9 - hermit
Updated: May 9, 2021
9 – hermit
solitude, illumination, perspective
We alternate leading warm-ups each rehearsal. Each witch, at least once per process, leads the Coven in a five to 10-minute something -- anything; it can be physical, vocal, spiritual, reflective, silly... Whatever that witch feels powerful leading. And so our warm-ups are always awash in the knowledgeable light of one witch's lantern; we follow the witch through the darkness, trusting that they know the way. Examples of spring warm-ups:
Five Things improv game (Jemma): we are each called on to name five things about something (five things about pancakes might lead to they taste good with syrup, or, inferior to waffles, etc); the Coven keeps count.
Elemental physical warm-up (Micki); a series of body movements and journal reflections around the theme of an element (fire, water, etc)
Alphabet energy game (Matthew): we attempt to get from A to Z. Every time someone interrupts another, we start over at A.
Compliments (Maegan): we compliment each other, one by one; each witch has to repeat the compliment back in first-person (I tell Tory that they are wise; they respond, I am wise)
Love meditation (Helen): we visualize empathetic connections between ourselves and each other and the world
Dance Party (Percival): everyone turns on an upbeat song of their choice and dances as hard and no-one-is-watching as they possibly can.
Of the 22 major aracanas, I have the deepest relationship with the Hermit. She is my birth card, for starters, and she is often associated with teachers. She also finds strength in isolation, a veritable patron saint of introversion in whom I as an extrovert-passing introvert take comfort. But I particularly love the Hermit for what she does not show us. A typical Hermit card shows a cloaked figure, sometimes standing on a snowy peak, sometimes moving through a dark woods, a staff in one hand and a glowing lantern in the other. We are shown a person in solitude, but their retreat, I like to imagine, is temporary. There was a before-the-woods and there will be an after-the-woods; there may be other figures leading or following the Hermit, perhaps many miles away, but still in some kind of relation with the guiding light. What is the Hermit trying to see with her lantern? What wisdom has she gained by turning inward, and how does she intend to use it? Relationality, positionality, perspective, and inner world – the Hermit’s wisdom comes from being and seeing as herself.
Vision metaphors are rife in both theatre and feminist theory. The etymology of “theatre” itself derives from the Greek “to behold” or “to see,” and it is the director’s “vision” that typically shepherds a production from concept to performance. The dramaturg is often called upon to be an “outside eye”; she has a wandering, imaginatory gaze, crafting her materials and notes based on the presumed perspectives of actors, audiences, and the absent playwright. Onstage, there is visual presentation to consider: what do we want the audience to see, how can we direct their gaze, and what visual tools can be utilized to convey meaning? Meanwhile, the director and designers bop around the theatre during tech, attempting to catch sightline failures: literally, can the audience see what we need them to see, from every angle and distance?
The sheer number of perspectives circulating throughout a theatre space indicates just how faulty the idea of a singular directorial vision truly is. As Helen Freshwater points out, the origins of “audience” come from the Latin audire, “to hear”: there is a metaphorical disconnect, a mismatch of mediums, between what we attempt to convey onstage and what an audience actually receives. Individual perspective ruins any attempt at a singular artistic vision.
The director’s vision in theatre runs parallel to Donna J. Haraway’s god-trick in science. “The view from nowhere” (581) claims to be the impossible: disembodied, provable, neutral, and at-a-distance. Of course, the view from nowhere is simply the view from above – but disguised as objectivity, it absolves itself of any critique and writes itself into authority. Nature itself disproves the god trick: the earth remains unknowable and unpredictable, with an unstoppably “independent sense of humor” (593), despite all of colonial history’s attempts to quantify her. Objectivity as we know it – inarguable facts and figures, peer reviewed scientific theories – is therefore a big fat lie. The director who roams around the theatre, hearing other artistic input but ultimately selecting choices that exclusively fit his vision, is playing the god trick. He does not claim objectivity, certainly, but he claims an artistic vision that is authoritative, singular, and final.
Feminist objectivity, then, “means quite simply situated knowledges” (582):
Politics and epistemologies of location, positioning, and situating, where partiality and not universality is the condition of being heard to make rational knowledge claims. These are claims on people’s lives. I am arguing for a view from a body, always a complex, contradictory, structuring, and structured body, versus the view from above, from nowhere, from simplicity. Only the god trick is forbidden. (589)
In acknowledging the body, Haraway re-humanizes knowledge production: objects of scientific study become beings with immanent worth, and all are imbued with the ability to create. When we consider where vision comes from, and “with whose blood [it is] crafted” (588), we can consider the incredible scope of our individual sight.
Feminist, situatedly objective leadership, even directing, is possible. Melissa Moschitto (art ancestor), founding artistic director of devising company The Anthropologists, discussed this kind of approach in a conversation that we had this January. Devising processes are, I would argue, generally better equipped to sustain feminist directorial styles than more traditional processes. There is a rich history of collective creation in the theatre, in which a company begins with an idea or general desire rather than a script, and performance elements evolve through research and play. Many devising processes still lean on strict hierarchy, however, when it comes to making decisions. Someone, very often (still) a white cis-man, is entrusted to step back and “see” what’s happening with an authoritative, birdseye view. Melissa holds the title of director, but deconstructs the job description in some radical ways, starting with constructing an instigating vision. The devising process is guided by Jam Sessions, in which curious performers are invited to experiment and play with technique, rather than auditions: “the work is always built from the people you are in the room.” Melissa begins with ensemble, centering humans rather than product or story at the heart of the project. She resists taking on a recognizable directorial role until the latter end of process, the transition of “creation to fruition” when “everyone needs the space to be focused on their specific craft and the thing they actually need to do to make the show happen.” Throughout Jam Sessions and rehearsals, however, they strive to be “horizontal” so that “everyone has agency as storytellers to try out ideas.” Ideally, artistic vision – the narrative and aesthetic that everyone works towards -- is created and agreed upon by all. Diversity of perspective is generative and necessary in this kind of work: whereas a more hierarchically-dependent director might see external ideas as intrusive and time-wasting, a feminist devising director lives by them.
This is paradoxical, in a sense. A devising team must unify in vision because they are creating a thing to be performed: a script must be written, programs must be printed, and critics must be invited to something that has a title and fixed duration; at the same time, the director (or in Coven’s case, facilitator) refuses to finalize this vision in a fixed, objective way. How to create a singular product from a place of partiality? Haraway tells us that a feminist vision – one that is embodied, partial, messy, and positioned – is bigger and sharper than a god trick: “Situated knowledges are about communities, not about isolated individuals. The only way to find a larger vision is to be somewhere in particular” (590).
It is necessary, therefore, to name where we are seeing from, as individuals and as a Coven collective. What are our variations in viewpoints? What does Micki see that I cannot? How can we gaze collectively, from this brilliant array of partial and embodied perspectives? The Hermit journey may seem like a detour on our collective path toward performance creation, and indeed, the Coven spends a lot of time in communal solitude. Why take so much time to sit in silence, to journal, to meditate to talk about ourselves during check-in, when there is a script to write? I’ll admit that my mind often wanders to the clock during these self-directed Coven moments, particularly as the weeks leading up to performance dwindle away.
What I think we are accomplishing in these quiet moments of Hermitude is the lighting of individual lanterns. We examine the breadth and constraints of our light source: we see farther in different directions, depending on our position in the forest. No one, not even the graduate student facilitators, is capable of flashing a single, 360-degree light. Instead, we must find our way through the darkness together, our partial lightings guiding us on a journey that only we, as a specific collective, are capable of journeying.
my situated self
I have written, rewritten, and retracted parts of this section so many times. One reason for my hesitation is practical: major parts of my identity and personal narrative are technically still secret, and to write them into my thesis is to risk them being found out by the "wrong" people. But mostly, probably, I still have a lot of shame bound up in being honest. I have learned the hard way, however, that hidden truths are still truths: their tendrils are felt, everywhere, even when they are not seen. And I cannot fathom the unseen ways that my truths are entangled in this thesis project. To deny that they are there is to deny me and you of some much-needed illumination on this meandering journey. So I offer these fact, fictions, and truths about my self, that they may shed some light on your own exploration of the cards.
I am 29 years old. I was born in Bethesda, Maryland. My father was in the military, so we moved frequently for a number of years before settling back in Maryland, first outside of DC and then in central Maryland. My parents and their families are from northern Michigan and are of Irish, French, and Polish descent. My mother and father are still married. My brother was adopted from Korea when I was four years old. I am white. I was assigned female at birth. My extended family is working class, although my parents achieved significant financial stability during my childhood, so I was largely raised in middle and upper-middle class environments. I was brought up in the Catholic faith and was confirmed at age13. My first language is English. Both of my parents attended college, and I am the first in my family to attend graduate school. I am able-bodied, although I started wearing glasses this year. I am of above-average height. I have never had any major surgeries or illnesses. I was diagnosed with clinical depression at 14 years old, and I was prescribed antidepressants because of my father's family's history of mental illness, which is amusing to reflect on now. I attended Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland, where I studied English, theatre, and creative writing, and I worked my way up to editor-in-chief of our student newspaper. I developed an eating disorder in college, which lingered for nearly a decade; I have also been variously diagnosed with body dysphoria, anxiety, and ADHD. After college, I worked various theatre, administrative, editing, and tutoring jobs. In 2018, I took a home DNA test kit and discovered that I am 50 percent Ashkenazi Jewish; my mother informed me that I am not biologically related to my father and that I was conceived by rape. I subsequently learned that my biological father is still alive and that I have two half-sisters; I have not been able to contact my biological family, and as of writing this thesis, most of my family does not know about my heritage. I am bisexual, use she/they pronouns, and vaguely identify as a nonbinary woman, although I prefer the term queer to anything else. I no longer identify as Catholic; I do identify as an eclectic witch, and I am considering officially converting to Judaism. I have been married to a white, cis-gendered man for three years. He is finishing his graduate studies in science sustainability and we do not yet know where either of our graduate degrees will take us. Our family is rounded out by a polydactyl tuxedo cat named Zora and haunted by a ferocious warrior cat named Otter.
These parts of me are part of this thesis, in knowable and unknowable, but always truthful ways.