Simone Weil: Performance Through Nothingness

Tyrone Grima*


The paper analyses a theatre research project in which the paradigms of the mysticism of Simone Weil were applied in practice. The theoretical framework of the paper, as well as of the project, is the Theology of Creation as conveyed by the French mystic. This is juxtaposed against the praxis of the theatre directors Jerzy Grotowski and Peter Brook. The insights and the paradigms established in this framework were translated in practice in a research performance that serves as a case-study in this paper. In the research project, the researcher worked creatively with an actress over a period of five months, through nothingness. This twenty-minute performance was presented to a number of theatre practitioners and philosophers to discuss the dynamics of the artistic process. The paper will present the notion of nothingness, as experienced in this theatrical performance, from three perspectives. The first perspective is the one of the observant-participant. The researcher facilitated and directed the process. Hence, this perspective will serve as a starting point in the analytical exploration. The second perspective will consist of the viewpoint of the performer. The final perspective will be the feedback provided by the focus groups who watched the performance.

Keywords: Simone Weil, nothingness, spirituality, one-person performance, non-action

Simone Weil (1909–43) presents a theology of creation, embedded in absence and withdrawal. Despite the immediate negative connotation that these words might convey, Weil’s theology is a liberating vision, that accentuates the beauty of the creative act. This paper will expound on this vision, rooted in the spirituality and philosophy of the French mystic that may be pertinent to the creative act in the theatre. This framework will then be evaluated critically through the presentation and the analysis of a case-study, which provided an in-depth experience of working on a one-person performance through this approach.

Theoretical framework

The starting point of this journey is a deepening of the theme of anonymity in Weilian spirituality. Weil’s theological reflections on the Mystery of Creation will offer the required framework to comprehend better what she implies by anonymity. Weil describes this mystery as the withdrawal of the Divine to create a space of existence for humanity (La Science 403). It is through de-creation that the relationship is established since the “creator, withdrew so that we may be” (Weil, La Porte 86).

The absence of the Omnipresent creates a space for the relational intimacy to occur because the initiator does not impose himself onto the other. The signature of the author is missing, making it an act of anonymity (Weil, La Science 341). This reduction of God is the pinnacle of a loving experience. Through it, humanity is being taught the dynamics of a relationship. The reaction of humankind, faced by this space, is diametrically opposite to the intention of the Divine. This emptiness propels the human being to conquer and to make the space his own. The sabotaging of the space leads to the illusionary prospect of the person transforming himself into a false idol and erroneously playing the role of God (117).

The continuous absence of the Divine teaches humanity that this attitude is counterproductive since the space can never belong to humanity, and that it was created through withdrawal and not through possession. The only manner to relate with God is through the via negativa, (Weil, Marseille II 119) that is, by acknowledging that what is beyond humanity can never be fathomed or captured. In Simone Weil’s spirituality, there is no space for the glorification of the ego. The person needs to detach from anything or anyone that may sustain this gratification so that ipseity does not become the operational means in the relationship with the Divine (Weil, Marseille I 56). Indeed, “it is perfect detachment alone that allows us to see the nakedness of things, without the fog of lying values” (Weil, Venice 52). This leads the individual to understand that he needs to disappear and become part of the experience of nothingness to return the space to the Creator.

Weil also applies the notion of anonymity to the artistic process. Art should not lead to what Weil defines as the realisation of selfhood. By realisation, Weil is referring to the fulfilment of the self. This fulfilment is an innate instinct, inherent in each human being, to secure his right of existence (Weil, New York I 218). It is a drive towards self-preservation that ensures personal legitimisation, welfare and legacy. Art has been frequently misused for this purpose. Several are the artists who use their talent to leave an imprint to increase their popularity.

Weil condemns this attitude since it reinforces a violent and destructive modus operandi whereby the artist imposes his presence onto the other. It is self-emptying and not self-assertion that makes an artistic work great (Brueck 89).  

Yet, how possible is it for the practitioner to disappear from his work of art? Peter Brook recognises the importance of the disappearance of the director in what he terms as the Holy Theatre but clearly shows that this objective cannot occur in its totality and the director “cannot help projecting his own state of mind on the stage” (Brook 68–69). Nonetheless, this should not be an excuse to discard the recommendation. Although anonymity is a process that will never be reached, the director still needs to set it as a goal to ensure that the work is not a celebration of the ego but a means of communication with the other.

The same approach needs to be embraced by the actor. The disappearance of the actor, however, is more problematic because he is the one relating with the audience through physicality. His visibility is a fundamental part of the artistic process. Hence, the actor disappears when the focus is not any longer on the celebration of his bravura. His role is not to select a technique from his bag of tricks to impress the spectators. According to Grotowski, the performer needs to annihilate himself so that the focus is shifted from him onto the theatrical encounter, thus embracing the “via negativa – not a collection of skills but an eradication of blocks” (Poor Theatre 17).

Certainly, there are differences in Weil’s and Grotowski’s understanding of the phrase via negativa. Weil perceived it as the purgation of the illusionary that prevents the person from relating with the Divine in the void, whereas Grotowski’s approach is the removal of any psycho-physical blockages, as well as superfluous elements, that prevent the actor from delivering an authentic performance. Grotowski’s aim is artistic whereas Weil focuses solely on the spiritual. However, the essence is the same: it is a matter of identifying the excess and the hindrances to be able to experience authenticity, that is, a state whereby the person is not relating through the illusionary, and wherein the starting point is not his personal glorification.

The Empty Space

Closely linked with anonymity is the notion of the empty space. It would be futile to purify the intentions of the performer without removing the spatial clutter that still interferes in the process. By referring to Taoist spirituality, Weil explains that emptiness is essential for any healthy process to occur: it is the empty space between the spokes of the wheel that makes the wheel turn (Marseille I 64). Peter Brook applies the same concept to the theatre by stating that, “a man walks across this empty space whilst someone else is watching him and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged” (11).

The empty space is not only an externalised space. The internal also needs to be emptied through silence. This implies that the process of emptying is not an action but an approach. It is not only the active removal of physical hindrances but, moreover, an attitude that needs to be nurtured within the external and the internal dimensions of space. In this light, the process should ideally never be dependent on words to incite the stimulus for creativity because language is laden. It is “only the silence of the world that allows silent meditation, freed finally from all desires, fears, hopes, from all that within us raises its voice to trouble us” (Weil, Ecrits Philosophiques 112). The words will emerge only when the actor arrives to the point of total surrender; when the space, external and internal, is totally free from restraints. They will then be unavoidable, without being superfluous, irrelevant or coerced (Croyden, 85).


Another important aspect that Weil refers to, and which is also ingrained in Taoist spirituality, is the notion of non-action. In Weilian spirituality, non-action implies that the person ceases from performing actions spurred by personal motivations and, instead, reacts to any stimulus through spontaneity rather than premeditation, to become one with the action of the Divine (Weil, Marseille II 436). It is not a halting of actions or withdrawal from relating with others but a concentration of actions, often limited, that stem from the relationship established between the person and the environment that he is in. In Grotowski’s words, “the first action is non-action. The first thing to be done is what is necessary . . . where those participating cease to hope that something will happen” (qtd. in Kumiega 226–27).

This brings this analysis to an uncomfortable point. According to Weil, one of the aspects that hinders non-action is imagination because it can easily feed into the illusionary. Imagination becomes a means to prevent the human being from staying in the unnerving empty space. It urges the person to strive to find ways of filling the space with one’s own agenda and ideas, preventing non-acting action from taking place (McCullough 202). This critical aspect of Weilian thought is problematic since imagination is considered a fundamental tool in the artistic process. How can this criticism be reconciled with the work of the artist? The answer to this dilemma can be found in the lexical choices that Weil makes in her writings. She opposes imagination, and not creativity, in her analysis on the process of detachment. Her interest in a spectrum of artistic works, albeit selective and arguably judgemental, proves that she never discouraged the creative process.

Weil’s theology on Creation will be beneficial to the unravelling of the difference between imagination and creativity. The creative process is a core constituent of the spiritual life because it can bring the person closer to the Divine, the Divine Himself being the summus creator omnium. God does not imagine: He creates. The summus creator serves as a paradigm of creativity for all artists. Like God, the artist is called to create ex nihilo. Imagination, as explained by Simone Weil, operates in an antipodal manner. Through imagination, the artist fabricates an other that is already in existence by referring to his own perception and judgement of the other, thereby regurgitating an extension of his own self. The artist has presented his image of the other and not the authentic other (Weil, Premiers Ecrits 202). Creativity necessitates entering the void (Weil, Marseille II 125), where the focus of the process is not on the self. This allows the discovery of new possibilities of expression that were unknown to the artist, that are not an extension of his own self, but that can be found in the beyond. In a genuine and deep work of art, the artist is completely absent, as much as the product was absent prior to its creation. If the work of art is a manifestation of the ego trip of the artist, it is an illusion, an attempt of grandeur, a form of imagination.


The case-study will focus on an in-depth process which I facilitated with a performer as we experimented with the principles emerging from the philosophy and spirituality of Simone Weil. After four months of experimentation, a work-in-progress was presented to select practitioners and academics in small focus groups of nine people over five performances, who were then invited to participate in a discussion on the process.

The focal research question that the case-study attempts to investigate is to what extent can nothingness serve as a point de départ for the performative process. This question will be examined from three perspectives. The first perspective will be mine as a participant-observer. The second perspective will present the point of view of the performer, whereas the third perspective will present the analysis of the focus groups.

Warm-up of a session: Tyrone Grima (left); Sharon Bezzina (right). Photo: Nicole Corcoran
The Researcher’s Perspective

Unlike a more traditional approach to theatre-making, which starts with a text, theme or community, the starting point of this process was nothingness. In the first two weeks, the performer was asked to go through meditative techniques. In the meditative exercises, the performer concentrated on her breathing, as well as developing a heightened awareness of her body, by focusing on the senses and registering any sensorial stimuli within her and around her. By concentrating on the objective of the exercise, the performer diverted her attention from the concerns of the world outside of the performance space to the here-and-now. These meditative techniques facilitated the process for the performer to enter the void; that is, a space freed and purged from all thoughts and preoccupations, so that the focus is exclusively on the current moment. In this void, the performer could experience nothingness. By entering the empty space, as demonstrated in the theoretical framework, the performer could remove all the clutter that prevented her from centring. This state of emptiness was important for the process so that the performer could start the journey tabula rasa. Following the framework presented in Weil’s theology of Creation, the creative act cannot commence before the individual withdraws and an empty space is nurtured.

The difference between nothing and nothingness within the context of this project is paramount to comprehend and appreciate the dynamics of the process. Nothing is an absolute that can never be experienced in human reality, since the human person operates within time and space. This was not the objective of the process, mainly because it is a reality beyond the human faculty. Nothingness, on the contrary, is an approach whereby the individual frees from clutter to be mindful of the internal and external stimuli.

One of the exercises done to deepen this approach was the focusing of attention on the spatial reality that the performer was operating in, and reacting to it. The performer was asked to develop awareness of the space by observing it profusely, with the intention of familiarising herself with its features. In mainstream theatre, the actor pretends that the rehearsal space is representing, on one level, the performance space, and on a second level, the fictional universe of the character. Contrariwise, in this approach, the performer rehearsed, for most of the weeks, in the same space where the performance was scheduled to be held, and, furthermore, the space was not a metaphorical one initially. The performer was in a studio and was not feigning to be anywhere else. This dynamic impacted on the movements that developed in the process.

An interesting example occurred in the first session where, in a meditation exercise, the first movement that was expressed was a sudden jerk leading to a sit-up that the performer did because she was feeling cold. This same feeling also drove her to get a mat with her for the sessions. Although the original reason was a functional one, the mat became an integral part of the performance as the performer reacted to its presence and texture. This is an example showing how nothingness enabled the performer to relate and react to the space she was in, leading to developments in the artistic journey.

As the performer felt more comfortable in the meditative exercises, she was asked to identify any impulses that arose. According to Grotowski, a born impulse is “something that pushes from ‘inside’ the body and extends itself to the periphery; something very subtle, born ‘inside the body,’ and which does not come from uniquely a corporeal domain” (Richards, Physical Actions 95). These impulses became the trigger for the movements of the performer, which would then be externalised. Hence, as soon as these impulses were recognised, the performer would experiment with them by embodying the impulses in different ways, such as amplifying the movement or slowing it down. This exercise allowed the performer to be creative with the impulses arising through nothingness. Hence, rather than determining a posteriori the movements that the performer imagined working on, in this process, in line with the spirituality of Weil, the performer embraced anonymity. In this context, anonymity is understood as the removal of the concepts or desires that the performer had, sacrificing what she imagines so that the accent remains constantly on the artistic process. The performer enters the rehearsal space not knowing what to expect and not having planned anything. The movements are generated, instead, through the impulses discovered spontaneously in the empty space. Following the Weilian model, the performer is not imagining—that is deciding—beforehand what she wants to do, or imposing a determined agenda on her work, but creating, by allowing herself to be surprised by the rising impulses.

The performer also worked through guided fantasies. She was asked to focus on her breathing, and after having reached a deep level of relaxation, to follow mentally the instructions given. In a particular guided fantasy, the participant was invited to visualise a childhood scene in which she was going through a ritualised action. The objective of this exercise was for the performer to connect with imagery from a phase in her life where the rational aspect of her personality was less developed. This was important to the artistic process because it provided an alternative way of generating movements which were nonetheless not dependent on the preconceived ideas of the performer. A guided fantasy fosters nothingness, since it takes the person to an unknown space where the “clutter of thought” is discarded. It is also linked with Weilian spirituality, since it requires the performer to be attentive and not instigate the action but allow the guided fantasy to establish the movements. This is embedded in the Taoist approach of non-action where action develops as a reaction.

The outcome of this guided fantasy was the dance of the nursery rhyme Ring a Ring o’ Roses, which the performer subsequently embodied. At this point, a challenging dynamic arose. The space was clearly not the studio, since an experience from the past was physicalised. It seemed that she was not reacting any longer in the here-and-now with the space in a mindful manner. On further introspection, I realised that the stimulus shifted now from a spatial one to a memory, which in turn enhanced the spatial dynamics. This mindful reminiscence of a childhood memory was incarnated in the present moment in the reality of the spatial dynamics of the studio. She was not pretending to be elsewhere but was embodying the ritual in the current space that she was in. This allowed her to react to this ritualised memory in the here-and-now and to allow her impulses, nonetheless, to guide her in the work.

This session made me reflect more deeply on the relationship between the performer and the space in the context of this process. The performer does not only work and react to the space that she is in but also “interprets” it. She chooses which part of the space to work in and which stimulus to react to. Does the performer need to discard desires and attitudes to avoid this interpretation of the space? This dynamic becomes even more complex when it is juxtaposed against the reality that the performer is relating with the space through her sensory experiences. The sensory experience can be ambiguous and unreliable. Perceptions are ephemeral and the performer cannot depend on them. The hermeneutics of the sensory experiences also seem to denote a subjective element where the performer is not detaching from herself but rather interpreting the stimuli through one’s personal lens. This interpretation accuses the performer of not reacting to the stimuli in a neutral way. In this light, total immersion in the void is not possible.

This apparent impasse, however, should not doom the process to failure. Nothingness does not demand the annihilation of the performer, but her kenosis, that is self-emptying, to be able to engage genuinely in the process. Nothingness does not expect the performer to strip herself from her presence and being, but, as seen in the analysis of the theoretical framework, to shift the prime focus from the actor to the theatrical encounter. The senses, as well as the physicality of the performer, become metaxu, a term borrowed from Platonic philosophy that Weil uses to denote a bridge that conducts to a higher realm (La Science 357). The sensory experience should not be a form of gratification for the performer but a vehicle of relationality; that is, a meaningful encounter and exchange with the spectators. If the audience cannot relate with the movements created, they are consequently futile and only serve to reinforce a self-centred approach that does not promote any form of communication (Brueck 32).

These exercises, and the discovery of the resultant movements, are done through the performer, but not for her indulgence or extolment, but to find an expression that will eventually create a theatrical encounter with the audience. In the light of this, the performer needs to relate with the space without invading it and stifling its stimuli. She needs to listen to the space without ever allowing this interpretation to block the communication. A few examples from the rehearsal process can clarify this insight.

Reacting to stimuli: Sharon Bezzina. Photo: Nicole Corcoran

In a particular session, there was an irritating sound of a biker raising the engine constantly in the street just outside the studio. I asked the performer whether this annoyed her too during the work. Although it did, her initial instinct, reinforced by years of classical training, was to ignore it. My direction was to be mindful of any sound and to see whether the body reacts to it. The starting point was the noise, and through her mindfulness, the performer reacted to it. It is this interpretation of the sensory data in a mindful manner that allows for the expression of the beauty of creativity.

Another relevant episode happened in the same session when a photographer joined the project to document the process. The photographer was another person in the room, actively involved, who was observing the performer, reacting to her, moving around the room and, most importantly, making a noise each time she clicked the camera! I asked the performer to examine whether her impulses wanted to react to the presence of the photographer, and this led to interesting movements that were incorporated in the work. These “ad hoc” interventions were included, in the spirit of the project that promoted an awareness of the dynamics of the here-and-now. They also fostered the faculty of attention, which is a key paradigm in Weilian spirituality.

As the weeks unfolded, the movements were woven together to form a score that served as the basis of what eventually was going to be the work-in-progress presented to the audience. The performer repeated the same score by exploring it from a variety of angles, such as emphasising a detail or speeding up a movement. As the score was explored, another important challenge appeared. Was there a way to ensure that the process would not be monotonous for the performer? How was it possible to imbue freshness into the actions that were performed umpteen times? This led me to experiment with a different approach.

Inspired by Viola Spolin’s concept of side coaching, I asked the performer to react to any comments I made, provided that her impulses also motivated her to do so. These side-comments were linked with the stimuli in the room and were announced as she experimented with the score. As the performer physicalised the actions, I commented about the stimuli in the space, such as the intensity of the light or the texture of the materials around her, to encourage her to explore deeper dimensions of the work. The objective of incorporating side-coaching in the sessions was to equip the performer further with skills to become more aware of the stimuli around her. Besides making the experience fresh, it also expanded the faculty of attention and supported the performer to operate through non-action in such a way that she was not stimulated by personal motivations but through the external stimuli of the instructions given. I was enthused at how responsive and creative the performer was to this technique. Without losing sight of what she was doing, she engaged with the comments made, developing the score even further. This demonstrates that discovering the freshness of the action makes the work more relevant (Schechner and Hoffman 45), and that no matter how frequently revisited, the action is always unique to that specific moment in time.

These dynamics also indicate the laborious and industrious aspect that is fundamental to the nature of this work. It is a daunting procedure that can easily exhaust the performer. It may prove to be difficult, if not impossible, to remain in nothingness and to stay constantly in the empty space. The person who is grabbling with nothingness, like a pendulum, consistently swings into and out of nothingness. Inspired by the Irish philosopher Richard Kearney, who uses the term anatheism to denote this pendulating in the spiritual life from belief to unbelief, and to the beyond (3–6), I coined the term ana-nothingness, referring to a constant and repeated return to nothingness that happens in the process. But every time that nothingness is returned to, the individual is enriched even further. This confirms that nothingness is a journey, composed of multiple revisited phases, each time endowed with the wealth of the previous phases. 

The Performer’s Perspective

The performer maintained that she managed to experience nothingness by letting go and liberating herself from any clutter that could interfere with the process. To her, the key factors to this achievement were the fact that she knew nothing about the approach, including what could be the potential outcome, and that there was a strong element of trust between her and myself. The working atmosphere allowed her to enjoy the process by surrendering completely to the stimuli that she interacted with (Bezzina).

In a similar fashion to the creation framework presented by Weil, in this context the withdrawal of the ego of the director created a safe space for the performer to delve into the unknown. A non-judgemental ethic needs to be nurtured where the performer can experiment without feeling that the work is being negatively criticised.

Floor work: Sharon Bezzina. Photo: Nicole Corcoran

This does not imply that challenges were not encountered. The performer noted in several sessions that there would be a difference, sometimes even cardinal, between her perception of the images in the guided fantasy and the way she embodied them. A schism was developing between the internal impulses and the physical experience. This does not necessarily mean that the process was failing but that the tool of the guided fantasy was less required. The performer had learnt quickly how to trust her impulses to give shape to her work, without the support of the guided fantasy.

Furthermore, as the journey advanced, the guided fantasies changed from a useful tool to a distraction. The technique had lost its novelty, leading the performer to drift off and not focus on the exercise. She needed a stimulus to keep alert (Bezzina), accentuating that the state of alertness is fundamental for this work. This impasse, as stated above, was addressed through the inclusion of side coaching in the sessions. The performer claimed that side coaching allowed her to add more depth to the work and that it provided the required energy to a piece that could be repetitive. In the second month of the project, she also shared that ever since side coaching was included in the sessions, something opened up in her, that could not be qualified, but that allowed her internal impulses to guide her fully. Even when movements were repeated more than once, she felt that “it’s as though I loosened up and discovered new things when I thought there was nothing else to discover. . . . This led to the realisation that my inner impulses, my awareness of this, was wide awake. They were ready to take on the moment” (Bezzina).

Working through impulses: Sharon Bezzina. Photo: Nicole Corcoran
The Perspectives in the Focus Groups

Some focus group members struggled with the notion of nothingness, reacting to it in diverse ways. One of the common misconceptions was that the performance was about nothingness, and some even read and interpreted the actions of the performance in this light. This made me realise that the original title of the project was misleading: after the second focus group the title changed from “performance as nothingness” to “performance through nothingness.” The modification in the preposition indicated that the audience was not watching nothingness but a performance in which nothingness was a starting point. Weil’s spirituality of nothingness furnished the performer with the mindset to liberate the space to create a new piece of work.

The philosophical difficulties on the nature of the work emerged strongly in the focus groups. If nothingness is the point de départ, where did the actions originate from? Can anything stem out of nothingness? As one of the audience members claimed, even though the performer can start from nothingness, as soon as an action is executed, it becomes something, and these actions are always subjective since they come from the interiority of the actor. Despite the subjectivity, and perhaps through the subjective, the communication occurs. Mindfulness is not the annihilation of the self but its opening within the void in relation to the other. As a dramatherapist present in the focus group remarked, “the irony is that in the nothingness, the self comes out.”

Another important dynamic that was discussed was the need to educate the impulses in the process of nothingness. Referring to the works of great practitioners, such as Grotowski, Barba and Ingemar Lindh, practitioner and Professor Frank Camilleri maintained that this approach requires intense physical training in other related techniques. This parallel training will equip the actor with the grammar that the body needs to express itself as it relates with its impulses. On the other hand, I believe that this work requires a rawness in it so that the audience can connect with it fully. In this context, “rawness” does not imply movements that are unpolished but a portrayal of actions that do not highlight the skills of the performer to the degree that the audience cannot connect with them, or else is impressed so much that it deflects from the attention on the encounter. Whereas training is imperative, the performer should not be fixated to the extent that the focus shifts totally onto the self, thus also risking the loss of the dialogue created through the actions. As Brook warns, technique can become “dexterity without any other aim than the display of expertise—in other words, the art becomes insincere” (130). Simultaneously, though, Brook equally reprimands actors who discard technique. The line between these two possibilities is extremely fine, requiring the actor “to detach without detachment” (131), to master technique without letting it master him.

Another scene from the performance, 9–13 June 2021: Performer Sharon Bezzina. Photo: Nicole Corcoran

The most challenging leap that this project expected was for the audience to meet the performer in an intense journey that had happened over the span of four months. Yet, the audience does not have the preparation that the performer had. So, how can this encounter occur in a manner that the dynamics are not manipulated by the performer who seems to be more experienced in the journey? How can the performer invite the audience to participate in the process of nothingness by encouraging the spectators to put aside their preconceived notions to focus on the here-and-now?

Furthermore, in the context of this project, the members of the audience were aware that the work was related to nothingness. They were invited to analyse the process and so could not enter the space tabula rasa. Would the experience have been more meaningful had the audience walked in without any prior knowledge so that that they could relate in the void? This void is the optimal space for the encounter between the actor and the spectator, which according to an audience member was nonetheless simulated in this performance, comparing it to a black hole in which there is creation. This experience also defied the us/them schism, potentially due to its groundedness: the spectators were invited to sit on the floor, evening out further the power dynamics in performances manifested through the physicality of how the audience is seated vis-à-vis the performer.

The experience was described as “haunting”—a liminal space of encounter through absence. For this connection to happen, though, the audience members benefitted more the less they knew about the rationale of the project. This connection, though, was not felt by everyone. A spectator described it as a virile space that could only be observed at a distance. This begs further questions that remain unresolved: what was missing, from the audience’s perspective, if anything at all, in this experience? How can the process commenced in the rehearsal phase ripen in the performative space? Additional research is required to understand how this relational dyad can develop further.


This research project was inspired by the philosophy of Simone Weil, who perceived art as a vehicle for spiritual growth. This is because in her model for artistic expression, Weil recommends that the artist removes all hindrances in order to create an empty space in which the encounter with the audience can occur, in the same way how the person needs to purge all obstacles that clutter the void to enable the encounter with the Divine. Thus, the theatrical act is, in Weil’s perception, by default, a spiritual one too because it should be modelled on the same relational dynamics in which the human being operates with the Transcendent.

This study has shown that:

  1. although it is possible to create a performative piece through nothingness, this is an arduous process that requires the appropriate culture and set-up for it to happen;
  2. the presence of the performer is crucial, and the process of nothingness does not imply the annihilation of the actor but the emptying by the actor of any encumbrance that impedes a relationship with the audience;
  3. nothingness incurs a non-linear process where the performer is constantly pendulating in a journey from the empty space to out of it. It is also recommended that more research is conducted to understand how the audience can be more fully incorporated in this process with the actor.
Scene from the performance, 9–13 June 2021: Performer Sharon Bezzina. Photo: Nicole Corcoran

In her “prayer of de-creation” (Connaissance Surnaturelle 279–80), Simone Weil requests that her ego is removed so that she can focus on the other. The request of this prayer is extended to the actor. The language used is uncomfortable. It initially might be misunderstood as destructive and clearly reveals the anguish and the pain of the process. Nonetheless, it is a journey of creativity. As the performer painstakingly removes the excess, the naked core reveals a depth that elevates the work of the performer to an encounter with the other that is beautiful and humbling to witness and to experience. This is the crux of the creative act.

Another scene from the performance, 9–13 June 2021: Performer Sharon Bezzina. Photo: Nicole Corcoran


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*Dr. Tyrone Grima is a lecturer and researcher at the Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology (MCAST). He is also a theatre practitioner, having directed a number of plays in prestigious theatres in Malta. His favourite works were Michel (2008), the first LGBT play written in the Maltese language; Children of a Lesser God (2015); and Agnes of God (2020), one of the first live theatre performances held in Malta after the first wave of the Covid pandemic. His fields of interest in research are the interface between theatre and spirituality; queer performance; and community-based performances. Tyrone is also the author of novels and plays in Maltese.

Copyright © 2022 Tyrone Grima
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