Sunday, July 27, 2014

Performance and the Sacred: a living exploration of community and practice (in other words, what we do every day...)

Myrto, Bob, Mario and Katherine

We finally sit down and talk with the reGroup theatre folks to try and finalize their contract. There have been some bumpy places but I still have respect for what they are doing in trying to reclaim the legacy of the original Group theatre and I am anxious for them to have  a good run for their  Texas  Trilogy, which I haven’t seen since my Tulsa days.( There is enough shared culture on both sides of the Red River to have made a real connection with the Tulsa theatre community.

People from the Work Center are arriving and setting to work for tonight’s open conversation on the intersection between performance and spirituality.

Last night while they were singing, a couple wandered in and asked what was going on. I told them it was an open choir singing songs from the old southern black church tradition. They listen awhile, see the bare feet and the dancing circle and look as if they’re not quite sure.

Pat O in for our weekly meeting. We have to get Danielle’s job replacement description finalized. And keep moving towards finalizing our construction manager contract. And doing whatever’s necessary to expedite getting the stop work order lifted. But underneath it all, there is progress. We are moving forward.

Starting off with music
A crowd is gathering in Mc Alpin Hall for Performance and the Sacred: a living exploration of community and practice. The event begins with a round if singing. People drawn up and into the moving circles.  Jeremy G gives us an overall introduction and I set the context for West-Park as a sacred space.

There’s a lot to talk about beginning with the theme for the evening.
* I remember when we were working with the accordionist extraordinaire Bill Schimmel ( every Sunday. Other of our house musicians complained and said that it felt more like performance than worship. Katherine responded that all worship is performance,  it’s a matter of what kind of performance. So I argue that  there is no distinction between performance and sacred. 
Jeremy G welcomes us
* Jeremy M argues that for himself as a recoding artist, performer and church musician, for him there is a difference.
* Katherine says that ultimately it’s an issue of intention.
* The issue of repetition comes up. Mario talks about working on some pieces for 10 years before they are ready. I say that repetition can be an effort to recreate an experience. To do it so many times that it becomes embedded. Like a recipe. You may need to do it 10 times before you know it well enough to take it off in another direction. It’s when the word  is fully incarnated that the door to the deeper place opens.
* There are folks here from St. Augustine, a Roman Catholic Church with garifono members, women in African print and turbans. All you need for your church to grow, says one woman, is good music. One good singer. And feed the people good food.
Mario tells us about the Work Center
* We have good food, donated by our neighbor Barney Greengrass, arroz y habichuelas from Flor de Mayo, Mario’s favorite spot, and a giant pan of shepherd’s pie from our home base, the Gate.  Generous neighbors...enough to feed us all and more...
* There are people from the Manhattan Church of Christ, an evangelical break away from the Disciples. They have a strong program with the homeless. But what is their theology? Where are they vis a vis lgbtq? Women? That is important to me.
* The question of context comes up. The music Mario uses is from the American south. African-American Christian music. Some of the seed group members are Buddhist. Jewish. Hindu. Secular. They are wrestling with what does to mean to sing words they don’t believe and still feel moved? Is thee something inherent that in the music that has meaning deeper than the words?
* I press the context discussion in an other direction. The music they sing comes form a  context of struggle, From a project of creating liberated space in the midst of slavery. Oppression. That sustained people in the struggle to make that liberation concrete. What does it mean to remove that music from that context?
Myrto makes a point
* Mario suggests that we are all involved in some level of struggle, even if personal and internal. That’s not enough for me. We live in the midst of the agony of Gaza. Of tens of thousands of children crossing the US-Mexico border. Of a black man on Staten Island choked to death for selling loose cigarettes. Does this experience of singing and/or performance challenge one to engage? I recall that Thomas Merton said that when one begins in true meditation, one ends in revolution.
* Also at stake is community. At last week’s Petefest, in honor of Pete Seeger, I finally got it. When I was an early folk-singer, I hated sing-alongs. I wanted to slay you with my songs. But I realized that Pete had an intention. (That word again) to create a sustaining community of struggle through shared song. That his sing-alongs, the very act of communal singing, had concrete political content.
Katherine does too
* And I pushed the community question further. As I see it there are two agendas. One, the relationship with St. Augustine, the Manhattan Church of Christ, existing faith communities, is dialogical and dialectic in nature. The other has to do with creating new communities. To ask those who have been attracted to the weekly practice of singing what the next step would  be. What would it taken to make a commitment of mutual accountability to each other? To become  a community that would reach out in service, in struggle? I offer to assist that process for anyone willing  to undertake it.
* For me, I now that the church as I have known  it is over. Something new must be born. I want to help midwife that new reality. Is something here part of that new birth? Is there a new community waiting to be born? We’ll review it all next week before Mario returns to Italy.

Saying goodnight after a great conversation


Open mic starts late out of  courtesy for the discussion going on upstairs. There’s at least one new singer-songwriter named Jesse.
I do a late set after Joel, Pat O and Mandola. But the real moment of the night is Alex,
back again. Getting ready to head back to northwest Arkansas, territory  knew well in my Tulsa days, to record her first EP in Kansas City. She wants to play some songs. Get some video. For her kick-starter campaign. I’m elected to take the video, which I do until her battery runs out. There is something raw and untouched in her voice. I look forward to us being  a community of support as she ventures out. We’ll publicize the campaign as soon as it is on. RL invites her to join him on Stay Awhile. And she does. Smiling all the while.

Stay Awhile 

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