It was a watershed moment for many who performed, and one of the glories of our lives for Kelley Hunt and me, who co-facilitated a series of workshops culminating in a coffeehouse of wonder – “Play It Forward,” a program envisioned and put into reality by the wonderful folks at the Lied Center of Kansas.
We began close to a two years ago, meeting with Karen and Anthea at the Lied Center to talk about what might make for a great collaborative community education program, particularly because the Lied has been bringing in premier women performers — Suzanne Vega, Regina Carter, Ragamala Dance, and Nnenna Freelon – for a year-long program called Play It Forward. One idea sparked another, and Kelley and I came up with a program to help writers and musicians come together, bring more of their courage, creativity and vision into play with each other, and from there, create poems, stories, essays, songs and more they could play forward at a community coffeehouse.
We met the 29 wondrous souls who signed up in October for the first all-day session, saw them again for another day session in January, and this past Saturday was the Play It Forward Coffeehouse (after afternoon consulting sessions to help prepare people). Each session was a tapestry of humor, art, surprise, connection, delight and depth, some of our participants driving in from as far as Carbondale, IL and Lincoln, NE for our time together.
As for the performance, afterwards, we were joking that we saw just about every kind of performance but burlesque. People shared songs drawing from folk, rock, jazz, blues and even country traditions. Writing included poems (even some awesome alphabet poems, each word consecutively beginning with the next letter in the alphabet, such as, “A boy, comma….”), stories, essays, mixed genre and memoir. There was even one performer, Maria, who shared paintings, yoga, prose, singing and piano, and this was all done, as all the other 20 performances, in 3 minutes or less. We heard about train whistles, dirty dishes, old love, support for the arts, the kindness of strangers in the middle of Israel or right in our own backyard. There was rhyme, meter, heartbreaking bridges, expansive high notes and gorgeous gravy low notes in music, poetry and prose.
Although Kelley and I put everyone in an order we basically divined on the hoof, hoping it would work well, strange and magical juxtapositions ensued. Iris belted out a hysterically funny song about “cleaning up my kitchen, getting rid of you,” only to be followed by Jerrye, singing a beautiful tune celebrating long-term marriage and family. Sandy’s poignant prose/poem on the needs of children growing up against the odds followed an invocation on a more generous vision in the form of one of Cindy’s songs. Each performance was a delight, brushed free of static and bursting with spirit whether the performer had only sung in the shower before or recorded CDs for years.
The joy in the audience and the participants plays forward in myriad ways we can only glimpse. Already, I’ve heard from participants about how they’re playing forward the gifts of what come when you open your voice – on the page, aloud, in community or alone – to find the words and sounds you’re meant to share with the world.