The Circle Widens
The Working of the Spirit
Written by Peter Oswald based upon an outline of scenes and events by Marke Levene
Marke Levene created a performing arts company while living in England at the end of the 1980’s that toured throughout the Northern Hemisphere all four of Rudolf Steiner’s Mystery Dramas. These were performed in English in Europe and North America. The fourth Drama was performed by the company Portal Productions 51 times during this tour. Each performance began at 3:00pm and finished at 10:30 at night with breaks for meals. More than 12,000 people say these performances which opened new doors for these productions and the arts needed to perform them.
It was shortly after the final performance in the spring of 1995 that Marke had a moment of inspiration in which he could see what could be the next play that was never written by Rudolf Steiner. There are indications of what was intended to be part of that play but the beginning of the first world war prevented the festival from taking place and the play was never written. Marke wrote an outline of the characters, scenes, and events which has been copyrighted. Having shared the outline with some of the members of Portal Productions, It was clear that the idea of producing the play at that time was not possible. It was put away and went to sleep for 17 years.
The idea was awakened in 2011 and when shared again with colleagues from Portal Productions it now received an interest that has not been there in the past. Work was begun on the play and for some 4 years a version was created that was not felt by the members of the group now working through Lemniscate Arts that it was not strong enough to be produced. A series of readers theatre presentations were given in the USA and in England in 2016. These confirmed through audience reaction that more work was needed to be done to present the first version to a public audience.
This series of experiences eventually led to a completely new version of the play being written in 2017 by Peter Oswald. The creation of the play STEINER laid the foundation for that play but served to build a working relationship between Peter Oswald, Henry Allen (the director) and Marke Levene, the original source of the inspiration and producer of these plays. The text was written in 2017 and continues to be worked on now in 2018 in anticipation of production in 2019/2020.
Reviews of the Rehearsed Readers’ Theater
Article for Being Human
THE STAGING OF A NEW MYSTERY DRAMA: THE WORKING OF THE SPIRIT BY MARKE LEVENE AND MICHAEL BURTON
I treasure the memory of the play reading of the Working of the Spirit mystery drama that I saw on May 14th in Camphill Copake’s Fountain Hall.
Michael Burton took up Marke Levene’s outline for the Working of the Spirit and started writing the script in 2012. The Working of the Spirit, without claiming to be a fifth mystery drama, takes its departure from where The Soul’s Awakening, Steiner’s last play, left off. We witness the continued challenges of the business venture that Hilary Truegood had taken up from his father in The Soul’s Awakening. In the now successful enterprise we continue to witness the soul struggles and successes of Maria, Johannes Thomasius, Capesius, Felix and wife Felicia, and other individuals who consider themselves pupils of the initiate Benedictus.
History of the Play
How the play took its start is quite indicative of an artistic and social process that leads us towards what we could call the New Mysteries. Marke Levene, who has long worked with the production and staging of the mystery dramas through Portal Productions, explains that he was well versed in everything written about the mystery dramas, particularly Wilfried Hamacher’s extensive book on the history of the plays, as well as the insights of Adam Bittleston and Joseph Gunzinger. He knew about some of Steiner’s indications of the retrospective scenes that would have taken place in Greece at the Castalian Spring (and those appear in the new play) had he been able to write more of the intended mystery plays. However, the real basis for Marke’s insights lay in the protracted, lived experience of all the artistic facets of the dramas themselves. The repeated opportunities to perform in the plays, memorize the lines and flesh out a character over more than fifty performances brings up the awakening of new imaginative faculties. Marke explains “It was after we finished our tour of the fourth play in 1995 that I had the experience in which I could see the pictures of what would happen and wrote my outline.”
Marke then sought the help of friend and playwright Michael Burton, who received the five-page outline. Michael recalls first taking the outline as a mere set of suggestions, upon which he felt, he had ample freedom to elaborate. He adds, “When I tried to improve on it, things never went right. This applied to the many times when others gave me their suggestions. If these were in the spirit of the outline then they might be useful, but ideas that came from someone else’s reality would only create disharmony.”
The further elaboration of the play became a social/artistic process, involving the critical input of people who read the play at various stages of its development, many of them individuals with profound knowledge of anthroposophy and artists with decades of exposure to Steiner’s dramas. The result is the reader’s theater presentations in the USA and in England in anticipation of full production in 2018.
Structure of the Play
The fourteen scenes of the play move back and forward between the present and retrospective scenes of two Greek incarnations; the first five concerning the life of the enterprise, four scenes referring to Greece, five scenes returning to the modern times.
The initial five scenes refer to some years after the events narrated in Steiner’s The Soul’s Awakening. The enterprise has overcome its initial financial struggles, but is now faced with the challenge of faithfulness to its sustaining spiritual impulse. The scenes related to ancient Greece—some of the retrospect takes place in the spiritual world¬—refer to the turning point of the emerging power of thinking and the birth of philosophy. Scenes 6 and 7 precede the golden age of Delphi and the building of its famous temple; scenes 8 and 9 take place when the faculty of thinking gradually starts emerging out of the Mystery schools. Here we see the forming of Platonic and Aristotelian tendencies, even at a time in which Aristotle has not yet incarnated.
The final five scenes are the ones that took most of Michael’s attention and caused him the greatest challenge. They create the greatest departure from the style Steiner uses in the dramas, and illustrate the challenges encountered when representatives of the two Michaelic streams incarnate together in earth evolution. Scene 10 shows the difficulties that arise in the emblematic staging of a very difficult business meeting. In Scene 11 Benedictus, the initiate, dies. Michael comments, “It took me two years to realize what is in this final section of the play. The Anthroposophical Society was not able to hold together in its time of severe testing in the early 1930’s. With the death of their leader, the core-group of people in our mystery play go through a similar situation and experience the same attacks upon them as took place in historical fact in the Society.”
Some Personal Observations
At the heart of the play are, I would say, three major themes, if not more: the meeting and collaboration of very different kinds of souls; the death of the initiate Benedictus, who is present in all the previous Mystery Dramas; the endeavor to stem the tide of economic globalization not just with reform ideas, but with the whole living understanding of the threefold social order.
The Working of the Spirit continues the themes of The Souls’ Awakening, Steiner’s last mystery drama. However, one need not know The Soul’s Awakening or indeed all the previous mystery plays in order to understand the present play or enjoy it as a self-contained unit. Thomasius, Maria, Capesius, Felix, Felicia and new characters (e. g. Ferdinand Reinecke, Nicholas Findig) navigate the daring task of developing a business that truly meets the economic and cultural needs of the times. Their challenge lies in uniting their destinies and directing their professional aims in accord with one another. And this means confronting the constraints of an economy gone global, and taking decisions that are fraught with new challenges, such as moving part of the operations to the developing world.
For those of us who have seen the mystery dramas, maybe many times over, Burton and Levene’s effort offers new nuances. For one, the whole of globalization is presented in its updated version, in a way that would not have been possible at the time of Steiner. With this we are touching on the theme of the intensification of evil in our time, particularly in the West, through the presence and work of the Asuras (appearing for the first time in a play), who add their work to that of Luciferic and Ahrimanic beings.
A few examples will indicate the extreme differences between the individualities, and yet their need to work together. Felix is the character that Steiner drew partly from Felix Koguzki, an herb gatherer who had an atavistic perception of the working of the elemental beings in nature. In the evolution of the play, his discipleship with Benedictus has implied the need to gain a conscious relationship with the spirit and the need to lose his atavistic clairvoyance. This means going through a long night of the soul before finding himself again. In the play this movement does not find a resolution. In scene 2 Felix comments on the faithfulness of his wife, Felicia, in offering him support through his trials, when even he cannot understand how she can put up with him. He qualifies the painful change he undergoes as a feeling equivalent to losing his individuality. This is accompanied with the loss of his earlier tasks and the assumption of the humble work of a janitor. Maria reassures him thus “This is your path, Felix. If spiritual vision has been taken away from you for a time, it’s because you’ve been found ready to undergo a further period of training. Your vision will come back to you at a higher level.”
At an opposite end from Felix lies Hilary, who feels at home with the constraints of the physical world, and of business. In Scene 3, Hilary, the managing director of the company, who wants to further the impulse of brotherhood in the economy, struggles with self-doubt and deeper conflicting feelings. Hilary appears quite dismissive of his own person and admits to Benedictus his lack of self-confidence, even as he directs a large company. In scene 11 these feelings, or rather his awareness of them, intensify and he announces it thus “I have so much hatred and self-loathing. Let me feel these things, all of you! Always I’ve been the one who knew what to do… But I’ve been hiding something from you all. I’ve been concealing it, even from myself. … Let me live with this side of me. I’ve avoided it for so long—done everything I could to pretend it didn’t exist.” And Maria simply replies “It’s true, you need to be with it for a time.” Hilary, in an equivalent though quite different position to Felix, points thus to the mystery of human encounters “I’m in thick darkness, searching for him [Benedictus], but he doesn’t answer me. I am alone, more alone than I have ever been before… And yet, you are with me. You… and many others.”
Scene 10 brings in humorous fashion the kind of difficult, tense and unruly meetings that can take place in a board room, aggravated by the difficulties Benedictus is going through (his impending death). When two individuals are practically at each other’s throats Maria reminds them “If I could just say something please. We are all one-sided, flawed individuals, and it could seem an impossible task to stand together in the ideals Benedictus has set before us. But the key question is: how can we carry each other’s one-sidedness in such a way that together we form a wholeness where each one feels empowered by the other.”
What Maria invokes as an idea is presented in concrete examples throughout the play. What one individual can achieve often offers the strength for another person’s development. In the second scene Capesius’ inner victory gives Johannes Thomasius new strength of resolve, and greater reliability towards the others; so much so that he can then lend help to Maria later in the play. This is a reversal from the Johannes we know, generally very dependent on Maria’s presence in Steiner’s mystery plays.
Throughout the play there is a new quality, an enhancement of what it means to work spiritually together, which in my mind reflects of the possibilities that are presented to human beings in the present. On one hand evil is more overwhelmingly present in the world, and so is our seeming powerlessness. But, it’s precisely in this powerlessness that the characters in the drama find their strength. It’s in this utter state of dereliction that the Christ can work with human beings who pursue together the active cultivation of the spirit, which is possible through spiritual science.
And finally the play brings to life a theme rarely touched from an artistic perspective—the power of the ideas of threefolding—without becoming didactic or pedantic. In fact, the individuals are tossed in the high seas of a changing world and no clear-cut solutions appear on the horizon; every decision is fraught with possible risks. There is in effect no easy choice, other than furthering one’s own spiritual development and seeing the close interconnection of social and personal change. This is expressed by Benedictus to Hilary “Transforming the company starts with the transformation of its chief executive officer.” (Scene 3) It is precisely in this interweaving of personal and global themes that lays the strength of daring to follow the daunting idea of continuing Steiner’s tradition of the mystery dramas. In light of this we can appreciate this important contribution to the renewal of anthroposophical arts, even if we could understandably find faults or shortcomings here or there.
Review from WORKING OF THE SPIRIT PRESENTS POWERFUL PICTURES OF THE SOUL LIFE OF CONTEMPORARY TIMES IN READERS’ THEATER
“This “new Mystery Drama” as it is being called is really a “must see” for anthroposophist’s everywhere! It is compelling and well written, with a cast of actors well suited for the reading of such complex and compelling characters and interconnections! The actors have been assembled from around the world.
Over Whitsun weekend, Camphill Copake hosted a festival of “new mystery dramas” in “readers’ theater” format. Michael Burton, established author and lifetime student of Anthroposophy and Rudolf Steiner’s Mystery Dramas, wrote the Working of the Spirit drama using Marke Levene’s outline as his starting point.
Marke Levene’s immersion in the 1980’s into the 1990’s with Portal Productions on producing, performing and touring Rudolf Steiner’s Mystery Dramas provided him a meditatively acquired outline of the next Mystery Drama Steiner had planned when the start of WWI blocked continuation. This play is an attempt to continue the story of these characters.
The journey of the play is well worth the long ride, however, with rich language – very deep and beautiful – and the depicting of the lives and relationships of earthly humans as well as spiritual beings.
Twenty actors portray the many characters and do a clear and moving rendering, as they read from scripts, bringing the play to life.
This new drama, based on Rudolf Steiner’s four Mystery Dramas and featuring the characters from those four plays, continues their stories into the future.”
– Patrick O’Neil
Information and details on the production and performance schedule for Steiner are forthcoming. Please check back for updates, reviews, schedule and additional information. We appreciate your interest and support!
WHAT IS A MYSTERY DRAMA?
The Mystery Drama is an ages-old dramatic form. These are designed to show from the stage the connection between the spiritual world and the earth. The action onstage reveals the spiritual beings working from the heavens to help or hinder human beings in their earthly lives. Classical Greek playwrights, (Aeschylus and Sophocles, e.g.) and Medieval Mystery Cycles are examples of this genre. In a more modern era, the most famous Mystery Plays are perhaps those of the York Cycle, a series of at least 48 plays, performed by the York Craft Guilds from 1376 to 1569. Recently renewed interest in this art form can be seen in a 2000 revival of the York Cycle staged in the York Minster as The York Millennium Mystery Plays.
Rudolf Steiner wrote four Mystery Dramas in the years 1910 to 1913. He described these plays as showing a path to developing inner freedom. Distinguishing Rudolf Steiner’s mystery plays from others is the presentation onstage of the former lifetimes of the main characters and the way in which the deeds of former lives shape the challenges those individuals face in subsequent lifetimes on earth. The Mystery Drama inspiring this proposed performance tour, The Working of the Spirit is the result of collaborative efforts to understand how the series of plays written by Rudolf Steiner might continue. As a result of the outbreak of World War I, the production of these plays was forced to a standstill in 1914. The extreme destruction of the World War itself bore a signature element of the twentieth century: disconnecting advances in applied technology from the necessary corresponding moral development.
To accomplish this artistic event of The Working of the Spirit Mystery Drama, the approach we take to acting will use indications from Rudolf Steiner as well as professional techniques from the work of figures such as Michael Chekhov and Rudolf Laban.