Suspension of disbelief | Luanda Casella
A SPIRITUAL ENDEAVOUR OR AN ACT OF POETIC FAITH?
Ten weeks into the lockdown quarantine. Signs are lack of time, stress, scarcity, hunger. Lack of mobility, lack of safety, digital safety, surveillance, imagination. Impoverishment and imprisonment, predictions. Sickness with assistance, applause, sickness without assistance, a lot of death. A lot of hope, much despair. Solidarity and fascism hand in hand, washed hands touching a globalised wound.
Trauma is being installed at the core tissues of human relations, drastically challenging our emotional intelligence and critical skills. The spirits of the forest are watching. The Orixás are watching. The witches are watching. The dead, in their absence and in the audience, are asking: Why theatre?
Night is falling. People are coming together at the same time in the same place for a common purpose. Their meeting is not random. One group of people is entering the Opu (the religious temple of the indigenous Guarani). The other group of people is entering the theatre. Both events will happen only once in the exact formation they exist at the moment. Only once, and never again.
The shared purpose of these two meetings is allowing an experience to take place. Those involved must work together to make it happen. Everyone must accept all of the elements composing the context—the semantic smoke—as real.
Night is falling. People are entering the Opu. It’s a little house with earth floor.
One by one, they enter through the same door. The other one, directed to the sunrise, remains closed to avoid the entrance of evil spirits. The singing and dancing begins. It lasts until the morning arrives.
In one corner, women take care of the slowly burning wooden strains, the fire that feeds the medicinal herbs of the shaman’s pipe. In another corner, a standing group performs Guarani chants with drums, maracas and bamboo sticks beaten against the ground by women, who by dancing, 49 mark the short compass of the song. Scattered throughout the space, men and women in search of healing wait their turn to sit down, immersed in a scenario of heat, music and inexorable smoke.
Blowing on his pipe, the shaman works the body energies of the sick. He inhales deeply and then returns a thick smoke that involves the person sitting in front of him, always through the head, the human sensory and cognitive centre. Pouring smoke over the seven orifices, the seven doors of human perception, from time to time, throwing a puff on the closed door. You never know.
The shaman recognises the limitations of his spiritual healing. As a leader of resistance, he is aware of the effects of serious transformations in the indigenous way of life, the workings of evil spirits, dead or alive. So he summons absent voices to help him disentangle the whole human composition and restore balance.
Night is falling. People are entering the theatre. It’s a big house with long curtains.
One by one, they enter through the same door.
They know that what they are going to see is a fictitious reality. They are not yet pretending that they do not know that. They are there to gather elements, first. Hopefully, those might eventually create a sense of empathy. A deal has been made: when lights go off, the group of people will spontaneously ignore possible inconsistencies in the fictitious reality and temporarily accept it as their own (no matter how implausible).
One such group of people happen to be children. For the hundredth time, they are seeing Casper, the friendly ghost, a theatre piece during which they are offered ‘wind biscuits’,— obviously transparent—as the crew of storytellers describe their texture and consistence; It’s small, baked, crispy, flat, and sweet. Can you taste it? Yes, they can. It is simple, it tastes right. They are children. They arouse their imagination (not necessarily by sacrificing their logic) and suspend their disbelief. Readily, they go along with that premise for the sake of their own enjoyment.
The piece features Casper, a cute ghost-child who inhabits a haunted house along with a community of adult ghosts who are cheerfully happy to scare the living. Casper, however, is a nonconformist among ghosts: he would prefer to make friends with people. So he packs up his belongings and goes out into the world. The world mistreats him, the animals that he meets; the rooster, the mole, the cat, and mouse named Herman, all take one horrified look at him and scream: “a ghost!”
He finds no friends. Distraught, Casper unsuccessfully attempts to commit suicide. He lies down on a railway track before an oncoming train, and on that moment, a matter of seconds, he meets Bonnie and Johnny, both nonconformist like him. Together, they eat wind biscuits Casper always carries in his little lunch bag.
It is very tempting to conclude the text with a romantic comparison; Us, storytellers and shamans; blowing the smoke, offering wind biscuits. Closing the door directed to the sunrise, obstructing evil spirits as the night falls. Chanting, humbly in service of our community. Aware of the limitations of our healing powers, recognising the insistent nature of evil spirits, dead or alive, of drastically challenging our relations. “When they enter, we are protected by one another”, we think. We the medium; we the participant, we the sick, the healer, the writer, the spectator, all expecting an epiphany.
And the epiphany here is that whether we are shamans or not (probably not), the healing of collective trauma has always been, throughout our history, a process of creating a lot of smoke and allowing for suspension of disbelief.
The dead, in their absence and in the audience, are laughing with ironic joy; The little ghost tries to commit suicide, ha!, he’s already dead!
Luanda Casella is a Brazilian writer and performer. Blending rhetoric with irony, her work exposes language constructions, exploring unreliable narration in fiction and in everyday communication processes. Her work has been shown in venues and festivals around the world such as Spielart (Munich), Edinburg International Festival, Het TheaterFestival (Ghent), and Kaserne (Basel).