Bobbi Williams works as a teacher, healer, and performance artist. She also participates in the Maker movement. She can be found at parties, events, and/or leading classes around Pittsburgh. She also provides acting, massage, Body Evolution, and reiki through classes and on a 1:1 basis. She can be reached at smokifantastic.com, GAIA HARMONIC JUKU, or dj smokifantastic.
DCHP: You’ve got a lot of art all around!
BW: Mm, hm.
[Back] when I was 23, 24 I was focusing on acting and really starting to get into esoteric studies. I got into shamanism because I wanted to understand the root of storytelling. At Carnegie Mellon, they had an exchange program where I studied in Russia for a year. In Russia the theater is very passionate and spiritual and mystical and I really vibed with that. I wanted to explore how theater can be a transformational experience.
That’s how I started to go down the shamanic journey of trying to understand how stories can heal.
DCHP: Actually the notion that stories can heal is very powerful, I think.
BW: I call what I do Urban Shamanism because it’s a mix of a bunch of different things. I’ve had two shaman teachers that were both very progressive and alternative.
My first shaman teacher was a businessman. He knew so many healing modalities that it inspired me. The other was amazing [, too]. He’s gay. He has this feminine side and he’s very open.
Everybody has some light within them. But when you go through [reiki] initiation then you also have the within and without. So you’re channeling this reiki energy that comes into you through you but it’s also something that’s already inside of you. You are co-creating with this energy and this energy is independent of itself.
This is because we are multi-dimensional beings and we have many parts of ourselves that work together all the time. So it seems kind of confusing when you think about it in a dualistic way.
[However,] to say I’m not dualistic would not be realistic because this is where we are. We deal with linear time. We deal with male and female. This is the world that we live in. So to say that I exist outside that world wouldn’t be realistic.
DCHP: You obviously continue to carry the shamanism with you here in Pittsburgh.
BW: Basically, it kind of bleeds into everything that I teach. I have a class called Mythmakers. I teach basic fundamental acting, Russian technique. We work with dreams and we do a lot of experimenting. It’s kind of the first step in a disciplined awareness of storytelling.
DCHP: It sounds like what you are doing or encouraging is for people to see themselves as the narrator of the story and then for the narrator to be on a journey.
BW: It’s giving people the empowerment to tell stories in their own way. You can become a shapeshifter in your day-to-day life.
For me, the shaman is a functional artist and the work is geared toward the community and making the community a better place. That’s what I’m trying to do. My artwork is functional in society.
I don’t think that all art has to be that way. I’m really open to expression and the freedom of expression. If there’re artists that are doing art that’s not trying to change society, then I’m not like, “Oh, they should…” [or] “They have to do this…”
One time, I saw a van Gogh for the first time. It changed my life. The paint was so thick coming off the canvas. When you see it in a book, it’s flat. You don’t know it’s almost like a sculpture. You can really see all the effort and the work that was involved. It’s really quite amazing.
For me art is about purification. Art brings you to this place where you can go to awareness, an awareness state.
DCHP: Is the relationship between shamanism and art something that you discovered in your own life?
BW: It’s something that I discovered. Around the time that I started to go down this path, my mom passed away. My mom was a very psychic person. She would see ghosts and things like that so my childhood was always about this other world.
She really didn’t know that it was okay to have boundaries, even with the other side. So I was the person to ground her. I would tell her to ask the ghost what they wanted or tell them to leave. When she passed away, I was getting into how stories heal. That was also right when I went to Russia. So I found myself going for my Master’s degree, which is very intense, and being in a very intense, passionate place, and grieving.
We were doing Three Sisters the old-school Russian way, which is to study a play, [playing] the same character and [studying] each moment for 8 months. So I just hyper-focused and it totally helped me. I was able to not be myself. So that was the first thing. Every day, I [didn’t] have to be Bobbi for a few hours, which really gave me a little bit of freedom and slack from my life.
[In] the Russian theater, every single moment has to be organic. [In] every single moment, you have to be present. It’s not like Method Acting where you can pull stuff from your past. You really should be focusing on your character and every single tiny moment. Skipping a moment is like skipping a couple of beats in music.
So we really pulled out those moments. We would do a moment for like three hours.
After that I went to New York City. I just wanted to not be in school. And the music is so awesome there. You can dance to anything. So I went dancing all the time. And [I found that] I started to grieve and move it out of my body and also pray. So while I’m praying and dancing, I started to get really uplifted. I was starting to liberate myself. I was moving much better than I ever did before and I could feel this healing happening.
We always think of our mind and our brain as the only place where intelligence lives but there is intelligence throughout your whole body. So when you move, it will answer things, solve problems, you become more grounded and connected with the earth and a healing can occur through movement.
There are a lot of healing modalities that teach you how to move, like Tai Chi. [I] do this thing called Body Evolution through which you can understand your body and what your body is trying to tell you.
[In Body Evolution,] you might do something like in yoga except for the fact that you’re breathing through your mouth and you’re lengthening the spine, something like that. If I work on someone, I might be pushing on their body while they push in the opposite direction. In that way I can work deeper. And it’s good for the client, too, because that way they can heal themselves and not feel so dependent [on me for their healing.]
Some people just want to lie there and get a massage. That’s totally fine. But for someone who’s trying to work something out and really change their life, it’s good for them to physically do it.
DCHP: I recently spoke to David Smith. He talks about the wisdom of the elders and his own experiences. One of the things that he made clear is that the real key is to be aware of your everyday life. The more aware you are, the more powerful you are. The more yourself you are.
BW: Yeah. Awareness is huge. It’s going to determine what kinds of choices you are going to make.
My thing is more like I’m on a shamanic path. I think in the new paradigm, everyone’s a shaman.
For me, it’s about action and choices. Awareness, action, choices, or decisions that you’re going to make. When you make that decision, that’s when you step into your power.
I feel that the way things are set up in society right now, it’s to wait for somebody [else] make a decision for you. So when people start talking about freedom, a lot of people say they are all for it but when they get a chance to do things, to make decisions, they are reluctant [to “stand out.”]
DCHP: I think that you’re right. A lot of people latch on to words like freedom and liberty because of their appeal or their popularity. But they don’t necessarily have a very deep understanding of them. And when they are faced with that [possibility], I think they get scared.
BW: Oh, absolutely. It’s a responsibility. Freedom means that you have to be responsible.
DCHP: Is part of what you’re saying perhaps that people who are really progressive, so to speak, are actually being responsible and living their lives as opposed to getting out on the streets and protesting?
BW: Right, exactly. I’m not saying that protesting doesn’t serve a purpose, but I think that for me protesting is education. I’m an artist/educator. I’m a performance artist. A performance artist is kind of like a tree with everything going on beneath it.
I have a character that I play called Smokifantastik – a love Goddess from the planet Venus. She’s like my brand. Everything comes under the name Smokifantastik. That’s just about mythology. It’s about creating your own myth.
People will automatically go into their own play state. It would be like if we were kids and you had this character that you always played when we got together. When you saw me you would automatically start playing.
I say I’m a performance artist because [it] sort of frees me up. I can be a little more intuitive with what I’m doing when I’m performing.For me, the installation is the conversation we’re having right now. (laughs)
It’s a lifestyle. So that gives me the freedom to do art all the time, any time, and in a spontaneous way.
DCHP: I can definitely see what you say about the installation being the conversation and practicing art every day as part of what you do. I can see how that’s related to healing and shamanism. Does that bring anything up for you?
BW: Yeah. It allows this healing space to open without me having to be a shaman or without me having to be the healer. It allows for the other people involved to interact in a really dynamic way and also to empower themselves in a really simplistic (accessible) way and a real fun way. It’s not in this esoteric, deep, soul-searching way.
That needs to happen when it needs to happen but it’s also good to know that you can experience deep things in your everyday life without having to go through initiation or something.
So this gives you opportunity to really start to know yourself.
”Finding Truth in Performance: An Interview with Bobbi Williams” by DCH Park is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.