplessly illustrated, the transformative festival helps transform the societal norms.
In this stage, outside-within, Nikki Wyrd and Julian Vayne explored the ritual, functions and components of Chaos Magick, as a practice in itself and as one that may entwine with the medicines of psychedelia. Here, performance was generative through the audience of Self and other, and aimed at being a creative and productive thread. The psychiatrist, divided from their patient, is focused on the efficacy of integration; the chaos magician, plunged it seems, into the nature and manner of affection. Are results to be waited and expected upon? Or, should they be acted upon? As play and performance, the latter stands for ekstasis – to stand out from oneself and make a mark; not to cower, hide and wait.
“But all is not movement, all is not destruction, all is not restlessness, all is not fashion. There are pillars of affirmation. Those are the moments of achievement which do occur, suddenly, anywhere: the performances, the occasions when collectively a total experience, a total theatre of play and spectator makes nonsense of any divisions like Deadly, Rough and Holy. At these rare moments, the theatre of joy, of catharsis, of celebration, the theatre of exploration, the theatre of shared meaning, the living theatre are one” (Brook 151)
As Sunday began drawing to a close, as all the performances and all of the audiences took seats together, The Psychic Lysurgery opened discussion. Participant players and spectators laid out on the common ground of the theatre and improvised-meditated on the words of the day. What is the future of the psychedelic performance and what theatres can we call our own? In the end, a question mediated by the communal plurality—to be explored and played, gestured, cherished and articulated in all manners of ways.
A massive love-filled thank you to all the (dis)organizers and speakers who took part in the talks, to the beautiful Sunrise: Another World for having us there, and to everybody who came along, played and participated in the theatre of The Psychic Lysurgery. Blessings.
Brook, Peter. The Empty Space. London. Penguin. 2008 . Print