chapter  13
A doubly “environmental” sensorium: Omaha Magic Theatre’s Sea of Forms
ByMaya E. Roth
Pages 10

Sea of Forms was developed in Omaha, Nebraska, over a several-month workshop period in 1986. Building on a community-based model for devising socially engaged musical performances and creative community that Schmidman and Terry had used with success for several years, including for Goona Goona (about domestic violence, 1979), Kegger (about teenage alcoholism, 1982), and later for Walking Through Walls (about personal and social empowerment, 1987), OMT invited community volunteers to participate in a series of creative workshops and theme-based discussion forums.1 The multidisciplinary workshops were thematically focused on environmental issues and “healing the Earth.” Participants ranged in age from 14 to 80, with occupations ranging from student to engineer, server to musician, artist to educator. While the Artistic Director’s and playwright-in-residence’s creative roles often overlapped, typically Schmidman led workshop participants in avant-garde performance training and improvisational sound/movement structures, while Terry observed, taking rehearsal photographs and notes on the lively group discussions that followed, guided by questions or ideas that she or Schmidman posed. At critical junctures, Terry would bring in snippets of text, which she wrote most evenings, inspired by the process. Then Terry and Schmidman, long-time life and creative partners, would devise discrete performance segments guided by organizing motifs such as performance ritual, family ancestors, consumer culture, mythic forms, playing in space – elements they later shaped in time and space, like a moving, dynamic puzzle that transformed from one scenario to the next. All community or company members who participated in the full workshop process then performed Sea of Form’s premiere, which benefited from a depth of investment and ensemble ethic fostered by the process’s intensive exchange. Fundamentally, Sea of Forms was a performance encounter. Within OMT’s oeuvre of theme-based multidisciplinary performance works and Terry’s acclaimed earlier playwriting (Calm Down Mother, 1965; Viet Rock, 1966; and Approaching Simone, 1970), Sea of Forms stands out for engaging the audience to an exceptional degree by modeling, and cultivating, embodied sentient consciousness. It was to this integrative, experiential emphasis in performance that Sea of Forms owed its popularity and its lasting influence on those, like myself, who encountered it.