24 hour play
What began as a “why not?” turned very quickly into an epic adventure into theater work, artistic visions and spiritual coincidences. Prime had caught my interest earlier in the year with a show called Classified, a 24 hour conspiracy festival, with an amazing Sleepy Kitty poster. There was something about it that made me take notice. A conversation with Sonia from Kismet informed me that the passion of her friend Andrea (artistic director) was indeed what I thought, and pushing the edge of the theater of Now. So I signed up for production assistant and simply waited till the Friday evening at 6 pm. This production was called
PRIME’s ‘The Identity Show: a 24-Hour Liberty Festival’
We all met at the Ethical Society of St Louis in Clayton. As the small production crew talked and I explained how I found Prime through Andrea and the Psychedelic Society which always seems to come up. A woman told me I had to meet her wife for we would “get along”. The basement circle of chairs was filled with unique and diverse voices. Writers, directors, actors and those of us who could do all three but loved the technical side of theater. A very animated woman sat next to me who seemed at once familiar in a very strange way. We joked about rolled cigarettes looking like joints and before we knew it, we had established she was the wife I was meant to meet.
Kyle our leader for the adventure spoke an inspirational speech that brought tears to my eyes. He spoke of coming out as gay on stage in front of family members who were ignorant to such “city matters” and he later learned the effort had made an impact on some of the those in the crowd and healed both himself and the perceptions being gay in a changing world. It was to be the central theme, that Art could have a way to speak to what was special, unique and shift the perspective of the world, if even by a little bit.
This was story telling with a purpose, storytelling with love.
“PRIME explores the depths of our varying personal identities and where those intersect with the American ideals of life, liberty, an the pursuit of happiness in this provocative show. Plays will examine queer identity, gender norms, and the divide between the self we present to the world and the one we live in private moments. Visual artists will create a gallery of diverse art to accompany the plays and further explore the collision and merging of personal identity and public freedom.”
The Writers and Directors were randomly given each other and the topic of Identity with which to work, then they selected actors by a random pull from a “hat”. My new friend jumped up and down in excitement after getting both her wife and cousin, I would find out later it was her first time writing a play, the epic scope of her story could fill a page.
A film crew from cable access did not have a decent shot during the excitement and asked everyone to recreate it. Even seasoned actors balked at the idea and without any serious attempt, a fake recreation that was unusable was created. I watched the camera man roll his eyes to his producer and I laughed at the dichotomy of “actors” pretending do something organic and natural in mechanical ways, it was then I started to fall for the act.
The writers would sit with their directors and actors for an hour and then spend the entire night writing until the 6 am deadline which was handed to a director who typed it, gave it to the actors who had half a day to learn and perform it by 7 pm that night. The production staff were the little helpers, set creators, and anything else. “Each person had a role to fill as a clog in a working mechanism that was called PRIME, which was the sum of a multiplied artistic vision of talented souls gathering under an umbrella topic for the shortest amount of time humanly possible in Theater Production.”
As the PA’s sat in massive auditorium and went over plans with the Artistic director for the decorations it was very happenstance. Space needed filled with whatever would work. The foyer was going to be an art gallery featuring the inspired pieces hanging from 3 and 4 connected doors. After saying I could provide hinges, I presented my collection of doors previously used for Dumpster Archeology.
My project was also about identity and I figured the double-sided doors could as least be seen again on one side. I went home that night and began to collect my doors. I had about 10, some lightweight closet doors and some heavy. Spending an hour fixing up damages and adding into blank spaces, it was difficult to go to sleep thinking about these ideas. The doors were artistic pieces called “the Origin of shape” and “Domestica and the Goddess” created for Strange Folk Festival. The print used in the pieces came from Edna’s folders, who was an artist who struggled with Identity.
As I lay a plan formed, a shot in the dark so too speak. If I was doing Dumpster Archeology, why not go all the way? It only made sense to use more than just Edna’s doors.
I packed that morning everything I would need and did a rough sketch of the set idea. Playing a dialogue in my mind, I knew it didn’t matter if they used the rest of the idea or not, but I had to try. Arriving on time I asked Andrea, the artistic director if I could show her my plans, then with Kyle, Andrea and Elle, the minds behind the scenes I showed them my doors and plans and they smiled saying yes.
The details of that day remain unimportant but I also discovered an old easel and mirror from my garage would be used. Every piece I needed, I had and exactly as I envisioned that night had manifested with little help from Prime’s president who got a little high with me as we spray painted the doors a different color as per request. (high off fumes that is) Then adding to the theme on the double attached doors I would add the rarely seen Maude Witthall photos on one wall, and the Mabel Fitzwater domestic items on the other.
The rest of the PA’s built the gallery, added clippings to the back of chairs, but we lacked one very important thing. The center piece, a double plywood mural of a broken arch being put back together. I recognized it immediately. Days after the Ferguson riots, artist gathered both in North City and Grand boulevard to paint the plywood hanging over broken windows. My son and I wandered the streets watching them paint.
This painting had stuck out to me and here it was, the center piece that was a untold story into it’s own years later. It arrived and my one last door was used to make it stand. Together the crew had created a beautiful place for magic to happen that told it’s own unique stories. Identity wasn’t just actors and words, but a sense of place and time.
The set was ready and we waited, I sat outside and my new friend was there, so we began to talk about her nervousness and other ideas, when i mentioned Dumpster Archeology she perked up and that is when we both knew where we had met before. She had been at Strange Folk and spent an hour listening to me talk about ghosts, Carrie Seib and the house at 2323. She had studied consciousness, Edgar Cayce and channeling so my project was a compelling story for her and I was happy to update.
The time for the performance had come and I was doing a double duty of photography for my own sake that I hoped would be enjoyed by others. Kyle opened the show and it was amazing, dealing with themes both funny and poignant. A gay couple on a bus in three-time periods, corporations as people, elite Senators hiding in bunkers, and a lesbian first date that pushed the boundary for the actors and the audience.
The play wrapped up as an enormous success and after clean up despite my lack of sleep I knew I had to go to the Cast party. Each person I talked too was an amazing individual walking hard fought lives. One of the “lesbians” in the apartment who deliberately asked to be pushed by the director, and nervously asked about the scene in which she had her clothes taken off to underwear and replaced by a dress by the other character. It was a powerful scene about what was it is a “woman” or to be “feminine” and a reminder that we are all simply ourselves despite anyone’s opinion to the counter.
I remarked that during the scene, the audience was entirely silent waiting to see where it went, but after the tender moment when she was dressed again and comments that the dress had never felt so good, was so entirely memorable and sensitive that the time period of undress was simply a device of artistic beauty. She wished her husband had been there to see it.
My new friend arrived and I was eager to share my enthusiasm for her work. We were able to talk but soon I found myself with her friends talking spirituality, psychedelics and finding a way to “be” in the world of shifting Babylonian destruction. The day before at one point, I had grabbed my tarot cards for some intuitive reason, that now it found its reason delving deep into the psyche of my fellow theater aficionados. I listened into the night and grew as a person in both a greater sense of Identity and collective roles manifesting beauty in tiny imperceptible moments of Art.
It was amazing to step back into the world of theater after a long hiatus, and while I spend the majority of it doing what I have done for the last 3 years, building space, talking about Psychedelics, and sharing the story of a new spirituality finding its way in the world. I was left with an optimism that perhaps if the Artists can present a better future through reflective inspiration, and the collective awareness can remember that we are all really One, than maybe, just maybe, we got a shot at saving the world somehow in someway that none of us can possibly imagine.
For more on PRIME go to https://www.primetheatre.org/
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