NYU Black Renaissance Noire NYU Black Renaissance Noire Volume 16.2: Fall 2016 - Page 51

Thus , even before completing my studies , I became interested in the ritual exercises of Julian Beck and Judith Molina at their Living Theatre where they produced experimental , socially provocative productions . Harassed by the government for taxes , Beck and Molina went into “ voluntary exile ” in Europe armed with Oriental mysticism , gestalt therapy techniques , and the ( Antonin ) Artaudian objective to eliminate any binary distinction between art and life . In the early Sixties , on the heels of the Living Theatre departure , I too would seek artistic refuge in Europe . As a result of being absorbed by the recondite dramatic modes of Beckett , Sartre , Albee , Pinter and the ritual stylizations of both Jean Genet ’ s The Blacks : A Clown Show and Adrienne Kennedy ’ s Funnyhouse of a Negro , I pursued a trajectory toward Peter Brook ’ s expositions on Total Theatre .
Amsterdam became the haven where I found immediate sanctuary in a spiritual kinship with three Harlemites — visual artist , Sam Middleton , choreographer , Eleo Pomare , and Song ‘ n Dance showman , Donald Jones — which supported my association with a loose federation of Dutch artists — composers , poets , painters — who conspired to alter the conventional methodologies of theatre practice in the National Theaters of the Netherlands . Included were Peter Schat , a composer-protégé of the 20th Century modernist composer , Stockhausen , Lodewijk de Boer , a Violist in the Concertgebouw Orchestra who became one of the principal avant-garde playwright / directors in the Netherlands , and the incorrigible , yet popular enfant terrible Cabarateer , Ramsus Schaffee .
Already infected by the spontaneity of performance Happenings , we eagerly set upon Peter Brook ’ s formulations for Total Theatre , constructing ritualistic projects that depended upon processing the independent elements of performance , music , text , movement , actors , lighting , and environment , so that the dramatic narrative came together , ritualistically , as a cohesive , whole . The process , while scintillating — perhaps more titillating — seemed somewhat whimsical to me at first , until I stumbled upon books on ritual exercises of African sacred systems . It occurred to me , at once , that what we were processing — and what Peter Brook had appropriated as Total Theatre — was embedded in the traditional practices of several West African sacred systems . I soon began to look into the rear-view mirror of my African American cultural history for clues of African retention that were most salient in Gospel , Blues , Jazz , and the Black Church , cultural sites that might lead to the construction of a ritual theatre mode inspired by African retention .
Though I did not grow up with any particular denominational affiliation , my pubescent curiosity led me to attend the religious practices of friends in the neighborhood , whereby I discovered the ritual practices of diverse religions . None compared to the purposeful release of spirit in the animated rituals of the Baptist churches where the orchestration of Song , Dance , and Drum elicited seemingly disparate spontaneous gestures within the congregation that collectively invited the spiritual “ presence ” of the Savior . Even more galvanic was the ame churches — where my grandmother , a Geechee from the Sea Islands of South Carolina — was a spiritual leader . As a youngster , the ritual gestures of the ame service were mystifying , requiring many years later for me to appreciate that I had shared an intimacy with an exercise in spirit evocation and spiritual epiphany that had been retained from Africa , and could easily be qualified as one of the defining social and cultural practices that undergird the aesthetics of the African Diaspora without necessarily laying claim to a mimicry of a specific African culture , yet signifying the basis for a unique world view within the Diaspora .