Report form Barcelona
Dzieci and the Parliament of the World's Religions
July 7-13, 2004

For the past year, Dzieci has used "The Art of War" as a guideline, in much the same way as we used "The Gospel of Thomas" during the preceding year. In our particular war zone, it may seem ironic that, whenever we truly engage the question of our work, we inevitably return to our own selves, both as individuals and as a group.

That Dzieci, now in its eighth year, is able to serve a movement towards consciousness does not preclude the level of difficulty inherent in such a mission. Only from the support, both financial and spiritual, of our friends and relations, was Dzieci able to actualize this expedition, our first tour anywhere outside of the New York area. The Parliament was a phenomenal opportunity for us and we were received enthusiastically. To thank those who have helped and continue to help our work, here is a journal of our practical efforts during the week:

— Day 1 —

Half the company was able to be in Barcelona for the planting of the Tree of Peace, and the procession to the opening plenary. The group dressed as Medieval Fools (without sooty faces or scraggly teeth), and sang chants and hymns. The Fools stood out nicely and drew much attention from participants and media reps.

When the rest of the company arrived, we adjourned to the Sikh tent for the first of many wonderful meals (see essay, "Word Made Flesh"), and then retired to our various home-stays, generously arranged for us by the Parliament. A couple of Dziecis stayed with families in town, but most were housed at the convent of Sant Josep de la Montanya, up in the hills to the north, an appropriately fitting arrangement.

— Day 2 —

The group set up the space, both physically and vibrationally, for the program, "InterSpiritual Dialogue: The Vision in Practice". This was a co-presentation, Dzieci having had a relationship with ISD for a number of years. Keeping our attention partially on our own inner experience, we greeted the participants as they entered and escorted them to small semi-circular seating areas. Our aim was to lightly establish a certain level of sensitivity and awareness. We only spoke when necessary and tried to make a direct contact with each person. The seats filled up quickly and we were ready to begin the program.

I was filling the position of stage manager and cuing the presenters through subtle gestures. Rebecca Sokoll had been chosen from Dzieci to begin by leading an inner inquiry, in the form of a meditation. Dzieci Wendy Mapes sat on the dais with her and translated into Spanish. By now a tone was firmly established and the program flowed into a talk about ISD by members, Martha Foster, Kurt Johnson, and Martha Gallahue. Then the event became experiential.

I came in from the back and directed everyone to close their individual groups of chairs into small circles and begin to share with each other. Dziecis and other assistants to ISD joined various circles, and served as moderators when needed. After everyone had sufficient time to get to know each other, I gave them a task. Each group was to take the next ten minutes to come up with a one-minute presentation of what InterSpirituallity meant for them, in any form they wished: speech, dance, poem, painting, whatever.

We originally didn't expect all the groups to want to share, but it was clear few were going to sit this out. Everyone suddenly became very animated. The presentations ended up being the real message. Of the eighteen teams assembled, all but two brought forth ceremonial group creations that involved movement, voice, and expression of the heart. In the short time allotted, ritual was chosen over words to convey meaning. The lesson was not lost on any of us.

— Day 3 —

We were determined to present "Fool's Mass" in Barcelona. Even though the Parliament had advised us to stick with one proposal, we submitted three. In the end, all of Dzieci's proposals were approved, and two additional programs added. We found out that this was not the norm. We also found out that we were the only theatre group present. Perhaps we were the only theatre group to apply, but the hard sell had been "Fool's Mass".

A large theatre with raked seating had been assigned to us for show. We were worried about filling such a huge space, and had opted to use the floor in front of the audience, rather than the stage, forsake amplification, and seat all the people down front. Almost all of our performances in the past had been in intimate settings, usually a sacred space, with an audience that, at the most, had numbered about a hundred and at the least, five. We didn't need to worry about attendance, about three hundred people showed up for "Fool's Mass".

It is safe to say that, here at our first performance anywhere outside of New York, we were more enthusiastically received than we have ever experienced. It was extraordinary seeing such diversity in the audience: Buddhists and Sikhs, Priests and Rabbis, every color, every age, and all laughing and crying with complete abandon. The performers rose to the occasion, improvising spontaneously, and filling the piece with surprises. Many Dziecis received hugs, as they stood at the exit, greeting people as they departed. We were left in a blissful daze.

— Day 4 —

©2004 Steve Rohrbach

8:00 AM. One of our proposals was to lead what the Parliament referred to as a Morning Observance. A variety of these were scheduled for an hour each morning and available only to registered attendees. We were to present two such events. The first we called, "Sacred Dance".

We had chosen to hold this outdoors on a grassy slope, overlooking the Mediterranean. Our plan was to approach the event in the same way that we held our Para-theatrical workshops: to work slowly and non-verbally, taking the time to initiate even those who may arrive late. We would follow a liturgical dance choreographed for us by Lenna Kitterman, and used with the chant, Pange Lingua.

The movement requires divided attention in the body, and needs to be taught in stages. Dzieci has had much experience bringing a teaching in the way of direct transmission, and the eagerness of the crowd who assembled this sunny morning, made our effort seamless. In the end, we were doing the dance beautifully and singing, in unison, the first verse of Pange Lingua.

— Day 5 —

A day off. Well, not completely.

We had agreed to a test this evening. The task was to meet in the old city, dressed in our Fool's costumes, carrying no money. We would sing and interact on the street, in order to make enough money for dinner. Or we'd go back to our beds hungry. Mendicants, we'd pass the hat, and if we made more than we needed, we'd donate the rest to the convent.

Since we were coming from different directions, we chose a central meeting point, and doubtless had various adventures on the way, but all agreed that it was an extraordinary feeling to be in this place of ancient history, and stone walls, dressed as if we were a part of it. Even though street performers abounded, Dzieci's Fools stood out. We drew crowds immediately and, as we sang and moved along the streets, people followed, awestruck. Many commented on the mystical nature of our work. We found that making money was not nearly as difficult a procedure as stopping the show, when the crowd simply wouldn't let us cease.

The meal we had that evening was bountiful and we had enough money left over to bring some back to the sisters of Sant Josep de la Montanya.

— Day 6 —

Two activities scheduled for today. First up was our Interspiritual Ceremony for Peace at 8AM.

The conditions of our stay at the convent involved being let in and out through locked portals. At 6:00 AM, we found ourselves trapped inside along with a half dozen Tibetan Buddhist monks. As we awaited our release, the humor was lost on none of us.

The original plan for our ceremony was to co-create an event with members of the InterSpiritual Dialogue and a number of spiritual and religious leaders who had expressed interest. This was the form we used for World Peace Day, last September 21st. Due to abounding schedule conflicts at the Parliament, Dzieci was left on its own. We had, however, adopted a young woman from Spain, Ines Castel Branco, who had presented a wonderful program the previous day, "Ephemeral Path to Eternity: Intersections between Christian Liturgy and Art", and she joined us as we crafted and prepared our ritual.

We had managed to switch our location from a generic meeting room to one of the outdoor spaces for Morning Observances, a grassy spread of land, interspersed with young saplings and a the newly planted Tree of Peace. Our decision was to lead, in the way of our Para-Theatrical workshops, an hour-long ritual that would be non-verbal and completely participatory.

We began, gathered by the Peace Tree and passing around sacred ashes delivered to us from our friend, Oscar Miro Quesada. Then, we initiated a simple chant and started to move around the grounds. Once all participants had arrived, we formed a circle and started a swaying Sufi Zihker movement. From there, we opened up for individuals to step into the center of the circle and deliver prayers or chants from their own practices. Dzieci's set the direction by starting off with a prayer in Hebrew. We had no expectations for this improvisation, and were amazed how, one at a time; each participant stepped forward and made a uniquely personal offering. In fact all of our guests joined in, with no verbal direction, chanting and singing prayers, encompassing a beautiful multiplicity of paths and practices.

Then Dzieci radically altered the energy and raised the demand. We made an abrupt segue into a Dervish dance, encouraging all to follow along. At the end of this, we stopped, absolutely still, sensing an even finer energy amongst ourselves. Moving into the next part of the ritual, we began to separate into teams of male or female and move to opposite ends of the field. In our new groups, Dziecis taught the respective parts to an ancient Nordic chant and then we moved back together, singing our song and sensing as the two parts came together in harmony.

Once reassembled as a group, we continued the chant and moved, as one, back over to the Tree of Peace, where we ended the ceremony in silence, in a circle.

Our second program this day was as far removed from the InterSpritual Ceremony as our work can get. We presented our Cirkus Luna!, an act designed specifically for children's groups in hospitals and other institutions. This performance was at the Speaker's Corner, a venue that was part of the International Forum of Culture, so the general public, particularly families, were also welcome to attend.

We decided to approach this exactly as we would in a hospital setting, entering in our purple and black striped old-fashioned bathing suits and caps, broadly smiling with our goofy teeth. We'd paraded around the area prior to show time, so the house was pretty full. We pretty much dashed all expectations in the first few minutes. The acrobats of Cirkus Luna!, along with our Ring Master, Tight Rope Walker, and Trained Tiger, are actually able to do nothing. After a prolonged entrance and various failed attempts at circus skills, we stand in hopeless disarray, waiting for the audience to help us out. That is the point of Cirkus Luna!, and all of our hospital shows; there really isn't a show, as much as there is an invitation to join us in play.

Once the audience figured out that they were going to be part of the act, we lost some in the crowd who expected a more observational perspective. Those who remained, however, were completely game, and we ended up with everyone joining in for trust exercises, tight rope walking, tiger taming, and a number of valiant attempts at a colossal human pyramid.

In classic fashion, we milked our exit to thundering applause.

— Day 7 —

The final day. One program left.

We'd noticed that the entire Parliament had begun to wind down in the past couple of days. Crowds had diminished. Booths went unmanned. The line for free Internet use was manageable. Dzieci had applied to present four programs here and all had been accepted. In addition we had been offered two venues in the Forum of Culture at the Speaker's Corner. Yesterday we did Cirkus Luna!, today we had planned to have our medieval fools present a concert.

Because of overwhelming public demand for another Fool's Mass, we decided against the concert, even though the spatial limitations of the Speaker's Corner were not particularly conducive for our more delicate work. So we presented Fool's Mass. Or at least we tried to.

If we did not learn from our mistakes, we would not be able to grow. Even with positive response from a large portion of the audience, this was a mistake. Two of our company had to leave Barcelona early due to work commitments, so we had to restructure the piece, a worthy experiment and the least of our difficulties. The venue, which fit the anarchy of Cirkus Luna! quite well, was an insurmountable obstacle for us.

From the beginning, we had loud music from neighboring performances drowning out our chants and hymns. The little spoken word there is in Fool's Mass was likely rendered unintelligible. Especially after the series of successes we'd enjoyed at the Parliament, this experience was one of continued suffering, but "Even here", as was said in our sermon that day, "something is possible".

As we began to pass out bread, near the end of the piece, people began to actually line up to receive "communion". Many had tears in their eyes and, once again, we found ourselves being blessed as we continued through to the final "Ite Missa Est".

We were left unsettled, but also filled with awe. What are we doing? What moves through us? 

— Epilogue —

Since returning, the company has performed, for the sixth season in a row, at The Children's Hope Foundation's Summer Carnival, opened the HOWL Festival here in NYC with a ritual for Holy Fools, and received special blessings from the community of the Abbey of Regina Laudis, where we were honored by creating a piece for their Feast of Assumption. We are currently planning our third InterSpiritual Ceremony for Peace, and getting ready for our fall season.

Participation at the Parliament of the World's Religions in Barcelona was of immeasurable value, but the cost in terms of dollars is clear. $11,000 was donated to Dzieci to make this dream come true. However, we remain $2,500 in debt, and have much work to do to build upon our experience. What Dzieci was able to accomplish in one week is what we wish to do every week. Please continue your support, any additional help will be greatly appreciated.

Matt Mitler
August 30, 2004

The Word Made Flesh

Parliament Website