A young man silently passes a young woman on the mat. This pantomime repeats for several iterations. As each iteration occurs, the young man shows more and more interest in the young woman. She increasingly shows frustration and tries to create distance.
It takes me a while, but I realize I am in the midst of the rhythms of urban dwellers who have regular schedules and who start noticing the patterns of other interesting humans.
At each pass back and forth on the mat, the man tries to entice the woman into an interaction while she rebuffs his advances.
A shrill bell dings.
The actors change to a new scene.
The young man starts the poem “Ascension” by Benjamin Benne.
“the heart is in the money
the veins are in the fibers
but there is no blood
so is there a heart at all?
the tongue is in the concrete
the taste buds in the grit
but there is no flavor
so is there a tongue at all?”
I am fully enthralled and in the moment. I am tasting the urban grit. I am visualizing the urban environment in portraits the actors and the poet are so richly creating.
At regular intervals, the shrill bell dings and the actors shift to a new scene and the next stanzas of the poem.
There is a break while the actors rearrange the rectangular mat by 90 degrees. The next stanzas of the poem are a counter point to the machines of the city as they climb into the trees and get away from the voices of the machines.
“and I run toward the trees
up up up
away from the machines
up up up
toward the trees
I come to the place
the high place
the quiet place
no voices of machines hear
The shrill bell dings.
The actors rearrange the mat to the city scape.
The voices of the machines return.
As the piece finishes dramatically and the audience melts away, I am riveted to the floor. I can’t move as the sounds of the other artists’ exhibits and the musicians wash over me.
In these short ten minutes, I’ve experienced 25 years of what I’ve missed by visiting the Seattle urban scape for work during the day while retreating home every evening to our “high place” on Bainbridge Island.
As I slowly rotate in place and look more deeply at the art installations and reflect on the short plays downstairs in the theater, I see 21 stories. Each of the artists created in their medium a new work of art – sculpture, painting, poetry, plays, and interactive displays. Each story was complete in itself.
Yet, there was a powerful narrative being built, piece by piece, experience by experience around the theme of gentrification at this collaborate:create.
Gentrification, noun, “the buying and renovation of houses and stores in deteriorated neighborhoods by upper- or middle-income families or individuals, thus improving property values but often displacing low-income families and small businesses.”
What I viewed as progress all these decades has a mirror image – gentrification.
Here in this crucible of the live arts, the gentrification narrative cut through the bloviators and talking heads of mass media and politics to help me deeply, viscerally see the unseeable of my daily life.
Thank you to Benjamin Benne, Sherri Brown, Anthony Phillips and Emma Watt for your powerful performance of the dramatic poem “Ascension.”
Thank you Wesley Fruge for your deep commitment to the Live Arts. Thank you Katherine James Schuitemaker for your continuous prodding to help me experience the fringes and thought provoking edges of the Live Arts.