Tibetan A lce Lha mo:The World Beneath the Tent (Continued) 2

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As I watched the performance of the play, I noticed how the actors carefully paced the action and continually adjusted the story to fit the audience response and preferences. Some sections were lengthened, others were shortened. When a particular actor’s characterization was well received, more time was tacitly allowed for extra pantomime or ad lib business.One example of this was the encounter of Padma ‘od ‘bar with the cannibal demonesses of Lanka. Dressed in skeleton suits with skull like masks, and long finger and toe nails, the demons delighted in rushing at all the young children in the audience, threatening to eat them up. The excited and terrified children would run about among the actors or hide behind their elders,creating a funny joyous confusion. And as each one of the demonesses at the sound of the magic words, eventually "threw up" the hero whom they had gobbled up, the performance of each succeeding cannibal’s regurgitation took longer and was made funnier with added bits of business until the demon queen’s turn, which left the audience completely limp and ready for her aria, in which she realizes the special enlightened nature of Padma ‘od ‘bar.

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Cannibal Demonesses Costumes

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Cannibal Demonesses

Another favorite was the performer playing the king’s minister, Swift Foot, who was dressed all in black, with a black cloth mask of the type worn by the King. The mask had a huge, loose, bulbous nose, with a cowry shell on the end that wobbled when he moved or talked. Among some of his ad lib business that delighted the crowd was his inclusion of that small white dog who was an attentive front row spectator for all the plays.As the minister was off on an errand for the king, he almost collapsed in terror at the sight of the "ferocious lion" that "blocked his path" and sent him running quaking back to the king’s chambers without completing his errand. Of course, to the delight of the audience, he was sent out again and again, "quaking in fear," trying to tip–toe around the "frightful beast."And again, in the episode when he was sent with his spyglass to investigate what was so bright and shining in the town that gave the King a headache (the golden threads of Padma ‘od ‘bar), he directed his spy glass with much pantomimed business in the four directions, ad libbing for the audience what it was that he spied. To the west, he saw "the Dalai Lama sitting very brightly in the middle of the town," then in the direction of the least expensive seats,he saw "all the fancy gentlemen very brightly dressed," to the direction with the most costly seats obviously all sold out, he saw "all the lha mo players cups full of tea," and to the south, he saw that "American girl shining brightly in town who will come every day to the lha mo."

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The audience, which could be quite noisy at times with chatting to their neighbors, the crying of babies and the barking dogs, became instantly silent and focused during tender or sad parts in the performance. The scene in which Padma ‘od ‘bar bade farewell to his mother as he goes off on his quest for the King was long and poignant, played out to an attentive audience, many of whom were crying at the end.

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Padma ‘od ‘bar bids farewell to his mother

The audience moved in and out during the performance. Some devotees stayed for the whole performance, others only came for their favorite parts, nipping out to picnic or drink beer and chat with friends. And when the lunch break arrived just as the old woman trader was to reveal to Padma ‘od ‘bar the identity of his father, some of the audience stayed and ate their lunch and drank their beer, reserving their places, while others of us went in search of roadside restaurants in the neighborhood where we could get a quick plate of food.Throughout the day the performers would also take a beer or cigarette break at the edge of the stage area if they were not on at that moment.

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Actor on Quick Smoking Break and Drummers

The actors skillfully continued to manipulate the audience, moving them from laughter to tears and back again. The audience became more and more involved with the play as the day progressed, and the end came nearer, they moved closer and closer to the actors, filling in the front areas, making the circle smaller and smaller, until they were almost part of the play. The relationship between the actors and audience became more intimate. And suddenly, it was late, the evening almost upon us.Padmasambhava in the lotus (that chair again) was carried in and we received his blessings.

I joined the energized, slightly tipsy throng making its way back to the high street and home. Some were acting out favorite scenes and moments from the day’s play as they walked. Many could be heard for hours, singing and echoing their favorite songs in the streets. I fell asleep to the sound, anticipating the next day’s performance.