The Revival Dream

 

Since its foundation in 1986, the Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards has been a base for research into the actor's craft, and what the world-renown theatre practitioner and researcher, Jerzy Grotowski, referred to as Art as vehicle: the actor's work on him/herself. The current work of the Open Program (one of the two teams active at the Workcenter) is seeking to bridge this research to wider social realities. Seeking to discover the nucleus of theatre, the moment of true contact between human beings, we ask: what else can the shared work of this art be a vehicle for? What are its intrinsic and social potentialities? For 29 years, the Workcenter's praxis and research has been articulated from the practical basis of a research on ancient songs of the African and Afro-Caribbean diaspora. Since 2007, the Open Program, a team of international performers directed by Mario Biagini, has been tracing a new branch of this research. They are exploring and developing old African-American songs of the U.S. South, which arise from within the dismal legacy of slavery as vehicles for remembering, healing, and nourishing the indestructible strength, dignity, resilience, and creativity of the human spirit.

 

The two Workcenter teams are often invited to prestigious institutions worldwide for residency programs that combine performative presentations and practical pedagogy. At a 2013 residency at Yale, the Open Program team encountered several African-American communities in New Haven, with whom these old songs catalyzed powerful, living ways of communal meeting and contact. Deeply moved by this encounter, Biagini determined to further pursue the possibilities of meeting with various communities in the U.S. Thus, in the winter of 2014 the Open Program launched a completely self-produced two-month program of performances, workshops, and meetings in NYC.

 

Open Choir sessions were initiated at West Park Presbyterian Church: weekly meetings, open to all, where people can explore the work on songs by direct participation. A Seed Group then grew out of this larger, more fluid group, as an ensemble of NYC-based individuals who desired to continue exploring this effort together. The Open Program also had the opportunity to meet, perform, and sing with various communities in the city: with especially meaningful encounters with the African-American and Nigerian congregations of the Church of St. Augustine Our Lady of Victory in the Bronx, where they performed their newest piece, The Hidden Sayings, and met and sang with the African-American Choir during rehearsals and even during their Sunday service. These fruitful meetings and experiences of the winter project, dubbed the Workcenter/America NYC Adventure, in turn gave birth to a new, powerful, and ambitious dream, currently called the NYC Revival Dream 

 

This project will function as a catalyst for drawing people together into real community through performance, nourishing the seeds that have already appeared in our encounters. Through work with the Seed Group, the Open Choir, the churches, choirs, community youth groups and community elders, we want to continue to rediscover, reinforce, and strengthen the commonalities of humanity and humanness that we discover in sharing and recognizing in each other, with the awareness that art can be a vehicle for better living and being together. In many underserved, living communities there exist thriving performing competencies and abilities that can empower youths and elders alike with a new sense of the value of their own deeply rooted and articulated culture. Thus, singing together, sharing our work, our desires, and our histories can activate the ever-present potentialities and resources towards a better way of living.

 

The NYC Revival Dream will span several years, with repeated visits of the Open Program, working with communities and churches throughout the city, on the basis of our newest piece, The Hidden Sayings, as the material for our collaboration. Together, we will create a fluid structure that will include participation by community members of all ages in performances to be presented in affiliated churches of different denominations, and a culminating presentation at St. John the Divine. This final event will bring our many collaborators together in a major Revival-like event of celebration and healing through our combined efforts.

 

In the current phase of this project, we will return to NYC in summer 2014, with a number of related objectives and activities: reconnecting with the communities we already met in Manhattan and the Bronx; making new contacts with churches in Harlem, Brooklyn, and Queens; holding Open Choir sessions; and working with the Seed Group, including individual proposals for the long term of the Revival Dream. We will also be teaching, as well as organizing and fundraising for the long-term project. Finally, at the conclusion of this month-long program, we will invite our collaborators to join us in a practical exploration of songs as tools of human interaction and mutual acceptance in a lively Symposium. We will explore the ways in which these powerful artistic and human tools, the songs of the South, gifted to us by the life and fortitude of generations of anonymous slave artists, can catalyze new communities and revive our sense of ourselves and one another within our contemporary society. The Symposium's first evening will invite an open-forum discussion among the various participating artistic and religious communities; while the second evening, will continue this dialogue along with invited speakers whose work is integral to the NYC Revival Dream project.

 

We will continue the work of the Revival Dream in successive visits in the fall and winter of 2014-15 and beyond. Our labor will be dedicated to building a living community based on artistic and human values beyond dogmatic and other boundaries and dislocations; where spiritual depth and a sense of belonging and community can be sustained, built on shared practice and needs. In this process, the performing arts can serve as a means of revealing creative forces, capacities, competencies, cultural tools, and riches present within individuals and communities, dismantling constructed “boundaries” and empowering ourselves and others with means and opportunities to make a meaningful difference in the world in which we live, today.