Myth and the Theatre

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The function of myth is to transcend its own functional core, by magnifying it, elaborating upon it, refining it and then enriching itself at each telling and retelling. Through sheer repetition, as it traverses generations, it frees itself from time frames and spatial considerations. Yet, paradoxically enough, it is in the theatre, bound by the three unities of time, space, and action, that the myth finds its daily validation. Myths have a special place in theatre. In a manner, the theatre may be described as the fount of myth, for the obvious artifice of theatre reinforces the universal quality of the truth that the myth envelops within itself.

The performer’s function is to bring the myth alive each evening and destroy it at the end of the performance. When the light of authenticity shines through, the performer, who feels imbued with the power of myth that has briefly been given to him to incarnate, succeeds in creating three distinct and autonomous entities on stage – the actor-person, the character-myth, and the mask-transitional device which can alternately embody either of the first two even as it bridges the gap between them. Only a bad actor will claim that he fuses his self with that of the role he plays; that is the prerogative of the exorcist, the Shaman and the witchdoctor. The daily quest in theatre is for that very authenticity which will enable the audience alternately to judge and participate, to be party as it were to the mysterious process by which the actor multiplies himself.

The process itself is a curious mixture of playful irreverence and rigorously executed ritual, the profane and the sacred. The stage is a Garbha-g®ha which confers upon the performer the status of a permanent outsider: he crystallizes a society’s memory and knowledge of itself even as he serves to subvert it.