Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Mc Alpin Hall in the reviews...

Mentions of Mc Alpin Hall in reviews for Animals out of Paper 

Animals out of paper....

Furthermore, Ran Xia’s set complements this show well. Xia has built a littered, scrappy place into what looks to be an abandoned hall of an old church. The audience hears lines about “counting blessings” while seated on folding chairs level with the actors in the remains of a hollowed-out church banquet room. The juxtaposition presented through this assists the play’s message that words don’t always reflect reality. The real origami that punctuates this set creates the one, small, good thing about the “paper zoo” in which these characters are held captive.

Director Merri Milwe stages the play skillfully in the rec room of West Park Church. The drab and drafty space was a fitting place for the story.  The creaky floorboards and overhead lighting from old chandeliers really set the scene for me. There stage is filled with some extraordinary origami sculptures courtesy of Sok Song and Lorne Dannenbaum (and a long list of other artists).  The giant hawk, the human heart and hissing cockroach were among the most remarkable.

While Ran Xia's art studio set is rather sparse, the space becomes one with the small room at West Park Church where "Animals Out of Paper" is staged. Though the fourth wall is not broken here, audiences are pulled into the world of Ilana's studio, which feels real and really, really cluttered. The vast parade of origami animals adds dynamic value. The glow-in-the-dark, color-changing origami that appears during scene changes is also a nice touch.

The space is challenging, as the old church hall still has the dust of bingo parlor about it.  Set designer Ran Xia swings for the fences using every inch to advantage.  This may be the only play ever to list an Origami Consultant in the CREDITSDescription:  So, Talo Kawasaki, well done!

Creative Communities and Active Culture: At the Crossroads of Performative Competence and Social Change (part 2). A public conversation


another song....

Finishing up the week with Pat O reviewing where we are on construction, contracts, proposals,etc.

Tony L, one of the organizers of the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. march for Peace and Justice, is looking for space for a concert. We look in Mc Alpin. Nairobey’s getting  ready for her evening performance of Animals out of Paper. (  Despite building related issues and an unfortunate theft, she’s had a good run and got a solid set of reviews for a fine performance. An exceptionally high quality of theatre. She and Tony get into a conversation and exchange information.

The man who gave us a korg last year kind of materializes out of thin air looking for Stephen.

Tonight’s part 2 of the conversation  begins again with the singing circle. But ends sooner. Tonight we have an actual focused conversation. There are questions about the choice of music. Many initially put off by the explicit Christian language of the music. But over time, accepting it. Feeling its vibration.

Mario responds to a dancer that if you are dancing Romeo and Juliet, Juliet doesn’t have to be in love with Romeo to dance  their pas de deux. I may actually challenge him on that analogy. Because it is about performance and what happens with the open choir is more experience.

I offer Katherine’s response that she can sing  things she could never say. I point out that the music comes from a particular place. That it emerged out of an experience of oppression and provided a liberatory experience of being together. It emerged from struggle. What does it mean removed from that struggle? Is it enough that we all have our own struggle to live through? And also the reality that the African diaspora, wrenched violently from their homes and cast into slavery, translated their own gods into this new language that was forced upon them creating a deeper reality than what was observable. I have to ask Mario how he avoids a sense of cross-cultural appropriation or colonial acquisition of culture. Good questions.

Many of those participating describe themselves as not religious. So we talk about what Kristen Leigh had reminded me, namely that the distinction between religious and secular comes late in human history and is a particularly western phenomenon. In much of the world, there is no distinction, it is just living. Likewise, art is not a separate category. There is no such thing as art as a separate category from daily living.

What’s missing is a discussion of how this leads to an engagement ion social justice action. Although I do have a fascinating discussion with a woman who’s part of Dzieci and activism and a real estate agent. Hmmmm…I could probably add fashion to that list as well.

Again, the conversations  could go on all night. One man  lived through and experienced the genocide of Tamil people in Sri Lanka.

One of the garifona women from St. Augustine's in the Bronx brings a man to me. Pastor give this man a blessing, she says, this man needs a blessing. So I place my hands on his  forehead and give the blessing. 

But it’s time for a pot luck feast..Anan has made a wonderful dahl. And so many neighborhood restaurants…Barney Greengrass, the Gate, the Meatball Shop, Flor de Mayo, the organic food place, the macaroon place, Bella Luna…amazing what this band of  neo-diggers was able to come up with.
The feasting and conversation continues until one final song is sung. As so many of our historic institutions have lived beyond their project, the  questions being asked here are the right ones.

Creative Communities and Active Culture: At the Crossroads of Performative Competence and Social Change (part 1). A public conversation


In song and motion

Lee checking in about her rehearsals.  Marc has questions. Jeremy and friends getting set up for tonight’s event with the Open Center.

I’m off for a planning meeting of our Palestine film series.

I’ve actually managed to come up with a flier for tonight, based on who will be here:

Are you an artist?
Is your art an expression of your spirit?
Do beauty and justice go together?
Does your art affirm life?
Are art and community holy in some way?

Let's do it!
We are interested in finding a circle of artists who would be interested in coming together to explore in a lab setting what could be new experiences of  ritual/liturgy/shared performance in the context of a building with a deep and rich spiritual and social history. Open to the deep roots and flights of fancy, free to move where the spirit leads…

If you are interested, please leave us your information:

Name__________________________________  E-mail____________________

Discipline __________________________

The Center at West-Park:  Dream. Real. Hard.
West-Park Church:  Just. Love

When I arrive, the program is already in full swing. The deep and low songs of the African diaspora American south filling the front of the sanctuary the singers moving back and forth and towards one another  in an ever changing yet coherent circle. I’m happy to see all my Dzieci friends have joined in as well.The singing and movement goes on for nearly an hour and a half. Mesmerizing. Stirring.

Jeremy, Lloyd and I do brief introductions. Mine includes the socio-religious- artistic history of the church. Including my interest in the intersection of beauty and justice, ethics and aesthetics.

Then we broke for food and conversation.

What a series of conversations I had. These included:

* A young Mexican accordionist with a grant to develop theatre on the border and his dramatic dancer partner
* A young Ukrainian who is part of a choir who also collaborates with a Georgian choir that sings ancient church music who is interested in fundraising for displaced persons in the Ukraine. And who also was a volunteer with Bread & Puppet
* A couple working with Native Americans in choral and theatrical work, finding a group of Lenni Lanape, the original people of Long Island.
* A woman from Chile, doctoral student at Columbia working with indigenous people in the rain forest of Ecuador.
*Several dancers and choreographers
* Several clowns and puppeteers
* An accountant
* People from Italy, Brazil, Germany, Latin  America, eastern Europe…

ALL seeking a community in which to pursue spirit led ritual, community, spiritual and social transformation...And to my flier, I received 14 responses from the 50-60 gathered. I feel it was an important and good night.

Obviously what is needed is good follow up, but this illustrates that there is a market for the church and center we could become. All were here for the first time and all came as a result of word of mouth or social media. If done right, a revived church and center can come into being.
Kind of night that brings hope.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Remembering Adham

As Hugo reminds us, it was on a cold day like this that Adham was last with us....(

You can read of our most recent remembrances of Adham here...

Ash Wednesday: We all got to die


Ash Wednesday. In  the middle of a deep freeze tat doesn’t want to let go. I don’t even want to do my usual walk after lectionary and take the bus to the church.

Time to get ready for Ash Wednesday. I open the communion table. Take out the dried palms from last Palm Sunday. Find my metal pot. Take them out to the front steps..yes freezing cold…and light the palms…they hesitate a moment then burst into flame. When they die down, the pot cools, I take olive oil and mix it in to make the paste we use for imposing ashes. Like that phrase….imposition of ashes….

At noon, I bless the ashes and wait. I always look forward to this day. One of my favorites. It’s supposed to remind us of our mortality. And that is what it does.  Through the steady stream of people who come through seeking ashes. Mostly people I don’t know. Some members, like Deacon James who comes in late in the day and gets his cross right beneath his African cap.

There’s the African nanny and the little girl in her charge who gets ashes too. The college girl on her way back to Connecticut. Latinos young and old. People waiting for the bus who stop in. People from the projects. I ask their name. I read the prayer over the ashes from the Book of Common Worship. Place my hands on their head and say their name and then ..remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return…As Jeremy sings in his song, ..and we all got to die…Mortality. We’re all in this together.


Jed and his creative partner Mima. It’s great to be working with him again after lo these many years. Remembering his year as guest musician in residence and the liturgies we created. He’s got some intriguing projects coming up. And will do Make Music New York for us. And some Sundays.

Martin comes in. We’re getting close to putting this contract to bed. But we will.

The Center board meets. Yes, we’re coming close to getting enough groups in to close the budget gap, but some are not good ideas. Do we really want to be identified with a groaner of a French comedy piece permanently in our sanctuary? If every inch is rented, how do we live out a vision? And there’s this catch 22…West-Park cannot afford the upkeep of the building. The only way to do this is a community coalition that sees the building as part of the community’s cultural heritage. But they would only do that if they see a vision, an identity to the building beyond the church. And to establish that identity in a public way takes money which….Again, the pieces are there, where’s the plan? That is the question…And also to get session to agree…

Pat asks if I can go out for a drink, or if I’ve got an Ash Wednesday prohibition. Well, I’ll stick with wine tonight when we head to the B. As we’re leaving, we run into the producer of tonight’s fashion show in the chapel. He’s brimming with happiness over his night. He loved the venue with its distressed chic. (Sigh). So we stop to share a glass of wine with him before heading out into the cold. Wish I could have seen the show.