Accessing Cultural Flow Through Theatre Archetypes, By Fayra Teeters

Jul 5, 2024 | 6 comments

These archetype exercises evolved over 20+ years as I conducted my theatre, Masque Alfresco. My commitment was to create an exercise “tool” that would enable actors to access their inner wisdom to honestly and vividly portray these different character types onstage. During my one-and-a-half-hour workshop at the National Gathering on Friday, June 28 th we explored the following character types through movement in order to “grok” what makes them tick, then discussed and shared our perceptions.

The exercise is quite easy to execute: pose as a statue that embodies the qualities of the archetype; then slowly pivot in a circle reaching upwards, outwards, and downwards as that statue; then move about the room in the natural pace in which that archetype would move. At the peak of the movement flow, freeze – and observe how the initial statue evolved and changed.

King/Queen/Magnanimous Ruler: we all experienced the richness, fullness of this archetype. With a full-circled embrace of humanity, being a leader becomes a natural position simply by embracing the responsibility of serving for the good of all. Personal note: keeping my arms fully open in a global embrace could become tiring and painful, so pacing myself was a key component. It’s important to be magnanimous to oneself.

Duke/Duchess Tyrannical Ruler trying to claw their way to the top. The movement was convoluted, twisted, stabbing and jabbing about, with enormous tension that collapsed into itself at the final freeze. Failure was always someone else’s fault. The tyrannical ruler has no regard for their subjects, who are viewed as objects to be manipulated.

Oracle/Wizard/Priestess: the visionary distributing wise advice was indeed a clear channel for a higher power. Their sole purpose was to impart that wisdom to the ruler who would then act upon it. Ironically, the Oracles could not take action themselves to fulfill their own receivings, but needed a Ruler to complete the cycle.

Cassandra – the Oracle who was ignored, scorned, not listened to. Cassandra was the daughter of the King of Troy and served her family as their oracle, except that nobody heeded her warnings. She was perceived as delusional when she warned them about the Greeks coming to destroy their city – yet her vision was spot-on. Most women feel like Cassandra at some point in their lives – trying to communicate their perceptions to family members or work associates who simply choose not to listen. In exploring this archetype, we discovered the pain and anguish of not being heard; and some gave up in despair.

Prince/Hero/Knight in Shining Armor. Women can become this archetype as well: Joan of Arc, Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, G. I. Jane. The movement pattern is straight-lined, angular; this character is focused on the journey: charging about seeking dragons to kill. As Jim O’Halloran observed: “It’s a JOB!” – hugely exhausting! When one dragon was slain, the character needed to seek out another and yet another, ad infinitum.

Princess/Damsel in Distress: this archetype is a ploy. She employs a plethora of wiles to entice her target Prince/Knight in Shining Armor to come to her rescue, often resulting in his death or demise; and all along she could have saved herself! Her woe-is-me posture is always on the look-out to see who might be watching. Her movement patterns twist and turn into themselves morphing her form into a self-imploding pretzel.

Nurturing Mother/Father: this archetype embodies all-encompassing LOVE. The movement pattern started as protective arms encircling the child, then releasing the child to take their first steps with guidance and support; allowing the child to explore the world yet always being there as back-up, just-in-case. For some of the mothers in our workshop, this was a painful archetype to explore, with the realization that their children will eventually leave the nest.

Martyr Mom/Guilt-Tripper. A wonderful joke crystalizes this archetype: How many Jewish sons does it take to screw in a lightbulb? “None! I’ll sit here in the dark! He doesn’t call; he doesn’t write!” Damsels in Distress grow up to be Martyr Moms; at their core they are the same. The movement pattern was out-reaching in order to reel in the intended target, like a fish on a hook. A boatload of frenetic energy was needed to perpetuate the manipulation.

Arlecchino/Columbina/the crafty, wily servant. This archetype is definitely the sharpest knife in the drawer. Columbina used her sexual wiles to weave her way through a society that did not willingly grant a servant woman much power. Her movement pattern is circular, curvy – always on the alert for problems to be solved, employing circuitous means to get-er-done, making it seem like her master was the decider, exalting in her unpublished victory.

Zanni/the dumb, yet cunning servant: this archetype is usually large physically (the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet), more brawns than brains, a plodder. The movement pattern is heavy, leading with the thighs, waddling from side to side, always hungry, seeking out the next target to bully or con.

Child of Wonder: this archetype was everyone’s favorite, encompassing Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Christopher Robin, Harry Potter, reaching out to the wonder and beauty of the world all around, with every moment alive to the possibility of discovery. The movement pattern was circular and all encompassing, joyful and giggly, a feeling we all wanted to perpetuate throughout the rest of our lives.

Throughout the workshop I coached participants to allow the element of Catharsis to infuse their explorations – the notion that by allowing negative energy to flow through them out into the ethers, they could gain the insight into what makes that energy tick, without being sullied by the negativity. As the energy flows through an actor, the actor becomes purified of whatever negativity might be present; as the audience perceives the lessons contained in the negative energy, they can experience a release of that energy replaced by a new-found insight. The second we judge something, we create a chasm between ourselves and whatever it is we are judging. The best approach is to bridge gaps, not create them. Perception, rather than judgement, is its own reward.

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6 Comments

  1. Well done! I was trained as a Drama Therapist and went on to be a Psychdramatizt
    HETAC 9.
    Then worked with the Clinically Suicidal for 3 Consultant Psychiatrist .
    Later est a Charity and finally retired at 79 years.
    I have so read all of Jungs Collective Works (Red book excepted)
    If you would like a chat do feel free..
    I am 60 years Subud and Nat Helper Ireland
    Again qell done!

    Reply
  2. Genius.

    Reply
  3. Wonderful! I hope you will be able to repeat this in the future.
    it is so useful for keepingthe feelings clear and recognizing who
    we are dealing with.

    Reply
  4. Accessing Cultural Flow Through Theatre Archetypes, , I love this insight into human behavior, thank you Fayra!

    Reply
  5. Very good, Fayra. Similar, not the same, I’ve swum these waters you detail in my own experience. Excellent! – Also, it brought me back to a moment I “acted”, as it were, an earlier painting of Picasso’s. Thank you for what you’ve shared with us.

    Reply
  6. I enjoyed this, as I enjoyed your workshop. Thank you, Fayra!

    Reply

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