On Closing - Octavia E. Butler's - Parable of the Sower: the Opera
Updated: Aug 30
photo by Erin Patrice O'Brien at Lincoln Center, NYC
This month, we of the Parable of the Sower: the Opera company closed the Spring/Summer 2023 tour season. We visited 6 different cities: Pittsburgh, Portland, ME, Champaign-Urbana, IL, Berkeley, CA, my home-city of Washington, DC, and New York City’s Lincoln Center. We had good sized breaks in between some cities, including one nice long one that afforded me the time to travel to Perugia, Italy to participate in the second session of the All the Way In ensemble vocal improvisation program. [See more on that program here.]
Parable is a huge undertaking that travels, putting 30 people together to mount a 2.5-hour-long, fully fleshed-out theatrical opera within a week’s time at each location. We operated on a total of three weeks’ rehearsal time at the beginning of the year, incorporating a new company member and a couple of rotating cast characters. Somehow, we all managed to stay well enough to perform each night. Really, we supported each other with the utmost care for our wellbeing and authenticity to storytelling.
We have been changed. Immersed in the ritual act of song in the theater, in putting up Parable, everyone shed something- many tears- crew included. Toshi Reagon, creator and music director, shoulders it with the presence of a good leader. Parable is…
A deep and sometimes grueling process of becoming together.
This show requires all of me and everyone involved. It pushes, it expands, and when it contracts, we all contract together. It’s sometimes painful. It brings up sensitivities, triggers, and challenges- emotionally, physically, psychically. We found, when left to our own devices, that although we need the support of each other, we also have the device of Love within our bones. Nobody wants to hang onto grudges because it’s more painful than to let them go. We’d rather remember our humanity, that humans are flawed and brilliant, and that we deserve harmony more than we desire to be right. We all need time to rest.
photo by Sachyn Mitel, Lincoln Center, NYC
On my relationship with audiences.
I felt I had to care for you, and I carried it on my chest. Each time I'd enter the room to start again the process of becoming the ensemble that would make this show live in front of an audience, I felt it heavy. Sometimes, it knocked me down and I’d have to rest during rehearsal time. I felt chest pain, energetic and physical, I got terribly sick in between shows during allergy season, I felt flung out into an abyss of extroversion by the end of the tour. But my voice always lifted me.
When Summer hit, something shifted. I opened. I let Love in. My voice filled the space I’d reserved for care instead. And my care- or what I thought was care- shifted into trust. When I began to trust, I freed my body of the burden to carry care. You got it. I trust you.
I got bigger and stronger from the inside. I managed the songs, managed my fears of not reaching my goals in them, and then I reached my goals. I accepted my voice as I grew into it, as it grew into the songs, as I found its capability to amplify the songs into a theater. Suddenly, I looked up and I knew the show inside my body. It had shaped me. I now have a power behind my voice that nobody, myself included, had heard before.
Now we have a break- time to rest, integrate, slow down, and reflect. Hopefully, we stay together in some ways and continue to grow. If we see each other in the street, I hope we stop and talk, feel and express genuine care for one another. Even if we didn’t “like” each other, we did something together that was life-changing. It got in. It got deep. We all started with varying degrees of preparedness for this kind of training in humanity, but when we put it all together, we shined.
This is the power of embodying this timely and genius Work by Octavia Butler. I am forever grateful to Toshi for heeding the call, offering the opportunity, and for trusting us/Life with this Work. It has become the foremost up-leveling experience for me and my voice as a theater artist.
photo by Erin Patrice O'Brien