The Handless Project is a series of experiential events. It uses actions that you can reproduce easily yourself. Here are a few you might like to try.
In the story of The Handless Maiden, the heroine is said to walk for a whole day from sunrise until sunset. At the end of the journey she arrives at a castle where she finds miraculous sustenance and a king who makes her his queen. There is nothing in the story to tell us what she did or what she saw during those hours of walking so we decided to experiment. Assuming that she was alone in the forest (or accompanied by a spirit in white depending on the version) this walk would have been either in silence and/or in conversation with herself. We walked in silence around Liverpool and around a forest in Wales. I won't say what we thought or what we saw here. Just try it and fill in the gaps for yourself. Let us know what you experienced using #thehandlessproject or contact us via the social links below.
Walking Experiment #One: Journey in your imagination (or on the internet)
Try a journey without moving. There are traditions of pilgrimage that allow people who are unable to travel either because they lack financial means or time or because they cannot physically make a journey. The internet and digital audio make this even more possible. You can try a GoogleSafari by going on an imaginary journey using Google Street View. You could also make an audio recording of a journey you have made and share it with someone else. You can do this with most smart phones.
Here is an audio recording of this short journey through Liverpool. I had been talking with Rev Ellen Loudon and my Project Manager Deborah about The Handless Project Afterwards I made this journey to see another close friend Jo at The Bluecoat - Britain's oldest arts centre.
Put on your headphones and close your eyes.
Walking Experiment #Two: Keep a candle burning
*Warning: not for unsupervised kids. Here is a group experiment you may want to try:
- Gather a group of people (minimum three);
- Wait until after sunset (you may want to watch the sunset);
- Choose a route of at least one mile (this can be around a park or other enclosed space - try to avoid places with roads; pedestrianised spaces are best);
- Give each person a tapered candle with a wax collector (examples of this here). Light all of the candles;
- The task is to walk your route in silence being sure to arrive at your destination with all candles lit. If a candle goes out, light it from a colleague's candle;
- Take a few minutes alone to reflect on what happened;
- Take even longer together to reflect on what happened.
Walking Experiment #Three: See/feel a whole day
- Choose a day where you have nothing else to do;
- Wake before the sun is up;
- Leave your house and walk until it is night;
- You may stop for food and rests as many times as you like;
- If you need to break silence that is fine. Begin your next silent period by resolving to not speak after you pass a chosen threshold*;
- Take a while to reflect. You may want to write down what you experienced or you could make an audio recording.
*a threshold for us was marked by passing between two similar objects. This could be two trees in a park, two posts at the entrance to something or two street signs. We chose to stop before each threshold to make as much noise as we could before slipping into silence.
Handwashing ritual: In The Handless Maiden water (tears, a well, washing water, a river) is protective against harm and also heals. We wanted to see if there was any truth to this so we came up with a ritual to test it. This can be done with people who are close to you or with strangers.
Water Experiment #one: Handwashing ritual
You will need: a large bowl or basin; a water jug; tepid water; a table to place your equipment on; a strip of clean calico for binding and drying. I also added the the water several drops of rose oil (for its multicultural links to healing) and some moisturising vegetable glycerin.
This is an experiential experiment so be sure to pay attention to what you are feeling both emotionally and sensationally (warm, cold, soft etc.). Try to stay relaxed and if you feel you are tense take a deep breath and focus on sensations. We did this experiment barefoot.
- This does require practice. Try it out before sharing so you can decide which side to put your jug and your cloth. Take time to make the process as smooth as you can. Once you have made contact with someone's hands keep a gentle hold of them until the end.
- Stand either side of a table with your hand washing equipment between you.
- Take the hands of the person whose hands you are washing and observe them closely on both sides. Try to imagine that you need to remember them so that you can find the person again only by looking at their hands.
- Place both of your handwashee's hands on top of each other and support them with one of your hands. Take your jug in your free hand and pour the water over them gently. Pour until you feel water reach your palm.
- Put down your jug. Take both hands and place bottom hand on top and turn them over.(i.e. if you had both palms facing down with the left hand on top you need to place the right hand on top with palms facing up).
- Repeat step 5.
- Take a strip of calico in your free hand and as best you can wrap both hands, binding them together. This action can help ground people after an emotional experience.
- Hold the wrapped hands in both your hands until the person chooses to take their hands away. (try to leave space, no need to stare into their eyes - it may help to focus back on your body and how you feel. Relax, it will help them to relax).
- Give the person as long as they need to sit alone and reflect on the experience. The person with bound hands can remove the cloth when they wish.
- Offer a pen and paper so that they can reflect and record their thoughts.
Is this really theatre?
These are just a few of the experiments and rituals we tried. All are based on some element of The Handless Maiden story. They are also experiments in storytelling and relate to the origins of Theatre. Because of a family connection, I spend most of my summers in Greece. The oldest theatres still in use in Europe are there and Epidavros - possibly the most famous of these - is at the shrine to Asklepios: the god of Medicine. A person seeking remedy would sleep in the temple. The medicine was the dreams they had which would tell them how to heal themselves. Theatrical stories were originally so closely linked to personal and social healing that they were located together.