Ritual and Theatre

Excerpts from Liberating Rites: Understanding the Transformative Power of Ritual
by Tom F. Driver, Westview Press, 1998.

"Although a ritual includes pretending, the ritual performance itself is no pretense, but an actual, here and now doing."

"Ritual display is not simply a doing but a sharing of a doing."

"Ritual display is often directed inward as much as outward."

"Rituals are perhaps the oldest... members of the performance family. Their business in society is to effect transformations that cannot otherwise be brought about."

"...although ritualization is the earliest form of language, we do not well understand ritual unless we realize that within its frame of reference, action is primary and symbolism subordinate."

"Like art, rituals are likely to bear more meanings than words can say. We do not see clear, rational meanings but instead the laying out of ways to act, prompted by felt needs, fears, joys, and aspirations."

"A person may participate in a ritual event, indeed many do, without knowing the mythology with which the ritual is associated. And s/he may find that ritual just as meaningful as someone who claims to know the mythology, which the ritual involves. Ritual, once enacted, has a life of its own." - from William Harman.

"Rituals are primarily instruments designed to change a situation: They are more like washing machines than books. A book may be about washing, but the machine takes in dirty clothes and, if all goes well, transforms them into cleaner ones."

As a final note, Mr. Driver says that rituals are playful, but:
"this does not mean that they are nothing more than play-acting, much less that they cannot be efficacious. When a Christian priest lifts a chalice, or a New Guinea man greases a sacred stone, each really does what he or she is doing. Such a performer does not only pretend, as might an actor on a proscenium stage. In rituals, for the most part, there is no question of illusion. Gestures are actually performed, and these gestures have social, personal, and religious consequences. In short, rituals are a kind of playful work. We may speak of ritual, then, as work done playfully. Wherever the spirit of play enters it, work starts to become ritualized. It develops routines that are multipurpose, serving to communicate, to entertain, and to invoke something or someone not otherwise present in the labor itself. As work done playfully, ritual is different from art. What we know in complex societies as art, something that has become distinct from ritual, is play done workfully. Art departs from ritual in the measure in which it assumes that, as art, it can become a necessary work. To take the playfulness of creativity and turn it into serious work moves (we come to paradox again) in the direction of aestheticism, of art for art's sake, of an absolute creativity free from all social responsibility. Play done workfully risks turning in on itself and becoming empty, while work done playfully becomes charged with energies and meanings."

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