Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Wringing Out Light Traps in the Process

Breath & Bone/Orts Performance presents: 

Wringing Out Light: Poems & Prayers

1805 W. AlabamaHouston, Texas 77098

Friday, July 19, 2013, 7:30pm
Saturday, July 20, 2013 7:30pm
Sunday, July 21, 2013, 3:00pm

Admission: pay what you can

St. Francis of Assisi, Catherine of Sienna, George Herbert, John Donne, Teresa of Avila, and several more visionaries and poets are represented in this program of poetry and performance. Let the words of these mystics draw you to a place of contemplation (and maybe some rejoicing).


So why Christian mystics and all this? It's a fair question. 

In April---three months ago at this writing, in fact---I had a pretty big surgery, which I've written about elsewhere (check out my Crumbs at the Feast blog)---and despite the expected discomfort, etc., it all went remarkably well. Long story short, the experience left me with some wonder and gratitude. Besides, having strangers cut you open from sternum to navel, touch all kinds of things and cut some of it out? It's kind of a mystical experience, no matter how sciencey you want to be about it. 

So when I started thinking about the next project for BB/OP, prompted by WOL cast member Roy (who simply said, "I'm available this summer," which was enough), I looked about my cluttered apartment and picked up a collection of poetry from the Christian mystics. One of the first ones I read (randomly from the middle of the book, because who reads a poetry anthology from front to back?) was a very short poem from St. Francis, who wrote:

Wring Out My ClothesSuch love does
the sky now pour,
that whenever I stand in a field, I have to wring out the light
when I get

Perhaps you see the source of the show's title? 

Anyway, it felt good. It felt right. I came up with the title, "Wringing Out Light," almost immediately. 

So as I began culling poems that appealed to me, that seemed to have some imagery I could stage (even if the staging was simply standing still with the words). I started gathering performers. I started shuffling the poems I had on my floor to find themes and maybe an arc to the arrangement. 

And then I saw a really big trap in this project. As I read the poems and tried feeling them in my body, I found a intense, almost gravitational pull upward. My gaze, my posture, my arms . . . 

I thought---oh crap, I'm going to ask an audience to spend an evening looking at people looking and reaching to the sky. 

No. No no no nonononononono! 

There's nothing like fighting against the pull of all the worst cliches of liturgical dance (which isn't a crack at liturgical dance, just at bad liturgical dance). But I remembered a piece of advice from a college acting teacher, the late, great James Nelson Harrell (he referred to himself as "Little Jimmy Harrell from Waco").
He would tell us to "play the opposite." A sad scene is sadder if the character is trying to laugh instead of cry. That sort of thing.

So my first task was to find some poems that had a bit of a darker edge. (St John of the Cross is good for that, John Donne helps, too.) Then I made sure that my performers knew that I was going to fight against the upward gaze and reach. Finally, I found a very few times when I allowed that gravitational pull to lift our eyes and hands upward. Hopefully, all this will make for a richer palette of images. 

Besides, the mystics would tell us that God is not in heaven, not exclusively. God is below, beside, in front, behind, within . . . plenty of directions in which to give our attention. 

I hope you will come check out what we've done. I hope it's as luminous as getting cut from sternum to navel. 

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