Spotlight On: Marie Elliot-Gartner PhD and Mythotheatrics
Ants, an army of ants march into the innumerous spilt beans surrounding Psyche who is to sort them into types by the time Aphrodite returns from the feast: an impossible task. It was she who doled out this first task to Psyche in the hope of putting an end to the relationship between Psyche and her son, Amor. How does one stage such a scene of about five minutes involving ants?
One doesn’t. Artistic license opens up immeasurable possibilities for performance. Hermes has just visited his sister, Aphrodite, who tries to talk him into assisting her in carrying out various punishments for Psyche. Realizing how upset and enraged his sister is, he pseudo-agrees, and in actual fact, helps Psyche out of her dilemma by sweeping the beans under the bed, disappearing, only to return with an over-sized box full of jars of sorted beans.
To achieve the sense of an impossible task, too many beans to sort, Aphrodite pours beans onto Psyche out of an oversized basket as Hermes, like the good trickster he is, after Aphrodite leaves for the party, brings in a cyclopean sized box full of jars filled with beans. He picks a couple out to show Psyche and of course the public. The largeness of the props gives the illusion of the immensity of the task. On the side of the box is written, “Beans Alphabetically Sorted “which always brought on laughter.
The comical side of Amor and Psyche played an important part in our production. That Amor and Psyche has a comical side that it may indeed be a spoof, Christine Downing explores in her paper, “What if it’s a Spoof? A Rereading of “Cupid and Psyche”. She used the translation by E.J Kenney. I used the version of Apuleius’s story translated from German by Ralph Manheim with the Jungian commentary of Erich Neumann.
Apuleius’s tale recapped tells of Psyche who is such a beautiful young woman that she is mistaken for the Goddess Aphrodite. This drives Aphrodite mad; her admirers turn away from her for they believe Psyche is the new Goddess of love. Jealousy seizes Aphrodite to the point that she wants Psyche, a mere human, to be punished and banned from her realm. She requests her mischievous son, Amor, to cast a spell on her. Psyche should fall in love with a most hideous creature; marry and leave the stage free for Aphrodite to reign again. Needless to say, the events evolve quite differently along a path of turbulent emotions and impossible obstacles; betrayal and love along with humorous moments such as when Amor visits Zeus to make a case for an official, divine, marriage to Psyche.
Amor pleads, “Dear mighty Zeus, King of the Gods, here in the Olympian Sky, I beseech thee to hear my case of love to a most beautiful maiden called Psyche. My mother has been torn with jealousy keeping us apart: I was under guard and captured as if in prison. And Psyche carrying out four impossible tasks which she all succeeded at, with a little help from her friends (winks). We’ve already married secretly but we want your blessing and a celestial celebration; approval from the Olympians.”
Zeus pinches Amor’s cheeks, “My son and master, dear Amor, God of Love, you have acted disrespectfully toward me throughout the years, cheeky and brash, wounding my heart on several occasions; even tricking me into falling in love with humans bringing me into scandalous trouble with my wife Hera. My reputation is tainted by all the affairs you have duped and deceived me into having, not that I am really complaining . . . my sovereign thunderous self has been transformed into beasts, all for the sake of love: serpents, birds, bulls, . . .But my heart is full of compassion and kindness for you, my dear Amor, in this matter of love. I will grant you your wish under one condition: keep a watchful eye out for your competitors and . . . (smiling slyly) . . . if you ever come across such another beauty on earth . . . pay back my efforts today by making her my concubine (chuckles loudly)!” Humor is important but Psyche’s tale is above all one of love or Eros.
The union of Amor & Psyche is a mythic metaphor for a consciousness of heart, another kind of loving needs to be born, a love of the feminine aspect of the psyche, the non-heroic, the dark, lunar love, which is a part of both genders to balance out the emphasis of the masculine with its emphasis on hero patterns: ego, extrovert, victory, in our Western culture according to J. Hillman in The Myth of Analysis.
Psyche’s story is not one of heroics but one of surrender; she yields to her fate, facing her angry mother-in-law, the Goddess Aphrodite. Yet in this non-heroic stance, she finally wins over the hearts of the entire Olympian deities. Faced with impossible tasks meant to destroy her, various gods through their powers secretly help her find her way.
The performance was not based upon the habitual mode of experiencing the world through the so-called ego navigating through daily life, but emerges out of the inner life of emotionally-laden images, in this case, mythic figures in dramatic scenes performed on stage: an aesthetics of soul in the form of image-making on stage in particular, through Psyche who comes to life through love and insists on it, paired forever with Amor (Hillman, J., Re-visioning Psychology, p. 44). The love is for imaginal, psychic space, the interiority, inner life at a deep level, delving into the depths of the unconscious, mythically known as the darkness of the Underworld where the riches lie awaiting to come into awareness as fictive mythic figures and patterns performed.
Years ago, in 1982, I received a scholarship to do research for a dissertation in social science in Berlin as the Wall still existed; intent on reading Karl Marx in the original language and writing about one of his adherents, Karl Korsch, for a doctoral dissertation, I learned German. Korsch was the teacher of Bertolt Brecht in matters of Marx’s thoughts on economics and societal change. In the meantime while studying these philosophers, I met my husband to-be, moved to the south of Germany, and taught English in various schools and institutes up to today.
In 2006, I adapted, directed and managed The Metamorphoses by Kafka in German with students from the local University where I taught a theater class for a few semesters. A sudden loss of hearing and burn-out necessitated a decision to do less in some area of my life. Theater arts, was left behind until 2015 when I performed again on stage with a long recital by Gertrude Stein in a German avant-garde performance, Noch und Nöcher. In the fall of 2016, I quit one of my teaching jobs so I would have enough time to do theater again.
The stars were aligned so that Amor & Psyche would become a reality in May, 2017, in English with German performers. Everything fell into place, in spite of bumps on the way. We successfully performed nine times to well-attended audiences who especially admired the Hades scene, a surrealistic shadowy descent of Psyche’s, crossing the path of Cerberus to receive the gift from Persephone.
Mythotheatrics is the name of our approach to theater based on occidental origins in Homer, Euripides, Aristophanes and especially Dionysus and the Dionysia, the birth place of democracy. Theater developed from the highly developed culture of Athens, Greece, where a competition between three dramatists took place financed by the taxes of the citizens in 508 BC. Mythotheatrics embodies ideas into images made of choreographic scenes in unconventional and surprising forms. Thoughts and feelings express themselves through physical imaginative archetypal figures and landscapes on stage influenced simultaneously by conscious and unconscious elements in a type of lucid dreaming. The dreaming on stage need not be explained nor necessarily linear in form, but cyclical or indirect, meandering like Don Quixote.
Theatre, a stage, is a space in which one can move literally and figuratively other than in daily life and can touch on themes taboo in most realms of daily or societal life. Theatre is a space for mythic time, unlimited imaginal time. Clock time does not reign here nor does ego when it gives way to images created from conscious and unconscious impulses.
In 1995, attending a Myth and Theater Festival in France would lead to a new direction in my life. There on a table full of books, The Dream and the Underworld, with its shadowy labyrinth cover, beckoned me to buy it. It was the beginning of an exciting synapses sparking adventure reading James Hillman’s ideas on the connection of Greek myths and psychology. Accompanying this intellectual and imaginable adventure was the physical and imaginative adventure of choreographic theater of Enrique Prado’s. His approach to theater emphasizes the entire landscape, not merely text, of bodies and emotions in movement in performing images on stage.
Invited to Rosenheim, Bavaria, my adopted home, E.Pardo, director of Pan Theatre, Paris, gave workshops from 1995-97 leading up to a performance based upon The Dream and the Underworld, a type of dance of the dead, taking place in Hades, a down-and-out bar, where Demeter searches for Persephone and lands in the arms of Death himself. E. Pardo spoke of an institute in California that specialized in mythology, Pacifica Graduate Institute. It never crossed my mind that this could be a possible venture for me, attending such a school since I lived in Europe. Yet as synchronicity would have it during a trip to Seattle another director spoke to me of his graduate studies at Pacifica Graduate Institute which necessitated meeting only one week a month. A light went off – bordering impossibility – yet in the realm of workability – I applied in May 1996. Off I went to Carpinteria in the fall of 1997 to engage in the study of mythology at Pacifica, 1997 – 2003.
I grew up in a rural area of the State of Washington, Reardan and Cheney, where we had a small “hobby” farm; breeding, shearing and showing sheep at fairs. My childhood was ideal, nine “free-range” children frolicking about without fear, unconditional parental love, support and confidence in our abilities and decisions. Listening to my inner voice at an early age, I knew I was meant to travel forth from these rural roots. I ended up in Hamilton, Ontario, near Toronto, for the first bout of graduate work in sociology. The theorists with panoramic vision interested me most such as Durkheim, Weber, Marx but also those of antiquity, Augustine, for example, and Machiavelli of the Renaissance. Research for my doctoral dissertation on a German political philosopher motivated me to apply for a scholarship in Germany in 1982.
My interest in theater stems back to childhood when I once played a flower in Alice in Wonderland. It coexisted with other areas of interest until it fully bloomed in Rosenheim where I began to teach English through theater. Soon I began to direct pieces in German. Then upon doing choreographic theatre, a whole new approach enthused my mind and body, liberating me from restraints of past modes of performing. Bodies in motion became equal to words in text. Text no longer dominated, the image did.
Creating a performance from A-to-Z, is like a flower sprouting forth from a seed until it has blossomed into a petalled flower, then, when the final curtain closes, wilting and withering away. It is simply my métier, performance arts, beginning with the idea, then the script, the staging and directing, all emanating from an archetypal al imaginal impetus. Theatre arts offer a venue in which alternative values like aesthetics, well-being, ecology, the imagination, fiction, can take precedence over prevailing economic values where everything, including people, is regarded as a commodity on the market or a statistic.
In a year from now sitting under a tree together, I would like to tell you of having been hired by a theatre to direct one of my mythic performances. Alternatively, I could be telling you of plans for the next performance in our local independent theatre, such as The Bacchae, spoken in German.
“He who listens to the stream cannot be expected to understand the one who hears the singing of the flame,” found in Gaston Bachelard’s On Poetic Imagination, although I believe he is quoting someone else.
Refer to mythotheatrics.com for more such information. Marie E-Gartner PhD