By Gabrielle Sinclair
Gabrielle is a co-organizer for The Body Project, and artistic director of Storyhound Theatre.
Welcome to The Body Project! We are learning by doing. (Including with blog posts).
A week ago today, The Body Project began. A three-month experiment bringing together upward of 40 local independent collaborators to investigate the human body through the four humors and their associated temperaments.
Here's how this came about: My company, Storyhound Theatre, has engaged with learning as a lens for creation twice before, with our Uncommon Core reading series - first the Math Plays, then the Physics Plays - relationship-based theatre through the lens of math and science. Our next muse was human biology, with the Art Truck, UNCG's magnificent mobile art gallery. We were going to unmake it and remake the body. Easy. We might even solve it. Maybe everyone could draw a body part? Maybe we could literally build a body?
It became clear, fast, that something felt inherently uneasy with our first instincts. Chunks of flesh and muscles and guts did not a body make! We needed to find a means of finding, manifesting a body in motion. A body moved.
What makes us not merely piles of pieces? What is it that moves us to love, to hate, to sacrifice, to discover, to weep? What is that? Do you call it a soul?
Then we remembered our Shakespeare. And the greatest characters of Western theatre - Hamlet, Lady Macbeth, Falstaff, Viola among them - and their roots in their bodies, and the imaginative biological understanding of wellness, madness, sorrow, love.
So last week, a gaggle of curious and brave Greensboro artists - visual, theatre, textual, musical, filmic, and movement - gathered at a hidden, unassuming place - The Greensboro Project Space - down a nearly invisible little lane alongside the Railyard in downtown. We ate yellow cake with flowers on it. We shook hands, wrote down our names, and wondered what was going on. We drew slips of paper with absurd, sticky sounding prompts - blood, black bile, yellow bile, and phlegm. We stood in a circle and tried to explain - “We’re building a body, together. This is where it will live. All of us will work independently. Your process is your own, and it’s a good one. Take your prompt - and go - get out of your comfort zone. In a little over three months, we’ll put on a show.”
We were at the beginning - like a body gathered up in pieces.
We did a silly yet poignant experiment sponsored by the produce section of Harris Teeter, to try and understand what these vital fluids are, and how their connected temperaments - sanguine, melancholy, choleric, and phlegmatic, might live in us and be manifest through our art. These "vital fluids," possibly originating in ancient Egypt, but most likely named by the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, were the underlying basis of medicine for thousands of years. They are imaginative, and in many ways they make no sense. They were dismissed when modern medicine came along.
And they are where we begin.
Is it possible to build a community or creative doers, thinkers, makers, movers? A body of work. The body politic. Next door to us, in The Forge, students were learning to weld. In our room, for this short time, a question hung in the air - How do we forge a singular, living body from us? How do we create something - someone - whole?
As Jess (of UNCG's Art Truck, and a grad student at UNCG) put it that night, "There's something powerful and freeing about inviting your demons to dinner." Each of these ancient images tap into something we often want to snuff out entirely, let alone find balance in. For the next three months, we're inviting our demons to dinner. What questions should we pose? And what will we do with the answers we receive?
This online space is meant to serve as a remnant of this creative process - time stamps along the way. A safe space for collaborators working independently in this project to share and reflect on where they are at, what's on their minds, look for connections, put things in context. Check in.
This online space is also an evolving, living document, where we hope to gather research that might be illuminating, inspiring, strange. History and stories. Revelations. Silliness. Tragedy. Stray thoughts. Questions we don't have the answers to and might one day.
The image waiting for us at the end of this journey, in March, returning to where we began at the gallery down that little lane, is a body, filled up and alive and awake with fire, earth, water, air. With blood, phlegm, black bile, yellow bile. In search of the whole, in search of harmony, we're giving the notes each their chance to sing.