Go Ye Therefore ...
7 p.m. Thu. (Preview); 7 p.m. Fri.-Sun.; through June 6
5158 St. Roch Ave., 826-7783; www.artspotproductions.org
Tickets $20, $15 students/seniors, pay-what-you-can night May 16
In preparation for their drama Go Ye Therefore..., ArtSpot Productions founder Kathy Randels and new New Orleanian Rebecca Mwase spent the last several months singing for Baptist congregations throughout the city — some overwhelmingly black, some overwhelmingly white.
"We sing in the show," Randels says. "We do some hymns."
The title references the Baptist mission to convert new believers to the faith, but the show is a dramatic exploration of their common experiences as the daughters and granddaughters of Baptist preachers, though from two different strains of Baptist history. Mwase's family is from Zimbabwe, and she was born within months of her parents immigrating to North Carolina. But they are not Southern Baptists, who split off to form their own convention in 1845, primarily due to the issue of slavery. Missionaries from the South wanted to take their slaves with them to Africa so they would have servants. Baptists from the North objected.
"It struck me that the religion I grew up in, that my family practiced, had this intense connection to slavery," Randels says.
But the Southern Baptists' articles identified several groups their convention wanted to save: blacks, Native Americans and the city of New Orleans.
Go Ye Therefore... also addresses saving New Orleans and another type of mission work. It takes place outdoors at a home being rebuilt in Gentilly, and some of the piece looks at the interaction of groups (including religiously affiliated volunteer groups) coming to help rebuild, who have time and resources to give, and citizens devastated by the storm, who need aid but expect to have a voice in how the process and their future are determined.
"It's in the belief that you are coming to do good that this hierarchical problem comes in," Mwase says. "That what you're doing is in the best interest of the people you think you are helping."
"Is that going to be a dialogue or a monologue?" Randels asks.
The piece offers many dialogues about faith, including the positive and negative aspects of religion, the role of women in the church, Biblical stories and missionary work. It also is about post-Katrina New Orleans and rebuilding.
Randels and Mwase share an interest in ensemble-generated theater as well as work that engages social issues. In fall 2009, Randels directed the award-winning Loup Garou, a profile of a Cajun man set against a backdrop of coastal erosion and the role the oil industry has played in changing south Louisiana culture. But it's not easy to assure audiences of what such a play entails.
"People want to know if it's 'aesthetically' good, or 'community' good," Randels says. "There are preconceived notions that you can't do both well. We not only believe you can do both well but it's imperative."