Director Bio


Pennell head shot

DIRECTOR: William Pennell Rock, M.Litt. (Cantabs), Ph.D. began his professional career as a child actor appearing on television and in theaters on the East Coast with stars such as Billie Burke and Basil Rathbone, and on the West Coast with the Pasadena Playhouse.

He was educated in the Behavioral Sciences, Philosophy, and Comparative Religions at Yale, Harvard, the Sorbonne, and King’s College, Cambridge. He has had academic appointments at Banaras Hindu University, the Jung Institute in Zurich, the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions in Santa Barbara, University Extension programs throughout California.

Throughout his education he was involved with university theater groups, and on three occasions toured Europe with a Shakespearean group from Cambridge University.

In 1970, he became involved with the human potential movement and with experimental theater. He was an instructor with the Arica Institute in New York and California. He spent several years in India and Nepal continuing his studies in Brahmanic philosophy and traditional forms of dance and theater. He has taught workshops at The University of California and in Extension Programs throughout California, Arica Institute, Esalen Institute, and many other growth centers around the United States and Europe. He is co-founder of the Center for Transpersonal and Expressive Arts Therapies in Los Angeles. He is also Fellow at the Center for Art and the Future at Toyabungkah, Bali. He has taught, led workshops, created and directed productions throughout Europe, Asia, and North America.

An “existential log” of writings by William Pennell Rock containing further biographical information

A Message from William Pennell Rock


In the flatland of this material minded world, art is about technique, high technology, industrial construction. Production abilities and values have soared off the charts. These quantitative aspects of art have never been better or greater. But what of the quality? Where is inspiration? What of the presence of the Muse?

The Muse is taken to be a quaint romantic expression for what we now understand to be inspiration, an afterthought. Yet Muse is more of a reality than technique or technology, more essential to art even than composing, writing, performing – the things we are preoccupied with in artistic training and endeavor.

The absence of the Muse has bothered me since I was a professional child actor. Much was made of the text, the stage direction, the external technique of performing, but no one could ever tell me about the Muse or how to position myself inwardly to receive its inspiration. The Muse, essence of art, is forgotten!

Muse is what engages us in what Deepak Chopra calls “mythic ecstasy”. In my heart of hearts as a child it was the Muse that I was longing to connect with. I soon got bored with performing as a constructed technique. In the same way, most performance, construct, bores me even now. I find myself frustrated by the awesome technology and the poverty of true and essential presence. Over the years I have turned to Asia where I found the connection to essential being through true meditation and contemplation, but also in many traditional Asian arts.

The most important inspiration for me has been Bali, the only modern place in the world whose deities still live. It is no accident that the presiding deity of Bali is Sangyang Witi, who is the god of inspiration. In Bali’s vibrant artistic tradition, modern art thrives side by side with the most ancient and primordial forms of artistic production. In trance ritual is to be seen the earliest forms of performance as a mystical and transformational expression, long gone from the art of the rest of the world, but still living and thriving in Bali, though not available to tourists.

I have created many performances combining Western artists with Balinese and Javanese performers. Striking was the incredible humility and lack of ego of the Indonesians, in sharp contrast with the Westerners. The Balinese always pray before a performance. They are not just praying as a religiously inclined Western performer might, asking that they will remember everything and get their technique right. They are praying to the sprit residing within the role or the piece to reveal itself through them. They call this Taksu.

Taksu is the living presence within the artwork. When Taksu is there, the spirit takes over the performer, and enters what has been prepared. The performer disappears, totally loses ego control to the spirit. Performance thus doubles as a spiritual exercise in egolessness. My Balinese friends quickly trained my eye to see when Taksu is there and when it is not. In the West we have no conception of this, nor any language for it. Mutely, we know it nevertheless. It is the stuff of great performance. When it is not there we are either being distracted by high tech or yawning: when it is there we are riveted. Taksu is the soul of performing.

Trance performing takes Taksu to another level, one that is inconceivable in our modern world. In our concept of performing one learns steps, lines, cues, etc. In trance ritual no formal preparation is required. Spirit is all. The priest casts his spell over the “performer”, and the god literally enters and takes over, making itself present through the performer. In all indigenous cultures where this form of performance existed, and in native Bali to this day, trance performing is the basic method of restoring psychological balance to the individual and the community. If Taksu is riveting, trance is transformational.

These elements are forgotten in Western performing art. Great performers touch into these qualities and abilities. We sense them. But there is no language for them. There is no training for receiving the Muse. Worse, there is no conceptual structure to even address this essential element of performing. Performance is taught as a controlled construct that is rigidly adhered to; it is never taught as a form of letting go to the Muse.

Oracular Art is a performing and therapeutic technique, which reestablishes the primacy of the Muse. It is at once a form of individual and group psychotherapy, a performing technique, and a basis for a new, but very ancient kind of performance art.

As the basis of the ORIGINS Process, this philosophy and technique is a form of performance and therapy intended to revive and reframe the secrets of Taksu and the primordial practice of Trance performing into modern therapeutic tools and concepts. These include movement, meditation, guided fantasy, psychodrama, and improvisation.

The conceptual framework is based in the psychological theories of C. G. Jung, which restore a language in tune with the modern world. The archetypes within the collective unconscious are the gods and goddesses. They are not just passive concepts: they exist, rule our lives, and have a mind of their own. When they touch us they can heal our souls, and when they speak through performance, they illuminate our being. Oracular performing is learning the technique of opening and letting go to these archetypes. When this happens, we experience mythic ecstasy, which is primordially healing and integrating, both for the performer and those present at the performance, just as it is in Bali.

This Process has tremendous value for performers, because it teaches them how to let go to the spirit within a piece or role. It is very valuable for lay persons, because touching into and embodying the archetypes within is deeply healing and empowering

With ORIGINS the Muse returns to primacy, and just as in primordial performance, healing and reintegration are its gifts.