Harbinger: The Bed Project as an Ark

What is freedom? What are its faces and limits? International Theatre Festival Divadelná Nitra invites to explore the answers through the art
August 16, 2019
Romanian Theater Today – Conference – BOZAR
October 21, 2019

A tall pastor, one whom I imagined could peer over the iceberg tip of the horizon, in the spring of 2017 handed me Andras Visky’s play, Juliet. He, looking at the gray toned cover where a straight road lonely traveled through a barren field, said, “It’s gotten me through a lot.” This took place after a worship service at Redeemer Church of Knoxville.

The Bed Project started in the Church, what I later began to call the Temple for reasons grounded not only in myself but also in the human condition, that is, once that human being encounters the living God – receiving by grace faith in this present Unity who abides within the human being – the living One reconstitutes him into a Temple, even if he be a performer inside of a Theatre (or outside, in the case of The Bed Project). 

But how can this be? You see, The Bed Project began with my sincere belief that theatre, somehow, transforms us – the audience, actors, writers, designers. We were one thing and are now another. And in my case, I was a husband, father, student, Christian and then became a prisoner. 

To whom or what? The creation process possibly has answers.

As a choice, which I relentlessly heap onto my back, I seek after mediums, forms, and messages that will mess me up. Change me, because I take as a rule of thumb the power of art to transform, although this common place too needed dissection and dissected me over the course of my conceiving The Bed Project

If you asked me to give its conception a timestamp, I’d say sometime between the beginning of the worship service that spring morning in 2017 and the moment I looked into the eyes of the pastor handing me Juliet. His coherence and constraint.

The Bed Project is grounded in the specific experience of Romanian political prisoners and behind the curtain, so to speak, is Marilynne Robinson’s idea that experience is “one important testimony to the nature of reality itself.” Just imagine the history of human experience.

In its design, it gathered and distributed these prisoners’ felt universes into a seamless action: going to sleep hungry. But compounded into this action is the temptation to pray, to praise false gods. 

A two-sided question emerged after I completed the work: Is the Theatre the Temple? Is the Temple the Theatre? Because in the Theatre, which I manifested (or cried out to?) through The Bed Project filmed within Babes-Bolyai University’s Faculty of Theatre and Film courtyard from Friday to Saturday, April 12-13, 2019, I dawned rags becoming a prisoner and then the Temple arose from the stage (or cement prison floor?) of the Theatre. 

A false temple to be sure, one dedicated to Satan, but over a 13-minute performance sequence a marvelous shift in foundation and habitation had taken place. I had tried to resist Satan, failed, and then recited her evil, horrible prayers. Then I turned these prayers on their head with a pagan drink offering of violet cabbage soup sparingly and then hungrily poured out onto a statuette. This desperate paean to the living God because I had no other altar in my prison. 

The prison was my heart and within my converted heart, there – my old idols. I was complete: a prisoner. Since that spring of 2017, Jesus had been walking me down this obligatory road. 

On the creation days, the two days for filming The Bed Project, his work had nearly culminated. Looking back, I now can see that in my case the power of theatre to transform was vested in the power of Jesus to transform the human heart: from my heart of eternal stone into the flesh and blood heart of a prisoner – so much so that I am weepy at the injustice the millions living under the former USSR either never received and died or for which they still cry, but for which justice is coming. 

The Theatre is pagan at its best and a Church at its worst. But the Temple seems to me to be a “coffee shop” of sorts at which these two can meet, and if not be friends, at least acquaintances. 

I dare say these thoughts are immutable, tangible like painful deficiencies of my own. These thoughts would have been impossible for me to arrive at in the United States – imperceptible due to America’s focus on herself; I needed to witness and write plays in Romania where God once lived and its people, especially its political prisoners, still have a living memory of him. Theatre in Romania is much about this cultic inheritance and its loss. 

As a race, humans have yet to invent an instrument which preserves experience. In this case, The Bed Project is a nearly silent harbinger; it is an ark which contains vital experiences from 20th century Romanian history but which like vapor diffuses in the blink of an eye. 

Trent Sanders is a poet, playwright, and essayist living in Waco, Texas. He recently completed his Fulbright in Romania, for which he collaborated with the Lucian Blaga National Theatre – Cluj and Babes-Bolyai University’s Faculty of Theatre and Film. He’s currently collaborating with Baylor University’s Theater Department, English Literature Department, and Institute of Oral History. 

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