History of Rasaboxes

When and where were rasaboxes devised?

lowad-karunaRichard Schechner, professor of Performance Studies at the Tisch School of the Arts NYU and a theater director, has long used psychophysical exercises in his work. In 1967, Schechner took part in a workshop led by Jerzy Grotowski and Ryszard Cieslak that introduced Schechner to rigorous psychophysical exercises. Schechner transmitted some of this work to actors in The Performance Group which he founded in 1967. In 1971-72, Schechner made the first of many research journeys to Asia. He studied yoga in India. In India and throughout Asia he saw many different kinds of performances that shared one underlying quality: rigorous psychophysical training. Schechner carefully studied (in translation) The Natyasastra, the ancient Sanskrit text on performance. He also studied the training in the facial expressions of the nine rasas in kathakali. At the same time, Schechner began researching Western studies of the emotions – particularly the work of Paul Ekman (expression of emotions in the human face) and Michael Gershon (the enteric nervous system, the ”brain in the belly”). Throughout the 1970s-80s, Schechner not only trained members of the Performance Group but led many other workshops where he kept exploring and developing different methods of training. Therefore, it is difficult to pinpoint the inception of rasaboxes because Schechner over more than 20 years gathered and evolved the ideas and practices that gave rise to them. Much of this practical and theoretical work has been chronicled by Schechner in his books – especially Environmental Theater, Between Theater and Anthropology, and Performance Theory. Schechner began devising rasaboxes in the late 1980s as part of his annual summer performance workshop at NYU and in rehearsals with East Coast Artists (ECA), the theatre company he founded after he left The Performance Group. In April 2000, Schechner lectured on rasaboxes at Concordia University. Michele Minnick and Paula Murray Cole – Schechner’s colleagues in East Coast Artists – demonstrated rasaboxes at Concordia. The next year, Schechner developed this lecture “Rasaesthetics,” an essay published in TDR, the performance studies journal Schechner edits. In “Rasaesthetics” Schechner theorized the relationship between rasaboxes, The Natyasastra, Ekman’s and Gershon’s research. Since 1998, members of ECA have further developed and applied rasaboxes in classes, workshops, rehearsals, and performances. Both in Schechner’s own workshops and the workshops of his ECA colleagues, rasaboxes does not stand alone but in connection to a suite of psychophysical exercises some of which go all the way back to The Performance Group.