The Open Choir

Since 2013, The Great Globe Foundation has been partnering with the Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards on a new/old performative art called The Open Choir.

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 30 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 Open Choir is an exploration of what we consider a forgotten art form, which allows for fluid and active participation by all who attend. It is a free, open even that questions are assumptions about community, belonging, identity, diversity, cultural appropriation, and performance. This unique, non-sectarian dynamic meeting of people through songs of the African diaspora, carefully led by a trained, core group of artists, allows people to come in contact with each other and with themselves through sons, dance, and interaction within a participatory performative context. Participants, coming from different backgrounds, co-create an artwork beyond cultural differences, catalyzing a shared space of meaningful recognition and interaction.

This new/old performative art disrupts the common western notion of a choir. Within the Open Choir, songs begin around the participants. People are faced with choices: to witness, to move into the space of action, to follow remaining to the side; to find their own way to be present and support the work of the others. The songs themselves, their rhythms and melodies help to initiate engagement. The effect of the event encircles everyone in attendance, while the core group aids participants by articulating the space and leading the songs, actively building the evening together in present time.

This collaboration has included partnerships with West Park Presbyterian Church in New York city, Andrew Freedman Home in the Bronx, The Hippodrome Theater in Florida, Mt. Pleasant United Methodist Church in Gainesville, FL, and the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA).