Sunday, September 28, 2014

For and In Behalf Of: In the Beginning... (Part 2)

This is the second part of the first scene of the script for a performance piece I've written called For and In Behalf Of. If you haven't read it yet, you should probably start with the first part of scene one. Enjoy

Allan: When I was a small child, I had asthma. Respiratory conditions were not new in my family; I inherited them from my father and his mother. I remember receiving breathing treatments on a consistent basis, whether or not anything was wrong with me—just a necessary prescribed procedure. Every night, my mom would take this plastic box out of my closet, the Nebulizer, plug it into the wall, turn it on, and give me this nozzle to breathe in and out of. I grew out of asthma, but when I go home for Christmas breaks, I see this old dance play out with my nephew; though his Nebulizer is much smaller and is shaped like a penguin—it lacks the flashy 1980s aesthetics of my greyish, “portable” Pulmo-Aide, a model the Internet tells me was discontinued in 1993. I can still hear the old motor in that clunky square box, humming as it transforms my medication into wet air. And an old smile presses my cheeks as I see the slight puffs of white smoke billowing out the nozzle. It was an entertaining way to breathe as a kid.

But there were nights when my treatment was not enough. There were nights when I had attacks. Nights and attacks that warranted my parents purchasing my Nebulizer in the first place. I can remember a few times when my parents rushed me into the bathroom, turning on the shower and hoping the steam might help me breathe easier. But what I remember more is my dad taking me outside into the night air. He’d hold me in his arms and walk around our little boxed-in yard that was part of our townhouse apartment when we lived in Texas.

[Enter E, pantomiming holding a small child, humming “Ten Minutes Ago I Met You”]

Allan: Sometimes he would sit in a metal folding chair that he pulled from inside. At the time I would have been five or six, so he was not exactly cradling an infant. Sometimes he’d alternate: sitting and standing, sitting and pacing, for however long it took my breathing to regulate. I can’t remember what it felt like having trouble breathing. What I can remember is my dad holding me, rocking me, and singing to me.

E: (singing) Ten minutes ago, I saw you  / I looked up when you came through the door / My head started reeling you gave me the feeling the room had no ceiling or floor.  / Ten minutes ago, I met you, / and we murmured our how do you dos / I wanted to ring out the bells and fling out my arms and sing out the news.

Allan: “On the Street Where You Live” and “Wouldn’t It be Loverly?” from My Fair Lady; “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” and “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music. Thanks to my father, my lullabies were showtunes. The one I remember the most though is “Ten Minutes Ago” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. From what I’m told, my dad sang it to my mom the night they got engaged.

E: (singing) In the arms of my love, I'm flying, / over mountain and meadow and glen. / And I like it so well that for all I can tell I may never come down again. / I may never come down to earth again.

Allan: It’s not a particularly great song; looking back, the lyrics are a bit lazy. But it’s the one I remember. “In the arms of my love, I’m flying.” You know, when my dad sang that song to me he wasn’t that much older than I am right now. He had a new job in Texas that let him work in his field he went to college for, but it meant he lived in state away from any extended family on either his side or my mom’s side—they were all back in Florida. He grew up with nine siblings and my mom with six. Not only do I have over forty cousins but three of us were born within three days of each other, all in the same year. But living in Texas isolated my parents from the home they knew. And they had three children. And in the midst of it, one of them has regular irregularity in his breathing. I can’t imagine the stress, the fear, the loneliness that produced. Now there are certainly other memories from childhood which did reflect the breaking points of that stress—my parents were by no means perfect—but in the arms of my dad on those nights, I did not feel that anxiety at all. Only protection and peace.

[E exits]

Allan: My father is alive and well. But I know one day that will change. I know he will leave things behind—physical belongings and memories like this one—and we will be left to remember, to forget, to preserve, to neglect, to honor, to ignore, to make sense and meaning of what little we have of what was once so vibrantly before us. I know this will happen because it is always what happens: the universality of mortality. But my father and mother gave me their faith. In my faith tradition, I gained access not only to a rich cosmology for storytelling but a beautiful appreciation for mediums that celebrate the physical body as a way of conveying those stories.

[Enter E, pantomiming holding the child again]

Allan: I don’t know if I can offer a better articulation of Mormonism’s view of God. A parent and a child. Intimate connection and care where the physical immediacy is key. For Mormons, the physical body is at the heart of the purpose of life. In my father’s arms, I learned that what made me like God was having a physical body and that I came to earth to gain one to be more like Him.  

[Enter A, B, and D. B and D are wearing black missionary name tags and carrying copies of the Book of Mormon; A is to the side.]

Allan: It is an image of the character and nature of God made flesh in the words of Mormonism’s founder Joseph Smith and rehearsed daily by generations of LDS missionaries, myself included.

D: In 1820, Joseph Smith was 14 years old. He wanted to know what church to join, but there were many faiths. He did not know which one was the right one.

[Enter A, pantomiming Joseph Smith, kneels to pray]

D: After reading the Bible, he decided to pray and ask God what he should do. Joseph Smith later described in his own words what happened next.

[C enters and stands next to E, upstage of A. E shifts from pantomiming Allan’s father to pantomiming Heavenly Father as the following vision is described. C is Christ in this tableau]

B: He said, “I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name…

E: Joseph …

B: …and said, pointing to the other…

B and E: This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!

[Exit A, B, C, D, and E]

Allan: Usually, a missionary then uses the event to talk about Joseph Smith’s call to be a prophet, to restore the church, to translate the Book of Mormon. But me, what I love is this vision of an embodied God—twice over. What some scholars have referred to as Mormonism’s insistent collapse of the sacred and the profane. That with the physical body as the thing that makes us like God, comes an entire culture that values ways to use and celebrate the body, including performance.

[Enter A and B, wearing ballroom competition numbers, begin dancing. Not sure song or dance they should use. Maybe a few different styles.]

Allan: Mormons love theatre and dance. My dad sang showtunes to me. Like me, he grew up in a church that for a long time mandated the construction of theatre stages in church buildings. Brigham Young once said that theatre offered more immediate benefits to society than scientific research … and he supported scientific research. When my dad went to BYU, his mom encouraged him to join the ballroom dance team. I grew up watching old tapes of my dad’s performances. He was never a lead dancer, but that’s also because he started in college. Almost everyone else had been training since they were kids. The competition can be fierce and it’s my understanding that Mormons and BYU have reputations at ballroom dancing competitions that precede them. Quite frankly it’s because the participants have been going to dance classes on the days that they didn’t have youth temple trips. And they’re connected. Both reflect a vision of the human soul as a divine integration of body and spirit. For Mormons, proxies are needed because the dead do not have bodies to make decisions. They can’t participate in the dance. One stands in place for them, not unlike Christ stood in for all mankind. How many times I heard that this would let me be a savior on Mount Zion—that Christ brings salvation, but expects the rest of us, a full community and ensemble of the saints, to administer it. It is through the actions of our bodies that we provide service, the chance of salvation to strangers. Such a body should move at all times and celebrate life. Dance, theatre, performance—it’s not just a way to be like God, it’s the way to be divine.

[Exit A and B]

So, more academically, what is the relationship between proxy baptisms and agency? Does it destroy or can it create the power to choose? What are the ethics of representing the dead?  How can thinking about the trickiness of representation in a religious ritual speak to how we think about tricky issues of representation in a play or in a dance? How can a body—in movement, in stillness—bring us to an altar of truth?

[Allan looks at temple recommend]

Allan: I suppose if I can no longer go there for answers, this theatre is as good a temple as any.

[Lights fade. Allan exits.]