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Stephanie SANT 


‘There is the mystery between what our cells feel and what we feel.’
                ‘When you—for example—climb a mountain, your cells are starved from the lack of oxygen, popping into oblivion, but you are happy.’
                This was a fleeting dialogue I had with O, one so affirmative that we immediately moved on to another topic. All this time I had assumed I was carrying one body, my body, that represented one total accordance to everythin I had experienced. But my millions of cells were also freely assuming their own individual feelings in the same way I do as I walk on this planet.
                I kept thinking about this as my body walked on another thing atop this planet: a theatre stage. It’s often dark on stage, and while skill, strength, agility and endurance are demanded of one to apply them all to one’s own body, I am most reminded of my body during the long minutes before the performance begins.

One time, I had to stand on stage, my head carrying a heavy load of clay that disfigured my appearance, as the audience slowly entered and found their seats. Through my newly enormous face I had gently pierced a slight hole with the back of a thin paintbrush in order to see, but the combination of my eyelashes and clay gave me a muddled view. There I stood, unmoving and half-blind, aware that my seconds were certainly not the same as the audience’s seconds. As the clay dried, it cooled my face and my head.
                I could feel my skin drinking up every ounce of moisture from my mask. This feeling is particularly unpleasant in the neck area. The skin is thinner there, and the clay’s constriction is more painful there than any other spot. What people unaccustomed to using clay in this way do not assume is that it demands the total attention of the skin it touches. I could feel every single pore and hair that graced my face. I could feel my neck awaken from the touch, then cool off as the clay dried, sending my whole body into shivers. This over stimulation, however, was short-lived, and what followed was a gnawing relaxation that I had to fight so I wouldn’t be serenaded by it and so I could remain still. There is nothing more visible on a theatre stage than movement in the darkness. You can do that at night time in the great outdoors and you might just be spared by predators, but at the theatre, those sitting in the auditorium share an unforgiving hypervision.

Although I could tense my body firmly in order to prevent it from swaying, I found it impossible to control my racing mind. I was thinking about the Elephant Man, of course, of how the seconds in his own life were certainly not like my own or the audience’s. I thought of the other performers involved, my comrades-in-clay. Through my glazed view I could see their figures in the dark. I knew that some were suffering worse fates, by being covered in nothing but cold, wet clay and feeling every single draught caused by each individual’s movement. I started to fight my mind to remain ‘in the moment’, but my nerves were so strong that I decided a little relaxation would do it good. So I let my mind stray, and where it went took me by surprise.
                Hours later, long after the length of the performance that lasted a little longer than a heartbeat, after the showering, then the questions asked at the reception, where someone popped open a bottle of champagne, I went back to where my mind had gone during those crucial minutes of waiting. I revisited it with a scientific curiosity, making sure I did not miss a single step as to why at that moment I had thought of a coral reef. I was so taken by the absolute absurdity of my being there with clay on my head and feeling nervous ahead of the performance, that, in the moment, I conjured up a setting which felt justly inverse to my universe – a coral reef, opening and closing, being nibbled and engulfing and swaying to the motions of the sea, ever-hungry but never insensitive to the krill that swam over it: sometimes with gentleness, sometimes with zeal.

I had entered theatre with no training in singing or dancing. What I lacked in either of these I gained in the total assertion that my willingness to try was more than enough for me to successfully enter the door that was left open for me at the right time. As I had entered it with equal parts ambition and trepidation I knew that here, much unlike the moment of my conception, here I authored myself to be in new situations in order to enrich the experience of my being on this planet. The moment when my cold, unmoving, clay-loaded face drove my mind to think of coral was one that affirmed my entering a new situation. Here I was feeling thrilled to be on stage, a little sick from anxiety due to the latter, feeling cold from the clay and yet hot in my suit, and here indeed my cells were waging a war of different critical moments, free from the usual hierarchical expectations. And I thought of coral, my fellow holobiont, who I am certain has experienced a similar arrival into a new situation as I have on that stage, but one that I am not sure anyone will ever be privileged enough to bear witness to.


Stephanie SANT is a filmmaker, writer and performer born in Malta and based in France. She graduated with a Master of Arts at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London in 2016. Stephanie’s writing has yielded screenplays for short and feature-length films, short stories, autobiographical entries, poems and songs.

                See here.

The theatrical stills are excerpts from
Olivier de SAGAZAN’s ‘La Messe de l’Âne,
as referred to by SANT in the above work; see here and here.


Top down ...

         Alone, Thomas HERMILLY, © 2021;
         Mid Left & Right, Alain Monot, © 2021;
         Lower Left & Right, Carlucco Diddier, © 2021;
         KissCarlucco Diddier, © 2021


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Partner to a press called Tenement, Hotel is a publications series for new approaches to fiction, non fiction & poetry & features work from established & emerging talent. Hotel provides the space for experimental reflection on literature’s status as art & cultural mediator. 

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