Tag Archives: liminal spaces

Circle — A High School Theater Ritual

Main Piece: 

Before every show we always had this thing called Circle, and the purpose of Circle was to kind of like, get you hyped up and get your nerves out, and kind of keep you from being shy or feeling stage fright by doing silly, silly things, and seeing people do silly things. And the whole tradition of Circle is that you chant, “Oooh, I feel so good like! I knew I would! Oooh I feel so good!” And you would just continually chant that while clapping to a certain beat until someone went into the circle and would be like, “Like [something now]”  and everyone would just mimic them no matter what it was. It could’ve been something that had been done every year before them; that’s like a very simple one, like “Like a chair now!” And you do a squat [laughing] and, y’know, you do a squat and then you continue the chant. Or, you could make one up every single time. I remember [a classmate] once went in the circle and went like “Like a parabola!” and literally did a backwards handstand and bent over backwards. And it was crazy, and people started doing it all the time after that even if he wasn’t at [the high school] anymore at the time. That was a fun one that, like, caught on. 

Background: 

My informant is one of my friends from high school, and was very involved in our school’s theater department. Circle was one of the most consistent rituals prior to every show, no matter if it was opening or closing night, and the chant from the piece was one of the most popular and well known. When I asked my informant what the tradition meant to him, he said it was about “being vulnerable and bonding with other people, especially if it’s your first show and you’re nervous.” Seeing people perform silly antics removed the fear of embarrassment and let everyone come together to prepare for a great performance while also feeling supported by those around you.

Context: 

This came up when my informant and I were trying to remember traditions that happened in our theater department during high school. While I was involved in a few shows, my friend had more experience than I did and was able to remind me of a ritual that the department participated in before every single play or musical show. 

Thoughts: 

In this ritual, we can observe that the purpose is to create an energetic atmosphere where the cast and crew could get excited for the show; in a way, this ritual is meant to bring good luck to them and alleviate tension. We can also observe that there’s an expectation for what to do during the chant, but not only that, there’s a myriad of variations to the chant that have been made up by people from past generations of the theater department. I also liked that my informant gave the example of “Like a parabola now!” because it shows that Circles functions not only as a stress reliever before a show, but an opportunity for a theater kid to leave a legacy behind, as seen by the fact that our past classmate’s variation is still performed even if he no longer goes to the school. Additionally, we see the multiplicity and variation in the different chants that are performed at each Circle, and know that some will die out and be replaced with others depending on how popular the chant becomes. 

Washing One’s Hands After a Funeral

Main piece: There’s a tradition of washing your hands after a funeral so you don’t bring death into the house. If you’ve been near a dead body, you want to get the death off your hands. You don’t want to bring death into your house. Even after my dad’s funeral, friends of my mother, who had stayed back to help with the catering and the flowers, they put a pitcher outside. I was impressed by all that actually. It’s what you do. Some cemeteries have a water fountain. Outside Jewish funeral homes there’s a place to wash your hands. 

Background: My informant is a 51 year-old Jewish woman. The majority of the funerals she has attended have been in Jewish cemeteries with Jewish burial practices. She doesn’t remember where she learned the practice exactly, but she recalls vividly seeing the pitcher of water outside a Jewish funeral home at her aunt’s funeral when she was fourteen. The logic makes sense to her, and she has partaken in this ritual many times before. 

Context: I was talking to my informant about Jewish traditions, and this was the first one that occurred to her. 

Analysis: This practice makes a lot of sense. A funeral is a liminal space, as it is the final celebration of the life of someone who is now deceased. With that comes a lot of uncertainty, and fear that death can come for anyone else next. By washing your hands before entering a home, you don’t cross the doorway between a graveyard or a cemetery – a place of death, and your house – a place where you live/where life happens. This also promotes the idea that death can linger/cling to a live person, and having a ritualistic cleansing of death from your hands encourages a sense of protection, and that it won’t come for you next. 

‘Joota Chori’: Dipping Your Toes Into a New Phase of Life

The Interviewer will be referred to as ‘I’, and the informant as ‘S’. Translations for Hindi words will be italicised and in parentheses. The Informant is a 52-year-old Punjabi mother, born and raised in North India. ‘Joota Chori’ essentially means stealing shoes.

I: So, we have many wedding rituals and games, and practical jokes are part of that. Could you describe one?

S: Yeah, this is during the wedding ceremony, or you could say through and post it, but somewhere during the wedding ceremony, when the — both the groom and the bride have to remove their footwear to get onto the… the podium for the phere (Seven circumambulations performed by the bride and groom during Indian weddings), the sacred… the holy ritual, the seven rounds we take. So, at that point in time, the girl’s sisters and friends, they get together and hide the groom’s shoes. Basically, to seek ransom in return, at some point, and make some money, some cash. And the boy’s brothers and friends are attempting to manage to make sure they don’t manage that, and if they do manage it, they’re attempting to kind of… look for the shoes and find them to save that money. It becomes a major, a big thing, good fun thing, and mostly the girl’s sisters and friends make money. The guy comes practically prepared for it [she laughs], that x amount will mostly have to be given.

I: So, would you say it’s kind of like a rite of passage, in that sense?

S: Rite of passage, introducing each other to the families, the families and friends, yeah. Testing them and joking around, getting familiar.

Analysis:

Weddings are often known to involve the liminal space, the transition period where one person is moving from a certain identity (the family they were born into), to another one (the family they are marrying into). This liminal space is between the stages of departure from the initial and arrival and acceptance into the latter, and therefore, practical jokes and rituals are part of the experience, even in Indian weddings. Here, the practical joke is, as my informant states, a rite of passage, a welcoming of both parties into their counterpart families and communities, and they also have the auxiliary purpose of acquainting both families and friend-groups with each other in a lighthearted, fun way. This wedding game, a practical joke, signifies the introduction of the two families at the wedding, as well as the initiation of the bride and groom into these families, since the people being ‘pranked’ are not exactly entirely moved away from their previous community, and neither are they fully integrated into the new one.