Thursday, 26 July 2012

the Exoteric and Esoteric Showman

The Showman is like the moon; one side light and always in full view for the world to see, the other dark and forever hidden to all but the initiated few. The front attracts attention and is appreciated, but like the moon the dark side also draws the tide. 

The Crowd sees the exoteric.
(First an elucidation of terms to eschew from obfuscation.)

Before we start, what do these words mean? Exo-teric and Eso-teric? Like so many things they are of Greek origin.
Exoteric: Comes from exōterikos meaning pertaining to the outside, the exterior, or external. Of a doctrine or mode of speech intended for or likely to be understood by the general public. For us Showmen it is the sideshow banner line out the front, the shiny surfaces, and the gaudy facades of fun intended for the Crowds of townies and general public. It is the frivolous and random-looking act of a clown from the Crowd's point of view.
Esoteric: Comes from Greek esōterikos, comparative of esō ‘within' or ‘into.’  Esoteric pertains to the inner things, the secret, clandestine and enigmatic. It is the backstage, the real world hidden behind the banner lines and facades of fun. It's the secret techniques and tools of the trade and the inner world of the Showman. It is the hundreds of hours of creative work that went into making the clown act look chaotic and frivolous and it is the Showman's Carnival soul.

The traditionally Esoteric.
So now that we have got that out of the way, I would like to develop a way of looking at our vocation and lives from these two points of view.

The term 'Showman' is made up of two words; Show and Man. The first one can be seen as pointing to the Exoteric and the later to the Esoteric.
(Just to remind you all that here on the Illuminated Showman, the term Showman has nothing to do with gender. It does not mean to imply that the man ending indicates male, but is rather to be read and understood as the man ending of Human - Showman.)

Outside and inside.

Schopenhauer said in his essay 'the Emptiness of Existence' that the fact we get bored unless we actively engage with the world is proof that mere existence is not enough for fulfillment. To exist is not enough.  This is what he calls the inherent emptiness of existence. But by examining the world and our place in it we blast away this emptiness and replace it with meaning and purpose of our own creation. The way we hold this emptiness at bay is by our work ie. our creations, and fulfillment of our inner lives. The life of the mind inside us and the life of the world around us.
Socrates claimed that 'the unexamined life was not worth living,' this, to me is the antidote to existential boredom. If we are to live rich and thoughtful lives by presenting novelties, jokes and party tricks we need a firm foundation, an Illuminated Center Ring from where we can view the world.
The concept of me/the world, inner and outer is so fundamental that mentioning it might seem inane. We learn these distinctions as babies, but in thinking circles the fundamentals of human experience are of great importance. Cogito ergo sum. I think therefor I am. The world beyond the boundaries of myself is separate from me. I sense the world and it creates emotions, desires and thoughts in me. I am and also; the World is. Microcosm and Macrocosm. As without, so within. Esoteric and Exoteric. The two aspects; inner and outer can be discovered everywhere and in everything, it is not a scientific fact but rather a way to look at the world which can help make sense of things.

On stage off stage

By being aware of them and knowing that both needs nourishment for a full human experience we can gain certain insights to benefit the development of our Craft.
The outside influences my inside. The thoughts, feelings and desires the outside stirs on our inside can be brought into the world as Art. This is the core of our vocation. We mirror the world and the Seeds of inspiration it plants we bring forth for others to see.

As you create, or after the creation of an act, you can examine your work from the two points of view. How well is the 'Show' aspect functioning? The practical; running time, props, costume and skill level. Then ask yourself: have I at all considered the 'Man' side of it. Have I begun to imagine what it would be like for the Crowd to watch this? What do they experience? Do they only see a man juggling or does the act point to something more? And further - what does it give you to perform it?

Questions and examinations lead to Illuminations

It is almost impossible to become an Esoteric Showman first, since a Showman must have something to show to be a showman at all. First we create our material, for only through creation can we begin to truly grasp the Craft. Believing you are a Showman after having read a manual of magic or manipulations is like considering oneself an actor after having read Hamlet. As our knowledge of the Craft grows we can start to introduce Esoteric aspects to our Acts and creations.
To be able to reach the Esoteric level of Showmanship, the Exoteric or 'Show' side of the performance must have become second nature. Once the Exoteric level has become a comfortable and natural he can begin to focus on the 'Man' or Esoteric nature of the Show. This is why we say: "The way to the Esoteric goes through the Exoteric."

Once an entertainer has reached maturity as a Showman, he can begin to ponder: 'Is there something more to what I do? Can I express something deeper than: I can squeeze through two tennis rackets?' Questions such as these are the sprouts of Esoteric desires. It is the Man, in the Showman, the deep human need for meaning and purpose that awakens. Once thought, the questions linger but the doubt is always there. To question is healthy and natural. We all wonder in our dark moments or when we have no work: Were people right when they thought I don't have a real job? But of course they were wrong. All it means is that you have reached the next level in the practice of your vocation. You are ready to take your Craft into a new realm, one that has always been there, but you are now ready to delve into.
It is natural and OK to think and to be considerate. All the big questions: Where do we come from? What are we doing? Where are we going? are to a certain degree Esoteric matters and any Illuminated Showman will at times dare to ponder these greatest of enigmas. Sometimes in those dark moments all you need is a little perspective on yourself, a little thought and a new point of view. It is easy to focus solely on the 'Show' - Exoteric side, since bills must be paid and life dealt with on a daily basis. But take time to think about the inside, where it really matters.

Strong Man, Clown, and Dancer,
by Everett Shinnca, ca. 1909

Where are you at?

How do we recognize what kind of Showman we are dealing with; which level he is operating on? If you ask a Showman and his answer is given as descriptions of details in the execution of his Craft, the showman is often interested in the Show (exoteric). This showman often worries about his costume and his technique.
If, on the other hand, the showman judges his importance to be how well he connected with his Crowd, or about whether he affected them enough to truly touch and perhaps change the Crowd's heart, he is an esoteric showman. This is, of course a gross simplification but I believe it gets the point across.
The Esoteric Showman finds meaning by understanding the full potential of his role and what he can do for others. His purpose in life materializes when he truly considers the material he is presenting and the impact it can have on his Crowd and himself. 

Go out in the world and learn about yourself.
Then go into yourself and learn about the world.

Reality bites its own tail.

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