LEAPpost 4: workshop performance

Riding the bus downtown for Saturday’s LEAP rehearsal, I had one of my “fall in love the world” moments. It’s one of those unexpected endorphin rushes, or caffeine pops, or God caressing. I looked around the bus at the different shapes and colors of humans on board and felt kinship. And I was reminded again of Wim Wenders’ extraordinary film Wings of Desire, in which angels sit invisible next to subway riders and listen.

I think LEAP had something to do with it too, and during my check-in that morning I shared with the group that I felt that there was something profoundly important about what we were doing. Beyond the enjoyment of watching actors create scenes from nearly nothing, the amusement of seeing us commit to occasionally absurd choices, or the poignancy of our sad ones, there is something spiritually unifying about the work. This is partly due to the cards the audience fills out, which describe secrets or unsaid things, and which propel us into the form.

But it also has to do with the absence of the playwright and director (traditional director, since Bobbi is directing us through the form). Compared with the traditional play, we lose something in terms of elegance, artistry or focus perhaps, but we gain something mysterious and unifying. When it works best – and we got a little taste of this in front of our first audience Saturday – it’s as if all of us, audience and performers alike, are creating the thing then and there. And the thing created is life itself, performed.

And this is why I am continually reminded of Quaker worship by this experience, and continually imagining ways to return to “Meetings for Theatre“, or their descendent, “Creative Worship”. What happens in conventional Quaker worship is a spiritually-driven long form comprised of personal monologues and separated by long periods of quiet. I think it would be no great leap (pardon me) to put this work in a spiritual context, teach some forms and see what happens.

Our performance was a good first step, allowing all of us to work through various degrees of terror and excitement. We did okay, with room for improvement but no train-wrecks. Afterwards, my friend Chris, who had come to be a part of the small audience, said, “It’s like church.” The comment took my breath away, speaking to my condition as he was. But now I say, amen brother.

PS: Cambridge University’s New Theatre Quarterly has published an article of mine about my Quaker – Theatre exploration. The article is called “The Paradox of Quaker Theatre.” You can read an abstract here.