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PHOTOSYNTHESIS

The first workshop of Photosynthesis took place in Berlin at the Theaterhaus Berlin Mitte on August 22, 2018 through a collaboration with Masrah Ensemble. Masrah Ensemble is a nonprofit theatre company and organization that makes, develops, and fosters research and criticism of theatre with a focus on the Arab stage, challenging prevailing ideas of what theatre should be, where it should take place, and to whom it belongs.

Onstage:
2 Gardeners
3 (or more, or fewer) audience participants
3 (or more, or fewer) chairs
3 (or more, or fewer) terra cotta pots or buckets or other receptacles filled with soil.

GARDENER 1

Today, we would like to propose an experiment. [Gardener 2’s name or pseudonym] and I are the tenders of this garden. It is a scenic garden, in that it is beautiful and it is onstage. We invite each of our audience participants to become part of our garden. We invite each of our audience partici-pants to sit or stand behind a pot of soil.

(The audience participants do so.)

We invite each of you to place one or both feet inside the pot of soil. (They do so.) Now close your eyes.

Long pause. The lights dim. (This effect can be achieved, for example, by drawing the curtains closed, emphasizing the absence and later presence of sunlight.)

GARDENER 2 

Today, you will undergo a metamorphosis. Our individual and collective imaginations will be the vehicle.

(pause)

In the darkness behind your eyes, allow your imagination to focus upon a plant. Perhaps an indi-vidual subject of the plant kingdom with whom you already have a relationship. Perhaps a member of a species of plant you long to get to know. Perhaps it is the platonic ideal of “plant.”

(pause)

Slowly, you are beginning to feel the various parts of your animal body shifting toward the anatomy of your plant. You have leaves; where are they? You have a trunk, perhaps, or a stem; where? Do you have branches? Flowers? Fruit? You certainly have roots: they are “planted” firmly in the ground. Where is the center of your body? Is there a single center or multiple centers, so many nodes from which your leaves and branches shoot out into space?

A pause.

GARDENER 1

It is the end of night.

(pause)

It is the beginning of day.

A pause. Light returns to the room.

GARDENER 2

Your leaves, which have been asleep, perhaps folded upon themselves, perhaps even shut tight, are beginning to stir. And while your animal eyes remain closed, your plant eyes—the millions of phy-tochrome proteins in your leaves—are actively searching for, and reacting to, the light. In plant time.

(A pause. The light in the room gets brighter.)

As the sun burns brighter and stronger, your chloroplasts are throbbing green, gobbling up their food that is the sunlight, as you gulp down the carbon dioxide in the air around you. In plant time.

(A pause. The light continues to rise.) 

Meanwhile, your photophobic roots, which flee the light, are protected under a layer of thick soil. Your root tips—or apices—are wiggling in the dark, searching for sustenance in the soil. Water. Nitrogen. Calcium. Phosphorus. Magnesium. Searching. In plant time.

A pause. The sun is at its zenith.

GARDENER 1 

What are you finding in that soil? Is there adequate water, or has this been a dry year? Are you finding the minerals you require? Is the ground polluted? Whom are you meeting in the under-growth? Worms? Insects? Bacteria? Are they friendly or hostile?

(pause) 

What about the other plants in the vicinity? Are they your relatives, and are your roots growing in such a way as not to encroach upon their space, and thus share all the resources of the soil? Or are they your competitors, whose territory you must take over, before they invade yours?

GARDENER 2 

In plant time.

A pause. The light has gone down a bit.

GARDENER 1

We are human animals. Using the command center lodged within our skulls, we have been receiving and processing the words here spoken.

During the following, the two gardeners slowly walk around the garden and begin alternatively sprinkling the plants with water and “pruning” their leaves.

GARDENER 2

But as plants, you have no central command center. Your structure is modular, and no single part of your anatomy is vital. Even if you’re cut apart, you’ll grow back.

(pause)

Has the hydration situation changed since this morning? You have no need of a brain to interpret and process this information; your root apices can send messages about what they are finding in the soil directly to your leaves, and vice versa.

GARDENER 1 

In plant time.

A pause. The light has been dimming.

GARDENER 2

What is plant time? If you are a centuries-old oak, does a day go by in the human equivalent of a minute?

A pause. Dusk.

GARDENER 1 

Do plants hear? Do they benefit from “listening” to music, or being spoken to? Some human gar-dening animals believe so.

GARDENER 2

As your chloroplasts lap up the last rays of sunset reaching out above the western horizon, as your leaves let out a deep, oxygenated yawn, we invite you to listen to a bedtime story before we tuck you in for the night.

A long pause. Then, the two gardeners read Esther Neitzel’s “The Otavi Stromatolite” as darkness slowly falls, one gardener taking on the part of the Otavi Stromatolite and one taking on the part of Tristan’s bone. As they read, they walk between the plants, sometimes reading close to this plant, sometimes close to that plant.

GARDENER 1/THE OTAVI STROMATOLITE

On the night of the arrival of Tristan, the half-complete Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton who was named after his new owners, at the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin, stones and bones snoozing softly, a little Namibian stromatolite couldn’t sleep.

“Minerals don’t exactly sleep, we usually simply rest our minds at this hour. But on hot commotious nights like this one, sometimes I can hardly relax and I call out into the many museum rooms; I send my ripples out to vibrate across the rooms, traverse the walls, the containers and the protective glasses, always careful not to wake anybody who is asleep: hello, is there anything awake? Fossils, minerals, animals? What’s that, I hear a stirring from the room where they have been rummaging around all evening long!” Sleepily a voice replies:

GARDENER 2/TRISTAN’S BONE 

“Who is waving?”

GARDENER 1/THE OTAVI STROMATOLITE

“Hello, a stromatolite here. I was dug up and handed over here from Namibia, around a time when German human animals came about there, when the land changed faces. I come from the Otavi hills where still many stromatolites continue to live and I have been here since, with slight changes in the furniture, and the rooms. You are new here I suppose? Can you describe yourself to me?”

GARDENER 2/TRISTAN’S BONE

“Hum, my human categorization is a bone, I’m wheat colored, dusty white. Soft in texture compared to you, I believe. I was dug up in the midst of soft yellowish stones; in a place some humans call the state of Montana, on a continent called North America. I lie in a box now together with many others with whom I was once joined, and whose company I share since we grew.”

GARDENER 1/THE OTAVI STROMATOLITE

“Bone, I know, there are many bones here, they build towers of bones here, tons of bones come here! Some of them have familiar shapes, similar to those which used to live near the Otavi mountains, yes, they put you here and they will try and reconstruct how you and the other bone shapes formed a structure, when you moved as an animal.”

GARDENER 2/TRISTAN’S BONE

“Is that what they do in this place? It seems like it would feel strange to be conjoined back in the exact position as I was so many lands, weathers, and corrosions ago…but the dark tight space in which we came here was horrible, too. Tell me about where you arrived from, I feel homesick and need some comfort! Would you? What do the human animals write about you?”

GARDENER 1/THE OTAVI STROMATOLITE 

“Well, you, you will have no small plate just for yourself, but people will be interested in reading a lot about where you were found when you were part of an animal, what you ate, where you took your naps and such things. My plate simply reads Otavigebirge, the Otavi mountains in Namibia. Nothing more, but I can tell you much more! I first came across German people where I lay so many cycles, like you, in the Otavi hills, where at that specific time the human animals passing by were mostly the groups called Herero and Nama, I remember. The German humans fought them for a timescape, and, like I said, they changed the face of my home completely. They imprisoned them in places close to the edges of the solid lands, and made them build moving, howling things called trains. I saw less and less of them just passing by, if anything they were working among us stones. There were signs all over me, in German animal language, which I have acquired as you may notice, ‘The Otavi Mining and Railway Company’ and ‘The Otavi Train.’ I came to experience the moving metal loudness inside when I was hammered out of place, stuck in its dark and oily insides and was shaken up, then, thrown into another dark, made up of cut-down and polished tree trunks and metals. I never experienced a feeling like it, the ground that held the shape I was in was all liquid, and non-stable, always changing. Within no-stone-time, I found myself in Berlin. I was looked at, first in rooms under machines, then I was left in another dark, starless space, and recently I was put here, where different animals stare or gaze or smile at me. I wink back but the human animals can hardly tell with their eyes. So it has become the story of my arrival, about how I came to be a tini-tiny stone lying on soft blackened cotton. I didn’t answer what you asked me, about where I lived before this. Feeling you arrive here spurred my memories of arrival.

(pause)

It’s a sad story, I find, and I don’t really know if it’s any good at fighting homesickness… Hey, one more thing, it gets really tedious here, some animals are awful and loud. I know they put you in a dark room, ‘cause they think that makes you look more mysterious and attractive. I wish I could invite you to my room which is a bit lighter, I can’t, but you can call for me and maybe I can share a silly story to cheer you up when you are lonely or homesick or feel scared. We’ve shared enough silly stories around here to make you quiver and crack with joy, you’ll see, you’ll shake up all the bones and create a different dinosaur! What do you think would be its name? Good night, dusty white bone.”

GARDENER 2/TRISTAN’S BONE 

“Your voice has made me comfortable, for a moment, and sleepy, thank you! Good night, Otavi stromatolite!”

(Pause)

Pssst, Otavi Stromatolite! If we all laugh at the same time, shake up the entire museum, and burst open the metal door lock…where would you go?”

End of the bedtime story. Where the experiment goes next is left up to the gardeners and audience participants. Perhaps something is said, perhaps nothing is said. Perhaps — just perhaps — they all fall asleep with the lights off, their feet firmly planted in the soft, dark dirt.   

Contributor
Esther Neitzel

Living in Berlin, Esther Neitzel has been in-volved in different grass roots theatre, music and film projects over the past 10 years. They are mostly interested in going into the streets with what they make and in creating commu-nity. Their interest in and acknowledgment that community needs to be created together with kids is new.

Contributor
Paul Spera

Paul Spera is an actor and theatre-maker based in Paris. He performs in English and in French for the theater, cinema, and TV in France and abroad. He also teaches and directs. Paul trained in the U.S. at the Yale Theater Studies program (BA), and in France at the Conservatoire National Supérieur d’Art Dramatique. He has been an active member of the Beirut-based theatre organization Masrah Ensemble since 2014.

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