The worlds of faith, art, and activism intermingle in “Wade Through Deep Water,” a one-of-a-kind theatrical experience coming to Lexington Friday, for one night only.
The show uses music, dance, storytelling, poetry and circus arts to share the prophetic plight of two Biblical visionaries, Miriam and St. John the Baptist, as they undergo transformational journeys that underscore the divinity of the natural world, specifically the physical and spiritual role water plays in our inner and outer lives. The event also draws from Catholic mystic Thomas Merton and Jewish feminist Alicia Suskin Ostriker.
The show is one leg of a national tour by Holy Fool Arts, a Philadelphia-based theatrical organization which unites aspects of faith, art, and activism in order to inspire communities to live in “right relationship with the Earth.”
“Show” might be a loose term for Friday’s event, however, as a ceremonial component as well as a discussion about local watershed issues are all built into the evening.
Co-founder Tevyn East says audiences can expect a unique experience that encourages (but doesn’t require) participation and reflection.
“This is not your typical theater experience,” East says. “This is a theatrical event that is encased within a ceremony that is also encased within a community discussion.”
The theatrical portion of the evening is about 40 minutes, aspects of ceremony woven throughout the evening and a final community discussion about local watershed issues.
The sort of overarching mission or focus of Holy Fool Arts is to fuse earth-centered spirituality with the biblical prophetic tradition while drawing on the ancient power of art and ceremony.
Tevyn East, co-founder Holy Fool Arts
East, along with husband and co-founder Jay Beck, calls this portion of their work theopoetic theater, or ceremonial theater, and unlike conventional theater, their goal is not just to entertain or inform, but to transform individuals and communities while drawing from faith, art, and activism.
“The sort of overarching mission or focus of Holy Fool Arts is to fuse earth-centered spirituality with the biblical prophetic tradition while drawing on the ancient power of art and ceremony,” says East. “We’re seeking to facilitate the healing work of communal grief and struggle and, of course, defiant joy.
“This effort to bridge faith, art and activism is something I feel a lot of people are working to do, but there’s not many examples demonstrating how it’s done because these are strange worlds to bridge. We believe that is to our detriment.There exists these chasms sometimes between the faith world and the world of direct action or justice advocacy work. Some of the suspicion that is thrown on artists from the faith world really undermines our churches, our faith communities’ ability to creatively demonstrate their dreams for the world.”
While East says their work is rooted in their faith, they are not attempting to proseltyize or convert anyone to a certain way of thinking, but to bring together disparate disciplines and people for deeper engagement about social justice issues that affect us all.
“To be clear, we are not bridging these worlds of some hope of converting artists and activists to some Christian doctrine,” East says. “Our interest is in demonstrating what we believe the renewal of the church looks like. For our work to be relevant and compelling, we really need to take some cues from the best work that is happening in our arts communities and our activist communities.”
“Wade Through Deep Water” is part of the group’s Caravan series, a traveling suite of shows — one for each of the four elements of earth, wind, water, and fire — designed to enchant, embody, and embed ideas about the divinity of nature, which East says is not in opposition to Biblical portrayals of nature.
“Our different pieces are ways in which we’re doing a sort of ecological rereading of scripture to show how the voice of the divine comes through or is experienced in the natural world,” East says.
“In the scripture, God speaks to Job through the whirlwind. There is the Holy Spirit Dove that is there during Jesus’ baptism. There’s a talking bush that instructs Moses.”
East says that the group often draws upon the “wild theatricality” of the prophets.
“They’re more understood when we understand the prophets’ relationship with the natural world,” East says. “In this show, John’s story and Miriam’s story and the transformation that they experience is best understood when we recognize their relationship with water and how water plays a big role in their journeys.”
Candace Chaney is a Lexington-based writer and critic.