Embracing Habit and Ritual

by Kira Rockwell

An aroma of medium coffee roast fills the studio with a hint of nutmeg and grounded earth. This warm drip, drip, drop into a clay mug her lover made signals the start of Marie’s day. After work, Julian pops into his local bodega for a sprite and a Kit Kat bar. Well, that and a friendly exchange with Ginger, the sixteen-year-old bodega cat. Apprentice and mentor, Ken and Rothko, prime a canvas, as they have done, many, many times.

“It is a well-practiced ritual. They pour the paint/glue mixture from the stove – the base layer for the canvas – into two large buckets. The mixture is a thin liquid, almost a glaze, of dark plum. They bring the buckets to either side of the six-foot square canvas. They make sure the canvas is secure. They prepare house painting brushes. Rothko rubs his rhythmically across his hand, warming and limbering the bristles. Ken waits. Ready. Rothko stares intently at the blank canvas. A long beat as he rubs his brush back and forth across his hand, thinking. Ken watches him, poised. Then Rothko goes to the phonograph, flips through the stack of records, finds the one he wants, and puts it onto the phonograph. He lowers the needle. He listens. He lifts the needle again. Finally finds the exact place in the record he is looking for. He lowers the needle. Spirited classical music plays. He returns to the canvas. He nods to Ken. Ready? Ready.”

                   –An excerpt from John Logan’s RED

Whether it’s reciting the Anima Christi or soaking under a full moon in a rose petal bubble bath, these characters’ habits and rituals are rich with opportunities for development. When you, the writer, get deliciously specific about it, you might achieve a treasured show vs tell moment by describing such a ritual.

As a playwright and avid theatre patron, these are the scenes I lean into the most. Whatever the character(s) are doing, I’m entranced with these sensual, holy, and electrifying vignettes that tap into something otherworldly. The opportunity to see who the characters really are at their core.

My earliest theatrical experiences were inside the Neo-charismatic Christian church. Singing. Praying. Speaking in tongues. We performed extravagant passion plays and evangelized with morality plays. The art we created in the faith of my youth was a sacred ritual. An altar call of catharsis. It was a visceral experience intended to conjure up a portal into the realms beyond the physical, if only for a single fleeting moment. Today, I no longer associate with organized Religion, for many reasons, but the short answer is because the theatre is my church. Therefore, the art I create in the faith of my womanhood is a sacred ritual. It is an altar call of catharsis. It is a visceral experience intended to conjure up a portal into the realms beyond the physical, if only for a single fleeting moment… 

Steep yourself in Habit and Ritual to craft character with Kira Rockwell on Saturday, October 30th from 12:30 pm to 3:30 pm EST. Register Here!

All Blog Posts