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Mitler, Matt
A Human Sacrifice—Purification and the Art of Theatre Group Dzieci
The Word Made Flesh
Fools Mass and The Devils of Loudun

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Mitler, Matt
Trained in Humanistic and Existential Psychology, and Group Process before discovering the healing potential of theatre. Mr. Mitler continues to act, direct, and teach, but his main focus is on DZIECI, which represents the total synthesis of a work and study that now spans over two and a half decades.
 

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Fools Mass and The Devils of Loudun


We are governed by opposing forces. Scientifically we can refer to these
forces in molecular terms as proton, electron, and neutron; in esoteric
terms as Holy Affirming, Holy Denying, and Holy Reconciling. At this
very moment, forces are at work. We sit here governed by gravity, but
not by gravity alone. Gravity alone would leave us prone on the floor.
There is something, which obeys this pull of gravity, and something,
which goes against it. Between the play of these two forces, a third
force appears, a neutral, or reconciling force. The nature of this third
force is dependant upon the struggle of the opposing forces. Too much
gravity and we are slumped in our seat, too little and our heads are
filled with drifting thoughts. A certain balance, and we have a sense of
our selves as something more complete, more fully alive. This balance is
not accidental and it is not easy. It requires an active participation;
I must be "attentive". In a state of inner awareness, I may actually see
myself moving between such polar forces. In the work with Dzieci, we
place ourselves willingly in the maelstrom and strive to be present.

Aldous Huxley's "The Devils of Loudun" is a study of these forces at
play in medieval France. Of particular resonance to us, were themes of
truth and falsehood, sanity and madness, and sin and redemption. The
story centers around a group of Ursuline nuns who, "inspired" by their
Prioress, Sister Jeanne des Anges, feigned madness and were declared
"possessed", and exhibited in public exorcisms. Blame for the nun's
behavior was placed on the cavalier and charismatic priest, Urbain
Grandier. Guilty of sins of the flesh but not of the devil, the priest
was imprisoned, tortured, and ultimately martyred.

Jeanne, herself, went from a pathological obsession with demons (and
Grandier), to a visitation from St. Joseph, which left her with stigmata
and miraculous powers of healing. In serving this narrative, certain
elements began to fall into place. Structurally, as the piece became
ritualized, a need for the manifestation of a supreme negative force
arose which eventually became the character of "Richelieu" as "Satan".
On a physical level, we found it necessary to study techniques that
could enable us to move from stillness to action and back again. In our
acting work, we hit an impasse. Rather than create dialogue, text had
been compiled from a variety of sacred and classical sources including
Milton, Goethe, Donne, Martin Luther, Swami Vivekananda, and The Bible.
Working with such rich and demanding language, full of opposing
impulses, demanded a new methodology of acting. Following the themes
already set forth, and the energy of the group, we formalized a system
that now defines our work: the conscious embrace of opposing forces, in
the moment; a work of "holy-duality".

Problem solving gives birth to creation. While developing "The Devils of
Loudun", Dzieci felt the need for a study of the Catholic Mass. This led
to the creation of a preliminary piece: a "Fool's Mass", in which a
group of village idiots during the Middle Ages are forced to enact their
own mass due to the untimely death of their beloved pastor. Buffoonery
and comic audience interaction, along with choral singing, combine to
create a work, which travels from the ridiculous to the sublime, but it
became clear during development, that there were many levels of symbolic
representation at work. The nature and essence of being "poor theatre"
artists in this society, was thrown into sharp focus by the death of
Jerzy Grotowski, our "para-theatrical" father, and the piece is now
eternally dedicated to his memory.

"Fool's Mass" also honors the marginalized community the group works
with in hospitals and clinics. Dzieci balances its work on performance
with work of service for disadvantaged populations in an effort to seek
a purer path toward art. The service work is essential to the erosion of
ego and the fostering of humility. By helping others, a profound healing
effect is generated that not only serves the patient, but also
strengthens the ensemble's work. The hymns we sing in our performances
are sung at the bedsides of people who may be in pain or dying. The
songs become "coated" by these experiences and our relationship to them
is forever altered. Through these encounters, we also learn how to
relate to others in a more human way, a way we wish to extend to our
relationship with a public audience.

The audience is actually the final element used in this wonderful,
alchemical experiment we have chosen to undertake. It is their presence,
which most efficaciously puts us up against our limitations and
challenges us to venture into the unknown. We are at risk before an
audience and there is a complex bond made that, if we truly follow our
aim, can lead us all toward real self-discovery.

Dzieci came into being five years ago, fueled by extraordinary
individuals with an undeniable attraction to work together to pursue an
organic process toward creativity and personal growth, but there is
always an impulse to pull away, to protect. We don't discount this
impulse. In fact, we value it. When we feel resistance, uncomfortable,
terrified, we know we are moving in the right direction. We accept the
opposition of forces and invite them to struggle within us. This
direction is not for everyone, and Dzieci has had many incarnations over
the years, but the group has continued to evolve and has become the sum
total of all who have ever participated in this effort.

Both "Fools' Mass" and "The Devils of Loudun" will continue in the
company's repertory. New works are in embryo. All pieces, once created
for initial public presentation, are then re-created annually. No work
becomes frozen in time, the process is open-ended, and there is always
further to go. Thank you for joining us.

Copyright Matt Mitler, January 2003

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