Dreambodiment Workshop (2013)
For a brief spell In 2013 I facilitated “dream theatre”, a dream embodiment workshop. An immersive theatrical experience without an audience, scripted by transmissions from the subconscious, these communal re-enactments of dreams geared towards embodying rather than analyzing. With a live soundtrack to lubricate the lucidity, we gathered weekly in the chapel at the heart of my home.
The old FB page contains some descriptive posts that detail impressions of memorable dreams and their execution. The following account is an in-depth testimonial by one of the participants; it conveys the mechanics of the ritual and it’s felt effect making on the experiencer.
As participants could, in the aftermath, be heard talking about another’s dream as if it had been their own, Joseph Conrad’s assertion that “we live as we dream—alone” held little sway in the context of Dream Theatre.
A Trip Report from Dream Theatre
written by John Wolfstone
The Convent Chapel, March 8th, 2013
On Friday night I had the most magical* social experience since being a performing artist in a Circus in college. The experience was my participation in a Dream Theatre as curated by my former roommate, and Shamanic Artist, Michaelangelo.
The layout of the experience was as such:
20 either loosely connected or complete strangers gathered into the chapel of an old Convent turned Art Collective in San Francisco with the intention of “performing” each other’s dreams (the type that happen while we sleep). The goal was not so much of a performance, but rather to recreate the dream in a short loosely structured and highly improvised skit that allowed the dreamer to re-experience his or her dream in more of a physical form.
The dreams went as follows:
Someone would share their dream in full-detail while the rest of the group listened. Then, Michaelangelo would begin “curating” the dream by providing some suggestions of how the group could best use the space, available props, and each other to recreate the dream. Other people in the group would chime in ideas and after a few minutes of planning, the group would begin to transform into their roles in order for the dream to begin. A key aspect of the “performance” would be two resident musicians who audibly scored every piece. Once the performers were in place, including the dreamer or main protagonist, the music would begin, cueing the dreamer to start navigating their dream. Since dreams in general are very fluid and constantly evolving, the performers would improvise in reaction to the dreamer. Many dreams had multiple stages or scenes, and almost intuitively, the performers would all at once change the dream scape, when they sensed the dreamer was ready for the transformation in the dream. Each dream performance played out like a narrative skit, with a sense of conflict, rising action and resolution. After the performance, the group would slowly return to the non-performers and then reflect as a group on the experience. The only rule was no interpretation prompting the dreamer and performers to reflect on their embodied experience of the dream, rather than a mental symbolizing. This rule allowed people to remain in more of a dream like consciousness, rather than being constrained by the analytical mind.
Cosmic Rainbow Serpent:
The first dream was retold as dreamer who began in a desolate town, confronting an unknown persona in an otherwise empty candy store. At the moment of confrontation, the dreamer entered a portal to a jungle where he boarded a raft with his brother and past self as fellow passengers. He replaced his past self as passenger in the raft, and went down a jungle river with his brother until he went over a waterfall at which point he lost consciousness in the dream. He awoke, still in the dream, back into the jungle, and then transformed into a cosmic rainbow serpent that began to fly, leaving emulsions of rainbows in the sky.
This dream was at least ambitious, if not, I thought, nearly impossible for the group to recreate, especially as the first dream of the night.
However, with some excellent curating from Michaelangelo it took seamless form as such:
A screen was pulled down, separating the candy store from the outside world. A girl, as chosen by the dreamer, was placed as the unknown persona in the candy store (behind the screen) and the other performers became two row of desolate houses that the dreamer would walk through to the candy store. The dream began with lonely western music, and after a few minutes of the dreamer wandering closer to and finally confronting the unknown persona, the music dramatically changed and the houses turned into trees and jungle animals, emitting jungle sounds, and the dreamer re-navigated backward through the dense jungle to a raft (big tumbling mat) where his “brother” and “former self” awaited. When he reached the raft, he replaced his former self, and then group members physically lifted the raft carrying it up and down over rapids and finally a “waterfall” where the dreamer was gently tumbled off the raft in synch with an appropriate clash and change in the music. Again a different musical score started, and former trees and animals became “stars” in the sky. The brother linked arms to the dreamer’s legs as he became a cosmic serpent, and when the transformation was complete, the dreamer was again lifted in an outstretched flying position as the flying serpent, navigating around “stars” and leaving emulsions of rainbows. Slowly the music faded and the dreamer was returned to the ground, where after a moment of integration, the group reconvened to reflect.
The End of the World:
The most “powerful” dream of the night in terms of its ability to alter the consciousness of performers (and the dreamers) was my dream about the end of the world. In contrast to the above dream, I did not travel at all in this dream and thus I assumed it would be difficult to perform. I was very wrong.
The dream began with me sitting in a warm body of water, perhaps a hot spring, perched above a larger body of water with 3 volcanoes standing in the distance. The volcanoes began to explode and I, still in my warm nook, realize psychologically that it is the end of the world. For the rest of the dream, the same physically outward scene unfolds with blowing volcanoes but I progressively realize the significance of this event, and become increasingly excited and for lack of better words, psychedelically primed, that something beyond human creation or even comprehension is unfolding. That is the entire dream.
The performance unfolded with five people lying sideways on the ground surrounding me in a sort of nest to represent the hot spring, using their hands to lightly caress me as would gaseous water. Other people lay in a similar circular fashion in front of me to represent the other body of water, and they swirled their hands and arms above them to create the churning motion of water in a lake. Beyond them in the background, stood 3 performers with arms raised in triangular form to be volcanoes. The dream began with heavenly music, and the churning of the lake slowly increasing. The music picked up volume, tonal complexity and tempo and the volcanoes began “exploding” with the performers jumping in the air with expanding arms and “swooshing” sounds at timed intervals. The tempo of sound and movement increased steadily and sitting in a warm nook of flowing bodies (water), my sense of reality and time began to blur. Michaelangelo appeared spinning a bicycle wheel serving as a sort of visual focal point for my consciousness. As he approached, I saw he was also wielding a staff upon which a crystal ball sat a top, which my eyes began to sense illuminating as he stepped ever closer to me, as if he was this cosmic source from which my world was ending. At this point in the dream my body began swaying back and forth and I seemed to merge with the flow of the bodies (water) around me. Michaelangelo carried the flying saucer bicycle wheel through and above my field of vision and with his departure, the tempo of the piece and drama further increased; my eyes began to cross and my visual perceptions became what I can best describe as psychedelic in nature. Inside my body I felt a rising energy that harmonized the audio/visual/sensual cacophony that was occurring externally as my represented “end of the world.” Then at an almost seemingly precise moment where the rising action and energy was climaxing, Michaelangelo, as I later found out, signaled the performers to silently fall to the floor as the music ceased, thus the entire dream , my “world” collapsed on itself, leaving me seemingly alone in a dark void, my only companion being a whisper from Michaelangelo that my “world had ended.” Although, the room reeked of a still emptiness, I was almost overwhelmingly full inside. Slowly I “came down” from this dream consciousness as the performers seemed to “wake-up” and we all returned to more stable waking state where we reflected on the dream. The overwhelming response from myself, the musicians, Michaelangelo and the performers was that everyone had been transformed during that performance to an altered, non-ordinary state of reality, perhaps akin to the consciousness one experiences during a dream or during a psychedelic experience.
In reflection, I recognize that this was the most successful socially created “psychedelic” experience of non-ordinary reality I had ever experienced without the use of psychoactive substances.
At the end of the evening in group reflection, I felt that underlying everyone’s comments of how extraordinary the experience was, existed a shared sense of being on the edge of something entirely new and unknown in this very habitually capitalistic modern culture, and that somewhere within this dream theatre lies the archetypal blueprint of a long forgotten part of a our shared psychological potential as human beings. Perhaps this blueprint could be described as shamanic in nature, but no matter the interpretation, something in me yearns for what the dream theatre allowed us all to access.
Ashley had dreamed she was swimming in the ocean and was lifted to the surface by a whale so that she could breathe. She rode the whale and shortly another whale breached the surface and danced before her.
A number of us lifted the dreamer and began floating/flying her to the undulating rhythm of imaginary waves as though she were riding a whale. The cadence quickly kicked into a hypnotic trance. Another group had been assigned the roles of waves ahead of her, using their bodies and voices in uniformity to simulate the oceanic sway. Rising from their midst appeared a dancer who imaginatively played out the role of the other whale, pantomiming the spurs of water fountaining from the imaginary blowhole on his back. A truly altered, dreamlike and magical state prevailed. The waves didn't seem like people, but actually gave off the feeling of a tangible oceanic imagination.
(artwork by Meredith Dittmar)