An innovative theatre program in which former prisoners and homeless veterans explore Buddhist art in order to develop skills for attaining future employment and life goals. Their public performances inspire creativity and stimulate dialogue about the works in the exhibition. More about Staging Buddha

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Process

Lisa Harper Chang, Community Projects Director for The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, discusses Staging Reflections of the Buddha to a backdrop of images and voice recordings taken throughout the staging process. This video originally aired with Tim Townsend’s article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. You may reach the article through our “Multimedia” tab at the top of this page.

The Zen of Socially Engaged Art: Workshop, Reflection, and Ceremony

By Juan William Chavez
Community artist Juan William Chavez discusses the importance of experiencing creation of art in the making of the lanterns as well as the ceremony in which they were employed and distributed. The following takes us through the lantern ceremony from conception through implementation.

Workshop

Inspired by the Lotus Lantern Festival, The Lantern Project was a series of lantern making workshops with actors from Staging Reflections of the Buddha. The Workshops were led by Light Sculptor Bob Hartzell and myself with the goal of creating an installation in the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts’ (PFA) reflection pool.  Bob was the perfect collaborator and did an amazing job leading the actors in the construction of the lanterns.

“I’m so grateful to have participated in the lantern project and to witness how the Staging program affected all of its participants; it was a unique experience to be able to share in a small way how the Buddha works affected their viewers. The lantern project was especially gratifying personally – both in the representational interaction and seeing how months of work were disseminated to a community in a perfect moment of construction and communication.” – Bob Hartzell

Reflection

After the workshop concluded, I led several conversations with the actors giving us time as a group to reflect upon the process and journey of the project. Inspired by the Lotus Lantern Festival, the lighting of a lantern symbolizes a devotion to performing good deeds and lighting up the dark parts of the world that are filled with agony. We discussed the studio practice and how meaning begins to develop when making an object. One by one, the actors talked about their personal experience in the workshop and the meaning that their own lantern represented. It was a very powerful conversation, a conversation that could not have happened without experiencing these workshops.

The lanterns represent togetherness, creating something from scratch as a group.  Think positively that we can do something greater, seeing the light and following it into the future.”-Lamonte Johnson, Actor

On the last day of the exhibition, seventeen lanterns were installed in the PFA’s reflection pool. Each lantern represented an actor that participated in the workshop as well as our conversations, collaboration, and progress as a group. Through the lanterns, the dark becomes bright, symbolizing the Buddhist belief in the power of enlightenment to dispel human suffering.

Ceremony

Part of this project was to share the experience with the public. We created the Lantern Ceremony to honor the closing of the exhibit Reflections of the Buddha and the Staging project. The public congregated inside the exhibition at the PFA with the Mid-America Buddhist Association, who led viewers in a chant, followed by a cavalcade outside of the building. The procession concluded in the courtyard behind the PFA where audience members were met by 200 glowing lanterns suspended from trees.

The crowd then gave their attention to five Thai monks that recited the Mangala Sutra (The Supreme Blessings) in Pal commencing the Lantern Dedication Ceremony. In this ceremony, dedication refers to both a dedication of merit to recognize all good will and works created by this exhibition, as well as the new relationships that have formed through the Staging process and performances.

Once the Mangala Sutra ended, actor Darryl Parks took the microphone and announced a moment of shared meditative silence where he invited the audience to think about the significance of the light in the lanterns and the hopes and dreams we share as a community.  After a few minutes passed the mediation came to a conclusion with the sound of Tibetan Singing Bowls. Once the silence was broken, Darryl invited audience members to take home lanterns to remind them to carry the light forward as a symbol of positive social change.

As an artist and cultural activist, it’s important to take a Zen approach to Socially Engaged Art programming. Being liquid in thought and process allows projects a certain type of freedom to go beyond any preconceived notions that often produce limitations. This freedom can have surprising results and can be a powerful vehicle to address cultural and community issues in the city of St. Louis. The Lantern Project was the beginning of this conversation and encourages further discussions on how “we” as a community can create positive changes by working together and being Zen.

 

Lantern Dedication Ceremony This Saturday Evening

 

 

 

Time passes so quickly. In a blink of an eye, five months have disappeared, leaving all of us who have been fortunate enough to be touched by both Reflections of the Buddha and the Staging company wondering what is next. Before we begin to explore that question and the multitude of others, we invite you to join us for a lantern ceremony honoring the closing of this chapter and paving the way of good intentions for the flourishing of the next.

                This quiet, reflective ceremony will provide all of us with the opportunity to share with each other what our greatest hopes and intentions are for our community. Each participant in the ceremony will then take their lantern home with them as a tangible reminder to work to fulfill that hope or intention.

                The ceremony begins at 7:00 p.m. on Saturday, March 10. All are welcome and encouraged to share this moment with us. More details about the Lantern Project and Ceremony are listed below.

                The Lantern Project is a series of lantern making workshops with actors from Staging Reflections of the Buddha lead by artist and cultural activist Juan William Chavez and light sculptor Bob Hartzell.  Chavez and Hartzell worked with the actors to create 17 lanterns, to be installed in the Pulitzer’s reflection pool, to create an installation inspired by the lotus lantern festival.  The lanterns are symbols of light, wisdom and compassion.  Through the lanterns, the dark becomes bright, symbolizing the Buddhists belief in the power of enlightenment to dispel human suffering.

The lantern installation can be viewed during the closing performance and lantern ceremony (see below for a schedule of events and more information).

The lanterns represent togetherness, creating something from scratch as a group.  Think positively that we can do something greater, seeing the light and following it into the future.” 

-Lamonte Johnson, Actor

On March 10, the final evening of Reflections of the Buddha, the public is invited to participate in a lantern dedication ceremony on the grounds of the PulitzerLanterns that have been created by Chavez and Hartzell will be hung from trees behind the Pulitzer’s galleries.  The dedication refers to both a dedication of merit to recognize all good will and works created by this exhibition, as well as the new relationships that have formed through the Staging process and performances.  Participants in this final ceremony will be invited to take a lantern home with them to remind them to carry forward positive social change.  The ceremony is scheduled to begin at 7:00pm on Saturday, March 10, 2012

 

Lantern Dedication Ceremony Schedule

6:30 pm        Visitors may arrive.  Reception in the Courtyard.

7:00 pm        Ceremony begins.

Monks from the Mid-America Buddhist Association (MABA), Thai monks, Actors from the Staging project, Pulitzer Director, Kristina Van Dyke, and other Pulitzer staff will conduct the dedicationMembers of the public will have the opportunity to participate, and to take home a lantern.

8:15 pm       Ceremony ends.  Participants are invited to enjoy the exhibit for one last time before the building closes.

9:00 pm       Building closes.

All for One. One for All

Time passes so quickly. In a blink of an eye, five months have disappeared, leaving all of us who have been fortunate enough to be touched by both Reflections of the Buddha and the Staging company wondering what is next. Before we begin to explore that question and the multitude of others, we invite you to join us for a lantern ceremony honoring the closing of this chapter and paving the way of good intentions for the flourishing of the next.

This quiet, reflective ceremony will provide all of us with the opportunity to share with each other what our greatest hopes and intentions are for our community. Each participant in the ceremony will then take their lantern home with them as a tangible reminder to work to fulfill that hope or intention.

The ceremony begins at 7:00 p.m. on Saturday, March 10. All are welcome and encouraged to share this moment with us. More details about the ceremony are listed below in the previous blog post.

Peace in Oneself, Peace in the World

Community Projects Intern, Cristina Flagg, shares her Staging experience in this post. Cristina is an MSW student at the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University.

Mindfulness is the non-judgmental awareness of the present moment.  Mindfulness meditation works to cultivate this skill by training the brain to sit and focus on the breath, be aware of thoughts that come to the mind, and in a gentle, non-judgmental way, to release them and come back to the present moment.  The gentleness one learns to use while sitting in meditation can then be applied to every facet of daily life.  We become the ones in control of our emotions, rather than the other way around.

I know the power of meditation quite personally.  It’s gotten me through dark times, and enhanced my inner peace while deepening the well from which I can give to others.  I’ve been a student of Thich Nhat Hanh’s for a little over 3 years (I encourage anyone interested in meditation to look up his books), and am always eager to share what I’ve gained with others.  I was excited to get involved with the Staging project for many reasons, but the meditation element gave me a personal connection to the project.

Before our winter holiday break, various members of the St. Louis Buddhist community led meditation classes, to which our actors were invited.  For many of them, meditation practice really clicked, and when the sessions ended in November, the actors unanimously voted to continue a weekly meditation when we returned from our break.  Since I meditate regularly, I was asked to lead the group, which was a huge honor for me.  Meditating with a group of people is always a special, energy-giving experience.  Sometimes while we’re sitting together,  I open my eyes briefly and look around the circle.  It moves me to see so many people of different ages and backgrounds coming together to do something so simple yet so powerful.

Some of the actors say they will continue meditating once the project is over.  One actor has already begun meditating three times a day (way more than I do!).  This simple practice is changing their lives, enabling them to be more patient with themselves, enhancing their compassion for themselves and others, and giving them new perspective.  I know, because it did all those things for me.

We sit for five minutes before each show, centering ourselves and remembering why we’re here.  Were you there, you would hear me say,

Let’s take five minutes to breath mindfully together, coming back to the present moment: our true home.  I’ll invite the bell three times to begin…” 

So Much Interest

Phil Forrester, Curatorial and Community Projects Administrative Assistant, provides the following update on tickets and performances for Staging Reflections of the Buddha and the process for getting on the waiting list.
 

On the one hand, it is a great feeling when you organize an event and have it sell out completely. On the other, it is regrettable that you can’t accommodate every person who wants a ticket. I want to thank everyone for your support of this show and for being a welcoming, open-minded audience. After a great deal of leg-work, the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts and its community partners for this project have been able to add one more show to the lineup at 5 pm on Friday, March 9.

First preference for this show’s tickets will go to people that have already been added to our waiting list in the order that their reservation was received. After every person on that list has had a chance to reserve tickets, we will post the new date and time on our Event Brite page (http://www.eventbrite.com/event/2835957425).

A lot of effort and planning went into adding this show, and, while we would love to add as many shows as it took to allow every willing audience member a chance to see this wonderful performance, we have booked our actors and staff to capacity. I will encourage everyone that would like to be put on our wait list to continue emailing reservations to pforrester@pulitzerarts.org. Just include your name, phone number, and the quantity of tickets you would like to reserve.

What’s the Point?

One of the many things we treasure about the Staging process is the opportunity to work with professionals in other fields. In this case, Emily Piro, case manager at St. Patrick Center, has provided invaluable advice, support, and programmatic guidance throughout Staging. Below, she shares a little bit about her role on the project and some of her observations of the company. (St. Patrick Center is the largest provider of homeless services in Missouri and valued partner for Staging Reflections of the Buddha.)

Emily leads her “IP” group at a recent rehearsal.

It was a surprise (to say the least) to be asked in on the Staging project.  In growing the program, new members were to be selected from the homeless clients of St. Patrick Center, and we were to lend our expertise as case managers to help participants maximize their time with the program.  Our resources to problem solve and address housing crises, transportation issues, and processing trauma and recovery in the context of the program were expected to help people, even in the darkest of circumstances, have fair opportunity to grow and experience the full richness of the art and project.

I was charged with a weekly group helping the company of actors tie their experiences and new knowledge from Staging Reflections of the Buddha with their personal growth in programs at St. Patrick Center.  I decided to call my ½ hour session the “IP” group – Integrate and Process.  We talk about the impact we have on the art and process – but more so, we repeatedly ask the question: “What’s the point?”

It’s a big question – “What’s the point?”  What’s the point of the seemingly ridiculous theater games we play every day?  What’s the point in sitting around talking about ancient sculptures?  What’s the point of putting on a play in an art gallery?  What’s the point of bringing a caseworker in to talk about all this stuff, rather than a curator, staff, or professional actor?

Today, I had a whole plan of what to do in group.  But, after asking one person to share what’s been on his mind over the past week, suddenly it seemed the floodgates were opened.  Unprovoked, hand after hand raised, so many eager voices to share their experiences, too.  As much as I attempted to redirect the conversation back to my original discussion points, they continually returned to that broader question – how my life is changing.  Why my life is changing.  Why me, here, in this room, with these people, on this project.

In the end, there wasn’t even enough time in the group.  I ended by saying, “You know the impact this program is having on you.”  They do – no doubt.  We are ready to help guide them on the way, to make that connection,  to answer the question–What’s the point?

But sometimes it’s so good not to be needed.

A Path of Awakening

Community Projects Intern, Christopher Fan, shares his Staging experience in this post. Christopher is an MSW student at the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University.

It is not everyday that you come across a group of individuals who come from such different walks of life than yourself, and yet, can unpack and understand a vital piece of your cultural upbringing.  To many Westerners, the idea of Buddhism seems exotic, an unknown religion resigned to only the Eastern Hemisphere. For them, the idea of “no self” and “enlightenment” and “nirvana” are just words without meaning. However, through my experience of being a part of Staging Reflections of the Buddha, I have seen how these seventeen actors have not only begun to understand the principles of Buddhism through art, culture, and history, but also to understand its impact on their daily lives.

Growing up culturally Buddhist, the notion of mindfulness, self-actualization, and being in the present moment were always a part of me.  That was not the case with the actors involved in the Staging project, who have never really given Buddhism much of a thought.  Yet, over the past few months, I have seen a tremendous change in these actors.  Ideas of transcendence or of nirvana may sound foreign, but many actors have been able to relate their own experiences and wishes of finding that peace, that mindfulness, and the idea of shedding the world’s woes to these Buddhist tenets. I have been living these ideas for more than 23 years, and yet, these actors have only had a few weeks with these ideas and are already connecting with the artwork, the ideas, and the beliefs.

Buddha said, “We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.” It is truly amazing to witness a group of men and women without any experience with Buddhism come so far in their path of understanding not only Buddhism but themselves. Many of these actors have experienced hardships in their lives, and to see how they take Buddhist principles and apply them, and subsequently become leaders in their communities or men and women with a different world view or idea of their own self, is breathtaking.

Each actor, in his or her own way, has engaged in exactly what Buddhism asks: to set forth on a path of self discovery and self actualization. Each one of them has done that with his or her own fortitude, and I am so very excited to be a part of and witness the path to the final production. I am confident that everyone who has the pleasure of witnessing Staging Reflections of the Buddha will be astonished by the actors’ depth of insight and how it has affected each one of their lives.

 

- Christopher Fan -

 

Becoming One with Hiroshi Sugimoto’s ‘Sea of Buddha’

Raheem Thorpe, a Staging actor, talks about Sugimoto’s Sea of Buddha and how he feels about being back at the Pulitzer since being part of Staging Old Masters.

by Amy Broadway, Interim PR Coordinator

One of the main goals of Staging workshops is that the actors personally connect with the artworks in Reflections of the Buddha. The company will craft and perform scenes in the spring based on musings about the stars of the exhibition, such as Prince Shotoku, the giant sculpture of a left hand, or perhaps Oscar Munoz’s La Línea del Destino (Line of Destiny). The works haven’t been officially chosen yet, and it will be interesting to see what gets picked.

Several Fridays ago, Agnes Wilcox, the artistic director of Prison Performing Arts and the workshop leader, asked the actors to pair off, peruse the exhibition, and speculate about the images they saw. Afterwards, the exhibition’s curator, Francesca Herndon-Consagra, led Staging through the galleries, sharing her knowledge of the artistry, cultural history, and meaning behind the works.

In the video above, Raheem Thorpe, a graduate of the Staging Old Masters program, talks about how he and his peers first interpreted Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Sea of Buddha and what they learned from Francesca. The last time I saw Raheem, he was working with teaching artist Jenny Murphy in Urban Renewal, part of the Urban Alchemy series of programs Transformation. You can see him interviewed in 2010 here. He’s great on camera, and I look forward to seeing him on stage (Staging will perform in the galleries alongside the art).

As a side note, many of you may recall that this is not the first time the Pulitzer has been graced with Sugimoto creations. As we celebrate our tenth year–which officially began in October– we’re looking back at past exhibitions and web catalogues. Click here for another blast from the past, a look at our 2006 exhibition Hiroshi Sugimoto: Photographs of Joe.