Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Wringing Out Light Post Performances

The stage---or chancel---is set.

Neil is shrouded during John Donne's "Death Be Not Proud"
Wringing Out Light: Poems & Prayers is now past tense. A few post-show reflections (with more rehearsal photos) follow . . .

First, I'm most gratified by the conversations that occurred after the performances. They are what make Wringing Out Light a success. These old poems from across centuries brought forth discussions about illness, racism, and domestic abuse. The comments of "beautiful," "surprising," and "inspiring" are also much appreciated, but I will ponder the heavier conversations for a while.
Donna wrings out the light; Neil is shrouded behind her.

I always say that BB/OP is about "showing, not showing off," that we are "servants to the showing." In the process of rehearsing, that's an easy goal to lose track of. There are often nights of just trying to solve problems of staging and transitions. Still, there were things I had in mind of showing. I was particularly keen to share some of the more sensual, even sexual poems of the mystics. Last November, when we presented Jill Alexander Essbaum's Necropolis, I'd mentioned, in the post show talk-back, that one of the poems fit squarely in the tradition of erotic love poems to God. Some of the people in the audience snickered and I said, "No, that's a real thing." So I'm happy to have presented poems, asking God to "kiss me with the happiest kiss of your mouth." It was important to me to have people hear of desiring God in terms of a sensual ache and yearning. I believe I showed at least some of the audience another way to relate to God.

Similarly, it was important to me to not gloss over real pain and loss. St John of the Cross, with his dark night of the soul, was quite helpful in that regard, as was John Donne and George Herbert. In choosing and working with some of these poems, I challenged my own theological thoughts and perspectives. Do I really believe that "what moves all things is God"? Am I okay with not thinking of God as a "being"?

I chose pieces not just because they reinforced my own ideas about God---I wanted to show myself struggling with the material, too (whether the audience could actually see that or not, I couldn't say).

Runs of shows always come too early and are gone too soon. If I were to do this again, I'd set more time aside for just talking about the texts. The cast kept finding new layers right up until we closed, and maybe that would happen no matter how much we talked about the texts---who can get to the bottom of what the mystics have to tell/teach us? Still, this was one of those things that maybe got set aside because we got busy with problem solving and transition making.

Speaking of transitions---this sort of show is challenging in that regard. I wanted to give the audience time between poems to absorb the text. At the same time, I didn't want there to be simply a stopping between the texts. I aimed for a flow from one text to another. Austin choreographer Kathy Dunn Hamrick had posted on Facebook back in May: "In Modern Dance, once you understand the significance of transitions, you'll realize there is no such thing as a transition." As influenced as I am by modern dance, this tidbit kept running through my head as I worked on moving from one text to the next. This wasn't exactly modern dance, but I was thankful for Kathy's word that there is no such thing as a transition. It made me see these texts that spanned centuries as part of one lineage. It helped me realize that even as we moved from "ecstasy" to "darkness," life flows through the transitions, no matter how abrupt the turn in the flowing. 

Or something like that. 

A few people had asked about where I found these poems. Most of them came from a wonderful collection called For Lovers of God Everywhere edited by Roger Housden, but I also a couple of pieces in The Province of Joy, Angela Alaimo O'Donnell's devotional book using the writings of Flannery O'Connor. Angela offers some additional reading from other sources in the back of her book.   

Finally, I have deep gratitude to my cast. Roy Brooks, II, Bridget Lois Jenson, and Donna Meadows jumped into this project, trying whatever I asked of them. Patrick Flannery, who I asked to play guitar in response to what he saw us do, which he took on and fulfilled remarkably. (Patrick and I have had much fun about his involvement---I asked him to join us without actually having heard him play. He asked if I wanted him to audition. I asked, "Have you played in front of people before?" He had, so I told him what time rehearsals were. He asked if I was sure he was what I wanted. Sometimes, I have a gut feeling and sometimes I even trust it. This was one of those times that paid off with high interest.) Past BB/OP performer, Cassandra Shaffer-Permenter, had a conflict that kept her from joining us on this show, but she graciously came to two rehearsals to "watch book" for us, as we were memorizing our texts. It was good to have her involved, even if she couldn't perform with us this time. 

 And of course, a huge debt of gratitude to St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, who played host to our rehearsals and performances. There is no exaggeration when I say we couldn't have done it without their generosity. 

I'm not sure what is next for BB/OP. This show feels like something of a landmark, but I couldn't say how. The post-performance conversations will shape future decisions, I feel---again, I can't yet say how. 

Do check back here---or "like" our page on Facebook---to be among the first to find out.
Donna comes down the aisle out of the darkness.

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