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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!

 

 

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.

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.)

One Night! Two Revivals!!

6 Sep

Tickets Available Now! 

Two New York City Revivals!
Saturday, October 6.
7 & 9pm
The Performance Project @ University Settlement

Season Two is officially underway here in Syracuse. We performed a couple of weeks back at Onondaga Nation, at The Water is Life Music Festival, a Revival to stop hydrofracking in New York State. And this past weekend, we performed at a Revival to support the Syracuse Cooperative Federal Credit Union , which is celebrating 30 years of providing economic opportunities for people that the big banks had no interest or incentive to support.

Next stop: NYC! Come for the Fun! Stay for the Freedom!!

Gallery

Origin Story

19 Jan

The D.R.E.A.(M.)3 Freedom Revival (also spelled The Dream Freedom Revival, The D.R.E.A.M.M.M. Freedom Revival, or indicated by the call-letters, DFR) is, in its narrowest sense, an itinerant band of secular revivalists (sometimes called miraculous revivalists or immortal revivalists) who have been traveling since the mid-19th century, primarily in Central New York, preaching what adherents call the Populist Canon of Freedom (PCF), an ever-expanding text that attempts to capture the Living Fire of Freedom as it is spoken, written, or expressed throughout time. In the broader use of the term, the DFR is a populist movement intended to encourage participatory democracy in the United States. The acronym D.R.E.A.(M.)3 (or D.R.E.A.M.M.M., which was more commonly used during the 19th century) stands for Dr. Reverend Ebenezer Abernathy’s Mellifluously, Melodious, and Medicative. The full name is often appended by the phrase, “of Greater Central New York.”

The DFR was the first, and is now believed to be the last, known revival company from The Great Secular Revival Movement, a highly controversial underground populist movement that ended with the mysterious disappearance of the DFR in 1866 near Suspension Bridge, New York (now Niagara). (See miraculous revivalists and immortal revivalists below.)

The DFR has always been led by “Ebenezer Abernathy,” a controversial figure of unknown origins, alternately celebrated as a visionary and reviled as a huckster and charlatan. A lengthy diary account from one Mrs. Connelly tells a story of attending the 1858 Independence Day celebration at Onondaga Lake, near Syracuse, NY:

…from the nearby thicket we heard a blast of the most thrilling music, deep drums, horns of all kinds, and pipes, too. We turned to look, somewhat startled, and saw a flash of torchlight. Suddenly the whole wood seemed ablaze with light. And then from the wood emerged a man framed in shadow, silhouetted against the fires that burned behind him. He was unusual [sic] tall and lean, and wore a bowler cocked atop his head. As he came up on the crowd, the people parted to let him through. Holding torches directly behind him were the musicians and then interspersed with them, torch holders. It was dark outside – the fireworks were set to begin – but one could tell immediately that among the crowd there were regular Christian folks as well as coloreds, and women mixed up with the men. But just as I was noting such oddity, the torchbearers suddenly burst forth in a beautiful bouquet of song. I can scarce remember the words but I keep humming that tune to myself – bah-du-bum. bah-du-bum. ba baaa du du du dum…  And I must confess to feeling today a kind of stirring and excitement I don’t recall ever having felt before.

And from a letter from a Mr. Dale to a Mr. Heinz:

… [indecipherable] of the most outrageous sort. He were Irish I think. Went by the name of Abernath. Tall and narrow as a pole but with a boomn powerfl voice. I cant say I no yet if he was a preacher or an elixser man or one of them types from the travelin variities. And to tell the truth I would have thought him to be a politician but none of it made no kind of sense anyway. He werent a preacher since he said nothing of the Lord. He didnt try to sell nothing at all either – not no elickser or cure-all. And he didnt ask no one for the vote. Plus they were all singn and dansin and talkn about freedom and how we need to be comn together for it. Sounded ok but he had darkys in it too and women of a low sort. And some of the fellas looked almost like girls in a way that gave me an odd sort of feeling. I guessd it was a kind of entertainmnt for the holiday to meke a kind of stetment about independence. But neither the justis nor any one from town says they new a thing about it. Thats what I dont figure…

Abernathy and his troupe had departed into the night before officials realized that no one had in fact authorized their participation in the July 4th celebration.

The next day, July 5th, fliers were found throughout the city of Syracuse as well as on the porches of nearby farmers. The fliers had the combined appearance of a religious tent revival and a traveling medicine show, and were adorned with patriotic imagery. “The D.R.E.A.M.M.M. Freedom Revival Invites All Citizens to The New American Revival for Freedom!! High Noon! Rounders Station!” – Rounders Station referring to a well-known former Iroquois-British trading outpost east of the city. A platform was soon discovered to have been erected there, adorned only by a large American flag. But those who arrived for an expected noontime event saw nothing but a newly painted sign, which read: “Private Land. Trespassing Forbidden. Order of the Justice.”

The remaining history of the DFR is unclear, marked by an ongoing game of cat and mouse between the troupe and local authorities throughout Central New York. Though no laws were known to have been broken by the DFR, Abernathy’s message was radical. His rhetoric expanded the notion of democracy and equality beyond anything that had by then been explicitly expressed in human history. Between 1848 and 1866, the Dream Freedom Revival was both celebrated and, to a greater extent, at least publicly, scorned for having formed what they called a “tent revival for freedom and democracy.” The reason for such intense scorn (and historians generally agree the reason the DFR was ultimately extinguished) was “The Sound of Freedom” – the performers who comprised the heart and core of the DFR. The troupe is believed to be the first peaceful, collaborative group in human history comprising men and women; blacks and whites (and eventually all races); multiple religions; multiple nationalities; varied physical abilities; and different sexual orientations (this last consistently drawing the most vociferous reactions throughout the group’s existence). Or in the words of the lone newspaper account, from the July 6, 1848 Onondaga Standard, the group “…seemed a hodge-podge of coloreds, cripples, misfits, despondents, whores, and other sexual perverts.” In short, the Sound of Freedom was made up of people considered by-and-large out of step with the mainstream of society.

Appearing just before the Civil War, at the beginning of the Second Industrial Revolution, and just weeks before the Seneca Falls Convention, the DFR provided a spirited, celebratory, but critical argument for popular democracy within a society being rapidly mechanized. It existed within a context in which the exploitation of women, slaves and former slaves, children, and laborers stood in stark relief against the idealistic rhetoric of the young nation. Thus, while Abernathy’s message of full, inclusive democracy gained little or no traction among the merchant and ruling classes, the message spread rapidly and enthusiastically among working and indigent peoples, as well as among the oppressed of all stripes. The DFR’s message was certainly threatening to the status quo and those in power, but it proved incredibly exciting and fortifying to those who saw themselves as existing on the fringes – the voiceless personages within the new republic.

After the DFR’s first-known public appearance and their unexplained absence at Rounders Station, the revival seems to have existed – and thrived – entirely underground, on the outskirts of respectable society. Reports of upcoming revivals were spread by word of mouth among servants and working people, housewives, runaway slaves, “drunks and thieves.” Somehow, people knew to show up to a particular place – a concert saloon, a barn, even a clearing in the woods – and then, at an appointed time, as if from nowhere, music would ring out and the revival would begin, characterized by a mixture of secular preaching, showmanship, and extremely eclectic music reflecting the various ethnic and racial cultures represented within the group. Events were sporadic, occurring every few months, but for over 20 years, the mere mention of the Dream Freedom Revival elicited an almost scandalous excitement among residents from Rochester to Utica, and from the Canadian border to Binghamton.

Part of what allowed the DFR to survive was the proliferation of other secular freedom revivals. From the DFR’s inception, Abernathy encouraged members of The Sound of Freedom to splinter and to create their own troupes, the better to spread the message of liberty. As he is said to have stated often: “no man [sic] can hold the franchise on freedom.” As new members swelled the ranks, experienced members broke off, most famously Abraham “Bammie” Jones and Carina “Cee Cee” Curuthers, a bi-racial husband and wife team who starred in the ill-fated but extremely popular underground revival called The Bammie and Cee Cee Hot Time/Color Blind Freedom Revival.

But with perhaps as many as 25 secular revivals crisscrossing the region, the authorities were unable to focus attention on Abernathy and the Sound of Freedom even as they recognized their central role within the movement.

Throughout the 1850s until the start of the Civil War, the “Seculars,” as they were known, proliferated and thrived, at least on an underground circuit. Some even made arrangements with their religious revival counterparts, each camp recognizing the value of the other in people’s daily lives. Often arriving in towns and cities in the same caravan, the Seculars are thought to have blended in at the religious events, closely observing the attendees and spreading word of upcoming secular revivals to those they identified as potentially likeminded. Though most revivals traveled independently, one well-known Secular – Chubby Hogpenny’s Holler of Freedom Tent Revival – was most strongly associated with the preacher Billy “Finn” Murphy with whom Chubby traveled during the 1857 summer tour of the Hudson Valley of New York. The tour was known informally as “The Unto God and Caesar Twin Bill.”

The DFR unanimously decided to disband in 1861, at the start of the American Civil War. They agreed that upon the war’s end they would meet on the shores of Onondaga Lake, the site of their first public revival. On April 16th, 1865, two days after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, longtime member of the DFR, Françoise “Fanny” Roux, wrote this:

I got to the place early this morning, just like we promised, but no one was there. Maybe they had come last week when they knew the war was over. Or maybe they were dead, I thought, or lost, in the ways so many of us are lost now. Mist came low off the lake. It was cold and beautiful. I kept thinking about what it said in the paper last night: The President is dead. The President is dead. I knew the war was over two weeks ago but I didn’t remember to come here until I heard that Lincoln had been shot.

I stood looking at the lake for a long time and then I started crying. I cried harder than I had in four years – because the war was over and because Charles was dead, and Sonny and his boy were dead, and the President too. But mostly because no one came back. I cried because I knew how stupid I was to think anyone could come back.

And then I swear it was like I was dreaming. Just like you might read about it in a story, I heard the sound of a fife coming from that same spot where we came out of all those years ago. But it wasn’t like the fifes I’d heard these many years, calling all the boys to their graves. It had a familiar sound, something I remembered. And I looked and I saw him coming out of the woods – Ebenezer! And Mr. Gladstone! And Ebenezer saw me and he was smiling and doing some funny little jig like he used to do to make us all laugh. And then before I knew what was happening we were all running to one another, laughing and crying and hollering all at once!

The surviving members of the DFR attempted to begin touring again, but found themselves beset by a weary populace and a dark national mood. Attempts to spread word of the new revivals were often stymied, resulting in a series of disrupted performances and nimble escapes from law enforcement.

The formal end of the DFR came on a bitterly cold day – January 18, 1866 – after a series of audacious public events performed in broad daylight in and around Buffalo, New York. In what was clearly a provocation (some say it was a publicity stunt to energize the movement), these highly publicized DFR events attracted a mixed posse of local, state, and federal troops, who, over the course of two days, trailed the DFR to the town of Suspension Bridge, NY, near the Horseshoe and American  (now Niagara) Falls.

What happened next is the subject of continued speculation and controversy. Wildly divergent accounts of this event claim that a) members of the DFR were surrounded in the town of Suspension Bridge, before committing mass suicide by jumping into the Horseshoe Falls; b) that federal troops gunned down all members of the DFR before cremating the bodies in a nearby maple forest; c) that members of the DFR were aided and abetted by local residents, using former safe houses of the Underground Railroad, and eventually escaped to Canada; and d) that a mixed posse of local, state, and federal troops believed they had surrounded the DFR members in a grove of maple trees adjacent to the Falls. Closing in from all sides, the troops were astounded to discover instead fifty-two wild North American Turkeys. The number fifty-two corresponds to the number of federal warrants issued against members of the DFR. No one was ever apprehended and no bodies or remains were ever recovered. What was recovered was a tattered piece of paper nailed to a maple tree, upon which was scrawled the phrase: Fortis et liber. Esto perpetua. (“Strong and Free. May it be [so] forever.”)

The terms miraculous revivalists and immortal revivalists, sometimes used to describe the DFR, refer to the claim made by adherents and historians that the same members of the 19th century troupe, having been “eternally infused with the living fire of freedom” on that cold January day, have been traveling since that time – preaching, singing, and modeling freedom, equality, and participatory democracy throughout Central New York and possibly throughout the United States.

Based primarily on one blurry photograph, believed to be from about 1905, in which a number of potential anachronisms have been identified on the clothing of troupe members, many claim that the DFR actually travels through time, lending its support and encouragement to innumerable freedom struggles, large and small. The photographic “evidence” has since been supported by documentation, the earliest dating from about 1615, which describes individuals, groups, and events which some believe are reasonably similar to the DFR.

“Sightings” have been documented intermittently but consistently since 1891-92. (See: Haudenosaunee Rebellion.) Rumors of underground revivals, led by the Dr. Reverend Ebenezer Abernathy, have surfaced into the 21st century, usually during times of social and political inequities.

Gallery

DFR Promo Video

28 Oct

Thanks to Syracuse University graduate student in film, Janny Crotty, for putting together this short video. Lots of work to do now that we’ve gotten one performance under our belts and can see what we have. As the video attests, we’ve got plenty of energy and a good concept. Now we need to figure out how to find the time and energy to build a solid structure for dialogue and action. That will be the challenge moving forward.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xf1WEqffQIU

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