Katherine Tingley and the Theatrical Work of the Universal Brotherhood and Theosophical Society: 1898-1929

Katherine Tingley (1847-1929), leader of the Universal Brotherhood and Theosophical Society (UBTS), initiated a successful and long-lasting experiment in esoteric theatre on the grounds the UBTS headquarters located in Point Loma, California, near San Diego. The UBTS headquarters, which was home to hundreds of residents between 1896 and 1929, was a site of innovative arts, agriculture, and education. By 1929, the educational system of the UBTS community provided education from pre-school to the university level.

Until now, Tingley's theatrical work has received little attention from theatre and performance studies scholars, because most of the records and documents relating to it are held in a closed collection contained at the Theosophical Society Archives in Altadena, California. This exhibition-which has been made possible through the generosity and courtesy of Grace F. Knoche, the leader of The Theosophical Society (the current name of Tingley's organization)-contains photographs of theatrical productions that Tingley produced and directed in an effort to alert human beings to what she felt existed within them: an essentially divine nature.

Tingley's late nineteenth century productions of The Eumenides and her supervision of the construction of a Greek-style open-air theatre in 1901-possibly the earliest of such structures to have been built in North America-establish her status as a pioneer of the Greek Revivalism movement of the U. S.

Tingley's theatrical work was created within the vivacious, ever-changing religious and spiritual milieu of the turn-of-the-century in the U. S. Her productions contained lessons about central Theosophical teachings, such as reincarnation and karma, the belief in a tradition of esoteric wisdom known as the "Wisdom Religion" that is slowly being revealed to the world by teachers known as "Mahatmas," and the principle that all human life is divine (hence Tingley was opposed to capital punishment and war). Tingley's most treasured teaching was that of "Universal Brotherhood," which promoted the ideas that esoteric enlightenment is acquired by performing acts of altruism and that all human beings are related to one another by their connection to a single, divine source from which all life originates.

continue >>