What are Context Oriented Arts?

CoArts invites audiences, through a progression of theatre forms, to turn their attention towards the present moment – the sense of being alive here and now.

It asks us to play with the possibility that ‘all there is, is this’ – the ‘this’ that is happening inwardly and outwardly at every moment. And further, to imagine that it is not happening to anyone – but just happening.

This ‘play’ and the drama that unfolds therein is the material with which CoArts works. Through this process the aim is to move from behaviour that is conditioned by society and culture to creative action that arises from awareness and a state of being that is free from conditioning – giving birth to creative and responsive citizenship rather than conditioned and reactionary citizenship.

How CoArts achieves this by recognising and exploring the arts as a vehicle for transformation through self-expression, self-awareness and self-realisation.

In Context Oriented Theatre, for instance, theatre is recognised as an externalization of consciousness and that participating in different modes of theatre bring about different kinds of consciousness.



The classical theatre represents consciousness where there is a clear separation between the observer and the observed, the audience and the play.


Participative theatre, such as the Theatre of the Oppressed, where the audience intervene in the play in order to change it, bring about a reflective consciousness that becomes aware that in some way what the observer does and their attention stance creates the observed reality.

In Immersive theatre such as Sensory Labyrinth Theatre there is no easy line that can be drawn between the audience and the players.  The stage is everywhere including in the shared moment, so attention is distributed and the observer and the observed become one.


“Augusto Boal has said “Theatre is the art of looking at ourselves”, but when I look I find nothing…a nothing from which everything arises and into which everything eventually falls.

What if theatre, rather than explore the content of consciousness, explored its context? What if, rather than stage the travails of life that provide so much ‘drama’, we shine the spotlight of attention on the exquisite drama of being alive right here right now?

This is a theatre which would invite us to notice not only what is seen and heard but that which is seeing and hearing; not only what is being thought and felt but that which is feeling, which is thinking.

Then the stage necessarily becomes awareness itself and the character and plot , in effect ‘the play,’ is the creative movement of awareness, unfolding in each moment. Just as it is right now in this moment.

Do I mean here the moment I wrote this or the moment when you are reading it? In the Republic of the Imagination they are the same moment.”

Iwan Brioc, Director or Research and Practice, The Republic of the Imagination

The aim of Context Oriented Theatre is proprioception – an awareness of the whole movement of the mind as it is happening. Proprioception can bring about an awakening to who we really are and a revolution in consciousness. Theatre has the capacity to do this because it is a metaphor of consciousness.

“Proprioception has two parts ‘Proprio’ means ‘self’ in Latin and ‘ception’ is like perception.

As an alternative to this reflexively ingrained mode of self-observation, David Bohm points out that we have recourse to the body as an immediate display of the actual movement of values and assumptions. It is through the body that we experience values and assumptions as concrete processes, rather than as purely abstract ideas…This approach to experience – in which the symbiotic nature of idea and energy is suspended and displayed throughout the entire organism, rather than just in the ‘mind’ – has the potential to engender proprioception” from The David Bohm Reader


Theatre as a Metaphor for Mind

Theatre is a metaphor for consciousness and different modes of theatre correspond to different modes of consciousness. What follows are a series of slides which picture the correlation.

The first shows conventional ‘Greek’ theatre that separates actor from audience creating a duality. This corresponds to the idea that the world is out there and happening to us. Neurologically it is similar to the separation of the thalamus and the neo-cortex – the later is tasked with entertaining the former with mental projections that support primitive homeostasis. The fragmentation of this movement helps us cover up the neurosis on which society has been constructed.

The second shows the Participative Theatre model – such as Forum Theatre, where audience can cross the fourth wall into the aesthetic space of the stage. Here dialogue is established between the inner experience and the outer experience and if facilitated correctly we can start to see our role in the way we perceive the world.

The third shows immersive theatre, such as Sensory Labyrinth Theatre, where the conditioned theatre/mind structure can collapses. The audience is the hero travelling through a landscape which is aesthetisized. The inner and outer become one and it can happen that the whole fragmented movement of the brain is witnessed, but it is not witnessed by anyone. It is just seen.


Illustrative Film Clips

There follows two film clips which illustrate proprioception.

The first is from ‘The Miracle Worker (1962 – dir. Walter Hill). Helen Keller, deaf/blind from infancy makes a connection between the word for a sensory experience and the sensory experience itself. The specific (the experience) now becomes integrated with the generic (the word for it) and a whole new world of abstract thought opens up and enables here to become socialized. Similarly, proprioception of the fragmented nature of the brain would enable us to see the abstract nature of the self. The inner and outer experience become integrated, or at least the relationship between them is momentarily revealed.


The second, from The Wizard of Oz (1939, dir. Victor Fleming) shows the unveiling of the wizard who comically continues to try and persuade the witnesses to ‘take no notice of the man behind the green curtain.’ Our self is likewise continually telling us not to notice the present moment, where it can be seen not to actually have any independent basis for existence. Caught in the act it can be seen as a fragment that has separated itself from the mind at large (or the ‘chorus’) and made itself both audience and actor in its own play.


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