Whether we are creating a ritual, writing a poem, or building an altar, the point is to honor the gods and not to stroke our own egos. Then our priorities will be properly in place and we will generate worthy art.
~ Steven Posch and Sparky T. Rabbit
Technically, the 2006 Spiral Dance was a disaster. In this entry, I'm not speaking of artistic, theological, musical, choreographic, magical or any other aspect of the event, only of the technical.
Arriving on Site
Preceding technical, when Corby, who had volunteered to be a dragon as he's done many times, and I arrived in mid-afternoon, as requested. we were not asked who we were or to be checked in from a list of participants. Folks were trusting, I guess. Anyone could have come in. This made me a bit uncomfortable because we usually put our things (backpacks, costumes, makeup, implements, supplies, money, etc.) in a room that is not necessarily guarded at all times. Theoretically there's a dragon on duty in these places, but that was not something I felt I could count on. I suppose one could consider that a technical oversight. In any case, I left my stuff and it remained safe.
When we arrived, all bazillion masked goddess dancers were trying to rehearse outside under the trees. That seemed not such a good way for them to have to rehearse, without a proper floor, without music or lights.
First, there was no full rehearsal, always a mistake. I realize it costs lots of money to rent the space and equipment. I don't know if the technical people were hired or volunteers. I know how hard it is to get a large group of volunteers all together at the same time and focused on a single task, i.e., a full rehearsal. Evidently there was some kind of run-through.
The noise inside was deafening and any small groups, such as graces, who were meeting had to shout at one another. I was memorizing and since there was nothing else going on that involved me and I was getting a headache from the sound check, I wandered around outside working on my part. Apparently when my name was called to come in, no one knew where I was. In any case, I had no clue (1) when to come in, where I fit in the series of speakers/performers; (2) where or from whom to get a mike; (3) where to exit; and (4) any other technical or choreographic information I needed.
Before I knew it, the doors opened, and I still did not know where they wanted me to pick up my mike, when I was on (whom did I follow), from where I was expected to enter the circle, or from which direction to exit. I assumed lighting wouldn't be a big deal, since it was only me and the spots could follow me. I was mistaken in that assumption.
Even after the doors opened, there was a big triple screen in the center of the space (the space being a basketball court). It was comprised of three panels held rigid by PVC pipe with black fabric stretched across each, mounted in a triangle so that each square screen faced a different direction from the center. I couldn't imagine how I was supposed to navigate around it when I proclaimed the feast.
I asked Starhawk, "Is that going to be there when we speak?" "What is it supposed to be?" "Why is it there?" She responded that the intent was for it to be a screen upon which names of the Beloved Dead (in white, presumably) would be projected. This was yet another way to try to name the Beloved Dead at a major ritual honoring them without naming them. ::sigh:: She said it was an idea gone wrong and would be removed before the ritual started, which it was.
An idea gone wrong? What ever could be the aesthetic behind (a) using a black ground in a darkened room, (b) having it in the middle, blocking views, and (c) expecting that words would show up and be readable? I'm amazed that such an idea got as far as having screens erected.
Meanwhile, Suzanne Sterling had begun filling the space with her sweet singing, as the program indicated she'd be doing as people filled the space.
I asked Star when and how the Beloved Dead names would be spoken if they were not being read aloud during the ritual and not being projected. Oops! Turned out that a recording of their names was supposed to have been playing as people entered the space. Someone was immediately dispatched to ask Suzanne to stop her singing, while someone else was dispatched to the front of the house to tell them to put the recording of the names on. According to my friend Victoria who was taking tickets at the front of the house, no one had said a word to them about playing those names.
In order to figure out when I was supposed to speak, I dashed out to the front of the house and grabbed a program. The program detailed three -- not one but three -- different welcomes/introductions. First a man I didn't know was to make announcements about where the restrooms were, who and what were Graces and Dragons, turning off of cellphones, bringing non-ambulatory folks, drummers, and toddlers and babies to the center of the circle when the spiral dance was forming, and how to begin the dance. Second, Starhawk spoke of the intent of the ritual; and third, I was to proclaim the feast. The Proclamation of the Feast is a standard spoken piece I think is beautiful and which has remained essentially the same for 27 years. It's "traditional."
As if having three different announcements by three different announcers weren't enough, the program also said that Evelie was going to teach the songs beforehand from the center of the circle. To further complicate things, I was uncertain whether the group that planned this particular spiral dance had an emcee or ringmistress or something of the sort. I hate that. Regardless of my feelings about it, I was not among the planners and had no say, so I was just trying to do the best job I could with the part they'd asked me to perform. Just as I have for the past two years -- last year with the triple invocation of the Ancestors, the Mighty Dead of the Craft, and the (unnamed) Beloved Dead, and the previous year of the Mighty Dead for the 25th anniversary. If they were having an emcee, we who were speaking would wait until we were announced.
My pal Urania found me and asked when I was going on. That was because she'd been told she, who was doing the grounding meditation, was told she was to follow me -- and probably have me hand her the mike when I walked out of the center of the circle, if I exited from the same place where I'd entered.
Jonathan entered with a mike and began making his announcements. The program said that after he spoke, Evelie would teach the songs, then Starhawk, then me, then Urania with the grounding. Well, after Jonathan spoke, Starhawk told the intent of the ritual. Not quite knowing what to do next, I went looking for Evelie, who was supposed to have preceded Starhawk. She didn't know that, but she did dash over to the south-facing aisle where others had entered and prepared to take the mike. This she did, while I waited and tried to compose myself -- I have a little centering routine I like to do before speaking a long memorized piece -- and Urania stood nearby awaiting her cue.
Evelie didn't teach any songs. She was out there for something like a whopping ten seconds! Before I knew it, she was walking towards me with the mike, which I was reaching out to take, when Jonathan dashed up the aisle to take it from Evelie and give it to me. Now what sense does that make? The entire sequence of mishaps. miscommunications and non-communications only served to unsettle me.
I took the mike and walked into the light. I began well. I know I should be better able to ride such confusion, and usually I am, but in the case of a memorized piece, I work better with a little more order. In any case, I'm one who becomes slightly disoriented when I get feedback of what I'm speaking. That's exactly what I got that night. I'd speak a line and then hear it come back to me. I tend to lose my concentration on exactly what words I'm saying. To add to my increasing disorientation, sometimes when I spoke I could hear my words clearly broadcast and other times I couldn't hear them at all. So I got to worrying about whether everyone else could hear me.
Not only that, but as I walked, the lights did not follow me. If I turned in the direction of the chorus, I experienced bright light in my eyes, and if I turned towards the entryway, I was in darkness. So among the inconsistent lighting, the inconsistent miking, and the repeating sounds, I lost my words. I didn't lose my message. I did manage to say more or less what I'd intended to say, only I don't think I said it as eloquently as it had been written. I suppose some who knew the piece may have noticed, but no one else seemed to. I was annoyed with myself, though, and disappointed. Even so, I think my contribution properly advanced the ritual in ways it was intended to have.
Lights and Sound in General
As I said above, the tech for this ritual was pathetic. I've no doubt much could have been remedied with a full rehearsal. I've described my own experience with lights and sound. Laura Wyrd. wearing a shiny sliver unitard, summoned the Element Air with her tissu work from the rafters, similar to what she does here from an oak. But for the facts that she was wearing reflective clothing and was above the crowd, she wouldn't have been very visible because no lights illuminated her, resulting in the bright light of dawn being obscured.
The chorus was never audible. They just sounded like muted mush. It's a shame that such a fine group of singers and musicians who'd rehearsed independently for months could not be heard.
In spite of technical incompetence and many other features I didn't feel advanced the magic or were even well executed -- and about which I won't be blogging -- the spiral dance itself was as wonderful as always. Better in many ways because it was more intimate and community-based instead of showy and exhibitionistic.