17- star guiding light, beauty, newness, hope “If our work is to evoke power-from-within, we must clearly envision the conditions that would allow that power to come forth, we must identify what blocks it, and create the conditions that foster empowerment. Given a world based on power-over, we must remake the world.” (Starhawk 8) “Some of us are surviving, following, flocking—but some of us are trying to imagine where we are going as we fly. That is radical imagination.” (brown 21) “You have to learn how to daydream.” (Maria Irene Fornes X) "If I can't dance I don't want to be in your revolution.” (Emma Goldman, apocryphally) “To try when your arms are too weary / To reach the unreachable star / This is my quest / To follow that star/ No matter how hopeless / No matter how far” imagination as epistimology So we know that gossip and medicines are lost knowledge systems. What else? What are the feminist knowledge systems that witches need to recover? We have emotions, sensation, relationships, oral histories, embodiment – all ways of perceiving the world that do not fit into standard classroom textbooks. All spells in the witch’s grimoire; certainly in the Coven’s. One epistemology that looms most utopianly large, however, is imagination. It is a knowledge system that absolutely needs resurrecting. adrienne maree brown on why Black visionary fiction is so radical: “imagination is one of the spoils of colonization, which in many ways is claiming who gets to imagine the future for a given geography. Losing our imagination is a symptom of trauma. Reclaiming the right to dream the future, strengthening the muscle to imagine together as Black people, is a revolutionary decolonizing activity” (164). To create Black futures for Black people, they must be imagined by Black people. Practically speaking, imagination an important revolutionary epistemology because, how can we build if we don’t have a blueprint? Leslie Stevenson calls this “the ability to think of something not presently perceived, but spatio-temporally real” – but imagination is also defined as the “ability to think of whatever one acknowledges as possible in the spacio-temporal world” (238). To imagine, then, is not to simply conjure something out of nothing. It is conjuring something out of the hope that it can exist. Perhaps it even holds just-over-the-horizon potential to exist. Imagination is the knowledge system of hope. Hope being the radical kind; the kind that inspires us to reach for the unreachable star, not ask it for a wish; the kind of hope that fuels our powers-from-within. Hope is even witchier than imagination, and even less rational: “we need to think and feel a then and there” (Munoz), certainly, but why should the witch even bother when she is so small and the patriarchy is so immense?** Jose Estaban Munoz describes the methodology of hope as “a backwards glance that enacts a future vision” (4). Radical hope is rooted in what has come before: it requires looking to our literal and mythic ancestors as light-bearers through an unending, cyclical collective history. Our trans, immigrant, femme, Black and Brown and Indigenous ancestors resisted brilliantly; they experienced little infinities and chased flickering utopias; they offer us oral, embodied, sometimes even written archives of their thriving lives that we must honor as we become ancestors ourselves. We are not the first generation to strive for utopia, nor will we be the last. Hope has something to do with that: knowing that we are not the only ones to reach for unreachable stars. I took a dinner break here while writing the first draft of this card. I followed two whims: to eat outside on this unexpectedly spring-fresh day, and to grab my copy of A Room of One’s Own. i ended up journaling a lot about how Virginia engages imaginatory epistimologies in her answer to the women-and-fiction question. “Fiction is here likely to contain more truth than fact… Lies will flow from my lips, but there may perhaps be some truth mixed up with them; it is for you to seek out this truth and decide whether any part of it is worth keeping” (4-5). So hello, Virginia! Come vibe with us, if you’re keen. ritual utopics Finally, onto the Coven. I see us harnessing imaginatory powers through generative art-making, but more crucially, through ritual: the careful and collective manifestation of hope through imagination. For what is magick but doing the impossible -- that which necessitates daydreaming? In conjuring ghosts, in speaking our desires into existence through spells, we move in the direction of worlds of our imaginations; we turn away from the straight-and-narrow linear timeline of capitalism and towards ways of being that make us feel good. When I light a candle and speak with my ancestors, most of my conscious mind is telling me that I’m wasting my time – but I listen to the tiny voice inside of me that aches for a world that listens to the ghosts of history. When I pull a tarot spread about an upcoming interview or class, I know I am not literally divining the future – but I am giving myself permission to imagine futures that care about me. Witchcraft is the practice of imagining hope amid hopelessness; of imagining better ways of living in a world that refuses to let us live well. Ritual, then, is collective imagining: doing nonrational things, together, in liminal space. Fellow witch and dear friend Patrice Miller introduced me to Victor Turner’s* anthropological theory of communitas: “ritual has a defined beginning, middle, and end, these structures within liminal space, so that people leave behind who they are in society. Then there are supposed to be this moment or these moments of communitas where everybody is equal in the ritual; then something changes – like a coming of age – and you leave transformed.” Boundaries are critical here -- not for dividing the world into power-overs and -unders, but for marking the threshold between mundanity and spirituality. To enter sacred space, the witch sheds the binary, mundane categorizations of rationalism.She must leave such constraints behind if she is to transform. This is why witches cast sacred circles, why the Coven has cultivated a series of entering and exiting rituals: to leave behind tools of violence; and to open up space for immanent value, equal worth, and spirit. Also, sacred space can be psychically risky: we need to know how to retrace our steps in case of an emergency.*** Temporality and liminality are key. We enter ritual knowing that we will not stay long: affective, embodied intentionality is a muscle we rarely stretch in our mundane lives, and it’s hard to work very long from a place of atrophy. Communitas is, sadly, temporary, but by engaging with the in-betweenness of ritual, we manifest flickerings of better ways of living. We feel what it might feel to be our fullest, highest selves; we taste this potentiality, not through fantasizing about unreachable stars, but reaching them, really reaching them, even if it’s just for a too-quick instant. Then, maybe, we exit ritual thinking, what would it take to feel like that all the time? What I’m describing is perhaps just a witchier rearticulation of Jill Dolan’s utopian performance: the theatre, Dolan explains, is “a way to reinvest our energies in a different future, one full of hope and reanimated by a new, more radical humanism… different kinds of performance… inspire moments in which audiences feel themselves allied with each other, and with a broader, more capacious sense of a public, in which social discourse articulates the possible, rather than the insurmountable obstacles to human potential” (Dolan 2). Theatre, like ritual, has thresholds; it is an aesthetically illuminated gathering space in which transformation and time-traveling occurs. Spectators and performers alike use imagination, rather than rational factual thought, to create truths. What distinguishes Coven from the kind of transcendent “this-is-why-i-do-theatre” moments that Dolan describes is that we do not limit utopian performance to a fixed end-point; we do not work towards communitas, but rather bring communitas into process, into us, through ritual. The more we practice ritual, the more we honor our immanent worth, the more we stretch our what-if imaginatory selves, the more glimpses of utopia we see and reach for and tou coven ritual: journey to Coven Space (created by Parker Traphagen) Close your eyes and journey to Coven Space. Where are you? Is it a meadow or a forest? Is it a cottage with a roaring fireplace? With herbs hanging from the ceiling and crystals on the windowsill? Is the sun out? Maybe the moon? allow yourself to let go of stress about the future or past mistakes. Can you see your fellow members interacting in this space or are you alone? Interact with this space. Interact with your fellow witches. Breathe the same air, safely and comfortably. You have helped to create this sacred space that has helped every single one of us in some way or another. This space isn't going away after coven is over. You can always come back to how it has healed you brushed away your tears and how it makes you feel safe. It lives on in all of us. Hold this space close. (take a deep breath) (then take, like, a 10. this card was a lot for me to write; maybe it was a lot for you to read) *I’m not citing him directly because of the colonialist roots of anthropology, and because I haven’t done the deep ethical research of unpacking his work in a broader contextual way. I will note that apparently his widow, Edith Turner, went on to publish her own work about communitas, and who knows what she went uncredited for as the wife of an academic. So I have to name her. **classrooms should also be psychically risky. that's why we need boundaries and content advisories. "we need to be safe if we are going to take risk" (find page from Starhawk) ***hell yea I should quote spongebob the musical it is so utopic, even though, ironically, you have to buy it via amazon prume
20 – judgement purpose, awakening, clarity, evaluation power-to Power-over, power-from-within, power-with – Starhawk situates variations of violent and generative energies from their places of origin. These three configurations prompt witches to consider their particular positionalities and where their powers manifest. Situated powers, like situated knowledges, express themselves differently depending on the factors of who and where: what is missing from this positioning, then, is why. The directional propositions of over, within, and with tell us where power comes from, but not what it is working towards. A witch uses her will, her powers-from-within, to manifest a desire. This desire is sometimes impossible, but in spellcasting with intent, she moves towards that unreachable horizon. The To – in all its imaginatory, hopeful, dynamic, and pragmatically useless ways – is possibly the most important consideration in my meandering attempts to make sense of power. No witch can undermine power-over, even with the solidarity of a radical queer coven. A witch can, however, use her own erotic powers, individually and collectively, to move her small, fractal self towards something better-than. power prepositionality a tarot reading ingredients: a tarot deck (or put 5 into the number of cards here) card 1: signifier pull out the card that stands for You. it may be your birth card (link here), a court card that corresponds with your astrological element and age, or any card that you resonate with the most at this moment in time. this card does not move. card 2: power-from-within this card lives beneath your signifier. what is your poetry? your erotic self-connection? what is your well of creativity, generative energy, pleasure? this is the stuff of personal magicks: the innate spiritual gifts that are always inside of you, waiting to be expressed. card 3: power-over this card lives beneath or above cards 1 and 2., vertically, depending on its message. in a world of oppressive power forces, where are you situated? how do you hold power-over others, and/or how do others hold power over you? the position of this card is unfixed: it depends on the context of your reading (are you examining your power generally or in a specific community?) and temporally specific configurations of ever-shifting power energies. you may want to pull two power-over cards, one for each position. or not. card 4: power-with this card lives beside your signifier card, linearly and equally. how do you (or can you) manifest power-with others? what is the expression of your highest self in the context of community? card 5: power-to this card lives wherever it needs to live. it is not a direction from, but a direction towards. now that you know where your powers emerge and how they manifest, you must examine intentionality. what world are you conjuring? what do you care about, what are you creating, what do you desire? in a world based on power-over, what are you attempting to rebuild? the other power cards should be pushing you somewhere, so let them move you with hope, imagination, and intent. place this card in whatever position feels the most dynamic to you, because remember: utopia is not a fixed end-point. it is unreachable but worth reaching towards.
8 – strength vulnerability, interconnection, care I'm Nobody! Who are you? Are you -- Nobody -- too? (welcome, Emily, to this thesis! stay and accompany us, if you like) Opening Needs Ritual When rehearsal officially begins, all Coven witches are invited to turn their cameras off and turn their microphones on. A witch opens the ritual by prompting everyone to breathe, stretch, and shake away the stressors of the before-rehearsal day. When someone is called, they speak aloud a need. The Coven responds by speaking the witch’s name (active listening skills required) and speaking their need as a spell: by speaking their desire in present-tense, The Witch calls it into existence. The ritual continues, each of us speaking our needs as we are called to do so. When needs have been met, we take whatever final breaths or stretches are necessary, turn our cameras on, and begin rehearsal in sacred space. Witch: I need time. Coven: Witch has time… Witch has time… Witch has time… Witch: I need joy. Coven: Witch has joy... Witch is joyful... Witch is joyful... Witch: I need to get over this cough. Coven: Witch has gotten over their cough... We banish coughs... Witch: I need motivation. Coven: Witch has motivation… Witch is motivated... Witch is motivated... what do you need right now? speak it aloud. draw what you need for 3 minutes. be as abstract or literal as necessary. set your drawing in front of you. swap "need" for "have" and call that thing into existence. you know what your need looks like now: you have made it a reality. luxuriate in your satisfied need. precarious magicks Vulnerability is baked into Coven practice. It is the core of our Opening Needs Ritual, but it is also in our permission to “come as you are”: wear what you need to wear; eat when you need to eat; engage via chat, speech, or video; listen to your body and speak your needs so that they can be met. Vulnerability is the simple act of being openly human in the company of others. Enacting this humanness through ritual and space-sharing is a joyfully affective experience, particularly given how unhuman we are required to act in most academic Zoom spaces. underneath this liberating practice, however, is a reckoning with our collective precariousness; It is an acknowledgment of vulnus, the Latin root of vulnerability: wound. We enter coven space each night having been harmed by the world, and we speak our needs because they have not been met elsewhere. This essay is an attempt to reconcile the grief, interconnectedness, and healing that are simultaneously bound up in the act of vulnerability. Why, in utopic process, must we be openly, brokenly human? Vulnerability is central in Judith Butler’s many-essay/article/booked quest to establish pathways of thinking that lead to just modes of living on a global scale. Vulnerability in this context is not only a state of precarious being, but also a force that can be mobilized in resistance to oppressive systems. On an existential level, it is the universal human thread that renders us dependent on each other for survival, a key to ethically moving through the world and seeing Us and Them as bound up in each other’s survival. Our precariousness, the constant knowing that we are little more than skin sacks filled with bone and sinew, is a reminder of our eternal dependency on others, not only to survive physically, but to exist subjectively. Acknowledging our vulnerability requires seeing one’s frailty through the eyes of another, equally frail being, a process of being individually reconstituted through collective relationality: “As a way of being related to what is not me and not fully masterable, vulnerability is a kind of relationship that belongs to that ambiguous region in which receptivity and responsiveness are not clearly separable” (26). In knowing another, we lose who we are; intimacy is the practice of transformation, of being remade and unmade all over again. rehearsal begins in anonymous darkness. on the zoom screen, no one is distinguishable from another. then, we offer a need in exchange for a chorus of our name. we need other witches in the darkness, calling our personhoods into existence. We all enter sacred space needing something that we cannot receive elsewhere, and by echoing our needs back to each other, we are not only enacting community care: we are also allowing ourselves to be defined in relation to other. On a more global scale, we are seeing this kind of relational re-making emerge in the midst of a life-threatening pandemic, when communities of solidarity materialize in unexpected corners of the Internet, when we commiserate with near-strangers about isolation, fear, and the undeniable shittiness of 2020. Of course, this vulnerability of interconnectedness is not to be taken for granted. The United States, in particular, is proof that showing one’s needs is not enough to have them met, or even seen. Butler’s ethics of vulnerability seems almost Pollyanna-ish in the face of anti-maskers and -vaxers. Relational vulnerability implies that, in a time of immense, mortal crisis, when even the air we breathe is potentially toxic, individuals would constantly see their own susceptibility reflected back at them – in social media death announcements, public urges from medical professionals, even in the now-terrifying experience of grocery shopping. But instead of collective care, we are met with individualist greed. It seems, then, that vulnerability holds universalizing, empathetic potential, but it is a potential that must be enacted if it is to become an ethical mode of living. Butler’s existentialist vulnerability is a kind of latent magick, an inheritance we receive upon birth that is forgotten as we become entrenched in an individualist, capital-driven modern world. We lose our ability to speak our wounds, thereby losing our ability to heal. But inasmuch as vulnerability is a constant existential loop of expressing needs to have needs met, of being in relation to others to know the self, it is also not universal in the least. Vulnerability is as equalizing as it is fundamentally unequal. Butler stresses the historical and political situatedness of precarity. Athena Athanasiou considers this differentiated vulnerability in relation to the uneven distribution of breath, “especially imperiled and exacerbated breathing under political duress”: “Vulnerability, in this regard, is about pervasive, (un)exceptional assemblages of power relations which manage life and expose to death by means of producing dispensable bodies. Within this purview of vulnerability, resources are differently and unevenly distributed among different bodies – differently economized, racialized, and gendered bodies” (20). Breath is an unevenly distributed commodity, bound up in systems of devaluation. So, in a pandemic world, we are reminded of our shared precariousness as even the air we breathe is rendered dangerous; we are in variously dangerous states of precarity, however, depending on how worthy our lives are rendered by the capitalist state. Despite early rhetoric that this pandemic would be “the great equalizer,” Black and Brown communities, the incarcerated, immunocompromised, and aging – all are disproportionately at risk. Witches in the Coven, united as we are by our open, broken humanness, are also distanced by our varying access to breath. We are variously Brown, trans, femme, Jewish, neuraotypical, financially unstable – the needs that we show in ritual are inextricably connected to our personal precarities. Coven Ritual: Shadow Work Shadow work is the practice of figuring out what needs to be fixed. It's the finding of hidden wounds and inherited poisons. For the Coven this spring, it was asking questions that would be easier left unasked: - How do we engage in cultural appropriation? - How is racism at play, as individual witches and in the Coven? - How do we decenter whiteness? How do we do so in a predominately white coven? - What harms are we enacting? - How do we reduce harm? How do we work against capitalist time? How do we make space for grief and pain? I will not divulge any details about how we conducted this Shadow Work, but I will say that it was imperfect. It did not feel magickal. In fact, it felt utterly and unsatisfyingly mundane. (Well, Coven witch Helen Rahman made it magickal by weaving in love, opened and closed with transcendence at least) But our precariousness feels a bit more situated now; a bit more historicized and grounded -- so I hope that our vulnerable magicks will feel that much deeper as well.
10 - wheel of fortune restart, cycle, iteration, mutability the art of failure Queers: damned if we do, damned if we don't. A person cannot succeed if the system in which they are competing is designed for someone else, such that defying the odds of success comes at great psychic cost. Jack Halberstam in The Art of Queer Failure: “If success requires so much effort, then maybe failure is easier in the long run and offers different rewards. What kinds of reward can failure offer us? Perhaps most obviously, failure allows us to escape the punishing norms that discipline behavior and manage human development with the goal of delivering us from unruly childhoods to orderly and predictable adulthoods” (3). For a Coven devising a performance within the context of a university theatre department, then, what is success? Is it a sold-out opening night? Educating undergraduate students in “real world” theatre skills, setting them up for internships and professional careers? Sparking conversation for our audiences, building bridges with the campus community, bringing important issues to light? In most conventional readings of theatrical success, COVEN-19 is a failure. We had full houses, certainly, but we provided no professional training for the undergraduate artists involved (I cannot imagine that most of the skills acquired through Coven would prepare someone for Summer Stock). Perhaps we reached our audiences affectively, and I hope that we provided people with a much-needed space to breathe, but we did not educate on important issues or tell a perspective-shifting story. To that end, we failed miserably. Halberstam argues that queers, and I would add witches, are experts in this field: like Sylvia Plath’s death, failure is an art that we do exceptionally well. We succeed at failure not only because we are constantly set up to lose, but because we choose to lose gloriously, such that it becomes an aesthetic, an ethic, an entire way of life. It's Sylvia's "big strip tease"; it's Buzz Lightyear's "falling, with style.” COVEN-19, which failed to accomplish so many of the approval-markers of even devised performance, failed – but many of our failures were glorious, intentional rejections. We could have, for example, utilized a traditional rehearsal schedule, meeting for 4+ hours 4+ nights a week; we probably would have made a lot more progress, technically speaking; we might have created a more cohesive, intricate show. In meeting for two hours twice a week for most of the process, however, we chose exhilarating failure over exhausting success. Perhaps contextualizing the Coven within the university and department is too narrow an attempt to measure success. What about the contexts of family, kinship, friendship, humanity, the universe, the past, the present, the future, survival, desire, compassion, grief? I am not convinced that we were entirely successful in any of these contexts, either. At various points, I failed to acknowledge the needs of a witch in pain, or to communicate production news from a place of generosity; and our Coven was not infrequently distracted by competitiveness, frustration, and over-ego. I am, however, convinced that we were successful at least some of the time – and to succeed and fail within the context of humanity, kinship, and the future, I believe, is a far greater accomplishment than merely succeeding within the context of the university. The rewards, I am sure, are far greater. anyone can sing sing a song that you know by heart -- preferably a showtune that other people dismiss as cheesy but you just can't help smiling every time you hear it. alternatively, fluffy pop music: it's utter garbage but dammit you love a good party anthem. sing it loudly; forgo style for volume. if you forget the words, make them up. channel that 3am-theater-kid-at-a-slumber-party energy. bask in how terrible you sound and how fun it is to do the things that others say you can/shouldn't do. if you're still stuck, have some sondheim: Everybody says don't, Everybody says don't, Everybody says don't- It isn't right, Don't-it isn't nice! Everybody says don't, Everybody says don't, Everybody says don't walk on the grass, Don't disturb the peace, Don't skate on the ice. Well, I Say Do, I say, Walk on the grass, it was meant to feel! I Say Sail! Tilt at the windmill, And if you fail, you fail. Everybody says don't, Everybody says don't, Everybody says don't get out of line. When they say that, then Lady that's a sign: Nine times out of ten, Lady, you are doing just fine!
1 - magician intention; manifestation; creation; doing; making a ritual in methodology, creativity, self-worship (this is a personal ritual, but you are welcome to join; i would appreciate the energetic solidarity) ingredients: a photo, drawing, or other tangible representation of the writer (in this case, me); sacred space; a spell candle instructions: hand over heart, i light my spell candle. i speak the opening incantation and blow out the candle, watching the smoke carry the intentions into the universe. i repeat this spell-binding process for each covenant. opening incantation: in this ritual, i enter a covenant with myself. i am the deity of my own research and writing process, and at my own feet, i make an offering of words. i write my methodologies and ethics as sacred texts. in speaking each intention aloud, i bind myself to its words. incantation: i choose my words with care i light the candle I am indebted to thesis committee member Dr Laura Ciolkowski, my instructor for WGSS 691B, Issues in Feminist Research, who pushed our class to define and redefine and define again methods and methodology; the course evolved into an interrogation of not only how we do our work, but also the very words that define that work. It was a semester-long exercise in developing a personal feminist glossary of terms, starting with methods and methodology, such that the exercise became a methodology in itself. In many ways, this thesis is an iterative project in interviewing words. As I reflect on my work thus far (March 16) I find myself developing an unexpected intimacy with power, utopia, queer, coven, knowledge, spell, ancestor, invocation, eros, vulnerability, I/me/my – words that even a few weeks ago I used without intent. I am finding that, in simply asking these words what they mean – here, now, for me, for the Coven – I am crafting my own theory about utopic process. This theory-creation is slow and cyclical. Few of the revelations that I discover are mind-blowing; many are simply clarifications of feminist and queer practices that have been orally passed down as long as rehearsal rooms have existed. But in articulating these discoveries, simple as they may feel, I am cultivating an intentional artistic practice. In the capitalist-driven theatre world of low-paying gigs and ten-out-of-twelves and six week rehearsal processes, cultivation of intentionality is a rare gift. I am grateful for it. incantation: i choose my words with care i extinguish the candle incantation: i cite my art ancestors with gratitude, humility, joy, love i light my candle Since becoming a witch, I’ve realized that my spiritual passions are actually magickal extensions of my dramaturgical passions. I love dead people, particularly authors. I have always felt passionate relationships with women and queer writers whose work finds a way to converse with me from beyond the grave. Unbeknownst to me then, my tenth grade presentation on Margaret Fuller was a séance; so too did was my college project on George Elliot, as was my MFA project on Edith Craig. These women have haunted me since: they are my chosen ancestors, and the words that they left on the mortal realm are my sacred texts. As a dramaturg, I realize the spiritual weight that engaging with dead playwrights and historical characters has always held for me. I have forged intimate friendships with Sylvia Plath, King Mongkut, Virginia Woolf, Susan Glaspell, dare I say Lizzie Borden; I am currently cultivating such a friendship with Emma Goldman. I do my most fulfilling artistic work when I am spiritually connected with my art ancestors: why should my thesis not feel the same? In a WGSS speaking event, Durba Mitra described citations as “declarations of allegiance”;** mine are declarations of love. The theorists, playwrights, poets, and artists who appear in my thesis are those with whom I deeply, personally engage. I feel pulled to cite them. Dozens of additional writers, including plenty of dead cis-het-white men, appear in my bibliography, and I am grateful for the knowledge that I gleaned through encountering their work. The authors whose words and minds are embedded in my writing, however, are those with whom I want to be in allegiance; with whom I want to banter, laugh, smoke a joint, dance, primal scream; with whom I am in love. incantation: i cite my art ancestors with gratitude, humility, joy, love i extinguish the candle incantation: i speak my truth and assume no one else’s i light the candle The Coven is not a primary subject of this thesis. More frequently, I find myself to be under the microscope. This does not come from a place of ego (at least I don’t think it does), but from a place of desire, curiosity, and necessity. Coven space is tender. This is not to say it is weak: we take enormous risk in the realms of vulnerability and empathetic connection, and we usually succeed in the monumental task of being present together. This kind of work asks incredible emotional and affective contributions from the witches, and I am not interested in exploiting that labor for the written component of my thesis. I therefore rely mostly on my personal embodied experiences to bring the reader into the Coven process. I realize that this thesis is skewed. It reflects the narrative of a Coven leader who occupies a seat of significant power, and it is the narrative of a white, cis, able-bodied person. There are holes in my reading of the Coven process, and I will endeavor to at least name them when I cannot fill them. In an lengthier, non-lockdown thesis process, I might have interviewed each Coven witch to gather broader embodied perspectives and weave their words into this text – but to be perfectly honest, I don’t want outsiders (readers) invading the Coven. Boundaries are critical in cultivating sacred space. On a personal note, I’ve had a really truth-shattering and transformative few years, with limited time to breathe and reflect. This thesis is deeply subjective in no small part because I need to look inward. If you are reading this and are not in the Coven, know that you are privy to so much and yet so little of our practice. In writing from my perspective, I hope that I can imbue this written document with a glimmer of the magick we create on a regular basis; I hope to show, through an admittedly narrow lens, the many ways that this process feels so good. Also, I give myself permission to speak my languages: tarot, Jewish questioning, showtunes, hope, rage, feminism, queer trouble-making. incantation: i speak my truth and assume no one else’s i extinguish the candle incantation: theory is alive; people live theory; people are theory i light the candle My closest and longest mentor, Trish McGee, is not a theatre-maker, but a small town journalist, an archivist of narratives. She taught how to care deeply about the people on the other end of the recorder. I had the privilege under her mentorship to weave Eastern Shore fables using the words of important people: a lottery-winning 80-year-old shoreman; a high school girl who loved her ribbon-winning cow so, so much; three generations of barbers all working together in their tiny, worn-in shop. Trish showed me how to listen, deeply, to stories of all sizes, and that embodied knowledge is the most truthful knowledge there is. Feminist theatre, devised theatre, queer theatre, witchy theatre – people have been doing caretaking, collaborative theatre in ways that a book or article will never grasp. A major part of my research process is interviewing artists and witches who embody theory: Patrice, Melissa, Bonnie Cullum, and Eva Margarita. I do not directly cite these four women very frequently in these cards, but their impact runs deep. These conversations shook me awake from the gloom and muck of quarantine winter break; they offered new directions for research and inquiry; I learned about ways of art-making that affirmed, challenged, and inspired my own. I take heart knowing that artists of such integrity and wisdom are manifesting magickal work in scrappy theaters across the globe. incantation: theory is alive; people live theory; people are theory i extinguish the candle incantation: i reject the well-made thesis. i write what i need to write the way it needs to be written. i light the candle “I don’t explode the form because I find traditional plays ‘boring’ – I don’t really. It’s just that those structures never could accommodate the figures which take up residence in me” (8): Suzan-Lori Parks’ Elements of Style has proven a deeper well of knowledge than Strunk and White or owl.purdue.edu could ever be. I am exploring utopia, queer temporality, and magick, and I am not interested in squeezing these impossible and unpredictable concepts into the narrow confines of a traditional academic thesis. I am attempting to write intuitively and erotically. I therefore reject colonialist, white supremacist markers of good writing; I reject heteropatriarchal notions of rationality, linearity, and objectivity. I listen to what “feels right to me,” what Audre Lorde describes as “a true knowledge, for what that means is the first and most powerful guiding light toward any understanding” (x). incantation: i reject the well-made thesis. i write what i need to write the way it needs to be written. i extinguish the candle incantation: this thesis is enough. this tarot card of this thesis is enough. this sentence of this tarot card of this thesis is enough. i light the candle My current self is limited: in space, as I mark the 12th month of COVID quarantine; in emotional capacity, as I facilitate difficult conversations in my classroom, the Coven, and my family; and in time, as graduation draws near. I am therefore limiting myself with the scope of this thesis. I do not have an ideal page count in mind: each essay/spell card will be as long as it needs to be. I am also not engaging with extensive outside research – that is to say, I am mostly deepening relationships with art ancestors that I established in my production and course work, rather than seeking out new citational relationships. adrienne maree brown’s “critical connections instead of critical mass” (20) applies not only to the Coven’s iterative, interpersonal process, but also to my citational engagement with this written thesis. There are many areas of research that, in a non-COVID world, I might have explored further: devised theatre conventions and genealogy, the anthropological roots of ritual, representational and historical evolutions of the witch. I choose, instead, to continue down the theoretical paths that I have already forged in my graduate studies, so that my thesis may be limited in scope, but hopefully deeper in personal meaning -- an intuitive culmination of thoughts-in-progress. incantation: this thesis is enough. this tarot card of this thesis is enough. this sentence of this tarot card of this thesis is enough. i extinguish the candle closing incantation: i light my spell candle once again, charged with these intentions, as an offering to my creative self. with this final waft of smoke, may my intentions take flight and strengthen my covenant between present and future self. i extinguish the candle. i let the smoke charge my self-portrait.  As a coping mechanism while working on The King and I, with all its orientalist and misogynist content, I paid as much homage to the historical figures as possible in my research and educational materials. I still wish the musical did not exist, but I am grateful for the relationship. **note to self, do this
2 - high priestess power-from-within, eros, interconnection, inherent value a spell for conjuring alternative powers incantation: In a world built on power-over, we must remake the world. how do you feel in this remade world? call that feeling into your body now. with a deep breath, think and feel a then and there. erotic powers within and with Power-from-within and -with are hard work. They cannot be enacted passively, like power-over, but instead require intent and active manifestation. We absorb power-over ideologies in classrooms, consumerist culture, mainstream news and narratives; power-from-within and -with must be learned out of and against these power-over systems. Within and with are therefore always acts of resistance, even in their smallest and quietest forms: to invoke Starhawk, they are grounded in the domain of spirit, or immanent value, rather than violence, which is the domain of power-over; to invoke adrienne maree brown, they are fractal, establishing patterns at the small-scale that reverberate to the large-scale; to invoke Audre Lorde, they are affective, embodied, and deeply erotic. Lorde, in “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power,” is speaking not of “the pornographic,” which is the realm of distorted, weaponized sexuality; she invokes an erotic that is affective, relational, intuitive, and always accessible to us, should we be so brave as to tap into it. This erotic functions in two ways. The first is achieved through “self-connection,” or from-within: “the open and fearless underlining of my capacity for joy. In the way my body stretches to music and opens into response, hearkening to its deepest rhythm, so every level upon which I sense also opens to the erotically satisfying experience, whether it is dancing, building a bookcase, writing a poem, examining an idea” (4). It is the practice of listening to one’s body, intuition, and desires – not through the values system of capitalism, which considers such endeavors a threat to productivity, but through the simple, small pleasures that feed our soul. According to Lorde, we are indoctrinated in the systems of domination (or power-over) that gaslight us into disvaluing our own intuition, severing us from any form of intimacy with the self. She speaks from an explicitly feminist perspective -- “the erotic offers a well of replenishing and provocative force to the woman who does not fear its revelation, nor succumb to the belief that sensation is enough” (1) – but I read Lorde’s erotic as expanding beyond the gender binary, offering a source of power for anyone who is “queer, marginalized, living in the shadows, or on the edge of acceptance” (Snow 16). Lorde’s erotic is, then, is a form of queer magick. Indeed, most witches I know (granted, I almost exclusively traverse in queer witchy spaces) first found themselves drawn to non-institutional forms of spirituality because they craved empowerment: faced with a world that devalues our very existence, we need to find ways to re-value ourselves. Erotic power, with and from-within, offers alternative, infinite possibilities for asserting queer value, even while we are being crushed beneath the devaluing forces of power-over. A queer witch, then, is: One that sees the world itself as a living being, made up of dynamic aspects, a world where one thing shape-shifts into another, where there are no solid separations and no simple causes and effects. In such a world, all things have inherent value, because all things are beings, aware in ways we can only imagine, interrelated in patterns too complex to ever be more than partially described. We do not have to earn value. Immanent value cannot be rated or compared. No one, nothing, can have more of it than another. Nor can we lose it. For we are, ourselves, the living body of the sacred (Starhawk 15). Witchcraft is a practice of noticing, and then transforming from within, the interconnectedness between power-from-within (self) and power-with (others, beings, world). For many witches, particularly those practicing from the margins, identifying and cultivating power-from-within is magick enough. As Cassandra Snow notes in Queering Your Craft: Witchcraft from the Margins: “Magick is a skill. Magick is a love song to yourself and the world around you. Magick is internal, external, and beyond even that. Most of all though, magick is your right, and responsibility—as a human living on this Earth… The living of your life (your way) is a magickal act.” Healing from the wounds of capitalist, heteropatriarchal violence is an unending and cyclical process, and it is the most radical -- "from the root" (Davis X) -- magick that a witch can perform, not only because it is an act of resistance, but because seemingly small acts reverberate. The witch operates in fractals: “infinitely complex patterns that are self-similar across different scales” (brown 51). adrienne maree brown describes the “structural echo” that comprises our universe, spirals of natural shapes that ripple outward from plants and bodies to rivers and galaxies. brown imagines a world built on intimacy and intentionality. “we must create patterns that cycle upwards” (59), including, perhaps starting with, patterns from within. Building a bookcase and writing a poem are acts of magick because they require listening to what feels good; they enact on the smallest of scales a world that honors immanent value in all. To be a witch is to know that “self” and “other” are fundamentally interrelated: to transform self, therefore, is to transform other in infinitesimal but immeasurable and very real ways. tarot as power-from-within My greatest power-from-within tool is the Tarot, which I discovered, as do so many queer witches, in the aftermath of personal trauma. In the early months of 2018, two fantastically, almost absurdly comedic Towers fell around me, both of which resulted in the seismic realization that I had no idea who I was or what I wanted. Seemingly new aspects of my identity had emerged after a lifetime of dormancy -- what else was waiting to be found, just below the surface?  Tarot, as I practice it, is dialogue with one’s subconscious, mediated by archetypes and symbolism. It is a creative practice powered by the reader’s intuition, such that no card can hold truly universal meaning: my relationship with The Empress is shaped by poetry, past tarot readings in which the card appeared, my relationship with femininity, my relationship with my mother, what I had for lunch – the most elevated meaning of a tarot card is its most specific to the reader. Tarot did not give me new sense of identity, nor did it heal me, but it did give me tools to reconnect with that “deeply born” knowledge only accessible by me (Lorde 4). With each pull of a card, I was asked to converse with parts of me that are otherwise dismissed from mundane life: my generative self with the Magician, my wounded self with the Tower, my higher self with Judgement -- selves that do not conform with the politeness and positivity I was raised to perform. I haven’t the philosophical expertise to make any claims about the existence of a “true self,” sacred, inherent, and buried beneath the violent ideologies that we are taught to believe. I do know that, in excavating my own feelings and memories through the tarot, I have discovered a deep-down, kinder self that deserves more care than I had previously thought to offer. In this way, tarot is an exercise of listening to and honoring one’s “immanent value,” or spirit, a sacredness that does not to be earned, or proven, or protected, but is always within – sometimes buried very deeply within, but it is always there. In Coven space, we call forth our deeply born knowledges, our powers-from-within, through tarot, but also a brilliant kaleidoscope of other witchy tools: journaling, affirmations, astrology, crystals, ancestral magicks, spellcrafting, lunar rituals, herbal healing, poetry, music… Each exercise asks us to engage with an intuitive self-connection that is not welcome in academic and work spaces. The Coven offers an affirmation and valuation of personhood. Each of us is spirit. Each of us has a “a well of replenishing and provocative force” of erotic, from-within power – we just need to dig, perhaps deeply, to find it. We have found that it is easier to do that digging when in the company of a generous Coven. intuitive tarot ritual i created this ritual for the fall Coven as both an introduction to tarot reading and an exercise of intuitive empowerment. it was subsequently adapted into a participatory element of the fall COVEN-19 Samhain ritual. ingredients: a tarot deck (or this website); a journal and writing implement 1. draw a tarot card. make sure that the card features a prominent living being; if not, redraw. 2. ask the following questions of the card. free-write your answers. don't overthink it. just write what feels right. What part of this image strikes you first? What is the figure doing? What are they thinking? What happened before? What is missing from this image? What does this world smell like? Sound like? Fell like (temperature)? There is a number on this card: what does it mean to you? There are words on this card: what do they mean to you? What direction is the figure facing? What or whom are they looking at? What might happen after? What does this image make you feel? What would you ask this figure? What would they say back? What message does this card have for you? 3. congratulations! you have officially read a tarot card, using nothing but an oft-ignored inner voice to guide your way.  Here’s what I’ve found so far: hairy legs, anarchism, bisexuality, a belief in spirit/spirituality, pedagogy, a distinctly jewish habit of asking questions, chosen family, chosen and newly found ancestors, adhd, playwriting – and, especially, a beautiful ashkenazi woman greeting me in the mirror every morning  Coven witch Tory Vazquez passed along this podcast episode about healing as a nonlinear process, outside the bounds of success-oriented capitalism.
7 - chariot momentum, progress, direction, force, energy, action hide all of the clocks in your space. cover them up somehow. how do you measure time -- feel time -- without elling the time? I don’t hate Aristotle, nor do I hate every dead-white-cis-male writer whose work is Aristotelian (Tennessee Williams was my first playwright love). For years, however, I suffered from severe dramaturgy imposter syndrome because I did not grasp, let alone embrace, Aristotelian structure. It seemed as though other dramaturgs spoke some secret geometric language for which I had no natural gifts. Freytag’s Pyramid felt similarly constraining: rising action, climax, denouement – these words felt empty and mapping a script onto their linear trajectory was an exercise in futility. Aristotle speaks of the tragedy as “a whole is that which has a beginning, a middle, and an end…. a well constructed plot, therefore, must neither begin nor end at haphazard, but conform to these principles” (7). “I dug right down to the bottom of my soul” to visualize the wholeness of plays, but like Diana Morales attempting to be an ice cream cone, “I felt nothing.”  Instead, I built timelines, a different composition for each play that I encountered. My first, I think, Instead, I built timelines, a different composition for each play that I encountered. My first, I think, was for a workshop of a musical adaptation of Slaughterhouse-Five, a plot literally unstuck in time and space that necessitated transposing three temporalities, each with its own rhythm, shape, fissures, and cracks. The trauma narrative of Slaughterhouse-Five is too unwieldy for a single timeline, so rather than mapping the story onto a pattern, I mapped a pattern out of the story. Suzan-Lori Parks describes this content-form relationship as it pertains to playwriting: “As I write along the container dictates what sort of substance will fill it and, at the same time, the substance is dictating the size and shape of the container” (7-8). Parks offers Rep & Rev (Repetition and Revision) as an example of departure from linearity, a pushback against the presumption that all events must lead up to a single cathartic moment. History, “time that won’t quit,” ebbs and flows through her stories, while words fluctuate in meaning and weight with each reconfiguration. Parks pulls from jazz aesthetic, noting that “the idea of Repetition and Revision is an integral part of the African and African-American literary and oral traditions” (10). She is not only working within an explicitly Black artistic methodology, but also building narrative room for her Black characters to navigate their specific spatio-temporalities. Narratives, and the people who live them, do not necessarily abide by beginnings and ends, nor by chronology and straight lines. Parks demonstrates the necessity of Black structure, narratives that expand beyond the progress-oriented pyramid of Western storytelling. I am reminded of Sharon Patricia Holland’s The Erotic Life of Racism, in which she demonstrates slavery’s unyielding presence in quotidian realms of the present. Whiteness moves through linear, process-driven time, whereas blackness is historically entrenched in space: “racism consistently embeds us in a ‘past’ that we would rather not remember, where time stretches back toward the future, curtailing the revolutionary possibilities of queer transgression” (44). Parks reroutes time by giving Blackness a temporal life, by engaging with the hauntings of history and working beyond the linear limitations of Aristotelian plot. Linearity also cannot contain queer temporalities, in which identity is formed against the grain of heteronormative adolescence and families are chosen rather than reproduced. Trauma time, also, operates outside the bounds of chronology, as individuals are dislodged from the present and thrown backwards into memory in cyclical, sometimes never-ending ways. And, of course, there’s lockdown time, Zoom academia time, and collective pandemic trauma time. I am inspired by the motion of the Tarot in understanding time’s limitless configurations: cards are numbered, representing normative understandings of individual growth, but the Fool is not bound by this chronology, instead traversing and retraversing points along their journey, never settling on any denouement-resolution ending for long. What, then, is Coven time, given this infinity of temporalities? little infinities & spiral patterns During a spring semester journaling exercise, Percival Hornack described Coven time as candle wax, happening “slowly, then all at once. You don’t notice until it’s pooling at the bottom and then the light is dimming/ending.” Tory Vazquez wrote that “Time is really quick in Coven spaces. At the same time, it feels like a realm/universe of its own. You can tell that there’s a sense of direction time-wise, but it’s flexible. If we need more time for something, it’s there.” Parker Traphagen spoke about the Coven feeling both rooted and in-motion, endless despite having an ending around the corner. Jemma Kempner said that she forgets about time in Coven space, particularly compared to other Zoom spaces, in which she finds herself constantly checking the clock. She spoke about a slowness born out of “trust that whatever we make will be beautiful, trust that it will happen.” Nicole Bates was reminded of “little infinities” from John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. I’ve never read a John Green book, but there is something little and infinite about the Coven that I feel compelled to explore. In a typical, in-person UMass theatre department process, actors rehearse X hours five+ days a week, to say nothing of production meetings, email conversations, design presentations, and tech. How does Coven, which meets for two hours twice or three times a week, feel so temporally luxurious? How does time move at the steady, peaceful pace of a candle melting, where other artistic/academic spaces are dictated by clocks and calendars? The Fault in Our Stars, I have learned, follows Hazel and Gus, teenagers whose lives are rendered chronologically finite by terminal illness. When mapped onto the conventional (ie capitalist, Western, heteropatriarchal) timeline of a human life, their lives fall tragically short. Go to college, get a job, settle down, make babies, make money, retire and relax – the markers of a life well-lived are impossible to meet. The lovers break through linear notions of valuability and love, however, by articulating a timeline full of infinities. As Hazel explains through the magick that is math, “There are infinite numbers between 0 and 1. There's .1 and .12 and .112 and an infinite collection of others. Of course, there is a bigger infinite set of numbers between 0 and 2, or between 0 and a million. Some infinities are bigger than other infinities.” According to number-smart people that I found on the Internet, Hazel’s logic may be incorrect (counter-argument: all infinities are equally infinite? If so, no matter how many infinities one stacks on top of each other, the final amount of infinity will be the same), but if anything, “real life” number theory only makes the concept of small infinity feel more palpable. Math Youtuber Vihart describes multiple theories of infinity: Whether those different sorts of infinities apply to something like moments of time is unknown. What we do know is that if life has infinite moments, or infinite love, or infinite being, then a life twice as long still has exactly the same amount. Some infinities only look bigger than other infinities. And some infinities that seem very small are worth just as much as infinities ten times their size. And so, the infinity of Coven space is as spacious, as valuable, as the infinity of, say, a traditional rehearsal process. Infinite temporalities intersect and interplay in a given artistic process, so it is not the number of rehearsals that ultimately defines whether time is well spent. Nor are all infinities equal: Coven infinity feels slow and steady, unlike a typical Zoom classroom, which might feel infinite in the most unpleasant sense of the word. Our little infinity, I think, feels liberatory because the Coven decides our own worth. This worth exists beyond the constraints of capitalist rehearsal time, which may be ten times our size, but depends on production quality and butts-in-seats to determine worth. Our worth is inherent. …the world itself [is] a living being, made up of dynamic aspects, a world where one thing shape-shifts into another, where there are no solid separations and no simple causes and effects. In such a world, all things have inherent value, because all things are beings, aware in ways we can only imagine, interrelated in patterns too complex to ever be more than partially described. We do not have to earn value. Immanent value cannot be rated or compared. No one, nothing, can have more of it than another. Nor can we lose it. For we are, ourselves, the living body of the sacred (Starhawk 15). As magickal practitioners, we are most “successful” when we honor the inherent value on ourselves as individual witches and collectively as Coven – not when we sell out opening night. Of course, COVEN-19 is a public, marketed event, so we are bound to certain constraints of a traditional production process. We are luckily relieved of ticket sale pressures during Zoom theatre times, as the department is currently requesting donations rather than paid admissions. We still, however, must consider marketability: as part of our inclusion in the theatre department’s official season, we need to craft blurbs for websites and press releases (hopefully language that won’t scare away skeptical patrons). We must communicate artistic decisions through the language of the mundane in order to collaborate with members of the department’s broader production team. There is also the general expectation that we generate a product that is consumable by a general audience: a performative output that looks and feels polished and complete. There are no little infinities within a production-oriented timeline, which is not an inherently “bad thing”: We need the support and resources of a funded theatre department, so we have to accept linearity to a certain point. We invoke little infinities, however, by imagining artistic creativity beyond the limitations of a fixed public performance. Simply put, our final product is the least important element of Coven work. Most production processes focus energies toward the “climax” of opening night, but Coven operates fractally: practicing at the small scale what we want to see at the large scale (brown 52). We focus our energies inward, on valuing our inherent individual and collective value; our “finished” product is simply a reverberation of the tiny, intentional, care-taking practices that we invoke on a regular basis together. If I were to draw Coven temporality, it would reflect adrienne maree brown’s fractals, which she observes in “the prevalence of spiral in the universe – the shape in the prints of our fingertips echoes the geological patterns, all the way to the shape of galaxies” (51). We start at the center, from-within, cultivating power in small ways: checking in at the top of rehearsal, sharing and meeting our needs, laughing over memes and developing inside jokes. We build on this collective energy slowly, first through low-pressure research projects (become a mini expert in something witchy of your choice and present your findings in whatever way you feel most comfortable), then through devising exercises, writing, and performance. Our public ritual is, therefore, more a natural culmination of sharing space than it is a finished product. It is a continuation of generative process, rather than a capitalist break in our creative cycle. To quote Parks once more, we reject the pressures of a “climactus dramaticus.” Because our spiral timeline is mapped onto a linear theatre department timeline, COVEN-19 does, technically end on May 1, 2021. But brown reminds us that fractals echo. Of course Coven time feels infinite: we are building ways of being that will ripple outwards for the rest of our individual witchy lives and beyond. how has time passed since covering your clocks? slowly? quickly? in a straight line? like a candle? how did you measure time while not clocking time? in inches or miles? laughter or strife? enjoy the messiness of unmeasured time for a few moments before uncovering your clocks. or keep them covered for the duration of this thesis. that would be rad.  “Nothing,” A Chorus Line  Suzan-Lori Parks: “Standard Time Line and Standard Plot Line are in cahoots!” (11)  Although we did, not to brag or anything
preliminaries In summer of 2020, I was supposed to begin conducting research for my Dramaturgy MFA thesis, which at the time was a feminist interrogation of violence and intimacy in The Sweet Science of Bruising by Joy Wilkinson. Instead, faced with the heavying reality of live theatre being cancelled for the foreseeable future, I conducted embodied research on spirituality, identity, witchcraft, activism, community/space-making, self-love, and imagination. Fall loomed, and I had not decided on a new thesis topic, but I was in a better mental and emotional state than I been in years. So I cobbled together a proposal for a thesis that served as a natural extension of the internal work I was already doing: a Coven of theatre witches, with the goal of devising a public, remote ritual through our explorations of feminist, nonhierarchical art-making. I had never dramaturged a devised theatre piece before. Looking back at my thesis proposal, I had more clarity on what this project was not than what it would be: "I refuse any longer to participate in theatre at the expense of my own mental or spiritual well-being; nor can I condone recreating the forms and artistic processes that risk harming me or my students and peers. If I am going to create art for my MFA thesis, I am going to do it intentionally and responsibly – as a feminist, activist, and powerful witch." Luckily, I pulled together a team of collaborators who helped shape the process into a meaningful, intentional devising experience. My co-founding collaborator was Helen Rahman, an undergraduate who is wise beyond her years in matters of spirituality and mysticism. The fall producing team was soon rounded out by MFA dramaturg Percival Hornack, who brought with him experiential knowledge on virtually any topic imaginable, from runes to queer space-making to facilitation of process. We held auditions early in the fall semester, welcoming anyone with an interest in witchcraft and prioritizing community building over “talent.” We were soon a Coven of 12, including our Stage Manager Alison Butts, whose intuitions in flexible caretaking and compassionate communication grounded our entire rehearsal process. Fall, 2020 We broke the process into three stages, meeting for two hours and 15 minutes per gathering: community building and research (two rehearsals/week); generation of performance material (three rehearsals/week); and rehearsal/tech (four rehearsals/week). Our goal was to devise an approximately 30 minute, interactive ritual for the year’s full moon Samhain, or Halloween. Performance dates were [INSERT HERE]. Rehearsals began with a check-in (what are we bringing into the space/feelings are valid) and warm-up (led by all witches on a rotating schedule). The main thrust of rehearsal varied depended on where we were in process. We closed with housekeeping from Ali and a check-out. Significant discussion and research continued outside of official rehearsal time via a Coven Discord server. Through a series of brainstorming Jamboards and research on witchy topics of interest, we decided to build the ritual around the theme of rest as a radical tool of resistance. We were also interested in crafting ritual components with our audience, then bringing those elements together in the ritual itself. These elements became music/gesture, found object/breath, words/drawing, and rage. Spectators were asked to fill out a pre-show survey and choose one of four tarot cards (the Queens of Swords, Wands, Pentacles, and Cups): these cards decided which of the four Brooms (breakout rooms) they would join. The performances were divided into three parts: 1. Audience and Coven witches together in Zoom space. We offered introductory videos about how to navigate Zoom and what to expect of the evening, then moved into a land acknowledgment and check-in. Spectators were asked in advance to, if possible, bring with them a candle and something to eat: together we broke bread and lit our candles to lsat for the duration of the ritual. 2. Spectators were sorted into their Brooms. In Gesture/Music (Queen of Cups), Nicole and Matthew led an intuitive movement and sound-making exercise. In Rage (Queen of Wands), Helen, Parker, and I led spectators on a guided meditation and then turned the audience’s rage into three poppets*. In Found Object/Breath (Queen of Pentacles), Micki, Mahek, and Percival asked spectators to connect with and breath into various items in their homes. And in Words/Drawing (Queen of Swords), Tory, Jemma, and Kat led an intuitive tarot exercise. 3. We gathered together in the main Zoom space. Broom witches shared what they and their guests were contributing to the ritual. The ritual itself was a moon invocation and a conjuring of rest as fuel for resistance. We blew out our candles and sat together in darkness. Prologue: Spectators were invited to decompress with a dance party. Spring, 2021 All but two of the witches from the Fall process returned for the spring: Ali Butts returned as stage manager, and Helen Rahman stepped fully into the Coven as an artist-witch and spiritual guide rather than producer. Our goal this time was to devise a ritual in honor of Beltane, or May Day, and we were promoted as part of the Theatre Department’s Rights of Spring Festival. Rehearsals were again two hours and 15 minutes, although we were more flexible with stages of development. We met twice a week for the first half of process, bumping up to three times a week once we started generating material. Percival, Ali, and I were significantly more transparent with the Coven about production decisions, including budget, performance dates, marketing materials, and rehearsal schedule, and we brought many of these conversations into rehearsal for general consensus. As of today, March 23, the general structure of our rehearsal process has remained the same, but we have built enough trust with each other to dig more deeply into research topics and shadow work.* The structure and theme of our Beltane ritual are still in development.
12 – hanged one perspective shift, reimagination, subversion, release invocation of adrienne maree brown and Emergent Strategy iterative: involving repetition, as a: expressing repetition of a verbal action b: relating to or being iteration of an operation or procedure adaptation: a change in a plant or animal that makes it better able to live in a particular place or situation; the process of changing to fit some purpose or situation: the process of adapting adaptive conversation a slow-going spell in the style of emergent strategy ingredients: a piece of text written by an author with whom you want to deeply converse (it should be brief enough to read aloud and write down many times over; a sentence is probably plenty); paper and something with which to write. 1. read the text aloud. go slowly and meaningfully. 2. go even slower. read the text word for word. ponder the intentionality behind every single choice. why this word and not another? why in this configuration? what is the sonic experience of this word? 3. read aloud once more in full, with meaning behind each and every sound. 4. copy the text onto your sheet of paper. again, go slowly. what does each word feel like in your hand? how do the letters flow from one to the next? what is the rhythm of this text? 5. change something in the text. it may be a punctuation mark, a letter, a word; it may be a replacement, deletion, or insertion. you shouldn't have a goal in mind when it comes to why you are amending the text. just follow your intuition. what do you feel like transforming? start with something small. re-read the text, noticing how the change impacts the text as a whole. 6. repeat step 5 again. and again. and again. edit the text directly, crossing out and adding words as you go. this should be a very slow process: with each change, pause and reflect on how meaning has shifted. every three changes, rewrite and read aloud the sentence with your changes incorporated. as you grow comfortable with this process, the changes may grow in scope; you may rearrange words and replace multiple words at once. bigger transformations should only come when you have hit a rhythmic stride. 7. stop when you know it is time to stop. 8. read your text aloud in the same deliberate manner as the first three steps. 9. read the original text alongside yours. let it be a conversation between two meaning-makers. example: a conversation between Donna J. Haraway and myself (my words in italics) donna: perhaps our hopes for accountability, for politics, for ecofeminism, turn on revisioning the world as coding trickster with whom we must learn to converse. me: i rotate with the world on a shapeshifting axis.
9 – hermit solitude, illumination, perspective coven warm-ups 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 them 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 situated solitude 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. situated solitude tarot spread ingredients: a tarot deck, or this website (set at 5 cards) card 1: the earth where am i? card 2: the lantern what does my lantern illuminate? card 3: the cloak what obscures my vision? card 5: the distance behind who is following my light? card 5: the distance before whose light am i following?  Vivian M. may and Beth A. Ferri address the ableist rhetoric that is employed when metaphorically equating sight with knowledge (cite me). For this thesis and beyond, I am deeply attached to Donna J. Haraway’s use of sight to explain positionality, so in the here and now of writing this tarot card, I will embark with visual language as cautiously as possible. Haraway’s pro-vision argument: “I would insist on the embodied nature of all vision and so reclaim the sensory system that has been used to signify a leap out of the marked body and into a conquering gaze from nowhere. This is the gaze that mythically inscribes all the marked bodies, that makes the un- marked category claim the power to see and not be seen, to represent while escaping representation” (181). Haraway also points out the we need to think visually in order to see through “all the visualizing tricks and powers” of patriarchal knowledge production” (582). It is because Haraway’s vision is so embodied and multi-sensory that I gravitate to her metaphorical imaginings, but I continue to think about its ableist connotations. I employ Haraway for now, but I have earmarked this linguistic issue for further thought, and I am excited to imagine alternative ways of describing theory and the world.  It occurs to me how much the dramaturg utilizes imagination as a knowledge source in her work. This kind of generative work is usually considered the realm of designers, directors, and playwrights, but dramaturgs are constantly imagining unrepresented views from beyond, outside, within, and below.  Re-critterizes? I know that Haraway loves to decenter humans…  One might even argue, as Haraway and many other feminists do – Chandoval, Collins -- that the view from below is more objective and valuable as an object of study, but that’s beyond the scope of my brain for right now.
6 – lovers relationality, connection, intimacy, exchange, generosity In a Zoom course that I had the privilege of attending recently, Rabbi Emily Cohen spoke about two kinds of ancestors: literal and mythic, a lineage that is expansive enough to include ethnic Jews, convert Jews, and all the Jews in between. During a guest appearance in a fall Coven rehearsal, Finn Lefevre (witch, scholar, thesis committee member) spoke to the importance of honoring chosen ancestors, a practice that centers kinship and lineage connections for queer witches whose genealogies are not visible by the norms of hetero temporality. Patrice Miller, theatre-witch and dear friend, holds seances with and makes offerings for her “art ancestors,” a term that I have adopted for this thesis to describe the writers with whom I am in deep citational dialogue. In all of these contexts, ancestral connection is a practice of acknowledging lineages thats transcend time, space, and bloodlines. It is a naming of inherited knowledges, an act of gratitude, a positioning of oneself within a greater history. This is how I’ve started defining Ancestor: a temporally distanced someone – a ghost, often -- from whom I inherited something invaluable; someone to whom I feel indebted; someone whose lineage I am humbled or desire to be counted among. written reflection: who are your ancestors? free write for 3 minutes. In the context of academic thesis writing, ancestors are honored citationally. Sarah Ahmed opens Living a Feminist Life by explaining her decision not to cite the institution of white men -- a refusal of an academic-approved genealogy that in turns requires finding and conversing with a feminist genealogy: Instead, I cite those who have contributed to the intellectual genealogy of feminism and antiracism, including work that has been too quickly (in my view) cast aside or left behind, work that lays out other paths, paths we can call desire lines, created by not following the official paths laid out by disciplines. These paths might have become fainter from not being traveled upon; so we might work harder to find them; we might be willful just to keep them going by not going the way we have been directed. My citation policy has given me more room to attend to those feminists who came before me. Citation is feminist memory. Citation is how we acknowledge our debt to those who came before; those who helped us find our way when the way was obscured because we deviated from the paths we were told to follow. (15-16) I have the privilege of following divergent paths already carved by my mentors in my graduate coursework. My WGSS courses in particular introduced me to feminist theorists generally, but Black lesbian feminism especially, through the Combahee River Collective, Audre Lorde, and adrienne maree brown, as well as theories in immigrant, queer of color, trans, third world, disability, and sex worker feminisms. My coursework revealed the hitherto uncited ways that feminism and queer theory, as I benefit from them as a white cis woman today, are built on the revolutionary words of non-white theorists. This is to say nothing of the writers who were missing from my WGSS syllabi, those whose aesthetics and practices do not meet academic standards of Theory, or who were lost amid the citational reproduction of white feminist texts. But still, I can name some of the ancestors to whom I am indebted as I attempt to articulate my own queer-feminist ways of working, living, creating, and theorizing. The question I am left with, then, is how to cite my art ancestors responsibly. Thinking back to my previous scholarly work, I recognize the shallowness of my citational practice, particularly in my use of Black feminist texts. In a traditional, time-crunched academic context, I might read (skim) a few texts by Black writers to diversify my bibliography, pull a juicy quote or two that I could manipulate to support my argument, and move quickly on. I engaged with this practice unconsciously: it’s what white academia teaches young scholars, and it’s taken significant reflection to recognize how this methodology uses and then discards non-white voices. How, then, to cite ancestors with care and gratitude, rather than appropriation and performativity? As a white witch, I am especially considering what it means to not only name non-white artists as mythical (rather than literal) art ancestors, but also to use their words in spellwork and ritual. How can I enact magicks that position me within feminist and queer lineages and offer space to express gratitude toward those who came before me? This thesis is full of ritual invocations of art ancestors, with the intent of deeply engaging with them as people rather than bibliographic references. One ever-changing example is below. invocation of mythic/chosen/art ancestor a citational creativity ritual ingredients: three spell candles; a favorite passage/book/poem of the ancestor’s (it should be brief enough so that you can read it three times while considering each and every word deeply and intentionally); an offering of something that the ancestor loves; a creative project that you are working on pre-ritual tarot spread (you can also journal through these questions): card 1: what have i inherited from my art ancestor? card 2: how can i honor her in my working life? card 3: how can i express my gratitude? card 3: what message does my art ancestor have for me? optional card 4: if the reader does not share the ancestor’s view from below, choose an additional shadow work card that asks, what additional work must i do as a [white or cis or able-bodied, etc] person in order to honor and invoke you? if you are called to do something specific and tangible, do it. treat the action not as an offering to your ancestor, but as a command from them to better the world you have inherited. 1. present your art ancestor with an offering. do some research on this person to ensure that you are giving them something they would want. what is their favorite food, drink, color, song? if possible, make this a literal offering; otherwise, you can tell them that you “offer them the spirit of café con leche/violin/overstuffed armchair/dark chocolate/etc” in their honor. speak words of gratitude with your offering. be specific: what have you inherited from your ancestor that needs naming? 2. invoke your ancestor by reading their words. speak each word deliberately. 3. light three candles: one for the ancestor you are invoking; one for the ancestor’s lineage; one for Anon ancestors within that lineage. For example, one might light a candle for Audre Lorde; a candle for the greater lineage of Black lesbian feminists; and a candle for the Black lesbian ancestors whose voices were silenced, forgotten, lost, or squelched before they were heard. as you light these candles, talk to your art ancestor. what do you need from them? inspiration? motivation? an end to writer’s block? again, be specific. 4. as the candles melt, create something. let it be in your art ancestor’s honor. follow your intuition if you get the sense that your art ancestor is directing you somewhere new. do not stop making until the candles are fully extinguished. (for the purposes of reading this thesis, you might need to set a much shorter timer -- but you should do a full version of this ritual later, trust me)