Those who stopped at the top of the Boston Common, at about 1 p.m., witnessed an extraordinary work of performance art.
Stain, created by Deborah Lake Fortson. Percussion composer, Greg Jukes. On the Boston Common, March 24.
By David Gullette
Thousands of people participated in the excitement of the MARCH FOR OUR LIVES in the lower meadow of the Boston Common on March 24. Those who stopped at the top of the Common, at about 1 p.m., witnessed an extraordinary work of performance art, Stain, conceived and executed by Boston playwright and director Deborah Lake Fortson. If you didn’t stop to see it, here’s what you missed:
Toward the top of the hill facing the State House, seven of Fortson’s actors were slowly wrapped in extremely long bolts of blood-red cloth. Then, as a team of drummers from the Second Line Social Aid and Pleasure Society Brass Band played a solemn tattoo, the shrouded performers were tenderly lowered to the ground and began ever so slowly to roll down the hill toward Park Street Station. Slowly, slowly the cloth trailed out behind them leaving seven wavering strips of deep red marking their descent, echoing the seven “broad stripes” of our flag. At the bottom the bodies lay mostly motionless, although a few reached out their arms. The crowd of onlookers grew larger. Most were stunned into silence.
Then, with the red strips still in place, the ensemble began to plant signs in the lawn: Ferguson, Sandy Hook, Parkland, Charleston and others, and then the names of the slain children and adults — Caroline Previdi, 6; Catherine Hubbard, 6; Louis D. Brown, 15; Scott Biegel, 35, and more and more. Even as the drums grew more dirge-like and subdued, we heard a soft mixture of bells and chimes. Then the performers methodically re-folded the blood-red bolts of cloth. The crowd maintained silence for at least 6 long Emma Gonzales minutes.Stain was part ritualistic dance, part a communal ceremony of farewell, part a symbolic spilling of blood on one of our sacred plots of earth and on our flag.Click To Tweet
What had we seen? It was part ritualistic dance, part a communal ceremony of farewell, part a symbolic spilling of blood on one of our sacred plots of earth and on our flag. Fortson, who is perhaps best known for Body and Sold, a widely-traveled play about young people trafficked into the sex trade, using actual testimony of the victims, didn’t need spoken words on this occasion. Rolling bodies, strips of red, painted names, drums and chimes served her purpose and made her point brilliantly.
David Gullette is Literary Director of the Poets’ Theatre and was an early editor of Ploughshares. He is also and actor and playwright (the Poets’ Theatre produced his adaptation for the stage of Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf). His book of poems, Questionable Shapes, was published by Cervena Barvá Press (Somerville, 2017).