Last Thursday I had spent a pretty busy day putting together a business trip to New York City, Baltimore, MD and Washington, DC. for later this week. The business part of the trip means coordinating the schedules of many people and its always tricky. Phone tag seemed to be the order of the day. The social part of the trip promises to be lots of fun with a number of trips to the theater with friends and to see friends. As I was adding and subtracting from my calendar I started thinking about the opportunity to see theater…good theater…all around the country and in many venues.
Seeing theater, whether it’s straight theater, musical theater, dance, opera, comedy or drama is a treat to be relished. Somehow there has been a hue and cry in recent years that theater is too expensive so it’s a treat the average theater-goer must forgo. But there is lots to see with wonderful casts that are affordable and there are seats in the big commercial houses that will fit the pocketbook if you are willing to buy same day half-price tickets (available in all major cities) or sit in seats other than the orchestra or dress circle. In New York, nothing is more fun than discovering a wonderful play at an off-off Broadway theater and being the first to see it before the producers take it on up to Broadway.
What about really being adventurous? After all, what is theater? Isn’t it a dynamic art form that involves the audience both aurally and visually that becomes a collective experience between audience and performer? So when Karen, of our office, invited me to a performance in her church of a group called Rhythm Village, I eagerly accepted. Rhythm Village is a drumming group featuring West African music and founded by Gabriel Harris. Gabe is not only an accomplished performer but he is an innovative educator and I was eager to see how he would combine his talents to engage an audience. What an experience!
First of all, the audience was made up of people from 2 to 82. They clapped to the beat of the African drums with a primal sense of rhythm. The little children unabashedly danced at the front of the stage only giving way when one of the performer’s choreography happened to take them off the stage and down into the audience. The audience learned the echoing chants of the African songs. They sang with a sense of joy that you can see mirrored in the face of Naby Bangoura, above. Naby is the choreographer and cultural liaison and I felt transported to another land and another place, and yet so keenly present, as I watched the masterful dancing of the troupe. The group was occasionally joined by Gabe’s wife, an exquisite dancer, who would arise from the audience to join in. This was true theater…an absolute at-one-ment between performers and audience. I am looking forward to my trip to New York this week. I know I will see good theater, but I will always continue to look for theater that is “off the beaten track” and I hope you will too because the rewards are great.