In any drama, be it ritual or otherwise, there is a fine line over which you must hover as an ‘actor’. You are not your character. Lines and scenarios that make you look amazing or, alternatively, portray you as evil, twisted or psychopathic, were not written for you at all; the words the writer puts in the character’s mouth belong to the character alone. The actions of the character are not yours. None of it is personal and you have to keep a mental and emotional distance from the role you portray. And yet…
In order for an actor to truly embody a role, he or she will give themselves over to it wholly. For the duration of the performance, they will see through their character’s eyes, speak with their voice and experience events through their emotions. That is what makes the difference between just acting and great acting. It comes down to believability, for both actor and audience.
Somewhere between the two is a place where the actor can observe both the role and the player. Because all human beings, at every end of the moral and emotional scale, share some characteristics, the observer will generally find moments where they can empathise with the character, motivations they understand, both good and not so good, points of commonality that, in spite of the ‘extremis’ of the events portrayed in drama, have the possibility of teaching them something about themselves. This is one of the reasons that we use drama in these weekends. As imaginative play allows children to ‘test-drive’ scenarios and reading fiction allows the mind to explore the impact of situations they would otherwise not encounter, so does drama allow us to explore our innermost selves.
On these workshop weekends, there are seldom any who have acting experience. Sometimes we get lucky. Some Companions have real talent… many do not know it until they try. But the ability to act is not a requirement and could, as Alethea wrote, even be an inhibiting factor rather than the reverse.
Nor do we have an audience… everyone joins in, script in hand, and everyone is in the same proverbial boat. Sometimes, if we are lucky, we may have a Seer who gets to watch most of what unfolds. Sometimes we have a Technician who takes care of the music and, apart from following the script for cues, they are as close to an audience as we get and may have a pretty good view. This year, my son offered to Tech for us and, if he had requested a blindfold for when I Danced the Seven Veils, he was going to be glad I’d packed his earplugs for the fourth ritual drama…
The Fates move. Gilgamesh spends the night in mourning for his dead brother in arms, Enkidu, whose life was so closely tied to that of the Spirit of Nature, that, when they had, together, slain the Forest Lord, his own life had ended. In grief, Gilgamesh, the King, takes the amulet that was gifted to Enkidu by the goddess Ninsun and places it around his own neck and over his heart.
Wracked by loss, he makes his way back to the great walled city of Uruk, but when he comes there, no-one recognises him. At the Temple of the Goddess, he cries out, proclaiming his grief at the death of Enkidu. Hearing the news, the High Priestess Shamhat comes forth… she who loved Enkidu as a woman loves a man and as a priestess loves with the heart of her goddess. She stands within the portal, head bowed and heart closed in mourning. When Gilgamesh sees Shamhat, he is overcome by emotion and, with a great cry, falls to the floor.
The Fates turn the wheels of destiny. Maddened by his grief, Gilgamesh sobs before the altar, until a voice breaks the silence.
“Rise and bed me, O mighty Gilgamesh. Give me of your luscious fruits. Be my sweet man. I will grant you boons beyond your wildest dreams. I will bless everything that you own. When you enter my temple with its cedar fragrance, high priests will bow down and kiss your feet. Come, Mighty King, be my sweet man!”
The goddess Ishtar looks down upon the kneeling king, but blind to all but his own emotions, he believes her to be the High Priestess, Shamhat. She, who had refused his advances and commands, but who had yet given herself in joy to Enkidu, now offers her body when he is at his lowest ebb.
Ishtar repeats her words, though now they carry other undertones. Gilgamesh is angered and curses ‘Shamhat’ to suffer every rejection and despair that his concept of love can bring. She is the cause of his grief! She is to blame for the death of Enkidu! And now, in his grief, she offers herself to him…or so he believes.
Ishtar repeats her litany. This time the mockery is clear… and yet, there is an invitation in her voice…but to what? Laughing, the goddess departs, running high and low through the maze of corridors beneath the temple. Gilgamesh, angered beyond bearing, curses ‘Shamhat’ and her ‘temple of harlots’… and follows the fleeing goddess. But Ishtar runs swift and soon the king is hopelessly lost in the labyrinth…