Has the past year changed you? Humbled you? Brought you to your knees?
Has it left you feeling helpless, lost, bereaved?
Have you shocked yourself with your own strength, with the power you have to endure, to persevere and maybe, just maybe, to overcome?
Refuge is a unique performance experience consisting of 11 illustrated panels arranged in a circle, each dedicated to a different goddess (such as Our Lady of the Infinite Night Sky). You and your pod of up to five people sit within the Stonehenge-like circle and listen to audio-based (or, in a couple of cases, watch video-based) stories of these goddesses, each performed by a different person, as they share their wisdom, offer their consolations and remind us of our place in the universe.
“I am nature’s vice,” declares Our Lady of Solar Magnificence. “Don’t look too long, don’t get too close. I will take the life you so gladly give up and I will bestow it back on all that is much bigger than you.”
Samantha Van Der Merwe, the founder and artistic director of Shaking the Tree, came up with the panel titles and shared them with the performers, each of whom picked a favorite and wrote a corresponding story for them while the panels were being built. The collaboration resulted in a variety of storytelling modes: a couple of monologues are funny and a couple incorporate dance (via video); some are exaltations while others are almost a lullaby, like these words of comfort from Our Lady of the Deep Interior Sanctuary:
“You who are suffering, you who have lost more than you can name, you who have walked into death’s shadow — you will resurrect. In your grief you will come apart like the butterfly does in the dark bed of her cocoon and the substrate of sorrow will become the scintillant fabric of wings.”
This idea of resurrection felt particularly relevant as I sat in a theater and watched a live production for the first time in over a year. After so much Netflix, which gives us complete control over what we watch and how we watch it, it felt gratifying to surrender to the goddesses of Refuge, to hear their challenges and warnings and to be an active participant in, and a witness to, their stories.
As hard as 2020 was, I’ve wondered what might be born from the ashes of this year. Have we as a society learned to slow down, just a little? Will the summer’s protests finally bring about true police reform? Might more people fight for significant climate change policies after September’s wildfires?
The tension between destruction and creation exists throughout the show, daring viewers to summon their rage and grief while urging them to recover their will and imagination to produce something new, something better. As the performer for Our Lady of the Primordial Fire says:
You have no time at all and all the time in the world.
Don’t waste it being likable.
Likeable gets nothing done and there’s so much to do.
There are demons to slaughter, there is shit that must burn.
So leave what was behind and dance until the world’s destroyed.
You think you liked the way things were?
That you were happy then?
Engulf it in your flames.
A few things to note about the experience: It’s free. (Donations are accepted.) It’s by appointment only and is open until May 22. It runs just over an hour. And, take it from someone who hasn’t even set foot in a grocery store for over a year: It feels completely safe. Someone lets you in, and then they leave so that you and your pod have a warehouse floor to yourselves to watch the show.
Most importantly: Go, and enjoy a live experience once again.