Back to church to worship art. The Secret City’s last show of the season in NYC dealt with risk (there will be shows in LA and Woodstock). This time rtb joined me. Mrs. Devereaux and her friend were also there but they got there late and left right after the show.
Somehow I’d gotten it into my head that the show started at 11am so I was at Dixon Place by 10:40am, rushing in because I wanted a good place on line. The room was empty except for people setting up and I was confused and then someone asked if I was there for the show. She said the doors open at 11:20am. So I checked my calendar and realized the show didn’t start until 11:30am. It was a beautiful sunny day so I waited outside and watched the performers arrive. There was a clown – one of the scary variety. Other people were carrying boxes in. When rtb got there we waited for a bit outside and then went in and were standing on line basically where I had been last time so I thought we’d get a good seat. But this time several people from the back started moving up front so instead of a line there was a crowd at the door and now I didn’t know what was going to happen. When we got downstairs most of the seats were taken. Some were reserved but other people were saving seats by throwing coats across them. Finally we saw two seats in the last row in the corner and we made our way to them. It’s not a big room and there isn’t a bad seat in the bleachers so I was pleased. There is more space up in the balcony but I didn’t want to go up there.
The Secret City Band was playing risk songs like Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler.” The band is Jeremy Bass (electric guitar/music director), John Brodeur (electric bass), Marlon Cherry (percussion), Leah Coloff (cello), Ryan Rumery (drums), and Karl Saint Lucy (piano). When they played Stealers Wheels’ “Stuck in the Middle with You,” it was funny when the creepy clown stuck his head out of the curtain on audience left at the correct line.
The altar, decorated by Mr. Smitty of La Puente, was red flowers and yellow danger tape.
Emcee and Secret City founder and artistic director Chris Wells entered wearing an all red ensemble. So red is the color of risk. Wells had on a headband of red flowers, a red cape, red pants with red ruffles, large white sunglasses, and white platform shoes. It was a takeoff on a female flamenco costume. He threw back the cape to reveal red suspenders and no shirt. He said the outfit wasn’t risky for him but it was for all of us because it might blow at any moment. When making his entrance he again kissed the elderly woman sitting in the front row. She must attend every show. Wells danced and threw off his sunglasses. He also tossed off the headdress. After the welcome he took off the ruffles so he could dance for us. He did some of the ballet that he had told us about last month for the energy show.
I was sure that you were not allowed to take photos but when Wells came out so did a lot of phones. rtb was taking photos so I decided I would take a few. They didn’t come out too well. On the way out we saw the sign that we’d missed coming in – no photography or video. So it’s just as well that I didn’t get good photos. I wasn’t supposed to.
Wells welcomed us all to the show and then introduced The Secret City Singers –Alexandra Avans, Carla Cantrelle, Deb Castellano, Sunny Chapman, Astrid Cousins, Heather Lynn Milner, Mark Rosenthal, Ryan Sheridan, Marilyn Perez Uncal, and Shonnie Zion. Lucy is the choir director. There were red dresses, red tights, red shirts, a red belly dancer outfit, and a red/black goth outfit.
We did the call and response for What is this City? (This is it…And so it is). Then The Mingle where we say, “Hello, how are you?” and we all compliment each other’s outfits. The woman in the row in front of me (wearing a large collar made of hemp and feathers, which I forgot to compliment although I don’t know if I would really want to compliment it) asked me if I was an artist and when I said I wasn’t she lost interest in any further conversation with me. The Breath of Life is just a simple inhale and exhale of breaths, which I appreciate because it helps me to relax after the horror of having to forcibly interact with strangers.
The Cultural Calendar was read by Lynne Rosenberg. Wells mentioned that Rosenberg and Bass had gone to junior prom together. They started reminiscing (Bass wore a white tuxedo) and Wells hurried them along. The calendar reading starts with telling us what number day this is in the year and how many days we have left in the year. We heard about marriages (David Bowie and Iman, which elicited aaahhs), births, deaths, and other happenings from that day in history. Then Rosenberg read about events occurring including her own at Joe’s Pub.
Look at This: Works on Paper – A Collective of Risky Artists were not really artists but two audience members contacted by Bobby Lucy (co-founder and visual arts curator) to come early and create works of art, which were then hung on the back wall. They were given only two colors – red and black – and the musician created two portraits. One was of Siouxsie, which kind of looked like her, and the other was of a happy person, who had a bit of grim smile. He was so pleased with himself and enjoyed explaining his process. The photographer was horrified at being chosen, didn’t really want to do this, and didn’t even want to talk about it. Her paintings were mostly squiggly and straight lines and circles. She did give the paintings names, which were unreadable but the funniest moment came when one of the Secret City singers realized that the photographer had written a copyright symbol and signed her paintings despite her not wanting to acknowledge them.
For A Taste, chef and culinary arts educator Sung Uni Lee gave us stained glass to eat. She and her daughter made it after looking at the stained glass at a Harlem church. The only ingredient I think she mentioned was rose petal water – she was a very soft talker and it was difficult to hear her. Before eating it several people asked if it was vegan and then if it was gluten free. Not really in the spirit of taking a risk. The glass was green and red and each was supposed to taste different but they tasted the same to me.
A Thrill: Hide and Seek was what I was waiting for. There was a large metal ring hanging from the ceiling and this was for the aerialists The Lost Boys, who are actually two women – Sara Zepezauer and Rachel Boyadjis. It was amazing to see the amount of strength they had when hanging from the ring with one hand or holding onto each other as they spun around. There was a grace and strength that made you gasp in awe. One of the women explained that she had fallen off the ring and was concussed and it took a while for her to get back on it.
Watch This was a clip from Prince’s Super Bowl half-time performance. Wells gave us a summary of the beginning of the clip, which is the director of the half-time show talking about how it never rained on a Super Bowl in 40 years and now it was raining non-stop and no one wanted to ask Prince if he was going to go on. When he finally got the courage to ask, Prince responded with, “Can you make it rain harder?” He performed in his heels on slick wet tile and gave a great show. Wells burst into tears when introducing the clip and when Prince appeared I started crying. After days of being alone at home and watching Prince videos non-stop I finally felt safe enough to cry with a community of fellow mourners. And I sang along with “Purple Rain.”
A Reading was a poem, “Sestina for Mothers,” by Viktorsha Uliyunova. Uliyunova explained that a sestina is a type of poem where six words are repeated throughout the poem and this was her first time writing that type of poem.
The Story was “The Devil Dive” by Wells. As I knew from last time, Wells is an excellent storyteller. This time we heard about his 35th birthday celebration, where he decided to celebrate his entering adulthood by going to an amusement park. He and his friends went to Magic Mountain, which was not the Magic Mountain of his childhood but a ghost of its former self. One friend declared that they were going to go on the scariest ride in the park, where they lift you on a cable 153 feet above the ground and then let you dead drop so that you swing back and forth. We were hysterical while Wells described being wrapped in this casing with him in the middle and his two friends (one who had wanted to be on the ride and the other who thought, “Why not?”) on either side of him. As a bored teenager hoists them off the ground with a single cable, one woman is apologizing and the other is sobbing. When the time came to pull the cord to let them drop the sobbing woman, who is the only one who can reach the cord, is too upset to do it. She finally lets them go and they swing over the park but Wells’ telling of their encasement and ride up is wonderful.
Meditation followed the story. Then there was A Song. The song was “Creep,” which I never recognized. All I heard was this airy slight singing by Aya wearing a top hat. That may be because I was traumatized by the guitarist JellyBoy the Clown, who stood in front of the audience, removed his glasses, pulled out his lower eyelid and put a hook into it that was attached to red cloth acting as a guitar strap. He then hooked the other guitar strap to his other lower eyelid. While this was going on the audience was groaning and turning away and putting their hands in front of their faces. I was kind of looking through my fingers and then turned and saw rtb and remembered her eye phobia. I told her to keep looking away and when JellyBoy finally sat down over to the side I told her it was okay to look. There was one funny moment when JellyBoy put his glasses back on. Luckily when he was sitting down off to the side you couldn’t really see the hooks. While Aya and JellyBoy sang and played, Francoise Nadia Voranger lifted herself up on two blocks of wood that were on top of two steel poles. She moved from block to block holding herself up with one arm or balancing on one leg. It was very impressive. But most impressive was when she removed a sword from the mouth of Fibi Eyewalker while balancing on one hand. Eyewalker actually started with a large sword and used smaller swords as she moved around Voranger. At first I was icked out by the sword swallowing but got used to it by the time she got to the last sword.
The basket was passed around for The Offering while the band and singers performed Abba’s “Take a Chance on Me.” Wells made some Announcements and then there was the Recitation adapted from Rachel Carson. While we were exiting the theater the band played Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone.”
Upstairs was coffee and pastries for the crowd but mostly there was charoset and matzoh and I wasn’t interested in that as much as many in the crowd were. We did find a bakery box with cookies and each got one. The room was too packed for either of us to be comfortable so we left and got lunch around the corner at One Mile House.
I can’t wait until next season and the next service at The Secret City.
By Carene Lydia Lopez