Saturday, December 19, 2009

Advent--Means of Meditation

Advent is a time of prayer and contemplation as we await the coming of Christ at Christmas. Yet different people pray, contemplate, and meditate in different ways. With this in mind I tried to create a variety of prayer opportunities using both the sanctuary and the newly made memorial garden outside. The worship services occurred Wednesday nights, following a soup supper, but many of the pictures are taken during the day for lighting reasons.

By the inspiration of the youth group, the fire for burning prayers doubles as a s'more making station.

I provided biblical and theological justification...
Inside the sanctuary were more traditional opportunities for prayer--lighting candles, icons for meditation, and healing prayer with a minister.
I tried to create a sense of sacred space by marking the memorial garden with luminarias.
After about half an hour of individual prayer at these stations, the congregation gathered in the sanctuary to sing Holden Evening Prayer.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Micro-Collaborative Monologue

Sometimes the best collaboration takes place between just two people. I wrote and acted out the following monologue, but what really gave it shape was the directing by Elana McKernan. As we worked together to tell to the story of Pontius Pilate we inspired and feed-off one another; both gained an appreciation for the biblical figure that we otherwise would have never had. When I performed the monologue, I brought this experience to it. However, for the vast majority of the congregation, I feel this sermon was simply a passive event created by the professional entertainer pastor. Perhaps if there were a series of such monologues created by different pockets of micro-collaboration, the congregation would see each performance as coming out of the community as a whole, and hence, in some small way, as coming out of each member individually.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Who Do You Say That I Am? Museum

I inaugurated my first sermon in Tempe with my first major interactive/collaborative art project. The sermon was on Mark 8:27-38, in which Jesus asks, "Who do you say that I am?" Following the theme of identity I gave sincerest flattery to Project X and developed an interactive museum that was designed to elicit stories about parishioners that they would share with me and each other.

The main feature of the museum is a recording station which prompts visitors to record stories about themselves (for some reason Blogger insists on displaying these sideways).
Next to it, is a listening station where visitors can listen to the stories that have previously been recorded. The stories can also be heard online at the church's website.
We've collected about ten stories so far. People seem hesitant to record their voice. The other exhibits, however, have been receiving a lot of attention.
It turns out we have a significant European population, as well as someone from Libya and Colombia.

You can see more pictures (and some old that are properly oriented) here.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Beautiful Light

My search for interactive art in the greater Phoenix area has not been in vain. Of note, last week I spent a couple days helping to assemble "The 4 Letter Word Machine," a giant interactive display that can form four letter words out of lights.

It's interactive in so far as different people can put up messages. The manifestation that I was helping to assemble is headed to an art festival in Toronto where it will be placed on sky-scrapers.

Being a part of the construction was fascinating. The artist has a large shop in a Phoenix industrial district and then he seems to command an army of volunteers/interns/friends/administrative assistants for several straight weeks to create the project. There are people in his shop 18 hours a day for what appears to be no money.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Interactive Art in the Suburbs

Sorry it's been a while, I've been getting settled into my life in the suburbs of Phoenix.

The Phoenix suburbs present a unique challenge for interactive public art compared to urban or small town settings because in the suburbs, people seem to either be inside or in their car. Walking is simply not done (especially in Arizona). You may have noticed that most of my past projects relied upon people wandering by and being able to stop and participate. That's considerably more difficult when people are zipping past at 50mph.

Still, this is the context in which I find myself and the group of people whom I am called to serve for the next year. So perhaps with a bit of help from my readers I can come up with ways to engage members of the community and encourage them to create with one another.

Here are some pictures of the street by my church to give a sense of what I'm working with (this is a fairly typical street).

Nearly every street corner has a shopping center.

There is a park across the street, but I have yet to see anyone in it. I am told that in a couple months the weather will cool down and people will start to go outside.
There is a considerable amount of space between the church and the street, so it might be possible to uses this area to get people's attention. However, the city has a strict sign policy. All signs have to be registered, which costs around $200 a sign.

Inside it's campus, the church has a couple nice outdoor spaces. This fountain is undergoing repairs and should be working soon. There are also plans to build a memorial garden around it.

A nice fenced in back lawn which is completely unused. Boy Scouts are building a fire-pit with benches on the dirt.

Next to the lawn is a labyrinth made out of gravel and rock.
The locals tell me certain shopping centers and malls are the main places where people hang-out, so I'm looking into the possibility of doing art there. The adventure continues!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Off to Arizona

It was great to hear about all the other projects that the other fellows did this summer. Only one other was kind of similar to mine. A woman was learning how to combine music and justice and part of her project involved writing music for a very specific community with which she spent some time.

My presentation of my project went well; I did a quick slide show of what I considered the major catagories of community art that I encountered: interactive art that requires no skill, collaborative art that makes use of the skills people already have, art that serves to create a sense of place, art in which the content is determined by the audience/community and then constructed by professional artists, and Theatre of the Oppressed.

Also, I got chance to lead another interactive theatre project with the group (it turns out that one of the fellows has an M.A. in theatre and used to do this type of work all the time but never thought to bring it into her ministry). The mood was very different this time around as the occasion was the fair-well session for a cohort which has become close friends. It was tough to get people to focus and there was an interesting dynamic in that the group was very comfortable and familiar with eachother, but not with the type of activities that we were doing. But with a few modifications to the activities that usually go into ensamble building, we were able to explore some interesting emotions and ideas about ourselves as a group and have a fun time doing it.

Now I'm off to Arizona to begin my year-long internship at Desert Cross Lutheran Church.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Off to Atlanta

I'm headed of to Atlanta for the official end of my fellowship, debriefing with the Fund for Theological Education, and hanging out with all the other awesome fellows as I hear about how their summers went.

Apparently we'll be in a monastery with no internet access, so no updates for the next 5 days.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Interactive Storytelling/sharing, or, In Search of a Better Name

On Wednesday evening I appropriated the theory and techniques of Augusto Boal and Michael Rohd to create an event I called "Interactive Storytelling/Sharing" (I think this name is terrible; after you read this post, please help me come up with a better one). Augusto Boal was a Brazilian who noted that Aristotelian theatre is basically a tool that supports the status quo. A few actors do all the thought and action on stage, while the masses passively watch, experience catharsis, and are purged of their "anti-social" emotions so that they can go home happy and placated. Boal sought to create theatre in which the audience became the participants and were encouraged to actively analyze what they saw and change what they didn't like by becoming part of the scene. He saw this as training people to stop being passive and change the world in which they live. Michael Rohd is the founder and artistic director of Sojourn Theatre, with whom I spent a week in July. In the 80's, Rohd independently started doing work similar to Boal's to create a safe environment in which people could talk honestly about AIDS and the issues surrounding it. Then, Rohd met Boal and combined the techniques and has been using them ever since to create a portable form of theatre which can be used to facilitate dialogue, civic engagement, and conflict resolution in any number of situations.

From these two sources, I crafted an Interactive Storytelling/sharing experience that pursued three goals: First, to have fun. Non-competitive play is a wonderful manifestation of the foundational Lutheran theological premise of God's unconditional love for all people. There are no winners and losers and we get comfortable being with each other, laughing with each other, and loving people for who they are. As Michael Rohd put it, "play is community."
The second goal was to connect and communicate using our bodies. Once again, this stems from the Christian concept of the incarnation. God entered into physical reality and became one with it. We are not spirits trapped in flesh; we are whole beings with undivided body and soul, and our flesh is essential and inseparable to our relationship with the divine. Unfortunately, western society and Protestantism seem to forget this. For many, at work their bodies are mechanized, whether it be digging ditches, fitting parts on assembly line, or typing for 8 hours. At worship, bodies tend to be ignored, with only sitting, standing, and the occasional kneeling permitted. My goal then is to reclaim the body as a spiritual tool, one that allows us to express ourselves and connect ourselves in disagreement (and agreement) without the loudest or most eloquent voice silencing the rest. Physicality also lets us communicate with those who speak a different language. After all, God's greatest message was sent to us not on stone tablets or in books, but in a human body which we could touch.
The third goal was to use scripture and our own experiences to create stories that explored themes, questions, and possibilities which mattered to us. Both Boal and Rohd are adamant that they do not create "message plays." That is to say, they do not presume to have the answers to problems and wish to communicate them to the audience through theatre. Instead, they use theatre to help people actively explore their worlds, their difficulties, and their options. Solution may arise, or the questions might just get more complicated. The point is not to make all the problems go away, but instead to empower people to think and act on the issues themselves.

To achieve these goals, I structured the evening so that we would first get comfortable playing with each other, looking at each other, and touching each other. We started with a game called, "Thumb Grab," in which the participants stood in a circle with one thumb pointing down and resting on a another person's palm, and someone else's thumb resting on their thumb. Then on the count of three, everyone tried to grab a thumb and prevent theirs from being grabbed.
Then, we walked around the space and got used to looking people in the eye. When someone stopped moving, everyone stopped moving; when someone started moving, everyone started moving. Similarly, when one person dropped to the floor, everyone dropped to the floor. Then we took suggestions for other things we could add. People suggested that when someone jump, everyone jump, when someone spin, everyone spin. We played a few more games, including one where people partnered up, froze in a handshaking pose, closed their eyes, separated, and then tried to find their partner and return to the pose with their eyes closed.
To get people comfortable making stories with their bodies, each person in the room created a single action that they had done that day (examples included checking the time and putting on a backpack). Then they shared the action with the other people in the room. Each person picked two other action and added them to their own in any order to create a sequence of three actions. When these sequences were performed for the whole group, individuals made up stories that the sequences might be demonstrating. The point was not to guess what the actor intended, but instead to notice how three simple movements can be interpreted to make any number of different stories. At first, the group was hesitant to interpret the sequences, but eventually they started creating very intricate and imaginative narratives from the very mundane actions.
Then we read a passage of scripture (1 Kings 19:4-8). And talked about what themes and issues it brought up for people. We wrote these down on a piece of paper. And then played another game in which partners shook hands and froze. But this time, one partner would unfreeze and assume a different position in relationship to the 2nd partner based on one of the themes. The 2nd partner would then unfreeze and assume a new position based on what the first partner did as well as the theme. This continued for sometime with occasionally different themes being thrown in.
Then the partners were asked to sculpt each other into frozen images that represented the themes. They could move their partners' limbs or model for their partners, but they could not talk. One set of partners had finished sculpting, they could walk around and look at the other sculptures. Then the partners would switch roles of sculptor and sculpture.
Finally, I had one of the participants sculpt everyone in the group into an image of one of the themes that was connected in someway to his life. When he had finished, I asked him to insert himself into the image. Then, one by one, I replaced each frozen participant so that they could see the image that was created. Without having anyone talk, or having the original sculptor share any more about the image other than the theme, I asked each participant to think about who they were in the image and what their relationship was to everyone else. Then I asked them to rearrange themselves to what happened right before this image occurred (once again without talking). When they had done that, I once again replace them so that they could see the image. Then, I had them arrange themselves to what happened right after the original image. Finally, I had them go through each of the three images in chronological order to create a "flipbook." They did all of this without talking, or knowing what story the other participants were imagining, but still they created a coherent and very compelling narrative.
Afterwards, we talked about what thoughts and emotions the experience had brought up for people, both in terms of their own lives and the theme we were exploring. We also shared what each of us imagined the story to be and who our characters were. Finally, we re-read the scriptural passage and briefly had the option to speak any new questions that the text had for us. We concluded by sharing the peace.

In general, I was very pleased by how the process went. Most people sort of knew each other, but a couple didn't at all, and yet by the end everyone was very comfortable playing together. Afterwards people talked about the experience and seemed very excited about it. The first two goals of fun and physicality were definitely met, and I feel confident I could lead this activity with a mixed group of English and Spanish speakers. I'm unsure about how deeply we explored the themes and how they concretely connect to our lives, but people said they thought about the text in a whole new way (it had been one of the readings the previous Sunday). This is probably what I will tweeking most in future. And as Elana pointed out to me, I can't expect to accomplish everything at once. For my first attempt with people who had never done this type of work, it was probably good that I focused more on the skills and comfort required to do it. Plus, the people that I talked to seemed to have connected with others in a way that valued them for who they were--so I guess the gospel was proclaimed.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Interactive Live Action Comic-Strip!

The goal was to create interaction between people in front of the downtown Berkeley BART station that was both fun and caused people to reflect upon the space in which they exist.

To this end, passersby were asked to offer adjectives, people types, etc. that they associate with the area. Three actors interpreted suggestions to create a tableaux that interacts with the physical space. Passersby were then asked to pick random numbers; these numbers corresponded to quotations overheard and recorded earlier in the same space. These quotations were written on giant poster-board "thought bubbles." When two numbers are picked, the corresponding "thought bubble" quotations were placed behind actors to create a single-frame cartoon. Business cards were handed out with this address so that passersby could see the pictures.
(clicking on a photo will enlarge it)

We had great participation from the people walking by, and people seemed to really enjoy seeing what their suggestions produced.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Soap Bubbling Painting!

My first community interactive event was painting with soap bubbles.
I added clothing dye to large pans of bubble solution and made giant bubble wands out of coat-hangers.
Then I took the set-up to the park and started catching bubbles that Elana made with a huge piece of foam board. When the bubbles landed they would leave colorful splats, wavy circles, and drip lines. When people saw the bubbles and the bright colors on the board they wandered over and we invited them to join in.
We got a couple of waves of little kids. They had difficulty making the giant bubbles. In future, I would probably have more small bubble blowers (I only had two) and smaller pieces of foam board so that the kids would have an easier time of it. But they had a lot of fun popping the bubbles.
We provided smocks, safety goggles, and gloves, but they kids wouldn't always use them, especially the gloves. Smocks were fairly accepted.
Because there is no way to control where soap bubbles will fly, painting with them is an inherently team-building process. One person makes the bubbles, and another person holds the foam-board and tries to catch them.
People seemed to meet each other and make connections.
After 2.5 hours we had gotten around 25 people from children to retirees who participated, and many who stopped and watched. All in all it went well.

The completed products
The second foam board
Sometimes bubbles would leave nice circles with wavey soap-oil patterns.
If you're interested in seeing more of this sort of thing, my inspiration was Free Style Arts Association in New York.