Of magic mushrooms and philosopher kings

Of magic mushrooms and philosopher kings

The greatest thing you’ll ever learn
is just to love
and be loved in return

Nat King Cole “Nature Boy”

So we returned to Germany this year. This is the second time we’ve been to work with our friends at Eins und Alles– the inclusive residential community of mixed-needs people in the Swabian Forest near Stuttgart– to direct another theatrical coproduction with their differently-abled actors, together with ours.

A real party: the need/gift of these people for giving and receiving love.
Sometimes I think I don’t want to work with “normal” actors any more.

Last year was already incredible: watching our people discover the freedom and joy and beauty of this community “Laufenmuehle,” with its restaurant, its biodynamic garden and animal “oasis”, (Yes, there are lamas, along with all the usual ovine bovine and equine suspects.) and coffee roasting laboratory, and museum of optical illusions and sensory games and hectares of forest filled with earthwork sculpture…. [Here their website]

But also another discovery for our people, less spectacular, but no less wonderful: Autonomy. The “special needs” people here have real, paid jobs. They are contributing to the life of the community, and their contribution is recognized. For our people, visiting from southern Italy, this discovery is perhaps the most miraculous of all, seeing their new German differently-abled friends take the bus, by themselves, paying with their own money. Will wonders never cease?

We have mounted a play called “Pax Profanum,” which could be translated as “ordinary (or ‘simple,’ or even ‘garden-variety’) Peace.” The rehearsal process has been, as we knew it would be, an unmitigated joy. Last year, the first, we protected ourselves by adapting a play which we had already presented in Italy.

But this year is different. The actors have grown, as have we. We’ve decided to risk more: to create a piece ex novo, around the individual needs and skills of these actors. The first scenes feature portraits of some of what I would call the “widest orbits” among the actors: those whose vocabularies are furthest from “standard” human dialogue.
We have an extremely energetic “wild mushroom hunter” (He uses a droopy net and a very big voice to catch a very small and highly-stressed mushroom.), a “Philosopher-King”, who speaks only when you don’t expect it, and doesn’t, when you do, and a “High Priest of Happiness,” whose toothless smile and resonant guffaws fill the ears and the heart.

These characters were created by the differently-abled actors. Not in their heads and certainly not with words, but in their attitudes, in their rhythms. Our intention is to help these remarkable humans exercise the same autonomy in their artistic lives, as they already have in their quotidian existence.

It is a labor of love. Ours, for them, and theirs, for one another and for us. The joy of working with these people is in this: they bring the generous egoism of the child, without judging themselves or their companions, but always hungry, always ready to play.

And the audience is ready to join the play. Long standing ovations for the 25 actors on stage attest to that. And the comments, from caregivers:

“I had tears of joy in my eyes after 2 minutes. I realized again what a privilege it is to work with these people…”

From colleagues:

“I watched 3 times, and every time I had to laugh. Every time I laughed, I felt better and better!”

And from a local woman, still seated after the theater had emptied:

“I haven’t seen theater like this in a long, long time. I think the world has just become a more beautiful place…”

 

As our Philosopher King said (when nobody asked): “La-la-la, La-la-la, Work! That is play!”

I couldn’t have said it better myself…