slow learning is deep learning with fools who play mass

Back in September, we moved into our new studio at 7 Fraser in Toronto and a week later 9 members of the experimental theatre troupe, Dzieci, drove in from Brooklyn and stayed with us. For two days Dzieci put up with our construction dust, shared meals, and woke us with the music of their voices.

Here is the video of the Fools Mass (created by our studio mate Dexter Ico) which they performed on Sunday morning. 

Thanks to Dzieci and to all who made this slow-learning-dream-come-true possible.

Coming to a Laneway Near You: Gypsies Perform Shakespeare, Lunatics Enact Mass

I found them on the internet when I was looking for Grotowski-inspired paratheatre workshops. I hunted them down in Philadelphia so I could partake in their Fool’s Mass. I’m rearranging my life so that I might participate in their 24 hour Maraton paratheatrical workshop in New York.

And now they’re coming to my favorite multidisciplinary arts garden. I’m so excited!  Dzieci is coming to town. They’re borrowing a bus from a correctional facility and Dzieci is coming to Toronto. (Did I tell you? Dzieci is coming to Toronto!)

Here’s some info from our press release, so you don’t miss any facts.

Dzieci, an experimental theatre ensemble from New York City appears at Majlis, 163 Walnut Street, for two special performances: Makbet, a gypsy-style chamber version of the Shakespearean classic, on Saturday, September 18 at 8 pm and their popular classic Fools Mass, Sunday, September 19 at 11 am. $20 advance ( / $25 at the door.

As presented by a traveling family of gypsies, the hour-long performance of Makbet explores (and explodes) the very essence of storytelling. Through a process of oral transmission, each member of the ensemble has learned all of the lines of every part. In rehearsals and in production, the actors do not know who will be playing any given role at any given time. Haunting folk songs and chants from Scandinavia and Eastern Europe weave through the piece, creating the impression of a sacred ceremony. The result: a high-stakes performance that keeps both the ensemble and audience on edge.

In Fools Mass, a group of medieval village idiots are forced to enact their own Mass, due to the untimely death of their beloved pastor. Bursting with buffoonery and comic audience participation, Fools Mass is balanced with lovely hymns and chants from the 8th to the 14th centuries, creating a seminal work that has been Dzieci’s signature piece for over ten years. As the Encyclopedia of Religion describes, “the work resists being categorized as either theater or religion, becoming both at once in an event experienced by many as transformative.” Fools Mass has appeared in venues ranging from the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City to the 2004 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Barcelona.

Dzeici will also offer a paratheatrical workshop for actors and non-actors at Dovercourt House, 805 Dovercourt Road, on Saturday, September 18 from 12 – 3 pm. Dzieci workshops are non-verbal and improvisational experiences, with guidance gently provided by the ensemble through sound and gesture. Employing elements of ensemble theatre, meditation, psychotherapy, and ritual, the event flows in accordance with the nature of the participants and leads towards a heightening of consciousness and deepening of community. Reservations at 416.799.7950, $75-$125 pay what you can.

About Theatre Group Dzieci

Founded by Matt Mitler in 1997, Dzieci (djyeh-chee) uses techniques garnered from Jerzy Grotowski and the Polish Theatre Laboratory, Peter Brook, humanistic psychology, and ritual forms derived from Native American and Eastern spiritual disciplines in its search for the “sacred” through the medium of theatre.

About Majlis Multidisciplinary Arts

Nestled between two factory buildings in Toronto’s Queen West neighbourhood, Majlis Multidisciplinary Arts provides a unique, intimate laneway-garden venue for artistic collaborations throughout the summer.

For tickets for workshop and performances go to

fools mass in philadelphia

Ever since I was a child, I loved playing Mass. I hated actually sitting and kneeling and standing on cue during Catholic Mass with family, but there was something beautiful and mysterious and eternal about the ritual that called to me. I had no interest in simply watching and following along. I wanted to participate fully.  I longed to be the priest, to be the server, to fling around the censor, and prod people with the collection basket and light candles and consecrate the body and blood of Jesus. (If truth be told,  I wanted to be Jesus, but that’s another story.) Playing mass in the living room with my brothers and sisters and friends and stuffed animals gave me that chance to fully immerse myself in the experience of ritual magic of trans-substantiation. I thought I’d lost this chance forever until last weekend when I attended Fool’s Mass by a group from New York called Dzieci, “an experimental theatre  ensemble dedicated to a search for the ‘sacred’ through the medium of theatre.”

I found Dziezi as I’ve found many of my current passions: through a chance meeting on the Internet. I’d been hunting down practitioners of experimental theatre methods as part of a quest to realize a lifelong dream, not to play mass, but to experience theatre experiments as described in a lifelong favorite film: My Dinner with Andre.  Ever since I saw the film many years ago, I’ve harbored a fantasy in the back of my head to recreate some version of Jerzy Grotowski’s experiments as described by Andre Gregory in the film.  I wanted to gather artists musicians and dancers in the woods  and create experiences based on myth and folklore, religion and ritual.  I dreamed of taking part in multi-modal art happenings not unlike children playing Mass, only with big people, musicians and dancers, and, of course, fools like me who are ready to dive in deep. And while I like to be entertained as much as anybody, what I’ve always wanted ultimately from art is an immersion in deep waters, in life-changing, limit-challenging experiences.

And so  Google sent me to  Dzieci’s website. I was enchanted. It just so happened that Dzieci was performing a Fool’s Mass (as well as Macbet) in Philadelphia, where my son lives.  I bought my tickets, got on a plane and took my son with me to see my favorite Shakespeare play and to play Mass.

The two performances were held in a converted living room theater called PSALM in a grand and leafy residential neighborhood. As we approached the house, we were greeted by an eager kielbasa bearing gypsy, who invited me to take a bite. I knew I wouldn’t be disappointed. The cast warmed us up with food and libations, flattery and fortunetelling. The inventive, intensified version of Macbeth was delightful, but it was the interaction with the players who partied with us in artfully sustained character that created the possibility for the kind of  paratheatrical experience I was looking for.

The next morning’s Fool’s Mass took us in even deeper. I didn’t actually get to play the priest or the altar boy, but I did get to revisit my imaginings about art and dance and theatre. The interactive sacrifice of the Mass consecrated by the medieval lunatics chilled me to the marrow. (I can still feel the gaze of one baby-doll-clutching woman. I do believe she looked right into me and saw what I cannot bare to see.)  I never before experienced Mass as honoring the divine feminine, but this Mass certainly did

More than anything, I’m left with more questions.

What if all that I imagine about art, theatre, film, dance didn’t simply entertain and inspire, but were real? What if the ritual was not just for play, not simply for performance for someone else to watch, but for something bigger and deeper and more real than real? What if something more risky were at stake? What happens when players and audience agree to allow themselves to be truly challenged, to be altered by the experience?  What if baby-doll-clutching woman wasn’t just acting and really did see something unbearable in me?  What if  what’s next for me (and a few other fools) is to camp out in the woods and play with a band of misfits to find out?