19 - sun
Updated: May 5, 2021
19 – sun
joy, abundance, desire, utopia
We may never touch queerness, but we can feel it as the warm illumination of a horizon imbued with potentiality. We have never been queer, yet queerness exists for us as an ideality that can be distilled from the past and used to imagine a future. The future is queerness’s domain. Queerness is a structuring and educated mode of desiring that allows us to see and feel beyond the quagmire of the present. We must strive, in the face of the here and now that’s totalizing rendering of reality, to think and feel a then and there. (Muñoz 1)
Now that it's finally spring, the Coven begins our gatherings under the sun -- not the rejuvinating sun of dawn but the quieting sun of dusk. Literally, rehearsals begin in sunlight and end in darkness, but more mystically, we cultivate a space of liminality and softening stillness. Like dusk, we sit in heightened in-betweenness. Micki Kleinman in the spring COVEN-19 ritual:
Time seems to slow down and make space for all the breathing and unwinding we need. Simultaneously, dusk is all too fleeting until the full darkness descends and time seems to slip through our fingers. The fleeting and the ceaselessness, the stillness and the yearning, the transitioning from one chapter to the next, our bodies torn in two different directions.
There's a kind of anxiety that comes with dusk as we lose our grip on the day. We trick ourselves by turning on lights and keeping on our screens, resisting the pull of rest as we work into sunset. It's so commonplace to think of dusk in negatives: dimming of light, end of day, loss of time. Twilight is more easily construed as the departure of sunny awakeness (too easily confused with productivity) than an invitation for interiority and quiet. But still, dusk beckons, and when we let ourselves bask in its softening skies, so much healing is at our fingertips.
I wonder if it was dusky horizons or wakeful dawns that José Esteban Muñoz had in mind when he wrote of queer futurity.
When I envision the "warm illumination" of Coven Space (see star card), I am not met with blaring noonday sun. Horizons are seeable and feelable with limited sunlight, after all: even on cloudy days, we can bask in the muted glow of a then-and-there. A horizon is simply a threshold between one stretch of timespace and another -- and there will always be an other side, so why the rush? Why not luxuriate in the feel of the distant future, here and now, even as we reach for more potent then-and-theres?
Some journeys are meant to be made at dawn or afternoon or midnight, but Coven blooms at dusk. We journey with small steps and frequent rests, noticing how the setting sun feels on our skin every moment of the way. Sometimes the horizon is choked with cloud or fog, but still, we soak it in.
I did not set out intending to cultivate a queer magickal space, but glimmers of our collective queerness were present from the very beginning: in my own burgeoning queer identity, in the gloriously queer witches who showed up to auditions, and in the Coven's fascination with gender magicks. Then of course, there’s also the matter of The Witch herself. No matter how mainstream she happens to be, she is counterculture embodied, the nemeses of heteropatriarchy – and a worthy nemesis at that, concocting her healing medicines and cackling at (or hexing) those who fear her power. As the capitalist world spins, she invokes better-world magicks from her overgrown cottage in the woods -- the only queer-er image that I can conjure is that of a whole better-world coven, a found family of spellcrafters who dance their joyful dance each month under the full lesbian, trans, femme moon.
Coven queerness has little to do with sexuality or gender, although we certainly dabble in such magick – hexing transphobes, crafting gender-affirming sigils and the like. But more so, queerness represents a set of ethics, a bountiful kind of energy, a dedication to nurturing our bodies and souls in resistance to a world telling us shut up and get to work. The Coven’s queerness is not political in the sense of attaining the material and institutional privileges that “the straights” have. Ours is political in the sense of rejecting these material and institutional systems altogether, but more importantly, desiring and becoming a world that is better than what those systems offer. Like The Witch in their off-the-path cottage, the Coven is queer from the margins. We don’t want out of these strange woods, but we do want to manifest collective power to transform the world that is trying to pave these woods into a parking lot.
In this queer, witchy way, Coven process is both utopian, a striving for a then-and-there, and emergent: we engage with a litany of interpersonal encounters that instigate change in seemingly insignificant but actually radical ways. We engage with what adrienne maree brown describes as fractals (, change that ripples outward in infinite repeating patterns, transforming from small-but-deep to deep-and-everywhere. Everyday rituals, quotidian rituals, mundane rituals – these are the practices that manifest fractal magick. A few fractal rituals that the Coven has crafted over time:
Check-ins and Check-ons: This top-of-rehearsal practice transformed from informing the Coven of how we were doing at that moment into a full ritual of expressing and receiving our needs. More fundamental, however, was the act of checking in and on each other outside of these scheduled rituals. Percy, Ali, and I developed a habit of halting rehearsal when energies had dipped too far for us to be generous with each other, then offering an additional break, breathing exercise, or early end to rehearsal. Check-outs are important, too.
Affirmations: We affirm each other’s pain, certainly – “yes you are valid for being angry at your transphobic professor” and “that sucks, I hope you feel better soon” – but also each other’s joy: we are valued and valuable, not only when we survive, but when we thrive. We joke and banter and react accordingly, via heart-bursts, Zoom reactions, chat compliments, private messages, and laughter. Lots of laughter.
Breath: High Priestess Witch Helen Rahman leads the most beautiful breath warmup: she turns breath into magick, transforming it into a bountiful reservoir of power-from-within. For our fall ritual, we gifted each other clear quartz crystals, smooth, pocket-sized reminders of our permission to take up space: this spring, we turn to our crystals when tensions are high and we need to remember our breath, each of us holding our stone in the palm of our hand and existing intentionally together. For many of us in the Coven, myself certainly included, this is the only time in our remote lives when we remember to inhale and exhale.
I cannot quantify the tangible ways that these fractal rituals reverberated beyond the Coven space. I can speak from my own experience, however, and attest that I grew more mindful, intentional, and compassionate through these rituals; I know that I cultivated a healthier classroom space in response, that I began checking in with myself throughout my Zoom-heavy schedule. I began moving through the day with more care, and I gradually developed a healthier capacity for being careful of others. I cannot prove that Coven space literally, measurably sparked these changes-from-within, but I can speak from a place of intuition (and as a witch, that is the strongest proof there is).
Perhaps no art form is better at thinking and feeling then-and-theres than the theatre. Jill Dolan’s on “utopian performatives”: “Live performance provides a place where people come together, embodied and passionate, to share experiences of meaning making and imagination that can describe or capture fleeting intimations of a better world” (2). These utopian moments can, and often do, happen in the form of Bertoldt Brecht's gestus or Agusto Boal's rehearsals for revolutions, but they can also come from “the most dystopian theatrical universe. They spring from a complex alchemy of form and content, context and location, which take shape in moments of utopia as doings, as process, as never finished gestures toward a potentially better future” (8). There is nothing prescriptive or measurable here. Utopian theatre conjures the warm glow of utopian horizons, not by showing or telling but feeling.
Theatre artists hunger for these ephemeral successes, those magickal nights when a dark room full of mostly strangers is lifted out of mundane reality and into a livable, breathable world. We all leave the theatre a little high on utopian sensations, wobbly from the erotic sensations suddenly palpable with everyone around us, savoring the delicious aftertaste of what-may-be. Utopian performatives usually happen, for me anyway, on rainy nights, when the theatre smells comfortingly damp from everyone’s boots and umbrellas. Sometimes, if a director is really lucky, utopian performatives even happen on opening night with the press in attendance – but the best utopian performatives happen when we least expect them.
Utopian performative is antithetical to most theatre processes, which replace "then-and-there" with opening night. Artistic teams map out journeys with a fixed end-point, no dawdling or meandering allowed. There is no room for expansive utopian thought when the timeline is so constrained. We need to meet the literal finished line of production deadlines, so imagining distant horizons is dangerously distracting. Big, beautiful "what-if" questions are considered unattainable and thereby wasteful.
In Coven, we don't try to capture anything. There's the technical goal of a public performance, certainly, but our eyes are on farther horizons. Coven process is more concerned with impossible worlds than production value. It's a ridiculous, unattainable goal that gives everything we do meaningful, fractal purpose; it also makes "devising the show" astoundingly low-stress, because we know that our horizons reach far beyond opening night. Somehow, knowing that we will never reach our destination is comforting: it gives us permission to feel our way to what feels good. We have all the time in the world to go small and slow, embodied and intentional. In this ritualized, doing sense, everything is process, even performance, and product does not exist.