I live in Arizona. I’m a transplant to the desert from the east coast by way of Wisconsin. I mention this because, like each of us, I have a unique reaction to the events of Saturday. There are 300 million unique American reactions to this event. Mine is informed in part by the fact that it occurred less than 100 miles from my house at a Safeway not unlike one that is 1/4 of a mile from my home, in a strip-mall built on desert rock.
I went to an event last night described as a “multidisciplinary performance” combining “live video, music, and movement to create an immersive, interactive experience.” The first section was called “No Water,” or at least included a projection of the words “NO WATER.” It consisted of narration and a dancer/mover in a bathing suit splashing in a small plastic bin of water in the aisle of the theatre. The narration was full of images of the desert as a dry place –essentially a rock with no water. The dry rock image was repeated frequently. As I listened to the narration, I was struck by how inhospitable this place really is, made more inhospitable, it seems, since Saturday. As I listened to the narration, I thought about the shooting, and about how it could have happened anywhere, but it didn’t – it happened here, in this inhospitable place with no water. Although the piece was conceived and in rehearsal long before Saturday, my perception of the performance was informed by the shooting, and my perception of the shooting informed by the art. Such is art’s power and its purpose.
For the closing section of the performance, the audience found itself onstage participating in an improvised soundscape. The musician performers were there to set the tone, but the audience, at first reluctantly but then with more vigor, joined in using some simple instruments: the keys in their pockets, their tapping feet, or, in my case, their program scraping across the stage floor. The sound was eerie and beautiful as my neighbors and I looked around the space at one another for subliminal or overt cues and listened to the sounds each was making individually and collectively. Group improvisation only works if people really listen to one another. There were a hundred people on that stage quietly listening for what was missing, making sound only when it seemed appropriate. People listened hard and respectfully to one another, waited patiently, and participated when their contribution was needed. Perhaps the nation as a whole will heal if we can all do the same.