Kerry Dwyer -
Shamanic Theatre

In September 1995, Kerry Dwyer and 4th Wall Theatre, gathered together a group of 16 teenagers from the Byron Shire to create a play which would explore their rite of passage into adulthood, reflected in a journey up Mount Warning, the volcano which created the whole Byron area.

We asked Kerry why she made Mount Warning the focus of "Cloud Catcher".

I have always been aware of Mount Warning. This mountain has nurtured the whole Byron shire area; the soil, the weather, everything comes from her. She has created the life here for 23 million years, she is its mother and draws many people here to learn from her. Mount Warning was traditionally called Wollumbin or Cloud Catcher, after which the play was named.

Some very powerful events have taken place at Wollumbin. In the 1987 Harmonic Convergence when thousands of people gathered there, the Aboriginal people handed back to the Hopi Indians a crystal that they'd been custodians of. And recently I found out that Mount Warning is on the Seven Sisters ley-line which connects it to Uluru (Ayer's Rock), a central spiritual site for the Australian Aborigines.

In 1992, I had a very intense personal experience with the mountain. I was driving down with a friend from Brisbane, along the back road from which you get those lovely glimpses of Mount Warning. As we went through Uki (the town closest to the mountain) I had a bolt of energy pass through my body and I started shaking and shuddering like I was having some major rebirth. We had to stop the car for about twenty minutes until I calmed down enough to drive again.

In 1993, NORPA, a theatre company in Lismore, asked me to direct their first show, a play called Lilies in the Paddock, which was about women on the land. I accepted and it turned out that the play was to tour the towns around Mount Warning! One of the cast, Sue Melhuish, who ran the 4th Wall, a Youth Theatre company, really liked the acting techniques I was using, the meditation, centering and other shamanic practices, so we decided to do a play about Mount Warning from a shamanic point of view.

Having decided to start work on "Cloud Catcher", we went to see a local Koori man who was the head of the Tweed-Byron Land Council and told him of my experience with Wollumbin in 1992. He interpreted it as a real blessing from the mountain, as a green light to go ahead and do the play.

Yoni asked what it was like for Kerry to work with teenagers:

I actually expected the actors to be older than they were, more like 17/18, but it ended up they were coming out of childhood into adolescence which meant they had quite intense mood swings, 'the roller-coaster ride', as one girl called it. But it was fine because they were so open and so full of love that it was incredible being with them, a real blessing for me.

We worked them hard. They had to be very disciplined and committed. They couldn't miss rehearsals and they really struggled with that one. We told them that if they missed a rehearsal then they would be out of whatever scene was worked on that day, and we stuck to it! The responsibility was very much given back to the kids.

They took to the whole idea of writing and creating the play together in such a trusting way. I had no idea what it was going to be about or how we were going to do it so we danced and drew a lot, did meditations, mucked around, played theatre games and I still had no idea. We started to wonder if maybe we did need a story, but after our first climb up the mountain it became clear that there was one: you climb up the mountain in the dark, you see the light coming out of the dawn, the first light in Australia and then you come down in its light. So "Cloud Catcher" was about a physical adventure that is also an emotional and spiritual journey, we just had to clear away the debris and let it come through.

We also tried to create characters, but they were so boring compared to who the kids actually were! So the structure ended up being very simple, based on nurturing their true responses to things and creating a play from that. Now this was already extraordinary in itself that they were so open because normally 14-15 year old kids hide and don't want to know who they are but this group really took to the work.

We did a lot of metaphysical work, working with spirit and with grounding energies. We explored getting in touch with the emotions, the pure emotion and not the focus of the emotion as in, you make me angry, this makes me sad. We drew the emotions and wrote them and danced them as energies, colours and light, not as a psychological reaction. This is a piece that one of the girl's wrote:

Hard jabbing feelings white hot rage.
I see red. No mortal dare face ME.
If he is foolish enough he will be seared by my fire
or frozen by my ice.

Ami Bruce

Since Wollumbin is a sacred place for the Aborigines and for many who live around it our next exploration was to look at what was a sacred place for the kids themselves. For some of them it was their bedrooms, for some it was the bottom of the garden. We did a visualisation where we went deeper into it and Rose came up with this vision of the mountain and I knew then that we were on the right track:

It starts at Wategoes Beach. I'm sitting, water is lapping, people dance around me with green light, all my friends. There is a fire in the middle. I become that fire. Then I sit next to it. The people come and give me colourful and beautiful smelling flowers. There is laughter. I can smell the sea, hear the water, feel the fire and the cool air.
The water rises and the sand disappears. We float out to Julian Rocks. I sit on top of it like a Buddha and hold my flowers while people dance around me.
A beam of light comes from Mt Warning like a path. I dance along it, spinning, until I stand on Mt Warning, beams of coloured light coming from me. I sit down like a Buddha again with my flowers.
Then I notice a star right above me and a beam of light coming from this star down upon me. As I start to go up through this beam I get sick, nauseous and dizzy. I have to go back. I want to go back. I am scared. I go back.

Rose McCormick

We also did a lot of work with opening the heart and filling it with love. We explored the kid's heart connection with the mountain, and what they saw in the mountain. Heidi wrote:

...I wish I could tell him my real feelings.
I think the mountain is telling me to follow my heart, speak from my heart.
Why do I find this so hard?
After all he is my father. Things should not be held back. I know what I have to do. But I'm scared...
Heidi Price

There were difficult times too. There were times when the kids got frustrated with the lack of logical structure but they stayed in there.

Sue and I decided on a cut off date a month prior to the performance when all the material had to be in, so at the end of October we collected their work-books which Sue had insisted they write everything in; all their experiences and feelings. I then went into a total panic thinking that there was nothing there but I kept on reading and discovered some really beautiful pieces of writing which often had been crossed out! One such piece was the following poem that Alice wrote.

Pure and innocent
The white paper daisies
That grow on the side of the mountain
White as snow
Innocent as child.
Yet not all people see them.
Too fast are their footsteps
Their minds a mile away
Not noticing, not looking
Missing their beauty
Missing their simplicity.
You miss a lot if you don't observe.
We all should
To save ourselves
And to save the white paper daisies
That grow on the mountainside.

Alice Cadwell

After that I typed up all their work and handed it back to them, and they were amazed by what they had done once they saw it on paper. So then we had to sort it out and get it into some sort of structure but without any substantial changes. It was very important to me to get across their experiences, their whole hearts and souls.

We then asked Kerry about her background in theatre and how she developed these shamanistic techniques.

My beginnings in theatre were with the Australia Performing Group at the Pram Factory, in Melbourne. We did new Australian plays in the seventies because even then I wanted to do current theatre, theatre that was 'right now', about issues that were relevant to people.
Since then I have done a lot of training in shamanic practises and now I am beginning to bring it together with my theatre work. I'm not very interested in traditional mainstream theatre anymore. Normally theatre has had to be about an issue and with main characters, but in "Cloud Catcher" we created a play where each character was main and had their own complete journey. And that's what life is like. In any situation, another's experience of the one situation will be different from our own. We all went up the mountain and we all came down the mountain but each experience was different and I think we managed to convey that in the play, to convey life's multi-dimensional nature.

I actually think that all theatre is shamanic but to be conscious of all levels and to express body, mind and spirit, is what really makes it possible to call my style of theatre shamanic.
Even to be performing the same show night after night is a bit of a contradiction to the immediacy and uniqueness of the shamanic journey in the moment, but it can still work and be used to clear energies and raise vibration levels. It is also a powerful way of transforming emotions, for example, in the play one scene was about the rage of the mountain where the kids let loose with their anger and then the next scene was of a girl dying and her spirit being liberated from the body. So the anger was transformed and released and this is what shamanic theatre is to me. It is giving people an opportunity to go through an experience and then transform the energy into something else. And this knowledge can be translated onto the bigger play, life.

Yoni asked Kerry what she gained from "Cloud Catcher".

It was a very satisfying experience for me, physically, emotionally and spiritually. "Cloud Catcher" was very much of it's own time and it's own place. Right here! Right now! Not just issues, but soul expressing itself in this moment and I've found that even if the play is really simple, it actually goes right in to a very deep place.

It was fantastic to find out that the processes of going deeper into the unconscious or dream world, does produce theatre that works. And of course the reactions from the kids I worked with were incredible in themselves. Some of the visions and understandings they gained were amazing. Rose had a vision of female energy in the center of the mountain that I'd like to share: the center of this mountain is red female energy. It is also at Mt Chincogan and a line of it goes right around the Caldera, a golden line. It goes through Wategoes with another line through the Brunswick River. All this light comes up and makes a triangle where the point is way up in the sky. In the center is a lotus flower which changes to an Aboriginal warrior, and then to an American changes to becoming myself and from my finger comes a red light, hits the mountain and everything goes black. That is peeled off to show big trees covering the whole caldera. Then the trees go and the caldera is made up of peoples heads. They disappear and trees begin to grow until it turns into a jungle. Vines grow up to the point of the triangle and beings climb down to the mountain and live in the jungle.

Rose McCormick

"Cloud Catcher" is an example of a new form of theatre, one that is created organically and incorporates mind, body and spirit to take the audience on an inner as well as outer journey. It is theatre that is healing, challenging and entertaining. Theatre that is NOW!

Excerpts from script are copywright 4th Wall Ltd.
Photos used by permission of 4th Wall production of CLOUDCATCHER, photography by John McCormick.

4th Wall, Byron Theatre for Young People, P O Box 187, Bangalow, 2479, NSW Australia. Ph: (066) 884 249. Email:

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