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!


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.)

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!!

What Are You Waiting For?

21 Aug

We set about the work again. We set about the work, again, of building and strengthening our communities and our cities. We set about the work of reclaiming our children and ourselves from lives lived passively, from lives lived watching others, from lives lived on the sidelines.

We set about the work, again, of re-imagining ourselves outside of imposed consumer identities. We imagine ourselves producers, creators, instruments of the gods. We imagine ourselves, extending beyond ourselves, moving toward “the other,” toward all others, claiming what is good and rich not only for our own good but for the common good. The greater good. We allow ourselves to actually see each other, the essential goodness of each other. We resist media-induced fear. We imagine we can build more together.

Who will join us in this work? Can you who bemoan and deride the fleeting brilliance of the so-called Occupy movement now take up its mantle in your own work? Or do you find it easier to point and laugh at what you perceive as “failure”?

Can you see that Occupy could only ever be a wake up call? Now it’s on us.

So here in Syracuse we’ve taken to singing. We’ve taken to playin’ instruments, loudly. We pitch gypsy tents and dress like punk-carnival freaks and say we travel through time fighting for freedom. At least once a week, and sometimes more, we act like fools and jump around like idiots.

What’s your Revival? What’s your work? Where do you shine your light? Don’t know yet?

Well I am the Dr. Reverend Ebenezer Abernathy and I run with The Sound of Freedom. And I invite you to come on and join up with us if you dare to. You’ll be amazed how much fun citizenship can be! I’d wager a bet that you’ll find yourself doing things that’ll amaze your friends and family! I assure you you’ll amaze even yourself! Your children and pets will begin to see you in an entirely new light!

Come on then! What’s holding you back now? It’s not a rhetorical question: I want to know what your excuse is. What does the voice say that keeps you from takin’ a part in this celebratory form of civic life?

Come on now, girls and boys. Come on now. Come for the fun and you might just stay for the freedom! Come for the celebration and I think we might keep you for the contemplation! Come stand up with us and we’ll make sure you get down with us!

If I haven’t said it before let me say it now — The DFR: It’s good for what ails ya! So be in touch. We’re waiting for you!


The Importance of Being Syracuse

14 Jun

A lot of people want to leave this place. It’s a post-industrial city, a rust belt city with high unemployment and one of the ten poorest zip codes in the United States. To the unseasoned eye, it looks ugly. The sky is grey a lot of the year. We get more rain than Seattle. Most winters, it snows. A lot — enough to consistently win New York’s Golden Snowball award. The city is divided in four and one learns quickly what it means to live on the South/West/North/East sides of the city. There’s racial and class division, and a real tension between the so-called “red” and “blue” state worldviews. Our lake, Onondaga, is a toxic super fund site.

(Wanna move here yet?!)

Still, somehow, Syracuse has exerted a spell on me. I continue to fall in love with the place and I continue seeing the ways in which this city and this region contain the seeds for renewal, not just for itself but for the world. I know this sounds hyperbolic but I also think it’s true.

I’m reminded of something I read last year, part of my peak oil obsession that precipitated this whole DFR idea.  The quote was something along the lines of, “peak oil is already here; it’s just not equally distributed yet.” And in relation to Syracuse, I want to say to those who would rather flee than stay, “you can run but you can’t hide.” At some point, no matter where you are, you’re going to have to deal with all the nasty things that I mentioned above: environmental destruction, loss of jobs, poverty, division, and increasingly brutal weather patterns. You probably live somewhere where these things are already happening. Maybe you’re “lucky” enough not to have to deal with them on a daily basis. You probably will, someday. 

I don’t know: maybe I’m a masochist but I guess I’d rather engage in the struggle than run somewhere where I can pretend there isn’t one.

I said in a sermon a few weeks back that I get frustrated when I meet assistant professors and med students new to the city who introduce themselves by saying something along the lines of, “Yeah, it’s better here in Syracuse than we thought it would be but we’re probably heading back to [fill in the blank].” And then in the sermon I rattled off a list of what I called “the bubble bath” cities because of how relaxing and enjoyable they are for people who call themselves progressive: “Amherst, Ashland, Asheville, Austin, Boston, Boulder, Brooklyn, Chicago, Ithaca, The City, North Hampton, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle.” As I said in the sermon, I’ve never been a fan of bubble baths. I find them a little boring. 

I’ve never been anything but proud to say that I was born and raised blue-collar. My Dad was a chain smoking boilermaker. When he came home from work, he smelled like grease and smoke. I want to work. I like to work. And while I don’t pretend that there’s any American city that doesn’t need people fighting the good fight on behalf of those who find themselves on the nightmare side of the American Dream, I can guarantee you that every one of those Bubble Bath cities has plenty of people there already doing the work. It’s places like this, like Syracuse — these ugly, blue-collar cities — that could use a few more people sticking around to contribute to the kind of critical mass needed to uplift a place. 


The Revival on Sunday night was a culmination of sorts. We hit our stride for the first time after 9 months of trying. A birth, I suppose. It wasn’t perfect but it was damn good. We sounded good. We looked good. We added some social comedy that worked. The invitation to testify produced just the right kind of aspirational testimony from the audience. And Ebenezer finally found the right balance between civic freedom and spiritual freedom. And between levity and weight. Between sincerity and self deprecation. I’m clear now that the whole message, if we’re to adhere to the origin story, has to find its footing in the spiritual/democratic philosophies of the Haudenosaunee. These contain the seeds of renewal. The seamless marriage of the civic and the personal, of individual responsibility and a concern for the common wealth, of the political and the spiritual — this is a path forward. From many we are one. Freedom for all. Spirit in all things.

I asked the congregation the other night, after making note of the Great Peacemaker’s power to bring five warring tribes together: who’s in your tribe? How big is your tribe? Who is in and who is out? I do believe that human beings want to come together. The impulse to be separate is a perversion, something resulting from some deformity or abuse, whether of gene or mind or body or spirit. I believe the natural impulse of a healthy human being is to be in communion, to belong, together. And I believe that there is a path toward saving this planet and toward saving ourselves in the face of gross, pointless, and selfish accumulation, in the face of environmental degradation, in the face of a politics of cruelty, and in the face of a mind numbing war apparatus.

That path is one upon which all life is considered sacred, and where responsibility is asserted not only for ourselves, our families,and our communities but for the seventh generation after ours. It is a path of “attachment citizenry” that demands we bring our wayward neighbors, friends, and citizens closer to us, not hold them further away from us, when they “act out,” when they succumb to the impulses of their conditioning. It is a path upon which we have the capacity to see all as one — to see all as members of the same tribe.

The language of civic freedom is simply a codified version of the language of true human freedom, which is to say an instinctual and primal desire to be in our natural state. We are free, but we experience our freedom only insofar as we recognize and honor the inherent freedom in all. And further, to see all in ourselves and ourselves in all. Without the ability to expand the tribe until all belong in it there can be no experience of freedom and there can be no peace. This is our message from Syracuse, Central New York, Onondaga Nation.

From many we are one.

And thus concludes DFR: Season One. We’re taking the summer off to work on a few things. Next show is at Feel the Pulse of Syracuse: Saturday August 25th, 5-7pm, somewhere outside, near Armory Square. Hope to see you there.

Have a great summer, everyone. Peace!!


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