The 1% of the Church (aka the clergy) gathered for some Prophet Sharing while the 99% sat down, shut up, and listened. An offering was taken.
As someone who spent many many years stuck in a pew, sitting, listening to a man elevated on a platform telling me what God had in store for my life, today I recoil from similar circumstances, no matter how LGBTQ-friendly. Yet, in my work as a performance artist/lecturer, I demand that my audiences sit and listen to me as I stand elevated over them expounding on my queer views of the world. This fact needled me especially at the Greenbelt Festival this summer in Cheltenham, England.
Unlike previous times performing at this magical progressive Christian arts festival with over 12,000 people popping in and out of talks and performances, this year I did not have time to conduct a Q&A session after any of my four presentations. I did encourage people to meet up with me at the Tiny Tea Tent (or the Teeny Tiny Tea Tent) or through Facebook or Twitter, but that is an ineffective way to have a public discussion.
Perhaps it is because of my growing Quaker sensibilities, where we Friends emphasize that everyone has something valuable to share (even if it seems dotty and random to me at times,) that I have felt the need to open up my performances more to input from audience members. Shortly after Greenbelt I presented at the Friends Meeting in York and decided to do something different. I created a list of possible excerpts and topics that I could present, but instead of doing a traditional presentation, I gave a very brief introduction about who I am theologically and personally, and then opened the floor for questions. I stated that we would experiment with a Question-driven Performance, where audience members questions would help me determine which excerpts and topics to present.
Risky, I know, but the risk paid off. We had an engaged, lively, expansive time together–a democratic performance of sorts. And with this successful experiment I took the idea to Malta where I presented Jesus Had Two Daddies. The play is about 50 minutes, so after a pause, I came back for a second half, a Q&A session with performance. Again it was risky, perhaps more risky than in York, because the Maltese audience was mixed with people who were decidedly suspicious of me and in disagreement with my stance of some LGBTQ issues and the Bible. But even with some questions that sounded like they had an edge to them, we had a community discussion of sorts around their questions and comments mixed with my answers and my performance.
No doubt I remained in control. It was not anarchy at all or a Quaker Meeting for worship, but it served to open space for more voices. Over the next few months I will continue to experiment with the Question-driven Performance, and who knows, maybe next August at Greenbelt 2013 I can give it a go.
I’m thinking about some ground rules to make this type of presentation effective, particularly in audiences of over 25 people. From many previous Q&A sessions I suggest:
1. The first three audience members to speak out will be female-identified (Ever notice that in most Q&A sessions–even with a majority of women present–it is almost always a guy who asks the first few questions. I’m not sure of all the reasons why, but it would be nice to disrupt this trend.)
2. Limit of one time at the mic per audience member. (I know I have the privilege of speaking MANY times during the presentation, but if I agree to limit my answers so as to get as many people as possible involved, I would like to stave off the temptation of a few people speaking multiple times.
What do you think? What would make this sort of session work for you? What ground rules do you suggest? Did you attend either the York or Malta performances? What was your experience?