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Season Three!

11 Oct
What Democracy and Community Can Feel Like!

What Democracy and Community Can Feel Like!

Change!

6 Sep

CHANGE is in the air as we begin our 3rd season agitating for freedom and participatory democracy here in Syracuse. New music, new partnerships, and new people coming together with passion and intelligence to rebuild our amazing city!

Our first Revival is at 7:30pm on Friday, October 4, at Plymouth Church in Syracuse. We’ll be joined by the Syracuse Community Choir and guest preacher, Dr. Barbara Ransby. The topic will be Education in a Democracy. This celebration will be part of the national conference of Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life.  Join Us!

Let’s start this season of change with a remix of DFR’s signature number, “Change.” What a powerful new ranchera section by our own Carolina Kim Tihanyi! Thanks to Jocko and moresound315 for their consistently incredible work!

End-of-Season Video

12 Jul

A new video for the “about” page. Thanks to Mark Alhadeff at North Seven Productions in Brooklyn, who shot and edited this; to Janny Crotty and Holly Zahn for extra footage; and Imagining America and New York Council for the Humanities for funding it!

Hope you Enjoy!

We The People…

18 Apr

FrankenCorpNext Up: We The People Move to Amend. A Revival to Explore “Corporate Personhood.”

Details: Thursday, April 25, 7pm. Grace Episcopal Church. 819 Madison St., Syracuse.

Very exciting times at DFR, as we approach our last full Revival of our second season! Unbelievably, we will have managed since September to perform 8 times, with 7 full-scale revivals, all on a different theme. That’s 14 performances and 11 full Revivals in our two year history. Excuse us for saying so, but given the fact that every single show is unique and tackles a different theme — and that we are comprised completely of volunteers from the community — this is impressive!! What many of us find very exciting is the way that the twin engines of our company — art and activism — take turns driving our evolution. The last several revivals have seen both our art and our activism take significant leaps forward. Next week will be no different. Get ready for some giant puppetry and some cool FX! And yet another original song. But in addition to more high-level aesthetics, we will also be continuing to refine our post-Revival dialogue in a way intended to move us into concrete actions around specific issues.

As has been written on this site, our shows this year are being sponsored, in part, by the New York Council for the Humanities. One of NYCH’s board members was sent to our “Daughters of the Harvest” Revival in March to assess and report on what we were doing. Here’s what that person had to say (with names and email addresses excluded of course):

***
Dear [NYCH],
My experience last night, March 24, at the D.R.E.A.M. Freedom Revival performance and community discussion was outstanding.  If it’s possible for an event to be both exemplary and innovative, this was it.   I’m copying organizer/performer Dr. Kevin Bott, who deserves a lot of credit for making a four-hour evening engaging from start to finish.
As you recall, the NYCH funded a series of four performance/discussions by the DFR (Dream Freedom Revival), which purported to use theatrical performance as an entry to community discussion of social issues.  This one was focused on women’s rights and empowerment, in partnership with the Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation.  It was co-sponsored by us and by Imagining America (a national program based at Syracuse University).
The event met all of our criteria with verve. The “humanities” content was presented as a tent revival-style performance in which Matilda Joslyn Gage (portrayed by Professor Sally Wagner, who is also Executive Director of the Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation) instructs the leader of the revival meeting (played by Kevin Bott) in how men should work with women in gaining not only universal suffrage but in forming a just society in all ways.  These two characters were backed by the six-piece Freedom Revival Band and a chorus of 18 singer/performers, some of whom were regulars with the theatre troupe and some of whom were students in Prof. Wagner’s Women’s Studies course.
The event took place at Grace Episcopal Church, free for all.   The hall was packed by the 5pm start time with about 150 attendees of all ages, genders, and colors.  Through the lively performance, which included a “sermon” which was really a lecture by childbirth educator, Aimee Brill, we learned a lot about both the history and the current state of women’s rights.  The quality and energy of the performance was impressive, the humanities content seamlessly integrated.
After the performance, the hall was re-set for a communal supper of tacos and apple juice (delicious but not by any means extravagant).  Anyone who had attended the performance was welcome to stay, as long as they participated in discussion; a lively group of about 75 people stayed.  We sat at tables of 8; each table had a facilitator, who walked us through three specific questions based on the topics of the performance.   After supper and small-group discussions, we cleared the tables, created a large circle in the middle of the hall, and had open discussion, starting with reports from the facilitators and finishing with comments from anyone.  My table included a disabled veteran, an unemployed mother/activist, a retired professor and his wife, and two other middle-aged couples.
The participants for both performance and discussion were a great mix of ethnicities, classes, and ages.   Discussion was lively and focused throughout, and Kevin had to force the conversation to a conclusion at 9pm. My comments here are longer than I intended, but I really think that this event was worth describing!  We can be proud to have offered our support to this series; two more revivals are scheduled for this spring.
R.
***
Cool beans, huh? Join us next Thursday, 4/25, at 7pm! “Come for the Fun; Stay for the Freedom!” (and free coffee, tea, and dessert!)

Daughters of the Harvest

10 Mar

matilda big #6Two weeks until the second of our four (maybe five) performance & dialogue Revivals supported by the New York Council for the Humanities. Sunday, March 24, 5pm, @ Grace Episcopal Church (819 Madison St.)

This is a partnership with Sally Wagner, executive director of The Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation in Fayetteville, and 17 undergraduate students in her intro. to women’s studies class. The theme is women’s power and understanding the contemporary relevance of Gage — the most radical of the suffragists. (And really, even applying the word ‘suffragist’ to Gage is exceedingly reductive!)

It’s been a wonderful example of “engaged humanities.” The students have been the best. They are truly the content experts in the room, helping DFR to shape the message and making sure what we’re including is the best distillation of Matilda’s primary concerns. The conversations between the students, directed toward us, have been fascinating. Several of them have expressed how exciting it’s been for them to see that what they’ve been learning about some 19th century “historical figure” can actually be applied to people’s lives today. And beyond that, they were eager to see an audience wholly unfamiliar with Gage be exposed to the same learning. They are feeling like contributors to knowledge, not just consumers of it!

The Revival itself will be yet another experiment for us. With the help of Dudley Cocke, renown grassroots theater maker and consultant, we made great strides with the Ida Benderson Revival last month. The idea of DFR framing a centerpiece focusing on real people testifying about one issue has clarified and simplified a lot of what we do. Still, each show has its own creative impulse, and the community organizer (this time, Aimee Brill) brings not only her or his ideas to the table, but also the ideas of the group being featured. What Dudley imagined with us was the idea that DFR could simply do the opening song (The DFR Song), Ebenezer’s monologue, and the closing song (Change). The entire center would be dominated by the work of the community organizer and the featured group, which would vary from show to show.

The idea was that this would make things simpler and the workload would be much more evenly distributed. And in many ways that’s happened. But the unique backstory of The DFR compels us as a group to create narrative arcs into each of the shows, to fit the group within the context of the “time traveling liberationist” story. Interestingly, the simplification seems to have given us space to focus on aesthetics and our fictional narrative, which I think in turn is only going to help the overall impact of the performance.

Last month we alluded to having traveled to the future, thereby anticipating the city’s closure of the senior center. This month we’re starting back in the past, in the 19th century — actually showing ourselves in a different period for the first time — where Ebenezer is confronted with his own ignorance and arrogance attempting to be an ally to the women in his community. And after that confrontation, Ebby recedes into the background and the women essentially take the show over. It’s pretty great, especially considering how much Ebenezer had dominated the stage time until very recently. This new model is truly pushing the group into a lot of new directions, and giving a lot of folks opportunities to express who they are and to showcase their own passions.

We hope you’ll join us on March 24th.

Oh! And Syracuse’s wonderful The Mission Restaurant will be catering our post-Revival facilitated conversation at around 6:30.

Should be great! See you there!

 

 

DFR in the News

21 Feb

Recently, The D.R.E.A.M. Freedom Revival held a performance and dialogue in collaboration with the Ida Benderson Seniors Action Group. Learn about the event and the causes it promoted from this news coverage.

WAER

“Former Ida Benderson Senior Center Members in Syracuse and political theater group Dream Freedom Revival took the stage at Grace Episcopal Church over the weekend. They expressed the need for a new senior center in downtown Syracuse. WAER’s Valerie Crowder has more…” Click here to listen to the audio.  

The Stand

In “Don’t Close the Doors on Them Just Yet,” The Stand’s Natalie Caceres reports on the “jovial, quirky and message-heavy performance.” Here’s a snippet from the article:

For Mary Carr, 64, who’s a member of the Ida Benderson Seniors Action Group and was a regular face at the center before it closed, she hopes that through events like these the eventual goal of bringing back the center will become actualized — and quickly.

“You took our freedom away again from somewhere comfortable,” Carr says about what the closure meant to her and others. “This event helps to let people know that we are not gone and we are still looking for a place to go.” Although the center closed more than a year ago, she’s hopeful that soon they’ll have a new place to call home.

Mary Carr (left) speaks about the Ida Benderson Senior Center during DFR’s Feb. 16 event. Photo by Joe Rial.

Thanks to Valerie and Natalie for covering the event, and to everyone who attended!

Snow on the Rooftop…

29 Jan
Next Revival: 2/16 at 3pm

Next Revival: 2/16 at 3pm

Busy, busy times at DFR as we begin to undertake our funding partnership with New York Council for the Humanities, which is funding a 4-performance Revival + Dialogue series through September.

There may not be more here until we’re through our first one, on February 16th at 3pm, at Grace Episcopal Church in Syracuse. It’s a show we’re creating with The Ida Benderson Senior Action Group, a group of senior citizens who in 2011 were displaced by the city of Syracuse from their community center “home” of 35 years. This Revival seeks to provoke a discussion about the mayor’s actions, about ageism, and about the experiences of seniors in the city of Syracuse.

For more information, contact Kevin Bott at 315-443-8590. Hope to see you on the 16th!

Pre-Game

9 Jan

273040_284707868306686_368990414_oImagine if you will, Ebenezer Abernathy, the lanky, moustachioed freedom fighter hailing from Syracuse, New York. He is wearing modest but tight-fitting, 19th century athletic gear. He is in the meeting hall where the much-anticipated January 9th Freedom Revival is to take place, putting on as good a game face as might be hoped for from any lanky, moustachioed song and dance man.

His thinking turns to pacing, which in turn turns to jogging, and then, like Ichabod Crane if Ichabod Crane were a prizefighter, you might imagine his larger-than-life silhouette projected upon the wall as he makes his preparations to the soaring strains of an inspiring medley by John Philip Sousa and Meredith Wilson*. He is working up a sweat, getting ready to whip himself and his famed band of musical liberators into an inspirational, educational, activational frenzy!

In the shadows of the hall, he shadow boxes the forces that would relegate The People to the sidelines of History! He is ducking the corporatization of government! He is weaving from the homogenizing and destructive forces of neo-liberalism and global capitalism! He is bobbing away from the privatization and commodification of the natural world and of the common spheres where people might come to deliberate upon and decide upon their own shared fates and futures!

Ebenezer is jabbing back with some Community! He is throwing a sharp hook of Inclusiveness and Equality! He’s connecting with a body shot of Enthusiasm and Song! And he finishes with a wild, barely controlled Left-Right combination of Freedom and Justice for All!! (Oh Yes, with Two (2) Exclamation Points!!)

Oh yes, my friends. If you think you can handle it. If you think you’re ready for a Freedom Revival the likes of which you’ve likely never seen or heard before, then come join us tonight — January 9, 2013 — for The D.R.E.A.M. Freedom Revival’s “What’s Your New Year’s ReVolution?” 

Coffee! Tea! Hot Cocoa!

Free of Charge. Grace Episcopal Church in Syracuse. 7:30pm. Coffee! Tea! Hot Cocoa!

*Google it.

What’s Your New Year’s ReVolution?

2 Jan
Freedom Party Next Wednesday Night!

Freedom Party Next Wednesday Night!

Ebenezer Abernathy and The Sound of Freedom are fired up again! And we’re planning a party on January 9th, 7:30pm at Grace Episcopal Church in Syracuse. It’s a freedom party. You need to be there. We want you there. Your voice and your face need to be there so that you can publicly make yourself accountable by answering the question: What’s your New Year’s Revolution?

***

And now… the blog…

The shootings in Newtown roused me from a half-slumber I didn’t even know I was in.

This project, The DFR, started with an eye toward using art as a political organizing tool, much in the same way that El Teatro Campesino in the 60s used its physical, comedic style of people’s theater to support Cesar Chavez’s nascent United Farmworkers Union. In my mind, the DFR was going to use the celebration of Syracuse and of local community to invite people into deeper conversations and actions about, among other things: 1) a new, local, 21st century economy, including a reality check about fossil-fuel dependance; 2) resistance to the privatization of public education; 3) the loss of public spaces where people can build relationships and plan collective action across borders of difference and boundaries of distrust; 4) the assault on workers and families; 5) the increasing militarization and corporatization of our democracy; 6) And More!

Both fear and anger fueled this project. But also a sincere belief in the ability (and desire) of human beings to organize on their own behalf, with the power to disrupt and overturn oppressive systems. Of course, the history of social movements tells us this is true. Drawing from Paulo Freire and his many descendants, I subscribed to a politics of hope. I subscribed to a politics of human agency. I understood that oppressive forces are counting on people being too tired, too divided, and too dispirited to come together in common cause. Further, progressive activists, working on so many discrete fronts, and on so many issues, seem always to compete for the time and attention of their natural allies. Rather than working collectively and planning strategically about when to take action on a given issue, all are working on their separate issues, diluting the potential for impact.

Couldn’t we find a way to bring everyone together — under “the big tent” — in a way that inspired, that educated, and that called people to action?

And when I heard the news from Newtown I realized how the act of creating and performing had cooled some of the fire that was this project’s early fuel. In that moment, I felt the relative impotence of what we were doing, despite our modest local presence and effect. What especially pulled me up short was not the actual killings. (That ,of course, is a tragedy that as a father of two young children is hard to wrap my head around.) What pulled me up was the discussion I heard among friends, and even within my own house, about the danger of public spaces, including schools, movie theaters, and places of worship.

Again, it was this assault on the public and on public spaces, so similar to the assault that was happening in Wisconsin that catalyzed DFR. Like Scott Walker’s campaign to strip public employees of collective bargaining rights, this assault was fueled in part by the pathology of capitalism. More outrageously, it was also fueled by the cynical campaign that ties profit derived from the  manufacture and sale of automatic assault weapons to the 2nd Amendment. The old rage stirred in me. The feeling that if DFR was to do anything at all, if it was to mean anything at all and be anything more than a fun show, then it had to bring people together It had to invite people to tell stories together, and to see one another. It had to pull people out of their bunkers! It had to be a celebratory counter assault, on fear. It had to stand up, and invite others to stand up — in public — to the very notion that public spaces and public communion were dangerous. Or rather, to affirm that indeed public spaces and public communion are dangerous — for entrenched systems of oppression!

My wish for this new year is that 2013 be the year that the city of Syracuse claims for this generation its legacy as the birthplace of democracy. That 2013 be the year that we write and sing this city’s 21st century song of freedom, with ALL our voices singing together. In different languages and different sounds, but unified in the harmony of our shared humanity.

My New Year’s Revolution is to sing louder, to preach more passionately, and to think more deeply about our shared fates and futures. I promise to love and celebrate this city and all the people living in it. I vow to remember the words of Rosa Parks who told a young activist seeking commiseration about the grind of activism: “If you ain’t tired, you ain’t working hard enough!” (I also promise to take care of my mind, body, and spirit, and to nurture my family and friends, so that I have the support to do all the rest!)

So, like I said: Ebenezer Abernathy and The Sound of Freedom are fired up again! And we’re planning a party on January 9th. It’s a freedom party. You need to be there. We want you there. Your voice and your face need to be there so that you can publicly make yourself accountable by answering the question: What’s your New Year’s Revolution?

Two Grassroots Theater Performances This Week in NYC!

2 Oct

As anyone following this blog knows, The DFR is putting up its tent revival for freedom and democracy this Saturday night at The Performance Project @ University Settlement. 184 Eldridge St., in NYC. (See previous post for promo video and (cheap) ticket information.)

I also want to mention that I’m part of a grassroots theater performance this Friday night in NYC involving formerly incarcerated men and women. One of the pieces – A Ritual for Return — is once I conceived of and directed as part of my doctoral research at NYU. If you’re in the city, come to 66 W. 12th St, Tishman Auditorium @ The New School. The 90 minute event is free and open to the public.

Here’s the Reentry Theater Flyer with more information.

And here are….

Two very recent WBAI radio interviews – here and here –  about DFR, Imagining America, prison theater, and theater for democracy. (my part comes in at about 39:30 and 31:30, respectively.)

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