Thursday, July 30, 2009

Church of the Apostles

Church of the Apostles (COTA) is an Episcopal/Lutheran church in the Fremont district of Seattle that has been creating quite a buzz. The idea of COTA started when Pastor Karen Ward realized that in all her time hanging out with her friend in their local pub, she was actually providing them with pastoral care. Karen decided that she wanted to provide a more formal ministry to this group of people who clearly wanted pastoral care and community but were for whatever reason not receiving it at a church.

Unfortunately, Karen's bishop at the time in Chicago was not receptive to the idea; however, a bishop in Seattle was. So Karen moved to the Northwest and before she could even begin starting a church, word got around that she was trying to create a congregation that would serve the needs of "Gen-Xers" (which is not how she would describe her ministry). Suddenly children of pastors (and bishops) started coming out of the woodworks. These were people who had grown up in the church and appreciated the benefits of a religious community, but hadn't found a congregation that fit them. Karen began meeting these disaffected pastors kids (PKs) and asking them what they were looking for in a church.

What resulted was a tea shop (coffee requires too much equipment to make) with stage. As Fremont is very arts oriented, people would wander into the tea shop and ask if they could use the stage for their band or to host an anime marathon. Karen would always say yes (prohibiting only hate speech and other material which she found offensive by fairly liberal standards), point inquirers to a computer with an sign up sheet, and soon the tea shop became a hub of artistic activity. The congregation would use the sign up sheet just as would any other organization, and for two hours a week the venue would host a church service; immediately after the service, the same space would be filled with a punk rock band.

COTA used this time to develop relationships with people and organizations within the neighborhood. When an old church building across the street became vacant, COTA decided that Fremont needed a community arts center. They purchased the building, started a separate non-profit organization to run the arts center. COTA followed the same model of allowing the community to use the space at all times during the week, signing up just like any other organization when the congregation wanted to use it for worship. COTA does not do heavy advertising; instead they rely upon word of mouth, the visibility of their actions, and the relationships they develop with community members to attract parishioners. This means that many people do not know that the arts center is connected to a church (when I first entered looking for vespers, I asked a swing dance instructor where the service was, and she had no idea that a church was in the building), but it also means that COTA has created a thriving community in a neighborhood with only one other church of any type, and in which a Lutheran congregation had closed 5 years earlier.

COTA also has a unique style of worship. They follow a very high-church Anglo-Catholic tradition, but they truncate some of the normal parts of the ordo (the liturgical pattern which most western church follow). With this extra time, they take about 15 minutes in between the sermon and the Prayers of the People for "Open Space," during which parishioners have the option of choosing a variety of prayerful activities--everything from lighting a candle in front of an icon, to a space for meditation, to painting, to making sandwiches for homeless people. It's an interesting technique that allows for the preservation of the historical ritual and aesthetics that Episcopalians and Lutherans so love, but also including an active element where people can choose to incorporate newer spiritual practices that speech to them.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Community-Based Exhibits

The Wing Luke Asian Museum has been a leader in creating community-based exhibits for over a decade. Their model is ask to around within the community that they want to work with for 12-15 people who would be willing to make up a Community Advisory Committee (CAC). Wing Luke tries to ensure that the CAC represents a wide cross-section of the community and then invites the committee to think about what kind of topics, messages, stories, moods, and displays they would want exhibit about their community to include. In addition to providing conceptual direction for an exhibit, the CAC also provides connections within their communities for oral history, artifacts, and other primary-source resources. They also play a major role in publicity and will even help set up exhibits, especially if a display features something with which they have special knowledge, like how to dress a mannequin in traditional garb. Basically, the idea is using the professional skills of the museum staff to help a community tell their own stories and express their culture in a way that give the most possible agency to the community.

Exhibits often feature materials borrowed from people's homes.

Here an artist has gathered letters written by immigrants. Visitors can send the artist a copy of their own family's letters to be included.
Opportunities for the community's voice to be heard do not end with the opening of the exhibit. Almost every room contains a display where visitors can add to the exhibit through their own experience of knowledge. For instance, time-lines will have a book where people can add other significant events that they know of in the life of the featured community. Pictured below is a wind-chime in an exhibit about immigration and deportation; visitors are encouraged to add the names of people they know who have been deported.

Wing Luke has become so famous for their model of community-based exhibits that they now have a handy manual for people like me that describes step-by-step their process in creating an exhibit.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Seattle Behind Fences

Seattle has a wonderful waterfront area outside of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that was designed by five artists working collaboratively to create, essentially, community.The most famous part of this work is called the "Sound Garden," which is essentially a large clumping of wind-activated tone-pipes surrounding benches where you can sit and listen to the music of the breeze.
The area also includes a walking path lined with thick bushes of blackberries and wild roses.
Bridges bearing quotations of Moby Dick span the occasional stream.
A dock was built to allow boaters on Lake Washington to pull up to the art area and perhaps enjoy a picnic at the lookout point.
All in all it is an idyllic setting, perfect for an afternoon stroll or a moonlight picnic. Unfortunately, since 9/11 the area has been given a security threat code "yellow" and has been fenced off. To enter, you have to come during weekday business hours and pass through a check point where you show identification and may be subject to search.
To be fair, I don't believe that the US Government thinks the Sound Garden itself is a terrorist target, but rather NOAA on whose property it is built. Still, what was designed to be a place of beauty and gathering for the people of Seattle has been completely abandoned. Meanwhile, teems of families play and walk their dogs in the park on just the other side of the fence, and boats float just off shore.

Contrast this with another Seattle community art project behind a fence, "23rd and Union." This project takes as its subject the corner of 23rd and Union Street, the center a formerly predominately African American neighborhood that is now gentrifying.
A team of artists worked to collect thoughts and stories from passersby about the intersection. Then, in a bulldozed and fenced-in lot awaiting construction, the artists constructed "a series of five improvised structures built using found materials. They suggest shelter in what can be a turbulent intersection." Part of these structures include giant portraits of some of the original people interviewed.
Now, when visitors walk past the intersection, they see signs encouraging them to call a hotline.
When they call, they encounter an automated and interactive voice-messaging system which first asks whether or not they are at the corner of 23rd and Union. If they respond yes, it gives them the option to either listen other people's stories and thoughts about the intersection, or to record their own for others to hear. Prompts include, among others, "Whose Corner is This," "What Needs to Happen," and "Rap/Pray/Sing."
Through the creative use of technology both old and new, this installation is managing to honor and create place and identity in a changing neighborhood despite being behind a fence.
The website and the hotline both work--check them out!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


There's a wonderful organization in Portland called "City Repair." Their goal is to turn space into place. That is to say, to turn the physical space where people live into a place to which people feel connected, feel invested, feel a sense of identity and belonging. City Repair does this by helping neighborhoods organize the transformation of intersections and street corners through murals, benches, bulletin boards, and more.

I think the concept is brilliant and essential now more than ever. My generation is especially transient and tends to have very little connection to the place in which the live. We are far more likely to find our community online or in clubs or causes that are rooted in ideology or hobby than in our local neighborhood. Because of this we often never meet our neighbors and pay very little interest to issues that effect the area in which we live. We are more likely to expend energy on the plight of a people halfway across the world whom we have never met than we are for the homeless man on our street or the family experiencing foreclosure on the other side of it.
Yet just as we become aware that we are connected to the entire world, we are also becoming more aware that to be sustainable, we are going to have to start living more locally. This means relying upon the people and the land physically surrounding us, which means getting to know and love the people and land surrounding us.

But even beyond the economic and environmental reasons to appreciate place, I think a person's soul benefits by having a physical place in which to belong. Personally, I always feel a sense of peace when I return to a city in which I have lived for many years. We know who we are by what we see reflected in the world around us. If we look out our window and see an unknown void, we feel that emptiness inside ourselves. If we look out and see place that we hate, we feel that loathing inside. But if we look out and a place of beauty that we love, perhaps we will also feel that inside. I think this is what City Repair is trying to do.

An intersection by my friends' house

A tea stand with free hot water, tea, and mugs (also a bucket to place dirty mugs)

A hut for the local free community newspaper (The Bee)

Place is a great topic for my transition to Seattle, which has a huge public arts (particularly sculpture) program designed very much to create a sense of identity within the city.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Sand and Water

Each year in Portland there is a sand-sculpting fundraiser in the central square called "Yoshida's Sand in the City." The money goes to support "Kids on the Block" a volunteer puppet program that goes into schools to teach children positive messages about themselves and others.
Businesses pay money to get a sandbox and in exchange get some advertising. Around the sand there are some booths with information about Kids on the Block, and a few other organizations have minor crafts projects for kids.

While the art is always cool, there's not really a whole lot of community building happening. The event is free and in the middle of downtown Portland, so it's nice to stroll by, but there's no reason to interact with other people. There is a sandbox for children to play in and make their own castles (kids get all the fun), but it's not much. Of course, it's probably a good bonding exercise for the company employees who make the sculptures.
Take in comparison two fountains located in downtown Portland which are permissible to enter. Both are always present, unmonitored, and free. Architecturally, they're fun to play in.
As compared to the tiny sandbox above, the fountains attract people of all ages. From children and grandparents to young lovers, these fountains become gathering and relaxing points for the city on a hot summer day.
(it should be noted that this fountain continually changes its patterns throughout the day to reflect the tempo of the city)

You can see more pictures of the sand sculptures here.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Bultmann and Me

I just finished reading Rudolf Bultmann's "New Testament and Mythology," and it has helped me articulate what I'm trying to do with this project (or at least write incoherently for a while) .

The premise of Lutheranism is that people cannot love unless they are loved. The story of Christ is the means by which we as the church communicate to people that God loves them unconditionally. But for most people I know, the story doesn't work.

Bultmann thinks this is because ever since the rise of modern science people realize that the material reality presented in the story doesn't match with the material reality they encounter everyday. There are no demons in this world; there is no place in the sky where angles fly or place underground where Satan dwells. Most people don't change when they are baptized or receive communion. No one has yet risen from the dead. The reality of the Gospels is not the reality of people today, and so they reject the story of Christ as irrelevant.

But Bultmann contends that these "mythical" elements (virgin birth, miracles, resurrection) are misunderstood if taken to be historic. For Bultmann, the Gospels are not histories, they are instead stories which invite the hearer to participate in their existential (not material or metaphysical) reality in this life. Miracles and mythical metaphysics are attempts to communicate intangible experiences of human existence in a tangible and comprehensible (for the audience at the time) form; the goal of the preacher is to extract the message about human life. For Bultmann, the central message that the New Testament is attempting to communicate is an existential freedom to be who we are and to love others based on an openness to the suffering in this world and the assurance of God's unconditional love (keep in mind he's writing from and for the context of well-off white folk, which, to be fair, so am I). Bultmann thinks that if this de-mythologized message of the gospel is preached, people will be able to once again connect to the divine story, experience God's love, and love one another.

This is where I have a problem. Understanding the New Testament as inviting us to participate in an existential reality communicated through non-historical story (though Bultmann acknowledges the crucifixion as fact), is great. However, I don't think talking at people from behind a pulpit is an effective invitation into any story. Most people are keenly aware that the story of Jesus has been forced on to listeners as a means of control. Hierarchies have used the gospel to ensure the conformity of those who heed it, and to exclude those who do not. When one authority figure stands before a mute crowd and does all the talking, it doesn't come across as an invitation to participate in a story, it comes across as a narrative of coercion. Even with the best-intentioned clergy, the very format of speaker and audience trains the congregation to be passive, to leave the existential reality of grace in the walls of the church and in the hands of the pastor instead of taking up the story for themselves and actively telling and shaping it in their daily lives.

This then is my goal with collaborative art: First, to reclaim the existential value of story, particularly the story of Christ. Second, to embody the gospel notion of unconditional love by inviting all people to actively speak their own story in a non-hierarchical setting. Third, to invite people to participate in the existential reality of the gospel by connecting their story to Christ's story. Fourth, to facilitate community and the love of neighbor by connecting the personal story and Christ's story to the neighbor's story. Fifth, to imagine a world that better reflects God's love for all people through the use of art.

I believe artistic mediums to be particularly useful for these tasks for three reasons. First our culture tends to accept what an individual expresses through art as both subjectively unique and not requiring external validation. Second, art allows for differing expressions to be combined into a coherent and meaningful whole without compromising the integrity of the individual expressions. I view this as different from how conversations around theology are often approached. When two people with differing views want to come together and proclaim a common faith, or even have a friendly conversation, there is often the notion that one person has to convert the other, cause the other person to give up his or her view. With art, different views can be join in harmony (or aesthetic dissonance) without winners or losers; without one experience being right and the other being wrong. Art has the power to move conversations beyond a zero-sum game.

Finally, what makes tools of art so important is that they require us to make our dreams tangible. Just as God entered into human flesh to communicate with and transform the world, so too, bringing imagination into the stone of a sculpture, or the actors on a stage makes something comprehensible, something that cannot simply be ignored or forgotten. Imagination in physical form inherently changes the world because it is a part of the world that has been changed.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Bishop Beats Me to It!

The bishop of the Oregon Synod, Rev. David Brauer-Rieke (under whose auspices I serve), has preempted my plans to turn collaborative art into worship!

This past week he led a vespers service at Holden Village (a hippie Lutheran village in a remote area of the Washington Cascade Mountains above Lake Chelan that is almost entirely self-sustainable--seriously, they have their own mini hydro power-plant, farms, and complex waste/recycling/compost system). I've compiled the following from emails that he sent me along with pictures:

"Last night we did Vespers. I [Bishop Dave] had this great idea a few months ago of a kind of artistic/poetic improve deal where Sandy (Roumagoux) would do some drawing live during the service and I would kind of vamp on a biblical theme (the Holden theme - clay jars.) It seemed like a good idea at the time. So, Sandy brought charcoal and a huge role of paper. We had one of the Mavericks [a type of staff worker] make her a 4' x 16' easel (two sheets of plywood end to end on 2x4s) and sort of took over the place. We also found a cool guitar player, so for about 15 minutes - 4 segments of 3 minutes each - he played, I made up poetry on the spot (sort of tone poems, more like the Desmond Tutu poem - repetitious, staggered words) and Sandy drew four images.
"The service began with a very brief explanation of what we were going to do - the four themes idea around the Holden summer theme, earthen vessels/treasure. I had Sandy take a moment to explain the "gesture drawing" that she was going to do. It is a very fast, emotive sketching - suggestive more than precise--it is not necessarily intended as a performing art, in fact it can be rather personal. She was nervous about attempting it in front of a large audience (unnecessarily, of course!!). Then the congregation stood for a hymn (noting the gift of artists, poet, painter, hymn writer) and then they sat for our "homily."

"Sandy and I had plotted out an idea, variations on "We have this treasure in earthen vessels." First was we being the earthen vessels, human beings, creatures of clay - and the treasure was just life. Sandy sketched me during this first part.

"Secondly, the idea was that our earthen vessels were cracked and we are losing the treasure - sin/fall, whatever. I rambled on about putting a mock treasure in plastic jugs or 55 gallon barrels. Sandy sketched an image of a man dropping pots in front of him. I believe it had some relation to a old painting.

"Thirdly is was scripture scrolls (the treasure) in clay jars - Qumran, the synagogue. Sandy sketched a bunch of pots.
"Finally the "earthen vessel" was the Church, a community of living, clay, stones and the treasure was the Gospel proclamation. Sandy sketched a parade of people, led by a woman carrying a pot on her head. Each segment was three to four minutes long. Anthony (the guitar player) played different music to go with the mood of each segment. I had some sense of interplay with Anthony - eye contact and inter-relationship. Sandy says she could hear my poetry and that was cool for her.
"When we were done there was a closing hymn, prayer and dismissal so the congregation was fairly passive in a physical sense, but I think mezmorized in another sense.

"As I had hoped, Sandy sketching live on a 4'x 16' easel was pretty engaging. The congregation had very little eye contact with me. When I would look up (which was not often) they were all glued on Sandy.
We were all really nervous and felt out of comfort zone, but people REALLY seemed to like it. We've been getting a lot of positive feedback. Nadia (that tatooed pastor) said afterwards that she totally forgot to get her knitting out she was so enthralled. (Tonight she was knitting and looking bored again.) So that was fun, but I'm glad its done. Tom, one of the directors, said that in the 1000s of vesper services he's been in here at Holden he's never seen anything like it. (That was a compliment.)"

Friday, July 17, 2009

Action/Adventure Serial Storytelling

Mainstream theatre has the same basic problem as mainline Protestant churches: The constituencies of both are composed primarily of the aging white middle-class. Action Adventure Theatre in Portland has been making waves because it has developed an incredibly loyal fan-base composed primarily of hip young 20-somethings. Yesterday I met with co-founder Devon Granmo and asked him about what contributed to the company's success.

Action Adventure creates a unique form of theatre. They take for their subject matter the lives of hip 20-somethings living Portland. Instead of writing out whole scripts, the writers create detailed outlines of what happens to the characters, and then let the actors improvise the dialogue. They rehearse each show for a month, so the actors aren't making up their dialogue cold, but Devo said that it still retains a lot of the energy and spontaneity of improv without digressing into meaningless humor just for the sake of laughs (though there is still a lot of randomness and humor.

The other unique feature is that Action Adventure does their productions in a serial format. Each production features the same cast of characters and picks up where the last episode left off. Like a good television series, there's a dramatic arc within each episode, but the season also has an arc which makes you want to come back and see what happens to your favorite characters. Each episode runs one weekend and a season lasts a month.

The company saves money by performing their shows on the set of another theatre company. This means the plays go up at 10:30pm, which is fine for the demographics (although they also have a loyal following among some folks in their 60ies). They have a Sunday Matinee at 8:30pm.

Finally, Devo suggested modestly that the company is so successful because it's made up of young 20-somethings who are all very cool. He has a point. People love to feel that they are part of a hip, attractive, and interesting circle; live theatre in a serial format by and about this type of people offers audiences the sense of being part of the in-crowd.

Another interesting thing that Action Adventure does outside of its serial production is the "Inspired By" events. Prior to these events, fans of Action Adventure are encouraged to write short (less than a 100 words) stories. The stories are then handed over to artists of a variety of genres (theatre, painting, music) who are asked to interpret and present the stories in whatever manner they might wish. The work is then presented at a fundraiser.

The church year is also structured in a serial format: the liturgical calendar. However, each week is rarely designed to build to the next in a dramatic manner that leads to climaxes (Christmas, Easter). This is an instance where historically dominate forms of worship actually match up with what I'm encountering in the arts world--most churches just aren't using the serial nature of the church year to its full potential.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Art as Medicine

Throughout my travels I've been struck by how often art is used to benefit marginalized members of society: youth, the homeless, the incarcerated, the hospitalized, the elderly. These are groups without access to "normal" forms of self expression and institutions of societal and political control. It makes sense that organizations that want to empower these groups use art to give them voice and a sense of identity.

But why is it that the non-marginalized population of our society does not make art to give themselves voice and identity? With the exception of professional artists, it seems that most healthy middle-class adult Americans do not create art, and even fewer do so in community or put it on public display. Very rarely have I come across art organizations serving well-adjusted and financially stable adults. From a Marxist perspective, this group of people as a class has its self-interest well looked after by bourgeois media, cultural, and political institutions; they do not need to make art, professionals do the privilege-maintaining work for them. But from a spiritual perspective, this group is nearly as disenfranchised as any other. Average Americans rely primarily upon Hollywood to tell stories for them. They do not tell their own tales, but watch those of corporations and hope that one is close. Surely this must be deadening for the soul.

Furthermore, if hospitals find art to be healing, prisons find art to be restorative, and youth programs find art to be empowering, why is a daily regiment of art not as trendy as a daily dose of high fiber? Is art only to be used in instances of trauma, like emergency room surgery? Or could art be viewed as preventative (and maybe even transformative) medicine, the regular use of which leads to healthier living.

Anyway, enough rant based on my envy of all the fun kids' art activity at which people give me dirty looks when I try to join in.

An organization in Portland that is doing amazing work with street youth is p;ear.
p;ear has a drop-in center in the Pearl district where homeless and low-income youth can hang out, make a variety of art, and get healthy (they even make a point of trying to do organic and fair-trade) meals. A unique feature of p;ear is that the view that for street youth to become "productive members of society," they first have to encounter a healthy version of that society. For many street youth, the larger society only interacts with them through the contexts of abuse, drugs, and prostitution. p;ear tries to expose the youth to a different perspective on that society. First, they model it within their institution by providing a safe, reliable, and non-judgmental environment. Recycling, composting, using organic food, and having organizational transparency with the youth are also part of this modeling of what healthy society looks like. As compared to many other shelters in the area, p;ear has giant windows without bars or coverings that look out onto the ground floor of the street so that the youth can observe the daily activity of the city from a safe space. Finally, they take the youth to high culture venues to show them that they are worthy of such places.

p;ear is also planning to set-up a coffee stand with which they can train "pearistas" and give the youth employable skills.

A large open gallery to display the youth's work; the space is also rented out and serves as a major source of income

A band practice room. It was designed to be sound proof, but apparently its not quite.
There's actually a lot more to p;ear, but because it was full of youth, I couldn't take pictures.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Imago Dei Community

One of the major reasons why I decided to come to Portland was to visit Imago Dei Community. Imago Dei is a church with an interesting mix of theology, art, and social engagement. Two of their core values are "authentic community" and "worship and beauty," which is what originally caught my attention. They take very seriously the idea that "the creator God has displayed his wonder for all of us to see..."and have an active arts ministry that occasionally features people actually painting on stage during worship. They combine this with a heavy service emphasis on serving the city of Portland (currently they are major supporters of the Love Portland project and regularly meet to pray for the city). They also root themselves in a verbally inspired and infallible understanding of scripture that leads them to keep women from the highest levels of church leadership.

Within five years of their start in Portland, they've gained a weekly attendance of over 1400, the vast majority of whom are under 40.

I visited their Sunday worship this week and met yesterday with the Pastor of Arts at the church's Art's Loft located in the trendy Pearl District. Here's a few thoughts from my experience:

Imago Dei does not have its own building, instead, it uses a high school on Sundays and a variety of house groups throughout the week. Because they are located literally inside the school, they are aware of its community's needs and choose to actively support it--such support not only creates goodwill and builds relationships, but often also supports the community (for instance, they installed a new sound system in the assembly hall, which the school uses during the week). Also, because they do not have to maintain a building or pay a mortgage, they can channel more of their funds into staff, of which they have a huge amount. This let them build more meaningful relationships with more people than one or two pastors could ever do. Relationships are further strengthened by their network of home communities. These home communities meet on a weekly basis in people's houses; people are encouraged to attend the community in their neighborhood and not divide into demographically homogeneous groups. In these intimate settings people get the opportunity to really share what's happening in their lives and get immediate support, as well as having access to the views and experiences of people from a wide variety of ages and backgrounds. If someone mentions a concern or a crisis in one of the home community meetings that needs to be referred to a pastor, there is a system in place to do so, instead of hoping that somehow the pastor finds out through the grapevine.

In terms of art, Imago has a large mix of professional and amateur artists. The Pastor of Arts talked about both allowing the professional group space to meet and talk as professionals separate from the rest of the community, and finding ways for people of all skill levels to share their art together. One of the ways in which Imago is facilitating the mingling of artists is through their "Grid Show." They made an open invitation to the people in their community to cover a 1ft sq tile with whatever they wanted on the theme of "touch." The pastor was clear that the tiles did not have to be explicitly Christian, but he did encourage people to make the creation a spiritual practice. At first there was some hesitation among people who were not professionals to make a tile, but as more and more tiles were brought in, they inspired other people to try to make their own. Currently 50 tiles are exhibited in the Loft.

Imago also offers classes at their school of theology. Classes can both be for people who want to learn to make art (there was recently a course on Photoshop), as well as for people who are already making art (troubleshooting for Macs). The pastor says that in all of these classes (as well as in occasional sermons) he tries to communicate the idea that our creativity is a gift from God--a gift that when developed, can be given as an offering in service to both the divine and our neighbor.

I was disappointed not to see any active art-making (aside from music) in the service that I attended. When I asked about this, I was told that having someone try to create a painting in 30 minutes on stage often became distracting, and people had a tendency to spend worship critiquing the art. The comment brings up some excellent issues about performance and quality that I will have to contemplate as I try to shape worship around creative expression.

Currently, Imago integrates art into worship in more subtle ways. As people express talent in various areas, the Arts Pastor puts them to work on discrete aspects of the worship to be completed ahead of time. For instance, a graphic designer creates the slides on which the music is projected. Poets write prayers using language and imagery taken from the daily lives of the parishioners (which replaces a lot a pastures and sheep with asphalt and hangovers). It's not a terribly new model for art and worship, but it does allow people to express their art in their own terms, instead of requiring it to fit Roman era aesthetics.

Check out some of the art that members in the community are making.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Art Drive!

Several folks have been asking about my newly acquired transportation. As such, I've created a quiz.

Which of the following vehicles (all of which have been part of my travels) is mine?






If you guessed E), you're correct! It's a two-door Honda Civic with a manual transmission.

A) and B) were buses used at the Network of Ensemble Theaters national summit to transport people to plays.

C) is a van that I passed each day on my way to the NET summit

D) is a car owned by the director of Children's Healing Art Project, an organization that uses at with sick children at hospitals. The car is taken to various fundraisers where people donate a dollar to paint it. The director then drives it around (and yes, it has gotten very heavy through the layers of paint).

Friday, July 10, 2009

Random Thoughts from Theatre

Play builds community: I've spent a lot of time this week trying to figure out how to fit the content that I want into what I'm learning in this theatre workshop. But the other day Michael Rohd (artistic director of Sojourn and workshop leader) commented that playing builds community. I realize he is right, especially with theatre play. Playing in general requires people to acknowledge one another, to communicate with one another, to enjoy each others' presence. Play that asks people to create a story or an image together goes even farther. In these games you share a common goal which requires the cooperation the people you are playing with. If the game involves improvisation, you must listen closely to the other people, be willing to change in response to whatever they say, and trust that they in turn will react to your statements. Laughing together may often be more profound than praying or philosophizing together.

If theatre is a combination of oral and physical performances, it seems that historically it has primarily been the oral performance which is recorded and preserved for future generations (that is to say, the script). Physical movement is left to each new production to imagine in totally new ways. Must this be so? Why couldn't physical movement such as blocking or choreography be preserved and each production insert new words to fit their context? It seems through time the words people use change, but the basic motions which our bodies go through always stay the same.

Sojourn does a lot of theatre that is done in non-traditional locations and/or is interactive. One of the things they talk a lot about is how people are invited into an experience for which they may not have any clear notion about the social rules or expectations. They make a point to "articulate a contract" with the audience about what the company will do and what they will ask of the audience. This is done in their promotional material and through instructions throughout a performance. But a large component is also setting the mood of the event prior to the beginning of the performance. How do churches articulate a contract with parishioners about what is expected of them, not just with instructions printed in the bulletin, but the whole mood of the event? How do churches that follow non-traditional models of worship communicate what will be expected to newcomers?

Another technique that Sojourn uses frequently is having small groups within the company create work separately, and then having the different groups watch each others work. After watching each others' work, they then are asked to take elements from other people's work and either incorporate it into their own or expand it into something new and larger. This means whatever final product is eventually produced, it contains components imaged and shaped by everyone in the ensemble. Thus the work is simultaneously created by each individual and the community as a whole. It is seems like this could be a useful model for understanding scripture, both how it was created and how we can use it today.