Presence (Updated: 9/23/17)

“One must give oneself totally, in one’s deepest intimacy, with confidence, as when one gives oneself in love. Here lies the key. Self-penetration, trance, excess, the formal discipline itself – all this can be realized, provided one has given oneself fully, humbly and without defense.” – Jerzi Grotowski¹

Presence is synonymous with intensity, which is not necessarily about physical strength and/or speed. It is the life blood of performance. If there is no presence, there is no show. When you appear in the performance space, you are to hijack the audience. Nobody can look away. As Artaud says, “the theater, like the plague, is a crisis which is resolved by death or cure.”² Give all (sustainability granted), or don’t give any.

But how do we get to intensity? Through focus. Focus is the root of presence. When our attention or energy is dispersed in many directions, we lose presence. Presence is sharp and goes in one direction. If we feel a subtle tendency or qualia, for instance, we enter into it with our entire being. Anything less is not a show. For instance, even when we feel there is nothing more to give due to a sick or dying body, a massive presence can be generated by the awareness of the last piece of string keeping us alive.

Exercise 1: Intensity Switch

Have the participant engage in a strenuous activity whether physical, emotional, and/or psychological. At your signal, the participant suddenly stops and shifts to a qualia which has already been established either by you or them. It is very important that the shift is immediate and there is no lag or thought in-between, else there will be a leak of intensity.

Exercise 2: Bleak Vapor

This is a vaporizing exercise where the participant is either in stillness or movement. The participant will be given a series of qualias to experience within the vapor, but they will all be harsh environments. In each circumstance, the stillness or movements of the 3d body will not be affected outside of a subtle but powerful shift in presence due to continuing the identical movements despite the circumstances. Here are example vaporized worlds that increase in intensity: (1) There is a terrible hurricane; (2) The world is made of only lead; (3) The abyss or void opens which nothing escapes.

Exercise 3: 10,000 Copycats

This is another vaporizing exercise, but now involves 10,000 duplicates or 10,000 parallel worlds of yourself. In each world, each of you follow the exact stillness or movement you are currently engaged in. Essentially, you have an army of 10,000 reinforcing your every movement.

That is the first part of the exercise. The second part of the exercise calls for a signal so that the 10,000 of you instantaneously absorb themselves into your 3d body.


When do we know a performance is a performance? Outside of having at least one audience member, which we can also view as one or more persons simply being communicated to, we can broaden the concept of performing itself.

To Richard Schechner’s model of Restored Behavior, performance entails any “organized sequences of events, scripted actions, known texts, scored movements [that] exist separate from the performers who ‘do’ these behaviors, … [so] the behavior can be stored, transmitted, manipulated, transformed.” In other words, the communication or action is repeatable or has the ability or intention to be performed again.³ We may be able to, however, think of instances where a performance is not repeatable such as in improvisation, and improvisation is a very important aspect of butoh.

In Eelka Lampe’s Performing/Not Performing model, there are different modes of performance separated into two classes, social and aesthetic, which also have the ability to feed off each other or merge.³


Self Not Performing – Little awareness/nonconscious, feeling unobserved, and not meant to be precisely repeatable such as being seen going out for a walk or smoking a cigarette. (Shadowbody Note: When we have expanded the concept of not performing to that of performing, we have entered into the territory of Shakespeare’s “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” Here, we can risk developing something drab or non-stimulating to the audience.)

Personality Creating a Self  Aware/conscious, communicative, feeling observed, and not meant to be precisely repeatable such as having a conversation or telling a joke.

Social Persona Performing a Part of Oneself – Consciously trained, communicative, feeling observed, and precisely repeatable such as working as an airline host/hostess (Shadowbody Note: When the airline host/hostess goes over the safety regulations, they even engage in mime.)

Self in Ritual  Either aware or not aware, either consciously or nonconsciously trained, either unobserved or observed, and also repeatable. This is as trance dancing. (Shadowbody Note: This is a common goal in butoh. As one can see, it has the potential to blur the line between performing and/or not because there may come a point where the qualities of Self Not Performing are mirrored–that of little awareness/nonconscious.)


Self in Play – Non-conscious/little awareness, feeling unobserved, and not meant to be precisely repeatable such as playing a video game with somebody or movement improvisation in a workshop.

Character Acting/Creating an Other Self  Conscious/more aware and meant to be repeatable, communicative, and feeling observed such as playing Hamlet in a theater production.

Aesthetic Persona Performing a Part of Oneself – Conscious/aware, communicative, feeling observed such as Kabuki stage attendants.

Techniques of Virtuosity Transforming the Self – Conscious/aware such as acrobats.

Eelka Lampe further notes:

A performer constructing a character might draw on aspects of her/his own self, personality, or various social personae. The reverse can also be true: a personality can be a fictional character of one’s own construction. The same holds for the fabrication of a person’s social personae. Both the social and the aesthetic personae can be built from very private aspects of the self. And, conversely, a person’s social persona might be displayed while s/he is playing a self-absorbed game. Performing is a mixture and/or a layering of several of the model’s “pure” stages.4

As one can see, the question of what makes a performance is a complex one and is best pondered on one’s own.

Focus Cultivation (Symbol Method)

Everything we do must start from somewhere and what better place is there to start than a neutral place of readiness as explained in detail in filler, idle & scribble and heavily encouraged by artists such as Jerzy Grotowski (the neutral mask). But because the potential field may be difficult to focus on at all times, we can utilize the symbol method as a placeholder or starting ground to compensate for monkey mind or lack of concentration.

If we are not utilizing the cultivation of chaos/potential/filler/scribble, then this practice is to be taken up indefinitely throughout the day. This practice works with (instead of against) our possible “ADD” or monkey mind. We can think of it as a palate cleanser such as coffee beans may be for smelling different fragrances. This method is a personalized version of everyday focusing methods utilized by many cultures such as prayer bead work, god or guru images, or mantra repetition.

1. Pick one symbol familiar to you. The simpler the better, but you must highly enjoy or resonate very heavily with it. For instance, I resonate very heavily with the symbol of two spheres together. Once the symbol is chosen, do not switch to another. This is the symbol you always return to.

2. Feel all the varying aspects of the symbol (refer to vision & perception). Especially feel how it looks, tastes, smells, and sounds. For instance, my two spheres take the form of Chinese iron balls, so I can hear the chime, feel the weight and roundness, smell the metallic smell, and see its luster, along with many other aspects. One is to get to the point where the symbol is effortless to focus on because it resonates so much with our core being or subbody.


¹ Grotowski, Jerzy.Towards a Poor Theatre, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2012.
² Artaud, Antonin. The Theater and Its Double. New York: Grove Press, 1958. Print.
³ Schechner, Richard. Between Theater and Anthropology, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 35-37. 1985.
4 Lampe, Eelka, “Rachel Rosenthal Creating Her Selves.” Acting (Re) Considered. Routledge. p. 300, 301. 2005.