We all toss around the word ‘interdisciplinary’ like it’s a good thing. “We’re an interdisciplinary department”, “I’m doing interdisciplinary research”, blah blah blah. But when it comes down to it, we often just mean we’ll look at papers in different disciplines to see what’s interesting, or even what directly applies to us. We don’t really mean we want to participate in a bunch of different stuff.
I come off all weird pretty frequently, for various reasons, but it is interesting to see people’s faces when they find out I was once a biologist, or that I trained to work in artificial reproduction. It’s a strength of my experience that I’ve written everything from plays to nuclear facility safety documents, that I participate in activities from stage productions to drinking games.
I didn’t think my latest foray out of my comfort zone would be quite so inspiring. I showed up to the “Labyrinth Theatre Workshop” because it looked interesting in general, and because it was a friend conducting it for her research. Now I think it can have great bearing on my own research.
It came down to a series of sensory exercises, bringing back my old theatre days, the improv exercises, the warm-ups, the slight embarrassment at being in contact with other people’s bodies.
The concept behind the workshop was Labyrinth Theatre: an advanced version of the haunted house my grandma used to run at Halloween. Every October, she opened the pitch-black, long corridor of bedrooms, closets, and bathrooms, to a sensory creep-show. Stick your hand through door number 1, and plunge your fingers into a bowl of eyeballs. Open door number 3, and a whoosh of air and a scream sent you running back down the hall. Of course, it was only peeled grapes, a fan and a tape player, but the sensory experience coupled with the imagination made it all real.
That’s essentially what Labyrinth Theatre boils down to: a path upon which you cannot get lost (it’s not a maze), with pockets of sensory experiences for the “audience” traversing it in the dark of night. I imagine it’s great for those in drama, to open up their performance and experience to the body, beyond memorization of lines and hitting the right mark.
For me, I wish every creative writer I know had experienced the workshop (there’s one again in July, hint, hint). We’re instructed at every turn, in every article, in every workshop, to use all five senses in our writing, to bring it to life for the reader the way my grandmother brought her horrors to life for all the kids in the neighborhood.
But our reality is sitting in front of a computer, butts going numb, possibly worrying about DVTs. Most of us block out glare. We may have background noise on, not to be able to engage the senses, but so that we can actively block them out. It’s a bit of a paradox for fleshing out writing with sensory description.
The workshop, however, made all the senses immediate. It made me aware of the dripping pipe on the outside of the building, of the shadows in my eyelids, of the tingle red blood cells make in my hands as they rush about their highways and byways. It made me feel. It will make me a better writer.
As an added bonus, the concept of the labyrinth is ideal for the PhD project I’m putting together, on several levels. It draws on mythology, which is at the center of the work, and offers both a physical structure and metaphorical space for the characters and reader/participants to play in.
I was inspired on multiple levels by the experience – and more than a tad disappointed that more of my fellows didn’t make the attempt to join in on something so outside our normal sphere. Come to the next one, guys. It’ll be good for you.