What is Rasaboxes?

Devised in the 1980s and 90s by Richard Schechner, rasaboxes offers performers a concrete physical tool to access, express, and manage their feelings/emotions within the context of performance. Useful as performer training, rasaboxes also has many other applications in various fields including (but not limited to) therapy, business, and education. Basically, rasaboxes trains participants to physically express eight key emotions first identified in the Natyasastra, a Sanskrit text dealing with theatre, dance, and music. Rasaboxes integrates this ancient theory with contemporary emotion research about the “brain in the belly” (the enteric nervous system), studies in facial expression of emotion, neuroscience, and performance theory — including Antonin Artaud’s provocative assertion that the actor is “an athlete of the emotions.” Rasaboxes is a fully embodied and individual means to express these eight key emotions separately and in combination through direct physical practice. Rasaboxes trains participants to work holistically: the body/mind/emotions are treated as a single system. In practice, rasaboxes produces performances that are visceral and useful across a wide range of contexts: from subtle film acting to bold commedia dell’ arte, from naturalistic theatre to pure dance, music, and movement. Rasaboxes integrates rather than separates acting, movement, and voice. Rasaboxes engages the whole performer in a single, powerful, and learnable approach.

The Sanskrit word “rasa” can be translated as “juice, taste, flavor, essence.” The underlying concept is that rasa suffuses and inhabits our feelings. Rasa is a process rather than a thing. And yet the eight rasas can be identified and played with. Rasas are the primary flavors such as salty, sour, sweet, pungent, astringent, and bitter. Or smells. Or the way a person feels — “blue” or “in the pink” or “heavy” and so on. Rasas are distinct “flavors” of energy and emotion one feels during an artistic performance or in an everyday life situation.

actor in raudra rasabixThe eight rasas — in Sanskrit with rough translations — are: adbhuta (surprise, wonder), sringara (love, eros), bhayanaka (fear, shame), bibhatsa (disgust, revolt), vira (courage, the heroic), hasya (laughter, the comic), karuna (sadness, compassion), and raudra (rage). In the 11th century, the Buddhist performance theorist Abhinavagupta added a ninth rasa, santa (peace, bliss). Santa is “clear light,” the perfectly balanced combination-blending of the other eight rasas. In rasaboxes which are physically a grid producing nine equally sized boxes, the “santa box” is in the center. No one performs santa — but sometimes one may feel entitled to enter santa, to be in perfect harmony, if only for the moment.

Rasaboxes exercises range from the very simple and personal expression of each rasa individually by means of drawing, breathing, gesturing, acting, and vocalizing to complex combinations of rasas performed by several people simultaneously. Rasaboxes exercises are psychophysical, engaging the whole body-mind. From composing the body and guiding the breath, the work leads step-by-step to sound and movement exercises that may use objects and texts, music, masks, and songs — and more. There is an unpredictability in rasaboxes in terms of means. During each workshop, new ways of accessing and expressing the emotions are found.

actor in hasyaRasaboxes is a process, an open system — not a closed, if incredibly rich, universe such as ballet or kathakali. In its more advanced phases, rasabox performers mix, layer, and score the eight rasas in ways that create complex expressions, dramatic characters, and psychophysical emotional relations. Using rasaboxes, artists can explore plays, compose scenes, create choreographies or music, and even invent entire performances. In the world beyond the arts, rasaboxes can be used to “loosen up” the emotions, help participants discover how they are feeling what they are feeling, communicate with others and with previously hidden or blocked aspects of themselves.

The possibilities of rasaboxes are really endless.