Harsh is Truth, the challenge is the reward

Last night, Masary Studios presented our last of three intense projects this fall. From Brutal Rhythm  to Gridlock at Illuminus, Harsh is Truth was our last premiere of 2017. Of course, we'd been working on all three projects throughout the summer and early fall, but the jam-packed October/November proved to be challenging and rewarding all at the same time! 

Harsh is Truth came to life via the Arts on the Trails to Freedom initiative by the National Parks Service in collaboration with the New England Foundation for the Arts. We were approached to be the second receipt of this initiative in response to our project Know No. Over the summer, I met with National Parks representatives to walk the Trails to Freedom (Freedom Trail and Black Heritage Trail) to choose a venue for the work. 

The Old South Meeting House immediately spoke to us for many reasons: a beautiful blank white canvas (wall!) accented by flowing architectural features, a rich and important narrative in our revolutionary history, and swell acoustics. 

Ryan, Samo, and I dove deep into the story of the Old South Meeting House, and began discussing what a "meeting place" looks like in modern times. The fact that the OSMH is a secular space to share ideas, with a free speech policy implemented in 1930, sparked the desire to dive into the questions "what is truth?" “is there a limit to free speech?” and “why do we need to preserve sanctuaries of gathering and expression?”  We asked pedestrians encountered on the Trails to Freedom to share thoughts, and researched great writers and orators of centuries past, and even looking at the comment sections in social media of today. One concept held true -  Americans have been debating, defining and redefining the edges of freedom, expression, identity, and the often complex, yet fundamental, concept of truth and how it affects both personal and global issues for decades.

In response, we created a 40-minute work combining original music and projections with voice recordings of the publicly sourced viewpoints, and speeches/recordings of well-known individuals. The program was divided into 8 "comments" and welcomed the talents of Francesca McNeeley (cello) and Josh Knowles (violin!) Here's a taste of the final look from the show last night:

Harsh is Truth Masary Studios

The space was stunning visually, and we were proud of the feedback received, especially when bringing difficult subjects to life. We debated A LOT about what to present in this show, and I'm thankful for the opportunity to discuss difficult subjects with my artistic collaborators, and hope that the project sparks conversations and reflections beyond that of which we were able to experience. 

Below are the program notes form the show. Those identified with a first name are those who participated in our open commentary event in September. 

A full video is coming soon! 

Harsh is Truth
Masary Studios
November 16, 2017
Old South Meeting House 

COMMENT #1: Prelude
The written policy voted into effect at the February 26, 1930 meeting of the Old South Association (the substance of which had been voted into effect in November 1929), is quoted as follows in the article by Jonathan B. Vogels, "'Put to Patriotic Use': Negotiating Free Speech at Boston's Old South Meeting House, 1925-1933" (The New England Quarterly Vol. LXXII (March 1999), p. 21):

The use of the Meeting House shall always be granted on reasonable terms and conditions to all citizens of Massachusetts who desire to exercise their right, in an orderly and peaceable manner, to assemble to consult upon the common good or to give instructions to their representatives or to request of the legislative body, by the way of addresses, petitions or remonstrances redress of the wrongs done them and of the grievances they suffer.

COMMENT #2: A Stranger’s Commentary
Barbara: I think you have to be careful about what you hear, what you see and analyze everything. You can’t take anything at face value.  Even my pastor says “don’t believe me, look in the Bible, it’s all there.”

Venk: If you believe in something which you’ve never experienced, that doesn’t mean it has to be the truth.

David: We didn’t realize in the 50’s we didn’t have free speech. I think we did. Until people started pointing out … it gets to be where the free speech people seem to have something they want to accomplish. And I don’t think they want you to be clear on what they want to accomplish.  

COMMENT #3: A Conversation Includes Listening

COMMENT #4: I Am Somebody / Who Will Survive in America?
Frederick Douglass
If there is no struggle there is no progress
Those, those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate and put down agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground
they want rain without the thunder and lightning
They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters

The struggle may be a moral one
Or it may be a physical one
Because power concedes nothing without a demand
It never did
And it never will

Jesse Jackson
I am Somebody
I am Somebody
I may be poor
But I am somebody
I am God’s Child
What time is it, brothers and sisters?

Gil Scott Heron
Comment #1
Comment #2, was dynomite
Our records were taken off the shelves
Comment #2, was dynamite, but comment #1 was the one the one that we decided to use here this evening
Our records were taken off the shelves, for quite a while
And not able to play anywhere that we wanted to

F&%@ up what you can in the name of
Piggy Wallace, Dickless Nixon, and Spiro Agnew
Leave brother Cleaver and Brother Malcolm alone please
After all is said and done build a new route to China if they'll have you
Who will survive in America?
Who will survive in America?
Who will survive in America?

COMMENT #5 - Silenced.

COMMENT #6: We Can Debate Forever
Linda: We need to have a place where the next generation can discuss these things, you know, because otherwise, people tend to sort of forget what’s gone on before.

Ian: Free speech is great, I believe in free speech, but as a judge once said, “free speech does not entitle you to shout ‘fire!’ in the middle of a crowded theater” because of the consequences. So there has got to be consequences, there has to be limits to it, that was my point basically. What those limits are, we can debate forever….”

Martin: Seems like our generation isn’t mature enough to hear facts and statistics, and other norms that some sheltered people that only live in one part of the country don’t want to adhere to, or even come to terms with, because it totally shatters their point of view of the world, and it’s almost like an attack on them personally.

Jose: In the end, this is a truth right here, speaking in person and hearing you, and listening to him. This is a truth, you know what I mean? Right here, this is it.

Jocelyn: Kind of a beautiful thing, because it’s a space for everybody”

COMMENT #7 - Reprise

COMMENT #8: And I Will Be Heard
William Lloyd Garrison
Harsh As Truth
I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation. . . . I am in earnest -- I will not equivocate -- I will not excuse -- I will not retreat a single inch -- AND I WILL BE HEARD."