A Reflection on the First 50 Years of the Alliance Theatre

To mark the end of the Alliance Stage as we know it, and to welcome the new era with the start of the big renovation, Pearl Cleage, our Mellon Playwright in Residence, wrote a piece to commemorate this special occasion.

Ritual
A Reflection on the First 50 Years of the Alliance Theatre

By Pearl Cleage
Mellon Playwright in Residence, Alliance Theatre
Written March 29, 2017

Any good ritual must begin with a confession,
which we know is not only good for the soul,
but for the raging, insatiable ego, a constant
challenge in this life we’ve chosen.

Because a real confession must include the moment
of realizing there has been a sin, a transgression, a
stumble on the road to selfhood and salvation.

The moment when the truth of who you are, and why
you are, and where you are, comes crashing up against
who you thought you were, hoped you were, were
longing to be, if you could just let go of all the ideas
that are not your own true self; all the ideas that don’t
rise up slowly from the deep well of your humanness;
the deep ocean of what you, yourself, know to be the
truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

In that moment, you must humble yourself and confess, if
you are serious about the future, about the way forward,
about the toxic power of anger and the healing power of
love and the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

So this is my confession…

I came to my place at this theatre afraid of the ghosts
who live here. Afraid of the building designed to keep
me in my invisible place because that was the law of
the land, at least the part of it we’re standing on in
this deepest of Deep South states; home of Scarlett
O’Hara and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Afraid of wealth and white and all the things I have
been raised to resist. Afraid of not being able to hear
my own voice among the whispering ghosts that live
here in our house.

It isn’t hard to hear them. An empty theatre is as full of
urgent voices as an empty church. As full of prayers
and longing and the deep desire for transformation
and transcendence.

I was afraid those voices would overpower
my own. There are still so many ghosts in
our house…

And so at first I was always on guard in case I met
one coming around the corner, or lurking in the
rehearsal hall, or sitting under that statue of Mr.
Woodruff, draped in their 20th century costumes,
itching for a fight and finding me. But all I kept finding
were Chris and Susan and Rodney and Rosemary and
Victor and Patrick and Sara and Pete and Rachel and
Mike and Christina and Jody and Donya and Jeff and
Michael and Ralph and your name goes here…

All I kept finding were members of my very own 21st
century tribe and you all were talking so loud and
working so hard that the ghosts couldn’t get a word in
edgewise.

Or at least I couldn’t hear them anymore…

But in the silence I could hear my own voice clearly,
my own American voice, whispering the 21st century
stories we will need as we move through this strange
and wonderful moment when truth needs a soldier;
someone to step to center stage, into the light of one
perfect spot, and tell the truth, the whole truth and
nothing but the truth.

Because what we do here together is tell and retell
the ancient stories of our tribe; the stories that find us
and bind us, one to one, and each to each, generation
after generation, lifetime after lifetime, forever and
ever, Amen.

Because before there was music; before there were
drawings on a dry cave wall, there were the storytellers.
There were the ones who came through every time and
every space and landed here with us/for us/in us…

It is the stories that make the theatre a
living place.

And for fifty years, this space has been the campfire
where we gathered to turn our faces toward the light
and see ourselves. 50 years of love and loss, faith
and forgiveness, rage and redemption, right here in
this room. All the messy, mesmerizing details of our
fragile, fabulous human lives.

I’ve seen my friends on this stage. I’ve watched them
call the Spirits in. I’ve watched them rage against the
dying of the light. I’ve watched them sing like angels
and dance like they had wings on their feet. And I
have been proud to be a member of this tribe.

Because at its insane, insatiable heart, the theatre is
only and always a place of revelation and renewal,
and what has really happened here, in this room, over
the last 50 years is a passionate, unbroken quest for
the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

This is all I ever wanted to do. And all I know how to
do. And I’m gonna do it until I can’t do it, and then I’m
gonna do it some more.

Because this is the life we’ve chosen.

This is the life that shaped us and saved us and
made us understand the power of telling the truth,
the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

So we are gathered here to give thanks for the last 50
years; and to celebrate the next fifty, and the next fifty,
and the fifty after that. Because the house that we are
building; the house that we will shape together, will be
built right from the start to be a welcoming place; a wide
and wonderful place, that looks like us, and sounds like
us, and sings like us and never for one second considers
anything but the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but
the truth. Forever and forever and forever… Amen.

 

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