The Sunken Cathedral

theatre improvisation workshop
led by Chiara Guidi
inspired by Philip K. Dick’s Galactic Pot-Healer

photo Mazen Jannoun

During the days in which the workshop is held, a few phrases from the text of Philip K. Dick’s ‘Galactic Pot-Healer’ will become the musical notes of a system that sets down in advance the chromatic scale of speech. Each actor’s ability will then be entrusted with putting this scale into a compositional form. This is the purpose of the workshop, until the last day, when all participants will have to raise a sounding body for approximately twenty-five minutes. It is impossible to predict what will happen. The collective performance will attempt three times, with a different compositional approach each time, to raise the sunken cathedral. Ultimately, doesn’t the Glimmung, the mysterious alien creature in Dick’s story, recruit specific experts from the entire galaxy to raise the legendary cathedral of Heldscalla, which has sunk to the bottom of Mare Nostrum?

“Glimmung needs experts coming from all the galaxies to raise Heldscalla, the ancient cathedral submerged in Mare Nostrum, to bring it back to the mainland ….. It’s the struggle underneath. The Black Cathedral and the Cathedral … The Black Glimmung and the Glimmung… Always on a one-to-one ratio. Each individual Glimmung has his counterpart, his opaque Doppelganger. Sooner or later, during his life, the Glimmung must kill his black counterpart, or it will kill him… The Raising will take great skill, many skills, many knowings and crafts, vast numbers of arts… After all, that’s the basis on which we’re here: our skills, experience, knowledge, training.”

from P. K. Dick’s Galactic Pot-Healer

The sense of the Workshop consists in turning the novel’s plot into an action: raising. This predicative verb sums up the story and occupies the stage.

Doing lifting

‘Doing’ the verb. Not ‘saying’ it. Doing it. This is a work of singularities, all led towards a choral form.


Beginning with P. K. Dick’s exploded words, I attempt to raise a block of sound for about 25 minutes. Raising: not a sunken cathedral, like Glimmung did, but a sound. The voice.

All we take is the action

So we make our way inside Dick’s novel, to turn it into a sounding action, using a few strategies.

Rules for action

To organise this raising, I drew a cartography of sounds for the voice. This allowed me to prepare a musical space, including the meaning of the words read and the timbre of the voice.

There are 13 performers, who work with 13 sound points, 13 figures, 13 sound environments and 13 momentary suspensions, accompanied by 13 brief monologues and 6 dialogues.

These are all dramatic actions.

Through them, the voice moves and comes to a stop. It is bent, and lifted, in order to raise the single body to be formed by the effort made by all.

It’s not simply a question of singing a song in a choir, or reciting a monologue, but pushing, compressing, tightening and…


The figures, points in sound and environments… are entrusted to the performers.

They become their custodians.

They improvise their presence. They risk their composition.

To raise.


I only used a few sentences from Dick’s text. I removed them from their place in the plot, to use them differently. And, over them, I wrote a figure for the voice that, like the plot, concerns the action of raising.


I would like the voices to form a larger figure, capable of encompassing all the figures, the sound points, the environments…

I cannot predict what will happen.

I am leaving the composition to its custodians. I wait for something to happen.

Perhaps it will succeed, perhaps it will not succeed.

Failure, in any case, is as useful as success: for knowledge.