Andre: What does it do to us, Wally? Living in an environment where something as massive as the seasons or winter or cold, don’t in any way affect us? I mean, we're animals after all. I mean…what does that mean? I think that means that instead of living under the sun and the moon and the sky and the stars, we’re living in a fantasy world of our own making.
Wally: Yeah, but I mean, I would never give up my electric blanket, Andre. I mean, because New York is cold in the winter. I mean, our apartment is cold! It’s a difficult environment. I mean, our life is tough enough as it is. I’m not looking for ways to get rid of the few things that provide relief and comfort. I mean, on the contrary, I’m looking for more comfort because the world is very abrasive. I mean, I’m trying to protect myself because, really, there’s these abrasive beatings to be avoided everywhere you look!
Andre: But, Wally, don’t you see that comfort can be dangerous? I mean, you like to be comfortable, and I like to be comfortable too, but comfort can lull you into a dangerous tranquility.
Excerpt from “My Dinner With Andre” (1981)
It’s 5 PM. We start our quest this evening—the long drive from the South Bay to Berkeley, for a dinner with Antero Alli to discuss a movie project and pick his brain on what has worked for him in his projects. We have worked with Antero on two Paratheatre labs, participated in his AngelTechcourse, and recorded a series of talks/podcasts with him. As always, Sergey and I are discussing various things and laughing. Our latest fascination is a book called The Moon Of Hao Binh by William Pensinger. I tell him “Dude, I need a dictionary to read his book. And I need dictionaries in English, Japanese, and German.” Sergey asks me why I need three languages, to which I reply, “He has written the book using these three languages, with doses of Vietnamese.” Sergey laughs and mockingly says, “Who the hell writes one book using three different languages?” I respond, “Pensinger does, he is apparently doing his thing his way. I don’t think he cares whether the world reads his work or not.”
We arrive at Himalaya—a Nepalese restaurant in Berkeley—at about 7 PM, and are seated by the hostess after a warm Namaste. The menu is rich, and we order chicken tikka, ghosht haiyali (lamb), bhindi tarkari (okra), and of course Naan with mango chutney on the side. Antero is seated in front of me, and Sergey to my right. As we settle into our seats and the conversation is about to begin, I think to myself, “This will surely be an interesting evening, and discussion will range from Paratheatre, to movies, to the business of movie making, and who knows what else.”
I can’t help but think to myself that this scene, this location, and perhaps even the range of topics seems eerily similar to the movie “My Dinner With Andre (1980).” For those of you who have not seen the movie, we highly recommend this movie of two friends talking over dinner in a New York restaurant. The movie—for those who have not seen it—revolves around two key themes from the path breaking work of Jerzy Grotowski. The two themes are:
1. Living spontaneously by following one’s impulses and
2. What is the purpose and nature of theater
The restaurant is half-packed with guests all around, and quickly our focus begins to crystallize around our table and the discussion to unfold. After two Paratheatre labs (watch for three podcasts on this topic coming soon, titled “Beware Archetypes Crossing”) each lasting between eight and ten, meeting twice a week for three hours, it’s time to get some feedback and pointers to further development in this medium as we prepare for our third lab with him. Antero tells me to give myself more time in no-form. My mind quickly races and remembers trying to articulate what no-form is to a friend, before guiding him to Antero’s own description on his website. In Antero’s own words, “The purpose of no-form is two-fold: 1) To deepen receptivity to energy sources innate to the physical and energetic bodies towards their engagement and expression and 2) To discharge and disperse identification with these forces after each engagement. Like an empty container, no-form allows us to become full with the energies engaged and then to empty again. No-form is not something that can be taught, but only developed and deepened—we either already have some existing relationship or intimacy with the Void, or we do not. The experience is essentially personal to each individual, but, also, impersonal. Astrophysics suggests there is no such thing as ‘empty space’ anywhere in nature, that space is not empty, but teeming with dynamic potential energy. They could have been describing no-form.
We moved on to discuss how Sergey works with his voice. Sergey has been working on unfolding his voice and discovering what else he can do. The discussion moved to how the quality of the voice changes based on which cavity we explore voice from. The quality of the voice changes so much based on whether it comes from the nose, the throat, the chest, or the diaphragm. Antero concluded this part saying, “Explore your voice coming and going deep into different cavities and, see what emerges.” And the ever-esoteric, and yet so much in the body, “Move the voice through the body, through the muscles. Voice is energy. It is vibration. It has an effect. Explore it.” There is the same theme again, “Don’t go meta, go meso. Truth is here, in the body and the world. It is not out there, outside of the body and the world.”
The food arrived, its aroma filled the room, and we started to dig into the delicacies that lay before us. The paintings of various gods, the large wall painted with Mt. Meru, and the sweet smells of various spices was a feast for our consciousness. The imagery of Mt. Meru bought the conversation now to the work of Alejandro Jodorowsky and his movie “The Holy Mountain.” The conversation was now quickly moving towards our work—the work of creating a movie/documentary with Bucky’s principles. Buckminister Fuller’s (Bucky's) ideas and generalized principles have had a huge impact on us, and we are looking at ways of exploring them in a new format.
Our discussion went all over, with Antero sharing his directorial experiences and how to make movies. The themes revolved around picking the main theme, scouting the locations, nesting multiple stories vs. one story, etc. This has given us a lot of food for thought. As the main course comes to an end, and many of the tables that were once filled are now emptying, our ideas/thoughts race at 100 miles an hour. I ask, “How do we draw a balance between what we want to say and what the audience will understand? Do we make the movie such that the largest possible audience gets the ideas, such that these seeds are planted into their consciousness?”
The hostess now approaches us, and brings us the check. I looked at her, and think to myself, “We are not done.” I ask if could we please get some chai for all of us. A good Indian meal is never complete without chai. Indian chai—when made right—has just this right blend of sweetness and spiciness, coming from a mixture of cardamom, ginger, and cinnamon, among other spices. The whole approach of the hostess again brought to mind “My dinner with Andre,” with the occasional intrusion of the waiter during the dinner, and—more importantly—a rich conversation. The chai arrived, and the aroma filled my consciousness while the warmth of the drink soothed my throat.
“There are some that consider the audience, and tailor the movie towards them,” continued Antero as we sipped our delicious chai. “But if that formula works, then there would be so many more hits and blockbusters.” We just rolled in laughter at the obviousness and irony of the statement. He summed his take on this: “Stay true to your vision, plan hard on what you want to do, and be prepared for improvisations to happen and emerge.” Our discussion went on for a while longer on various topics on making movies, staying true to one’s vision, and letting improvisations emerge. The hostess arrived once again with the check, and after paying it, we started our walk back towards Antero’s home. It’s about 10 PM now, I think, and most business around Shattuck Avenue have shut down for the night.
Its past 10:15 pm or so, and it will be at least an hour’s drive home. We say our goodbyes for now, ending with a “See you at the lab in March.” We get into Sergey’s car—our very faithful companion on many trips of exploration—and start our drive back to the south bay. The hour is filled with lively discussion of things we learned, and the path that lay before us. Sergey stated, “You know, the thing that stood out for me is we need to focus on the imperfections of the characters. The screw-ups in their lives will actually add to the richness of the story. If you notice the development and growth of RCG, we have been opening up to our faults more and more, being more vulnerable to who we are, and how we may be screwed up.” I nodded, and said, “Yes, I agree. Our path from our faults and short comings towards some sense of normalcy and contribution is the true hero’s journey. As Antero had said earlier, “Don’t build superheroes.” Look in the ordinary and find the extraordinary.
A little past 11, when I get home, the same thought keeps running through me: “Stay true to your art, your vision.” It’s a cold night, I pull my comforter on me and think yes, it’s important to stay true to our art, our vision. After all, that’s what we are doing with RCG. We have not advertised and have not commercialized. We have done it as an expression, as an offering. It was for the sake of following our vision, our art—not for commercial value. And yet, it seems to have touched listeners around the planet, and brought many wonderful people into our lives. Yes, staying true to one’s vision, one’s art, and one’s impulses—even if you are on the fringe, even if it makes you a deviant—is critical. The goal here is truly to make sure you are a positive deviant.
All ideas follow the same path. They start with the artist/idealist on the fringe, and then move into the cutting edge, where a few others have seen and communicate the same vision. From here, if it catches the eye of the hipsters, it enters the realm of the cool in the hip circles until a “tipping point” arrives, taking it towards the next big thing. It ends up becoming a social convention. The art and artist stays pure to his vision, and is found in the fringe and cutting edge. As more enter it, the devox “voice of the deviant” starts to be lost, the business of art starts to fade, and the art of business kicks in.
The Art of Business is taking the ideas from the cutting edge and realm of the cool, moving it into “the next big thing,” and hoping that this expression becomes a social convention. In making it a social convention, huge fortunes are made—usually for the venture capitalist and acute entrepreneur. They have usually moved away, if not far away, from the devox—the true voice of the original deviant, who perhaps sits and sees that his art is now perhaps a shadow of the original. It hits me, as I roll in bed, that perhaps this is what James Joyce was alluding to in his “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” where he speaks of the function of art. Joyce states that the “true art is beautiful and/or sublime. It stops you dead in your tracks, leaves you speechless.” He further states what art is not: “Improper art moves you to do something. It either aims to teach or move you to do something that you would not normally do.” It hits me that is the aim of advertising—the critical tool to move an idea/vision from the cutting edge to the next big thing. It aims at making you do something you would not normally do or want.
The Business of Art is following one’s impulses to find beauty and the sublime in it, and to be arrested in its awe. The Art of Business is “moving others to do something they may not normally do.” There has to be a third way… there must be a third way. But, for now, I need to sleep. I have a long day ahead and must be at work at 6 am. For now, I tell myself, “Stay true to your art, your vision,” and cuddle into the warmth of my comforter.
The next day, after a long day at work, between partnership meetings and meetings, I return home. My mind is still reeling from the conversations the night before and the Business of Art. Bucky and the movie to get his ideas out have somehow taken the back seat. I continue reading the Moon of Hao Bihn until its time to head to the dojo. The evening is cold, and it sure gets dark early in winters. The dojo, or where the way is practiced, is a corner in the park. The class is small—four regular students and me. This evening, there are only two shows. It hits me—even though there are just two students and me, we are here when it’s wet and cold, practicing our art. We are following our impulses to learn the martial art that has been passed down from generation to generation for perhaps hundreds of years, and in the process, discovering ourselves.
This evening in the dojo with two students reminds me of my days with my sensei, and the small one room dojo. Sensei had converted the small living room into our dojo. The matted room measured approximately 15 feet wide and about 25 feet in length. Sensei had given up a lot—including promotions on his job, and perhaps much more—in order to be true to his art, his form of expressing his spirit. Like clockwork, he would be there every evening, teaching the next generation of practitioners the art, spirit, and way of the warrior. Sastri Sensei left his family behind, country, and home in order to follow his impulse and introduce the art (to which he had dedicated many, many years) to another generation, in another part of the world. A group of us would practice with him every opportunity we got for hours on end. I remember clearly him one night telling us, “You are young, and you can be a hundred other places on this Friday night. Yet here you are, giving and receiving pain. This will be rewarded, in ways you cannot conceive yet. You know you are like the young piano player, who is practicing and practicing while his friends play. A day will soon come, when the young maestro will play, and his friends will pay to watch. Stick with it, stick with the practice and dedication to the art, and it will reward you in ways you don’t yet know.”
So. Here I am, sitting. That feeling of calm comes back, and I know that, for me, it is the “continuation of being true to the art and expression” of my spirit, of my own way. The movie, the podcasts, and the dojo all serve the same need—they are devices for reaching into the further expanses of my own inner space. Time to head to bed, this time more relaxed. I tell myself the third way: “Art is the way.” It’s not about the Business of Art or Art of Business, but Art is the way. And the way of Art is “following those impulses from deep within,” and then continuing to work on the Art while others play. When it is your turn to play, they will pay to be there. Time to sleep, and tomorrow it will be time again to work on the art, while others perhaps are playing.