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February 4, 2022

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Mysticism in the Theater: What's Needed Right Now

Mysticism in the Theater 
What’s Needed Right Now

By 

Tom Block

Copyright Year 2022

ISBN 9781032034348

Published February 4, 2022 by Routledge

242 Pages

 

Mysticism in the Theater introduces theater makers to the power and possibility of using historical mystical ideas to influence all aspects of a production. Historical mysticism represents ideas developed by recognized spiritual thinkers in all religions and time periods: individuals who stilled their ego, and perceived the unity of all, hidden within the apparent multiplicity of existence.

This unique manner of spiritual inlay allows theatrical presentations to find the height of artistic expression: art at the intersection of our historical moment and the eternal. This study introduces theater makers to the history of mystical inspiration within performance work and develops strategies for inserting mystical ideas into their productions. The book ties this model into theatre’s history, as mystical ideas and quotes have been inserted into productions from Greek theatre through Shakespeare and into the present day.

This book explores how teachings and ideas of specific historical mystical thinkers might influence all aspects of contemporary theatrical productions including writing, directing, acting, stagecraft/set design, lighting design, costume design, sound design, and choreography.

 

Table of Contents

 

Acknowledgements

Introduction

Chapter One: Mysticism: The Human Religion

Chapter Two: History of Mysticism in Theatre

Chapter Three: Mysticism in Theatre: What’s Needed Now

Chapter Four: Praxis: Mystical Theatre in Action

Index

 

Author(s)

Biography

 

Tom Block is the author of six books, a playwright, 25+ year exhibiting visual artist and Founding Producer of New York City’s International Human Rights Art Festival. His plays have been produced more than two dozen times in New York City.

 

December 1, 2021

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Stockholm-Gaza Lifeline - co-producer of the film

I am co-producer of the Palestinian filmmaker Wafa Jamil's exploration of attachment for both people and places, how moving from one place to another affects our personal relations and identity.  As Wafa notes:

So many of us are born in one place and then move to another city or country for different reasons. Sometimes we decide to move, other times we are forced to do so. This affects our identities and feelings towards people and places. Probably we feel rooted and familiar with certain places, but we feel unrooted and astray in other places. We don’t think about the reason why, but this is often affected by our attachment to the place and people around us.

I was unable to meet my family in Gaza for 18 years. Few people are allowed to travel to Gaza except if someone from the first family circle dies, that is why in June 2018 I got permission to visit my family for one week; because I had lost my 47 years old sister Kifah. Coming from Stockholm to Gaza, it was extreme and hard to compare or digest the two identities that are mine.

I was shocked by the harsh life of Gaza’s people and their attempts to adapt to living under inhumane conditions, since the Israeli blockade of Gaza 14 years ago. I was so confused by all the changes: My siblings had aged; even their kids have their own families. Nevertheless, I captured my first moments with my family talking about their emotions, reflecting upon their austere life under the blockade without electricity and water, and their continuous fears of other attacks.

Shooting Places:
Sweden: Stockholm: Råcksta neighborhood, forest, metro, beach, Stockholm center.
Umeå: winter, summer, midsummer celebrating.
Palestine: Jordanian-Israeli borders.
Ramallah: Inside the city, the Palestinian civilian administration office, the market. Gaza: city, beach, sewage water, life in the streets.
Deir al-Balah: Family home, cemetery, sister’s home, mosque, Eid praying.

 

January 9, 2021

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"Seek Wisdom" published in Black Horse Review

My short story "Seek Wisdom," which is a short scene from my full-length novel Life Verbatim(currently being shopped to literary agents) was published in the Black Horse Review (an international, online literary magazine based in the Bay area that publishes short fiction, poetry, one-act plays, and creative non-fiction by published and unpublished writers.)

December 12, 2020

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Mysticism in Theatre: What's Needed Now (book contract signed)

Signed a contract (for delivery 12/1/21) to write a book: Mysticism in Theatre: What's Needed Now.

 

Mystcism in Theater first introduces mys6cal ideas (based on the wri6ngs of historical mys6cal thinkers in all faiths). Mys6cism represents the place where all sacred paths are in agreement: it denotes the human religion, shared by all. As the great Sufi saint Rumi said: "Separa6on exists in outward form only; in inner purpose all religions agree.”

The book then surveys the history of theatre-makers weaving specific mys6cal ideas into theatrical produc6ons, from Greek theatre through Shakespeare and into contemporary theatre theorists and prac66oners such as George Ivanovich Gurdjieff (who believed a unifica6on of past spiritual thinking could bring about a total altera6on of consciousness) and Jerzy Grotowski (who built on Gurdjieff’s work, ar6cula6ng experiences of the spiritual within the body during performance).

Then, the heart of Mystcism in Theatre explores how the teachings and ideas of specific historical mys6cal thinkers might influence all aspects of a contemporary theatrical produc6ons, including wri6ng, direc6ng, ac6ng, stagecraft/set design, ligh6ng design, costume design, sound design and choreography.

The book is based on and expands a series of four articles I wrote on this subject for HowlRound Theatre Magazine, in 2017.

October 2, 2020

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"Mystic" published in Big Windows Review

My short piece, "Mystic", was published in the Big Windows Review (Ann Arbor, MI).  Here it is -- for legal reasons, can't divulge how much of it is based on a true experience I might or might not have had:

Mystic 

I hang my head in shame.  “I’m not a mystic.”  I raise my head.  I look her full in the eyes.
Jazmin lowers her gaze.  “I,” she begins.  “I didn’t mean to . . .”  She turns away.  “Tankeen will be here soon.”  Then: “He – would you like to meet him?”
Tankeen is Jazmin’s Shaykh.  I do not want to meet Tankeen.
Sanjay is there.  He is a professor of Urdu.  He has two children.  He says he is spiritually drowning.  “I will wait for Tankeen,” he says.  “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”
“I had a premonition that I would meet him,” Jazmin says.  “I was in class.  Suddenly, my head was completely enveloped with a purple color.  Like a scarf.  Or a haze.  The next day I met him.  Purple is the color of his tariqah.”
I feel nauseated.
“When Takeen took the bayah in Senegal.  The Grandshaykh served oatmeal for breakfast.  Tankeen did not want to eat it.  The Grandshayk’s son kept saying: ‘you eat it you eat it you eat it’ until Tankeen ate it.  Tankeen had a bad back.  That night, he had a dream that a zipper zipped up his back and made it better.  Some people think that the Grandshaykh put something in the oatmeal.  But Tankeen —”
Tankeen breezes into the wood-paneled room.  It is the lobby of a century-old dormitory hall at Columbia University.  He sports a jazz goatee.  His dark skin melds with the aged wood all around.  A red scarf hangs over his shoulders.  His face beams.
“Here he is,” says Sanjay.  Sanjay steps back and then forward.  
“Is this —” begins Tankeen.
“This is Sanjay,” Jazmin flutters.  Tankeen thrusts out his hand, grabs Sanjay’s hand and pulls Sanjay to him.  Sanjay sighs.  “And this is Tom.”  Tankeen takes my hand, lets it go and then places his hand against his heart.  
“It is nice to meet you,” I say.
Tankeen and Sanjay sit down on the hard bench, face to face.  Sanjay hopes that Tankeen might be able to save him.  
I move with Jazmin to the side.  “I want to go,” I say.
“I’ll escort you home,” she says, her voice a scattering of butterflies.
"I don’t want to go home.”
“I’ll take you where you want to go and then come back.” 
“I want to go to a bar.  To sketch.  But I need a sketchbook.”  Am I spiritually drowning, as well?  I frown.  “Take me to a drugstore.”  A drugstore might have a sketchbook and a pen. “I didn’t bring my sketchbook,” I apologize. 

June 19, 2020

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Actuary Day - reading at IATI Theater

Check out the video of the production here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rojt5PbTFfk

Actuary Day opens with Susan, an anthropology professor, alone in a room, the last survivor in a world that has disappeared.  Her only clue to rebuild human civilization is a short video, which offers (she believes) an original myth from which to rebuild.   Jennifer, a risk assessor at The Hartford insurance company and a hidden poet, enters the room.  Susan informs her they must rebuild humanity. Jennifer asks: if they are really charged with rebuilding human civilization, aren’t they missing something?  Just then, Lethe slides into the room on a pole. She, a transgender woman (we find out at an appropriate time) with a PhD in philosophy.  A homeless man, Benedict, wanders into the room. Then the orderlies – Pat and Chris – bustle in.  A bunch of stuff happens which is metaphor for other, deeper stuff.  Then the play ends as the universe began.

November 22, 2019

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Monologue from Duck to be published by Applause Theatre & Cinema Books

Excited to announce that a monologue from my just completed play Duck at the IRT Theater was chosen by Lawrence Harbison in Applause Theatre & Cinema Books, an imprint of Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, entitled 100 MONOLOGUES FROM NEW PLAYS 2020 -- WOMEN, tentative publication date Fall, 2020. Thank you to Kellye Rowland (who premiered the monologue), Katrin Hilbe (who directed the monologue) and Michael Sean Cirelli (who listened to the monologue)!

Now in its third decade, Applause is America's foremost publisher of theatre and cinema books.

November 20, 2019

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"Raymond Carver' short story published in Meniscus Journal

My short-short story "Raymond Carver" -- more of a screed, really -- was just published in Meniscus Journal, chosen as one of about 30 works from more than 1050 applications.  As editor Andrew Melrose noted:

The prose pieces were initially filtered down to those which showed promising literary control and strong storytelling. The eventual 15 pieces were chosen because of the way the storytelling invested effort in representing a world that is knowable, and yet different. In both short story and flash fiction pieces, the storytelling brought surprises, presenting the world anew in a thoughtful and interesting way.

You can see the full issue here.

October 24, 2019

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Cimientos Play Development Fellowship @ IATI Theater

I was chosen to participate in IATI Theater's (E. 4th Street Theater District in the East Village, NY) Cimientos play development program for second year.  Cimientos is in its 20th season of a play development program that has given hundreds of playwrights the foundations to build written vanguardia.  I will be working on my absurdist-philosophical piece (with strange video!) "Comic Book" throughout the winter, and then there will be a staged reading produced of the piece at IATI Theater in mid April, 2020.  Stay tuned for the date of the production!

October 7, 2019

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"Duck" interviews in print and podcast

I was interviewed on two platforms about my upcoming play "Duck" at the IRT Theater in Greenwich Village, NYC.  The new news site HVY.com -- run by the journalists themselves -- published a nice interview about the play and my work.  You can see it here.  The "Get This" podcast devoted an hour to an interview both wide and deep, about Duck, as well as the motivations, references and other aspects of the play and my work.  You can listen to it here.

June 16, 2019

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Clothing Line from my art

Very excited that some of my most recent works have been turned into a clothing/accessory line by Le Galeriste in Montreal, Canada!  You can see the offerings here: www.art-a-porter.com/tom.block

April 1, 2019

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Through the Window published

My essay, "Through the Window," was published in North of Oxford Journal:

 

I  don’t know if it’s a bee or a hornet.  Not being well-versed in the apiary sciences, I mean.  Of course, the perspective might be all fucked-up (as it so often is these days) and it might be a far-off airplane or even a UFO.  UFO’s are back in vogue, after all — the Chilean air force, the pilot over Wales (United Airlines, I think), the new sitcom about Roswell.

No.  I think it’s a bee definitely — or it’s safest to think so, at least.  The one about the thread, right?  Where the guy pulls at a small, loose thread on his coat and by the end of the story the whole world has unraveled.

And bees pollinate.  They bring life.  Weaving drunkenly from stamen to pistil, flower to flower, spreading the life-giving force, their time here spent as angels of creation, floating on the breeze.

They don’t think.

They don’t have to.

I read about a woman once who became paralyzed it might have been Guillain-Barre and she had to consciously re-learn how to walk.  That is to say, she had to coach herself: “Left foot up, swing, down; right foot up, swing, down.”  She asserted that she felt like a robot.  Can you imagine?

But: see.  Not so for the humble bee.  It simply follows the dictates of God like the wind or a stream or a mystic.

One time I thought that I was going to fly, too.

It lasted a long, long time — the time I thought that I was going to fly.  It’s what kept me going, really, day after day after day after day.  The thought — no belief — that I was going to fly someday, like a bee or an airplane or a UFO, even.

But then I realized that I wasn’t going to fly.  And I came to understand how foolish I had been ever believing so in the first place.

Now, I walk with great precision: Left foot up, swing, down.  Right foot up, swing, down.  It’s better.  More grounded.

And out the window, I notice the bee or whatever it was is gone.

Or perhaps it was never actually there.

 

 

March 4, 2019

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White Picket Fence published

My paean to Suburban America -- where I was born and almost died -- was published in North of Oxford journal:

It sits quietly in my closet the third closet the one I don’t really use coiled into itself clasped tightly. Perfect for the house of a cat or small dog. It served a short purpose on a small stage in a filthy corner of the City one time a long time ago — suburban suffocation and impassable boundaries and whatnot — but like my old soccer cleats (which I also still have for some reason) there it sits coiled like a calcified snake, waiting.
I remain certain.
Certain that it will someday uncoil again come back to life and reattach itself to a small dance presentation which balloons like a frog’s bellows to become a large dance production spilling out beyond the confines of the little picket fence patiently waiting in the closet that I almost never use.
(Dust seeping. Time creeping. Forget.)
There are extra pillows and blankets in there, as well (wrapped tight in plastic) for the guests who almost never come and pile upon pile of bubble wrap waiting patiently to wrap paintings which are sold or given away or sent to an exhibit. They never go anywhere — they sit stolidly on the walls their impastoed crevices capturing the falling motes and the bubble wrap unmoved waits on the shelf dowager above the floor where the little picket fence sits corkscrew.
I can’t place it.
This happens: things arrive with great purpose and some fanfare and suddenly they are but another piece of dusty infrastructure undergirding a life which is not uncoiling as it was certainly meant to.
I went out last night — without my picket fence — and time slowed almost to a standstill and I moved syrup through the East Village evening and entered an empty North African restaurant and sat at the blue-tiled bar all alone in the careening interior empty tables hopefully set and waiting and I listened and reflected and listened and sat and then I asked the bartender how long the song had been playing — it was by the French producer St. Germain.
I was certain that he and the empty restaurant and the world had joined my wave and that he would say “seventeen hours” or “forever and forever,” but he looked into his phone and said: “seven minutes and twenty four seconds.”
I nodded, as if I understood.
See, this is why we need picket fences: small or large or simply metaphorical. To contain the endless possibilities which might take us too far away,
beyond the point of no return. The picket fence — dumb, solid, familiar —tells us what is “ours” and what isn’t; what is “here” and what is there.
Without the picket fence?
Well — a tiny grain of pepper in the vast stew of existence.
(New Jersey. A state filled with picket fences which is itself a picket fence.
A place so mundane so absolutely solid that it becomes a container to hold the necessary — and properly exclude the unnecessary.
A garden state enclosed and encompassing.
A place where biographies are written which move with certainty from birth though life to death.
A mystical metaphor hiding buried within an innocuous land mass.)

Tom Block is an author/artist who can be found at www.tomblock.comTom is the founding producer of the International Human Rights Art Festival. www.ihraf.org

February 8, 2019

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"Rambles with Nature" essay published

My essay "Rambles with Nature" was published:

RAMBLES WITH NATURE

When moving through outlying districts, it is better not to catch anyone’s eye.  Look away.  I continue past the scene pretending not to notice the life-event of the small boy who lives in two row-houses either leftover or stunted and forgotten then I trundle Giacometti through a wide intersection with a broken stoplight and a far-off view of the city looming down an ant-strewn highway screaming toward the center of the earth the sound of the sea the smell of car exhaust the sky glass blue.

A tractor-trailer truck idles, lost and waiting either empty or full.  Warehouses pull up out of the ground and splinter with Chinese lettering open maws expose massive corrugated boxes filled with plastic ducks or fireworks or cheap gold-look earrings just offloaded from some cargo ship and brought here to the bored man with a cigarette and a clipboard standing outside the yawning hole.

I can feel his eyes on me as I pass, my hair now plastered to my head and my shirt soaked through.  I look at the ground.

A cemetery appears on my left splayed out like a knock-down fighter laid low by Jack Johnson before Jack Johnson was arrested for transporting a woman across state lines for immoral purposes even though the White woman was his wife.  Johnson fled to Montreal and then Paris, South Africa and Mexico, before returning to serve his jail sentence in Leavenworth.

The cemetery goes on and on and on drunken gravestones staggering up one hill and over and then in the distance another staggering ramble and after that smaller and fog-shrouded yet another.

My breath comes in rasps a bug skitters by a far-off siren moans someone’s fate the sun overhead punches into my skull my sweat-soaked shirt now sticking jelly to my skin I am walking I am crossing I am passing I am underwater I am.  Am I here?  Or somewhere else?

Two

When I’m tired, I walk along the four white walls of my apartment, the ceiling overhead pristine except for the dead web in one corner hanging ineffectually.  I lie on my back and stare and stare, the lights shimmering through my window onto clean surfaces: water.  Maybe this is best, I think — to ramble into eternity here in the small room.

Here, I can be anything.  Here I can be everything I never will be.