Sunday, January 9, 2011


(Adapted by Billy Marshall Stoneking)

1. Life is Suffering

Drama, by definition, presents and explores suffering; which is to say, it presents characters in the grip of ANXIETY.

In a dramatic story, suffering (or anxiety) is synonymous with disconnection.

Birth is suffering (disconnection from the mother).

Aging is suffering (disconnection from one’s former self, from one’s youth or one’s past).

Sickness is suffering (disconnection from health – i.e.: dis-ease, without ease).

Separation from one’s beloved is suffering.

Failure in business is suffering.

Not to get what one wants is suffering.

Drama is a present-time investigation of what humans or human-like characters do when faced with some form or another of disconnection (suffering).

2. The cause of suffering is Desire

One wants what one doesn’t have; if one had it there would be no reason to want it.

Dramatic action is largely the product of characters actively seeking ways of regaining something that has been lost or taken from them. Or the movement toward an idealised dream, a goal, a vision of human potential, their potential.

Dramatic desire = frustrated desire.

Without frustrated desire, drama is not possible.

Therefore, drama is concerned with characters that are possessed of a desire for something they do not have, and which they must satisfy short of some other terrible calamity befalling them.

3. Suffering can be overcome

Drama always involves the potential for, and the actuality of, change.

Through a character’s actions and the potency of those actions, there is hope that the suffering might be transformed or overcome.

Drama presents the journey a character makes in order to overcome or transcend the anxiety – or suffering – occasioned by the frustration of desire.

Drama allows us – as audience – to explore and find (or not find) with the character a solution to the suffering.

By way of the dramatic journey that is the story, we experience the possibility and sometimes – at least, vicariously – the actuality of hope and healing.

4. The Eightfold Path

A story-journey involves a series of choices and actions, and proceeds from beginning to middle to end along a pathway that is the character’s journey to answer a challenge, effect a healing or overcome an adversary.

The journey a character makes in order to “set things right” – to re-dress a wrong, or re-establish order, or attain some degree of balance and harmony that will ultimately lead the character to achieving his or her true desire or goal – is conducted via the eightfold path, which is composed of the following:

· Right View – The beginning and end of the journey

To see and understand things as they really are.

It may be that the “right view”, which the character possesses at the beginning of a story is sabotaged or undermined by actions of others by events that have been authored by others. What is crucial is to remember that difference characters have different agendas, which are expressed in differing plans of actions. When one character’s goal and plan of action are incompatible with another character’s goal and action conflict happens.

Conflict – or any dramatic situation or action - interrupts the “rightness” of a character’s world, forcing him or her to either capitulate (the passive character) or “fight for something” (the active character) – Dramatic character when faced with conflicts, obstacles or complications strive to find a new way of making things “right” again.

Also, the action of a dramatic story often begins with anxiety and ends with a complete understanding of the true nature of things as they pertain to issue being dramatised.

· Right Intention – Goals and plans

This involves a commitment on the part of the main character(s) to the ethical, physical and/or mental improvement of a situation. This improvement is expressed as a goal and is dramatised by the actions of the character in pursuit of that goal.

The character’s intention to achieve his/her goal manifests through what the character says and does as well as through the other characters’ reactions to what that character says and does.

· Right Speech – The power and impotence of language

“Choose your words carefully before you let them fall, lest they mar your fortune.” This is the essential wisdom that is the recognition that words can make and break lives; they can provoke enemies and encourage friends, start wars or create peace.

“Right speech” means:

1) To avoid telling deliberate lies or to speak deceitfully;

2) to avoid slanderous speech and not use words maliciously against others;

3) to eschew harsh words that offend or hurt others;

4) to abstain from idle talk that lacks purpose or depth.

· Right Action – Externalising the emotions

This involves what a character actually does. When the action a character manifests is not appropriate for achieving the desired goal, the possibilities of achieving that goal decrease.

A character’s misconduct will aggravate the disconnection that lies at the heart of the drama. However, when the main character’s actions are founded upon sound and moral principles, and when he/she acts upon a plan that acknowledges these principles, and is appropriate to the goal that that character wishes to achieve, the possibilities for obtaining that goal increase.

· Right Livelihood – Navigating the material world

A character is known by the company he keeps and by the company that keeps

A character’s livelihood may have a significant impact upon the character’s ability to effect a healing, and thus overcome the problems that are causing him/her pain.

Characters can be victims of inappropriate occupations, both formal and informal – and are frequently only able to effect positive change when what they do to earn their keep recognises that good fortune and health are not usually possible short of finding them through moral and legal means.

· Right Effort – Managing Time & Action

Dramatic actions must not be idle or passive. A character becomes dramatic when his/her efforts are directed towards clear and credible goals.

To expend right effort means to act in accordance with one’s true goal, and not to indulge in misguided actions out of mere idleness or because you can’t think of anything better to do. It also refers to those actions of the main character that have the potential to transform dramatic situations in favour of increasing the character’s chances of attaining his/her goal.

· Right Mindfulness – Wisdom or the ability to “care and not to care – the ability to sit still

This involves recognising and respecting particular people (including oneself) and the situations in which they find themselves. The appreciation of a person or a situation for what it is (in its “suchness”), and not for what one hopes or wishes it might be or could be.

It is the mental energy that is the force behind right effort, which stops the character from confusing aggression and violence with righteousness and benevolence.

When a character is focused on the “here and now” and not confused or misguided by idle thoughts about “there and then”, he/she attains the lucidity that is the hallmark of right mindfulness.

· Right Concentration – The art of single-mindedness

To be utterly attentive while at the same time maintaining a calm and steady demeanour.

To have the strength not to be side tracked or distracted by actions and events that would lead one away from one’s goals.

 5. The Four Anxieties

Dramatic suffering is characterised by anxiety.

The central character of the story - for whatever reason - has his/her desire frustrated. This frustration gives way to a feeling of unrest, or a sense of isolation or disconnection, or pain – that is, anxiety.

The character’s dramatic quest is to resolve the problems produced by this frustration and to overcome the anxiety that has been produced by the frustration.

In powerful and well conceived dramatic stories, the anxiety is often aided and abetted by the main character’s own belief system, which must be confronted during the course of the journey if the character is to have any hope of achieving his/her ultimate goal.

The transcending of inadequate, inappropriate or false beliefs (the “psychological wounds” of the character) is ultimately the character’s inner journey, which finds its outer manifestation in him/her realising his ultimate desire or goal.

There are four basic anxieties – each of which contains many possible sub-sets.

The four anxieties that form the basis of drama and the impetus for dramatic action are:

the anxiety of Doubt
the anxiety of Guilt
the anxiety of Death
the anxiety of Meaninglessness

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