This was never meant to be “a show.” I never intended us to be rehearsing the way we’re rehearsing now — week after week of repetitive attempts to “get better.” This was supposed to be a church for freedom, one that regularly invited a politically hungry and typically fragmented community to celebrate and realign itself for the hard and ongoing work of democratic citizenship. It was to be a stompin’, shoutin’, arm wavin’, secular revival for freedom.
Instead, we’ve got a show. Ok, that’s fine. It’s a pleasant little show. It’s a show that has thus far been nicely received by our audiences in the way that nice theater audiences receive nicely packaged entertainment. What we don’t have is what we set out to build.
Church services aren’t overly rehearsed. Church services don’t need to reach out to the Post Standard to make sure they’ve got the right press coverage. Churches don’t delay the service if the choir hasn’t perfected the harmonies in the Hallelujah! Churches don’t keep their doors shut to sinners and seekers because they need more time to practice! No! churches preach! Churches teach! Churches do what they do! Churches don’t care about the flaws in the singing or in the music, because men and women of the cloth want their congregations walking out the doors reflecting on the sermon, feeling the good feelings of brotherhood and sisterhood, thinking about how they need to be living their lives.
And that’s what we — the DFR — say we want, too — people reflecting on the message; feeling community; aligning themselves politically. Coming together to revive their civic spirit! But we’re not focusing on that. We keep rehearsing the darn songs, again and again until they’re right. So if we’re focused on the superficialities, what can we expect of our audiences? How can we seek to catalyze action when we keep the doors shut? Right now, we’re just another commodity in the entertainment market — something we hope people will choose off the shelf from among a whole bunch of other commodities. But really, we’re not even that because we won’t even put ourselves out on the shelf! So we’re just a fantasy of a commodity, which is entirely more depressing and embarrassing than just going all in on being a commodity!
So I see now that all this has to change. We’re going to start doing the revival — regularly. At least once a month. Maybe we’ll get to once a week eventually. And we’re not going to be calling the Post Standard. And we’re not going to be printing programs. And we’re not making sure things are just so. We’re going to sing and we’re going to preach and we’re going to make what we do so alive and so connected to the life of Syracuse that the right community will start showing up. And whether it’s four people or forty people — and even if no one shows up at all — we are going to have our freedom revival, and it’s going to be real.
Don’t get me wrong. I want to be clear: I’m really proud of what we’ve done. I’m proud to be working with the great people who make the DFR. It’s amazing that an original, aesthetically unique “musical” was built in about 5 weeks by non-professional artists. It’s an incredible foundation, and it’s an incredible community of people who have contributed to that foundation. But now it needs to be built upon.
Since I dropped out of my second (and last) conservatory program in 1997, I have simply not known how to make the kind of theater that I want to be part of. I couldn’t see it. So just starting this project was a big step in the direction of making theater that Peter Brook might call both “rough” and “holy.” But now that we’ve made that one important step, it has become clear that in some very central ways this project as it currently exists is only a temporarily enlivened version of what Brook would call a “deadly” theatre. We need to take the next step and put the political and social ideals of this project before all else. The other concerns — rehearsal time, perfection, full houses, memorized lines, etc. etc. etc. — had been unconscious capitulations to the trappings of a polite, commercial, bourgeois theater that I thought I lost interest in 20 years ago. But apparently old habits die hard and until we made it I couldn’t see that we were just making, more or less, the same old thing — albeit with a little twist. It’s a vehicle that looks pretty and it’s fun to drive, but it has little under the hood that’s going to get us where we want to go.
As the new song says, The Time is Now.