“Does a moment have a soul?”


How have I gone so long without Cleveland Public Theater (CPT) in my life?!?!

I have been a donor at Playhouse Square for something like 15 years (my childhood dream was to be a Broadway musical star – it actually still is my dream lol), and yet I have never been to this adorable little theater venue on Detroit Ave.

Friday night we went to see Candlelight Hypothesis. I honestly had no idea what to expect, but I was intrigued by its description as “Part museum, Part haunted house, Part workshop…” where the audience was invited to “curate their own experience.”

My Experience

When we got there we were encouraged to make ourselves comfortable, lounge on a couch, grab a drink from the bar and to read the note from the director in our programs as we waited to be called for whatever came next.

The director’s note read:

What does it mean to go towards the light?

I seek to explore how art can change us, literally, viscerally, and experientially. That transformative goal begins with the performer who (in my work) is on a quest to change how they perceive, how they experience – to move from daily-life to extra-daily life, to the extraordinary.

I know. That is a bit much.

And yet, during this time of covid and this time of evolution and change, people have been speaking a great deal about how central the human experience is, and how perhaps it has been ignored. We see across our many communities, people seeking out ways to be more fully present, to be more in the moment, to be more in the now. And so many conversations that begin around justice morph into dialogue about selfcare, self-awareness, and being fully present.

Pre-covid I was working with a small cast on a new project. Shortly after the lockdown, we began to meet on Zoom. It was a time for me, artistically, of going deeper instead of broader, exploring a few small movements rather than a long score of action. Moving from a broad 360-degree art form to a small screen intensified and focused my work. For me, our work in that virtual rehearsal room was a lifeline. The hunger for the light that art can offer became stronger as opportunities diminished. Yet we were drawn to that light and found a way forward. In the darkest night, even a single candle can be seen from far away. And those of us who are drawn to that light will extend our efforts to get there.

From that vantage point, the questions that keep coming to me are: Where does imagination and experience begin? What is the difference between what we experience and what is ‘real?’ Do our narratives prevent us from living more fully? Can art alter perception? Can it reaffirm our attention to life? Can it open new windows not just to new ideas, but to new ways to experience this moment? I believe it can, but then again, that is my narrative.

Raymond Bobgan, Executive Artistic Director

When the clock struck seven a woman escorted 7 of us into a small room with a table in the middle, 8 chairs, and a tray of random objects. She asked us not to speak and walked us through a reflection piece where we used the objects to create our own avant-garde work of art. I don’t want to give all the details away should you decide to experience this “experience” for yourself; I’ll just say that I learned in those 15 minutes that my soul lives inside a seashell.

Once that activity wrapped up we were asked to remove our shoes, turn our electronics off, and continue to remain silent. We were led into a large room and told that we could explore at will and wonder wherever we felt called, even exiting and re-entering the exhibit. The directions were simple: don’t open any closed doors and be a nice human. Upon entering this larger space, one of the performers (celebrants I think they were referred to as) approached me and asked if I would like to enter the labyrinth (I later learned what I thought was the labyrinth was not, and that attendees had very different experiences within the labyrinth.) For instance, once I did finally get to explore the labyrinth, I choose to become a part of the silent performance. Nick, on the other hand, had a very vocal celebrant whose monologue left him feeling at times uncomfortable, but definitely fully present – “intense” was how he explained it to me.

People in attendance moved more by feeling than direction and while there were points in the evening that I had no idea what was going on, I found that if you stayed long enough you could find the story threads throughout – unraveling and re-raveling upon themselves.

I started to list some of my favorite parts of the performance (ie. that moth’s have over 100 words for light or that light also translates to “open,” “agape,” and “womb”), but then I realized in my attempt, what little sense they would make to whoever is reading this – that itself speaks to the overwhelming talent the people involved in this production possess to leave me with an experience both unspeakable and understood. After reading up on the performance on the way home Nick pointed out that the hypothesis in the title speaks to the invitation to the audience to craft their own conclusions about what they saw (or didn’t see).

My takeaway is this – we all enter in medias res (latin for in the midst of things). We pop into each other’s stories in the middle, and while we can make sense of some of what we see, we aren’t always privy to the backstory or the secret chambers of another’s mind. That can feel disorientating and unsettling but it can also feel mysterious and magical. The event also answered, at least for me, the question it so eloquently and artistically posed:”does a moment have a soul?”

It seems to me it most certainly does.

After Looking Further

Six years ago, Artistic Director Raymond Boban took inspiration from the Greek myth of Daedalus and Icarus and created what we now know as Candlelight Hypothesis. To quote CPT, “Each incarnation weaving in and out of reality and mythology, this work continues to seek a theatrical poetry, where image and idea, sound and substance, vision and virtuosity weave together in an effort to discover and articulate a piece of the ineffable human experience of meeting the mind.”

Up Next for CPT – Station Hope

After such a great experience, I am even more excited that I will be volunteering at Station Hope on Saturday, May 28 (free & family-friendly). Marketed as “a jubilant community event celebrating Cleveland’s social justice heritage and exploring contemporary struggles for freedom and equity” there will be over 250 artists in addition to several arts & cultural organizations in attendance as they hold on to hope for a better future at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Ohio City, an authenticated stop of the Underground Railroad.

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