Healing and the Arts…

Speech given by Marcela Lorca at the opening of “The Buddha Prince”, a play based on the Dalai Lama’s life directed by Markell Kiefer. The event was sponsored by the University of Minnesota Center for Spirituality and Healing in its launch of a new Arts and Healing Initiative.

Minnesota Landscape Arboretum – 9/13/2009

I am grateful for the opportunity to share my journey and speak about something I care so much about.

Healing and the Arts…

I think of Healing and…
the transformative movement it requires
and then I think of the Arts
and their call for alertness
for imaginationfor creativity…
I see many possibilities for crossovers between the two.

How do we heal ourselves?
How do we heal our community?
How do we heal our environment… our world?

The Dalai Lama invites us to start by looking deep within ourselves…
and this, of course, is different for each one of us
as we understand the world through our own individual lens…

So allow me to share some of my views
my individual path as an artist,
personal healing experiences…
and my drive to contribute to the well-being of our community…

My call to be an artist developed at a very young age, from a love of beauty, of music, of color, of physical expression.
My mother had a ballet school in Santiago Chile where we lived.
My first experience of the healing power of the arts came at 3 years old.  I had crooked feet and the doctor advised my mother to put me in ballet class.
It worked… My feet got a new alignment and I have danced ever since.

As a young dancer I recall a feeling of bliss when I was moved by music,
a feeling of awe upon entering the Opera House where I used to perform…
the womb-like feeling of a theater…. The magic… The inspiration…

I also used to play in a recorder ensemble at the University;
there were only grown ups there but they needed an alto recorder
and I was the only one around who played it…
We played beautiful baroque music…
and I remember the feeling of sound and harmonies permeating my body and giving me such a rush…
I could hear angels sing….

In the Arts anything is possible…
Artistic expression has no boundaries of time and space,
reality or fantasy,
form or texture.
It thrives with plenty of passion,
great doses of imagination
and deep faith in the magic of life.
The Arts can exist unbound and unrestricted,
and when striving for beauty they create an energy that lifts us up,
inspires us,
nurtures us….

That early exposure to the arts of dance and music
gave me a spiritual refuge…
whenever I was feeling sad or melancholic I would rush to play the piano…  or go to dance class and sweat it out.
As a dancer I’ve always had the belief that you can sweat any problem out.

Some time ago I got sick and was exhausted for a couple of years…
In my search for healing I joined a Gospel Choir…
I would sit in the front row
and hear 80 singing voices around me
creating harmonies,
permeating my body
inspiring me
lifting me out of the darkness…
The Angels were singing again and gradually healing me…

I also discovered at work that whenever I felt lacking of energy
there were outside forces that always came to help me out…
That creativity and inspiration came from somewhere else
Gradually I learned to trust those forces,
more than I trusted myself…
I believe that this “outside force”
that same divine intervention
that provides our creativity
is the same one that can heal us…
So is creativity a healing force?
I believe it is… because it is propelling life force
Not only we heal ourselves by being creative
we heal ourselves by exposing ourselves to creativity…

I teach my acting students that their body is their instrument,
that they have to treat it with respect and the understanding that the instrument houses our breath, emotions, desires, energy, thoughts,
gut feelings… and that it can be trained and tuned.
I tell them the body is deeply mysterious and endlessly fascinating
and to give themselves and each other the opportunity of ongoing transformation.
We can all change and reinvent ourselves.
Our instrument is that flexible.

My professional artistic training began in Chile in the late 70s.
At that time, there was a very repressive dictatorship in charge of the country.

The authorities used some simple techniques to control the population.
They provided a TV set for everyone,
They forbid assembly of more than 10 people at a time
Curfew was at midnight…
and they proceeded to feed the population
a steady diet of censored news,
light entertainment and sports…
Chileans went from being engaged citizens
to falling into a kind of daze,
a state of sleep…

I entered the University of Chile to study theater design
and soon joined a dance theater company
which saved my life and taught me much.

Every afternoon I would go to a small studio
and train in dance and voice…
Our master’s call was to awake our consciousness…
Every evening as I left the studio
I would enter the world of secrecy and fear
a city where any one could be a secret agent
and agent of violence and death.

At that time my dance training kept my spirit awake
while others’ fell into a deep sleep…
it allowed me to stay creative in the intimacy of that little studio,
awake in the deep corners of my mind and soul
It granted me the freedom to dream
at a time when it was not allowed to be creative in society…
Art kept our souls alive, hopeful
waiting for the opportunity to soar, to express.. .

Eventually we developed a non verbal language
one that could not be censored by the authorities…
an artistic language that spoke of the potential
of the human spirit to break through the confinements
of an imposed regime…
We provoked the audience to wake up and trust their passion.
We believed in the fundamental right to feel alive, positive, not depressed.

When I moved to the States I was like a fish
swimming into the land of opportunities….
I landed in New York City… What a contrast…
I had lived so long with closed doors that whenever a door opened,
I was grateful to come in.
I grabbed every opportunity I got.
I joined companies and continued to train,
and made it eventually to Minneapolis and the Guthrie Theater
where I’ve worked now for over 18 years.

I remember the first time I went onto the Guthrie Stage,
once again the womb-like feel, that familiar sense of awe I had as a child…
I knew it was home.
At the Guthrie I’ve had the opportunity to work as a Movement Director, Choreographer, Director and Teacher.  My artistic tools are music, dance, literature, stories and humanity.

1st Preview night, at the Guthrie, is the first time the audience comes to see the play we’ve been rehearsing.
I get to sit, for the first time, with hundreds of people
and watch the play through their eyes…
I often used to wonder how come I…
a South American, wound up working here
making stories compelling to an audience of midwestern Americans.
I used to ask this frequently with a mix of curiosity and wonder…


Eventually I started to realize that many aspects of life in America
had much in common with Chile,
Most citizens watch TV
and get a unified view of reality…
not always a positive one…
Sports, light entertainment
and the well co-ordinated news of the day
are part of our daily diets.
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate getting news and being informed…
but as a theater artist I’ve keenly watched
how material is at times manipulated,
and the effect it has on its audience.
That is my job.

what better place and time to use the tools I learned during my dictatorship experience than at the theater, in this beautiful country…
fate had brought me here for a reason…
Once again I was given the opportunity to reflect to this audience the beauty of the human experience,
the importance of staying awake,
to recognize the power of the truth.
To provoke them with the questions that a great play can conjure,
questions about the choices we make in living our lives.

I’ve always believed in theater that reaches an audience viscerally,
That creates the possibility for individual and collective discovery,
learning and transformation.
The arts can heal, the arts can transform.

I recently had the great privilege of directing a play written by Tony Kushner and composed by Jeanine Tesori called Caroline or Change at the Guthrie.
For those of you not familiar with the story it follows the relationship between an African American woman and a Jewish boy in Lake Charles, Louisiana,
It is 1963, the year that President Kennedy was assassinated
the height of the civil rights movement.
Caroline works as a maid,
is a single mother of four
and is depressed as there is no hope of growth for her.
The story, told through powerful poetic language
magical characters
and soaring emotional music
has a sweeping power.
After the tragedy of Katrina, I felt this play provided the perfect vehicle to ask important questions about class, race and equality.

I was passionate about doing justice to this production.
To remind our audiences of the courage and spirit of the civil rights movement.
A time where young people risked their lives in the name of justice and equality.
A time where black, Jewish, white cultures came together in the name of human rights.
In this past year of recent political change…
it became very important to reflect how far we have come since then…
How much further do we need to go…
How much work it still requires to reach out across cultural lines, color lines, political lines… lines of all kind.
How do we look at ourselves, feel deep empathy for each other and in the process teach our children, heal our communities, heal our society.

As a director, I like to remind my team that we have a responsibility to our audiences.
We are not just producing entertainment.
We want to address issues…
but we want to do it in evocative and beautiful ways,
so that audiences perceive not only with their ears and mind,
but through their instincts, emotions and heart.
I believe in the ripple effect that this can have in our society.
When we’ve exhausted the intellectual articulation of subjects, when we get tired of the back and forth of words… when we feel a sense of defeat…
we can look at issues through a different lens, through a poem, a song, a picture, and reignite our desire to do work for our own good, our society’s, and the world’s…

This is why this Initiative is so exciting for me.
A great opportunity to investigate and take an in-depth look at the healing power of the Arts.

Great art invites us to be conscious,
to elevate our capacity for empathy…
Sometimes it inspires us to take action,
sometimes it gently soothes us…
touching us deeply…
healing us and making us grow…

Where there is art
there is peace
where there is art
there is the human quest for understanding
the human desire to be inspired
The arts provide a pathway to peace.

My experience in Chile taught me the importance of staying awake,
the tremendous value of free expression…
I’ve never taken this for granted…

Weather we are bound by outside forces

or by personal circumstances…

arts are there to remind us
of the vital importance of staying awake, of living life fully

passionately, of being an active participant in our own destiny….

Thank you very much

Marcela Lorca

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