Sometimes I am the oppressor.
It all started out fine. I was asked if I would write a poem for a Peace Concert at Jubilee, my church, headlining the wonderful Cecilia St. King (“The Inner Peace Troubadour”). I knew right away that I wanted to write the poem, committed to do it – and then it all spilled out pretty magically later that night. I liked the poem – Sweet Peace – a lot.
I knew that I wanted music. A couple of weeks ago I was talking to Robert Thomas’ girlfriend Rose at a concert and told her how well he and I have worked together in the past – me with my words, him with his piano. She saw the light bulb go on in my head – of course, Robert and I are overdue to collaborate! He was free for the date and liked the idea, liked the poem when I sent it to him.
I also knew that I wanted dancers: this is about liberation – give me the people! Amanda Levesque, Tom Kilby and Giovanna Allegretti had just recently knocked my socks off with their dancing at a Fringe Festival show – and Tom and Amanda had worked with my poetry a year ago, and they are close friends of mine.
The three dancers all liked the idea, so we got together. We talked a lot and didn’t dance. We outlined nine sections: music only, words/music, words/music/dancers, etc. It started to feel real and we got very pumped. We planned another rehearsal for the next week.
Just how or why the forces of oppression started to take over in my head I don’t know. Was it all just too much creativity…too much collaboration….too much liberation? The short form of the negativity that started to surface was “This is not going to work.” It fixated on what had just so much excited me – the dancing. “There’s not going to be room for the dancing.” Truly, I had been picturing the room – which I know very well and have performed in many times – arranged in two different ways that would nicely accommodate dancing, but not how it will certainly be arranged for a musical concert. I really started to sink.
I sent an email to my concert contact, but really did not brainstorm with him so much as lay out my case that it probably would not work to have three dancers – including one in an electric scooter. He took the cue and agreed with me.
I sent a very apologetic email to Amanda, Tom and Giovanna – and felt terrible. The next day I felt even more terrible. I felt that something was going terribly wrong, that I was making a big mistake.
I came home after work and opened Facebook to a four-way conversation we had started the previous day. Amanda had just, real-time, said “I had the idea of doing a guerilla style performance!!! What do you guys think!??”
They were considering going ahead and dancing anyway! I was shocked and confused. It was my gig and I had said that the dancing was off – how could this be? Then a huge weight started to lift off my shoulders and I started to get happy. What if I didn’t get to decide? What if – having joined my troupe – they now owned the piece as much as I did? What if they are artists just as much as I am? What if their creativity is just as important as mine? What if I am wrong about them not being able to dance on this stage? What if they know more about their art than I do?
Layers of patriarchy started to roll off me. I began to cry. It all suddenly felt so fucking good.
Amanda had asked, “What do you guys think?”
Tom had seen that I had come on the conversation and said, “I think with Majo’s OK?”
I wrote, “I can’t say OK, having negotiated with Jay that we would not do it. If, however, we have unleashed something that can’t be put back in the bottle, so be it. It seems to fit the liberation theme of the concert and is actually making me very happy. While I was feeling the need to pull the plug on the dancing – ‘There’s not enough room for it, it will be messy’ – I’ve been feeling very sad about it, it feels wrong.”
I went downtown to a meeting and came back to my computer later in the evening. Giovanna was just coming online. She pushed us in a different direction: “I feel like a guest in someone else’s home; I’d rather ask for permission than ask for forgiveness….I’m a planner. I like to know what to expect. And I like to remain mindful of others involved who might also want to know what to expect.”
This shifted me. I started to feel empathetic for the guy I had been negotiating with, who was also going to be the guitarist for Cecilia. If this dancing happened out of the blue – after he and I had agreed that it would not happen – it could throw him totally off his game. Giovanna loudly agreed.
But I obviously had still not totally let go. I proposed that I go to Jay the next day and basically threaten him that the dancers were in insurrection and might dance anyway.
Giovanna replied, “I would go to him and say that the dancers are flexible, adaptable critters and enjoy small spaces. We are willing to work with this restriction, if he would find that appropriate.”
So soft, so smart – and she’s so young! I replied, “You are clearly not an anarchist like Tom and me – and maybe Amanda.”
“Haha nope! “
Me: “We need some good anarchists, but what a mess this place would be if we all were! I like this approach – and could see doing it in an email, maybe with your exact words. I’ll wait until I get a go from all three of you.
“Great. This is feeling good. Kudos to Amanda for boldly launching the whole guerilla riff – that turned everything around, really rescued the project; to Tom for doing good listening through all this – what a perfectly non-patriarchal role to play; and to Giovanna – coming into the stream when so much had already gone down – for so much grounded common sense and empathy for those receiving our initiations. And to me for being so willing to let the three of you influence me.”
And I do believe this was my biggest contribution to the process, was to let them influence me. I cried at several points in the dialogue. It was thrilling to not have to be in charge. I am more sure than ever that our collaboration is going to be very exciting, regardless of the space…because we have created so much space.