120 performers

In the University Theatre, R. Murray Schafer in the role of Wagner gave the following dissertation on the meaning of The Greatest Show


In Patria 3, Patria 1 and 2 are broken down in preparation for their later reconstruction. To accomplish this they must be literally pulverized to pieces, shake; down scene by scene and action by action until only the siftings remain, then mixed with alien and catalytic elements that will lead to the myth-apotheosis to follow in future works. According to the alchemists, the base metals cannot be transmuted into silver or gold without being first reduced to their prima materia. This reduction to prime material is the action which takes place in Patria 3 and their reconstruction will be the subject of Patria 4: the Black Theatre of Hermes Trismegistos. The destructiveness of Patria 3 takes many forms and is immediately apparent at the beginning with the disappearance of the hero and the dismemberment of the heroine.

This is in keeping with the ancient practices, for the destruction and dismemberment of the hero is frequently encountered in religious and psychic processes. Often it is the enemies who do the destroying and quartering, but sometimes it is also the most faithful followers, even priests, and while the intention may sometimes be that of limiting power, it is often consciously performed in order to ensure the divine status of the hero. Failing protagonists, the plot of Patria 3 crumbles, or at least is reduced to small-scale counterplotting and frog-croaking. If there is a major story here, it has been forgotten, even by the participants, and survives only in sword dances, mummery plays and freak shows. All events are minor, though they may have the seeds of deeper intention in them, as when masks are put on as sport and only inadvertantly reveal deeper mysteries. All speaking is superficial as if before a thousand invisible microphones. But this need not be unpleasant for the audience. On the contrary, it is very relaxing not to have to stand at attention and endure "another major contribution to culture". Sometimes it is useful to be able to lift one's legs and escape.

Searching for a medium in which such a fissiparous work could be contained, the model of the village fair came to mind. In one form or another this type of entertainment is known throughout the world, but the fair I have endeavoured to depict is the North American fair of my childhood. In those days (unlike today when the fair, like everything else, suffers from too much electricity) spielers and talkers mounted bally platforms and, by their fast talking, persuaded cynical but inquisitive customers to enter their tents to witness their shoddy and sometimes shady acts. Here was a very special ritual - completely without a sense of striving, and promising no rewards. You wandered about amused and amazed, never sure whether you were there to be entertained or entertaining - for the moment you won a balloon or lost your money while upside down on a sky ride, you became an actor, watched by others and excited by their watching. The fair conformed perfectly to the rules of capitalism and democracy: it tossed everyone into the limelight for two minutes and charged for the thrill.

What was the theme of the fair? Where was its message? Its utility? Who were its organizers and heroes? No one knew or cared. It arrived by stealth one night and would depart furtively the next morning. A bare tract of ground aglitter for a few days, then bare again.

Visibly the fair functioned without any of the necessary characteristics of a work of art, for it neither educated nor enlightened. So it wasn't a work of art then? But what a challenge that question offers! Let us return and stir its embers to see what we can produce. So what if the protagonists never appear and the main themes are all splodged like a bad paint job. So what if instead of a five-act fauteuil monstrosity we produce a confection of 100 atrocities; amusing, ironical, linked only in the head of the wandering visitor.

So patria 3 has no heroes or heroic pretensions. But such a state of insouciance cannot exist for long, especially when there is a suspicion that it has been devised out of mischief and staged perhaps over the very graves of those, whose destruction it celebrates. And so in the very midst of this giddy carnival we begin to long for something which, as in a dream, we are given clues, hints, hopes and even promises of. And what is it that only towards the end begins to take hold of the action? It is nothing more than the resurrection of hero and heroine and their coagulation into the androgyne of the alchemical wedding. But such a forging of unity out of disparate elements takes great skill. There is a right and a wrong way, a true solve et coagula and a paste-up concoction. Patria 3 goes about it one way, patria 4 another. Whether individual visitors experience the right or wrong solution (or no solution at all) is not in itself important. Patria pursues its inexorable course towards its conclusion regardless of those who bear witness to it.