I first did the Butoh lightning bolt exercise in about 1989. It transformed much of my practical thinking about theatre. While Butoh in performance often leaves me cold, its value for training actors is immense. Nothing compares with it when it comes to finding ways to obliterate the actor’s ego.
I find it hard to imagine any serious actor now who has not done some training in Butoh. It connects the actor to the larger dynamics around the act. It ensures a kind of otherness that is immediately attractive for an audience. Butoh intimidates the spectator while compelling attention. Too much theatre appears planned and rehearsed to an extent whereby the meaning is left devoid of any value. Traditional theatre training and approaches might have succeeded in the past prior to the necessity to accommodate postmodern aesthetics and post-post modern possibilities in theatre. However for the multiplicity of theatre requirements for the actor on stage, Butoh is a must.
The French theatre writer and practitioner, Antonin Artaud, insisted on a total theatre in which the actor presents more than a role. The actor draws from inner life and delves into the secret desires and worlds of both the audience and the performer. Butoh provides the ideal form for which to achieve this kind of delving.
BUTOH AND ARTAUD
Some audiences regard the theatre as a space for performing monkeys (ie. actors) playing for the approval of their masters. Much of our commercial theatre complies with this attitude. The actor craves approval of the master in the form of an audience wanting some very specific things. The applause makes it all worthwhile! Actors call these people “punters”. Horse racing is equated with the theatre. Punters spend their money on potential winners in the theatre. Such winners are treated as champions; much as champion horses are in the horse race circuit.
The egotistical actor may well survive if regarded as an animal worth punting on in order to achieve success. Horses and monkeys become actors for this kind of theatre. They display their cute bodies in fashionable dances to be perved at and they masterly vocalise texts that are deemed valuable … though not subversive! The punters give thumbs up or down. The actor in the punters’ theatre soon learns to assuage the audience in order to survive; but they survive as a performing monkey or horse in a horse race!
Consider Butoh as a means of converging more traditional acting intentions and Artaud’s ideal theatre (Matilda Real; accessed 10 March 2019) as an exploratory challenge for us all. Butoh is able to reveal what is so deeply hidden in the human psyche. Hijikata’, one of Butoh’s founders, was set to develop a performance “Experiment with Artaud”; but he died before it took place. Butoh and Artaud link conceptually and in practice (Hornblow; 2006). We need to invest our energies in exploring Butoh as a means to challenge a thinking and feeling audience as performers, actors, theatre makers.
Audiences are not punters. Theatre is not a horse race. Actors and audiences link through a common bond. Acting displays a paradoxical relationship with audiences. It opens up assistance from the audience while still requiring distance. This paradox taps into the Butoh aesthetic. The actor is apart yet connected. Ego breaks down the very possibility for this duality of performance. We need to think in tendencies rather than absolutes. Butoh allows the actor the freedom to engage the impossible in order to access fluid realities; thus opening up the very necessary element of each audience member constructing interpretation. Our communion, then, enables the life blood of ideas to become tangible and sensual. The flesh becomes word.
Ego must be obliterated to make this happen. The actor takes on the sacrifice of self in order to materialise unseen realities. And if you feel all this is gobbledgook! Then listen to your own dreams. For there is the language and domain of theatre.