The Republic in Ruins
Mouths Wide Open presents The Republic In Ruins, a performance event, on August 31st and September 1st & 2nd at Washington Square Church, 135 West 4th Street in Manhattan. Co-sponsored by The Nation Institute, the performance is part of the Imagine Festival of Arts, Issues and Ideas (www.nyamerica.org) scheduled to coincide with the Republican National Convention. The Republic in Ruins is an innovative event which uses a two-part structure to create a powerful evening of artistic "call and response" with the audience, addressing our collective concerns about the current political situation. An evocative environmental installation will locate the collage of music, song, and spoken word. Following the performance, the audience will be offered homemade refreshments and encouraged to mingle in informal discussion with each other and those taking part in the evening’s events. In this way, the audience is asked to actively participate in and expand the dialogue about the state of our Republic at this crucial time.
"We are infected by the politics and violence . . . War affects everything that we do.
It affects our dreams. It affects our art, our relationships. And it affects our religion.
And that – is what has happened." —Karen Armstrong, author
The Republic is the protagonist of the evening. The environmental installation set shows rubble and debris, suggesting both recent scenes of destruction far away, and the very real damage to our national aspirations for a Republic here at home. The audience will be seated, surrounded by the environmental elements of the performance. The evening starts with a kind of dusk, as when the light is being extinguished. This is a state – a kind of visual drone – that is returned to during the evening. We can just make out a small figure digging – it is a child digging up bullet shells from the debris. A child playing in an unsafe zone.
The performance is a collage bringing together various musicians, singers and speakers into the terrain (see list of participants). They are the voices trying to bring the light of awareness and consciousness to the crumbling Republic. Continuity is created through imagistic segues using live performance and video. Each performer contributes 5-10 minutes of material created or adapted for these performances. Although there is great variety in style and content, the overall feeling is of a unified piece rather than a concert. Somewhere near the mid-point of the evening, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse storm across the field, threatening to annihilate the whole proceedings. (These are hobbyhorses worn by performers with death masks on, already created and used by members of Mouths Wide Open.) The Four Horsemen pass through, relentlessly chasing ahead. They trample all that is before them. There is an implicit promise that these Horsemen of pestilence, death and famine will return. The dusk remains.
The finale is a development of the piece we created for our 2003 concert, Breaking the Silence. A young boy soprano sings the Shaker song a cappella alone: "My life flows on in endless song above earth’s lamentation, I hear the real though far-off song that hails a new creation. Above the tumult and the strife, I hear its music ringing; it sounds an echo in my soul: How can I keep from singing?" Under his song, Haleh Abghari begins to sing a Rumi poem in Farsi, making sound ornaments around his melody. It concludes: "’But everyone is seeking war’ you say, ’I am the only one for peace.’ You are not the only one, but a thousand. Begin to light your lamp so radiant." The two songs circle around each other as other musicians are drawn toward the intertwined song. The lights modulate slightly – it could be the very early grey light of dawn.
Mouths Wide Open serves two functions: first, it brings people together to share their thoughts about current affairs – listening, discussing issues with others and becoming better informed – and it creates opportunities to participate in civic life. Second, the group encourages and supports its members to initiate creative responses to what is happening around them as a way to educate and empower other citizens.
The Republic in Ruins, developed expressly to coincide with The Republican Convention, uses the artistic realm to powerfully address issues of pressing concern to us all. We can anticipate feelings to be running high in New York as people argue from their polarized stances, and there will be a huge influx of visitors from all over the US to protest the current Administration’s policies. The Republic in Ruins’ aim is to increase understanding of humanity and to reconnect audiences with values of care and mutuality of goals. The unique quality of community exchange and compassion fostered in all the work of Mouths Wide Open can be a vital influence on the tone of the conversation at this time.
Mouths Wide Open will also be hosting a summer Community Center at Washington Square Church from July 22nd-August 24th. The Community Center will serve as a meeting place, hub and information destination. This space will offer to register voters, encourage direct daily conversations, and provide a site for meetings and screenings. Members of Mouths Wide Open along with other volunteers will be on hand to distribute materials and engage in discussion and dialogue. Passersby will be encouraged to drop in, and people from various communities and organizations will be contacted and drawn in to mingle and exchange ideas.
The connection of art with community has been a core concern for many of us in our lifework, and to this end the space will foster a crossover of energy between artistic and social expression. We will develop several community art projects at the center during the summer – two video montages and a wall piece that includes excerpts from conversations with community members (see Community Center). These projects will have an on-going nature, so that people dropping in can view the work as it progresses.
In May 2003, Mouths Wide Open produced an innovative concert, Breaking the Silence, at New York City’s Symphony Space. Responding to the rampant frustration of her musical community, Mouths Wide Open member Haleh Abghari was inspired to conceive of the concert. It provided a forum for these artists to express their concerns in response to the circumstances facing our nation. Breaking the Silence featured some of New York’s most esteemed classical musicians. The event included guest speaker Patricia Williams (Nation columnist and Columbia University law professor), and co-hosts Peter Schickele and Fred Sherry. The concert was co-sponsored by The Nation Institute. Proceeds were given to Doctors Without Borders for humanitarian aid to Iraq. All the musicians, designers and technical crew provided their services at no cost. Following the tremendous success of Breaking the Silence, we are looking forward to another opportunity to invite New Yorkers to join us in promoting public dialogue and awareness of the most critical issues of our time.
Haleh Abghari (soprano)
Elizabeth Batton (mezzo-soprano)
Derek Bermel (composer/clarinetist)
Eugene Drucker (violinist, founding member of The Emerson String Quartet)
Gregory Hesselink (cellist)
Vijay Iyer (composer/pianist)
Jerome Kitzke (composer/vocalist/pianist)
Benjamin Kreith (violinist)
Mike Ladd (poet)
Mildred McHugh (Military Families Speak Out)
Bruce Odland (composer/sound artist)
The Roerich String Quartet (Sarah Adams, Joanna Jenner, Ren»e Jolles, Dorothy Lawson)
Carl Hancock Rux (author/performer)
Jonathan Schell (author/Peace and Disarmament Correspondent for The Nation)
Kate Taylor (singer/song-writer)
Soldier testimonial from Operation Truth (director: Paul Rieckhoff)
Patricia Williams (author/columnist for The Nation)
Kevin Winkler (pianist)
Kenny Wollesen with Live Human Subjects (drummer/band-leader and ensemble)
The Collateral Damage Ensemble
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse Crusade
WHEN: August 31st and September 1st & 2nd, 2004. All shows start at 7:00 p.m.
WHERE: Washington Square Church 135 West 4th Street
(Between 6th Avenue & MacDougal)
Tickets available through the
Mouths Wide Open Community Center
– Click Here
"The job of a citizen is to keep your mouth open"
— Gunter Grass