A couple of weeks ago I attended a show at the Experimental Sound Studio called Collision_Theory, an improvised performance between a dancer and a musician who had never met before the day of their one and only collaboration. (Our Grants Coordinator, Ben Gray, is also the Development Director at ESS, so many thanks to him for the recommendation)! The performance space at ESS is basically a tiny room with about 20 total chairs lining two opposing walls, leaving a small area in the middle for the artists. The coziness of the space created an intimacy that allowed the audience and the performers to bond, establishing a sense of community that I feel is necessary in a theatrical space. I mean, we're all at the show for basically the same reason, why not see it together?
It was a fantastic performance, and after the show my friend and I discussed how we had never quite seen anything like it before. We talked about how the dancer and the musician worked off of one another, how they listened or didn't listen to each other, the moments when one of them completely stopped what they were doing to just watch the other person, and how if you closed your eyes you could feel and hear the rhythm of the dancer by listening to his breathing, and the sound his body made when it connected with the ground. I was envious of their ability to improvise so beautifully, and made a mental note to check out some dance classes so I could move around that like too. It didn't hit me until this afternoon that I get to live that experience every single week with the Imagination Workshop. I had one of those moments where I had to stop everyone in the room from what they were doing to trumpet my revelation.
In the gym where the Imagination Workshop gathers, we are fortunate enough to have a piano, and a facilitator who is a musical improviser. Gail Gallagher, a former SPTC intern, just can't keep her hands off the piano, and most of the clients in IW can't contain themselves from dancing everywhere they go at the first sound of a musical instrument- no matter if it's Stevie Wonder, a djembe, or a couple of fingers snapping. Especially *Maria, one of our actors with Downs. She dances so liberally that we actually developed part of our last show around her ability to share her uninhibited moves. Since Maria is always about 15 minutes early to class, and Gail wouldn't mind being cemented to a piano for a day, they just go for it. Today Gail asked her if she wanted something fast and fun, or slow and flowy, and Maria nodded to both of course. So Gail played an uplifting little tune as Maria stomped and fluttered around the stage, spinning and clapping her hands, mirrored by facilitator Steve Grossman (who never misses a chance to dance either). Pretty soon Maria had a whole crew of dancers trying to keep up with her.
As the music came to an end, I had a flashback to the first day I attended the Imagination Workshop, back in January, as a volunteer. Winter felt like it was just beginning, and along with that I had all those stereotypical little things in life keeping me down (I hate my job, I'm broke, who am I, what is my purpose, blah blah blah...). My first experiences of being at Esperanza are too much to add to this rapidly growing blog post, so I'll just summarize by saying that I've never felt so completely liberated and inspired and loved than in the four hours that I spent there on my first day. It goes back to creating that sense of community that I love so much. We're all just human, right?
Other than the fact that the professionals at the Experimental Sound Studio are really, really good at what they do, there is no reason for me to be envious of them. Actually, before the show started I began to get anxious and antsy from watching the dancer warm up and I didn't know why. I now realize that it's probably because when I watch people dancing and moving and stretching, I'm used to joining them, and as an audience member I have to follow certain rules. Just like at the Collision_Theory performance, here at Esperanza you can close your eyes and listen, or watch people listening- and you're a fool if you don't join in! To me, the Imagination Workshop is the safest place in the world, a creative utopia, and nobody there is just part of the audience.
* Name has been changed