“Put your government name on the top of the paper,” he says. Below that he asks us to put our date of birth and below that, today’s date. This is how it begins. This is the story of your life, laid out in a list: 20 Important Things That Changed My Life. I cheat a little and start with “birth.”
Steven Sapp, from the poetry/ theatre ensemble Universes, is leading us through the process he has done many times with his own group. He asks, before we begin, that we not bullshit as we write. We don’t.
Things that change your life can be painful, can be gut wrenching, can be pleasurable, frightening. We pick one and write a haikut. Each of us, 27 in all, read our haikus. No, we are not bullshitting. We are talking about orgasms and divorce and ghosts and the people inside of us and (oddly enough) cats.
“Now,” says Steven “Take that haiku and write a full piece.” We have five minutes.
We write, and as we go around the circle, reading our work aloud there are murmurs and smiles. The young man beside me starts his piece and bursts into loud and frantic Spanish, a young woman coaxes laughs with her thoughts on Brilliance, Max Roach explains drumming, a little girl finds the theatre, a cat dies and my parents divorce.
But how would one pull a performance from such a wide variety of experience and voice? Steve asks for someone’s favorite song. A man replies “Body and Soul.” He is asked to give us the melody, which he does. Then, Steve points to a woman and says, “Read your piece.” She begins. A minute later he asks me to add mine and the woman and I trade lines back in forth- “Body and Soul” being hummed softly in the background. Soon we are finding correlations, one line leads to another, augments, contrast- and it works. Strangely, it does work.
The time is up. Steve encourages our creativity and thanks us for not bullshitting. I’d like to thank him for the inspiration.
Universes will be performing tonight at the Works. I’ve seen the process and I can’t wait to see the result.
posted by P.A. Coleman