Sensory Labyrinth Theatre, principles
Sensory Labyrinth Theatre is a participative arts process that leads to the creation
of a site-specific installation performance.
Audiences enter the instillation alone and journey on a winding path along which
they encounter ‘sensory portals.’ These portals are co-created with community
volunteers or professional artists through research methods Cynefin have developed.
In the dark spaces of the Labyrinth these encounters help intensify the travellers’
senses and awaken in them a renewed appreciation of the kind of aliveness
remembered from childhood.
Iwan Brioc, Theatr Cynefin
Sensory Labyrinth Theatre (SLT)
Created by Iwan Brioc, (Artistic Director of Theatr Cynefin and Director of Research and Practice at The Republic of the Imagination) as an applied theatre methodology inspired by Enrique Vargas’s ‘Poetics of the Senses’; SLT ramps up the inherent but suppressed sensitivity of human sensory perception and the suppressed capacity of luminosity inherent in everyday experience. Individual audience members journey alone through a darkened three-dimensional labyrinth and along the way encounter moments and meetings that provoke subconscious sensory memories (sensory portals) into which they are gently invited to fall. In accepting this invitation constructs such as time and space, me and you, the inner and the outer start to collapse. Framed for the audience as ‘theatre,’ this space also takes on the added dimensions of the aesthetic space – memory and imagination: so that consciousness and this conditioned process of construction we call ‘reality’ can become an observable phenomenon – observed by the ‘character’ of the traveller in the performance.
In theatre terms this is an internalization of the Brecht’s Verfremdungseffekt or distancing effect‘ - "which prevents the audience from losing itself passively and completely in the character created by the actor, and which consequently leads the audience to be a consciously critical observer”. The character the audience is challenged to observe in SLT (and in Context Oriented Theatre generally) is the ‘I’ that is experiencing rather than the ‘Me’ which is the culmination of those experiences.
In Brecht’s Epic Theatre distancing is achieved because -"artist never acts as if there were a fourth wall besides the three surrounding him [...] The audience can no longer have the illusion of being the unseen spectator at an event which is really taking place." In SLT there is no fourth wall at all, the aesthetic space permeates all areas including the audience member’s internal mental state, so that the mind’s ‘I’ can no longer have the illusion of being the unseen spectator at an event which is taking place out there. Beckoned into the spotlight of pre-reflexive awareness a deep and profound insight into the participative nature of reality can emerge.
One function of this technology is to support the emergence of ‘communitas’-the quality, first described by anthropologist Victor Turner, without which community is just a term to describe a group of people and not a feeling of common humanity with a shared meaning within that group of people. Sensory Labyrinth Theatre has the capacity to bring about ‘communitas’, an unifying sense of meaning from having touched together the ineffable mystery of our being, undermining any cultural, religious or ethnic barriers that otherwise divide us.