"Your profession of faith"
By The Neo-Futurists, Taught by Chloe Johnston
This exercise was created by Johnston, who was inspired by the elegance of Diana Slickman’s play, “Profession of Faith” (included beneath the exercise description), originally written and performed in the Neo-Futurists’ late night show, "Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind in 2000." The play is a clear and accessible example of several hallmarks of the Neo-Futurists’ work: a convergence between text and staging, autobiographical writing, audience participation, and task-based activity. The writing is funny, serious, political, and surprising. Johnston developed this exercise over years of teaching workshops outside of the Neo-Futurist theatre as a way of explaining the aesthetic to participants who might never have seen the Neo-Futurists’ work. She often uses it in one-off workshops, with non-performers, or in groups that are only working together for one day. It can be an effective activity to do halfway through a longer workshop. Since the first part of the exercise simply asks the participants to sit and listen, it can provide a much needed break, especially for participants not used to performing.
From Ensemble-Made Chicago: A Guide to Collaborative Creation, by Coya Paz and Chloe Johnston, forthcoming from Northwestern University Press
1. Sit and listen.
Ask the participants have a piece of paper and a writing utensil close by, but tell them they only need to listen for the moment. Read out loud Diana Slickman’s play “Profession of Faith,” (found below) which is approximately two minutes long. Only read the spoken text, not the stage directions.
2. Write your profession of faith.
Ask the participants to write their own profession of faith. Tell them they can structure it however they want; they are welcome to use the list format Slickman uses or not. Give them 5-7 minutes to do this, and set a timer. When the timer goes off, ask them to finish whatever idea they’re in the middle of.
3. Listen again.
Read the play again, but this time with the stage directions. Lead a short discussion about the connection between the stage directions (which describe how the audience must hold tightly to a rope to keep the performer from falling) and the text of the play, some of which described the interconnectedness of all humans.
4. Stage your profession of faith.
Ask the participants to find a simple staging that connects to their professions of faith. Encourage them to find a task that they can sustain while saying their text. Remind them that in performance, they will either have to commit their text to memory (it’s fine to change what you originally wrote) or hold their paper—so take that into account in your staging. Encourage them to think about using audience participation, but it needn’t be a requirement. Make sure they think carefully about how they want their audience to be arranged. Give them no more than 10 minutes to do this.
5. Show the group.
Have each participant perform their profession of faith for the group. Hold off on discussing the performances until they are all finished. It’s useful to focus the conversation around moments of performance that really stay with you. You might ask the group to name the moments where the task and the text intersected in clear ways. Ask the group what they discovered in performance that surprised them.
- If there’s a large group of participants, it can be helpful to take a deep breath after the last performance, have the group close their eyes, and then, with their eyes closed, just say out loud the moments of performance that stayed with them. This technique can be used at the end of any exercise as way of reactivating the performance in the minds’ of the participants.
- This activity could produce material that could be refined and expanded for a more polished performance.
- In our experience, participants often reveal deeply held beliefs, philosophical and sometimes religious, in the course of this activity. For the initial round of feedback, try to focus on the performances themselves, the structure rather than content.
The play "Profession of Faith" was originally published in the book Neo-Solo: 131 Neo-Futurists Solo Plays from Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, published by Hope and Nonthings (2002).
© 2000 Diana Slickman
[The staging for this is hard to describe, but here goes: while speaking, Diana places three lengths of rope, coiled, on to the stage. Each rope is a different length and has slip knots at both ends. One at a time, she attaches the ropes to people in the audience. Without communicating with them about this in words, she slips the loop of the slip knot over the wrist of the audience member, tightens it up a little and then gets them to hold the long end of the rope in their hand. The other end of the rope is attached to a different person in the audience. The people attached to either of the rope are equidistant from the center of the rope. Once the ropes are in place, Diana slips the center of each rope around her waist so that she is, in effect, the meeting point for three arcs of rope.
The delivery of the text is meant to be non-stop, but not rushed. The text and the task should take just about the same amount of time.]
I believe in the invisible thread that binds us together.
I believe that when you go I go.
I believe that thinking makes it so.
I believe that when your ears burn someone is talking about you.
I believe in the intercession of saints.
I believe the intercession of saints is like a relay race where the baton of my prayer is passed from St. Jude to St. Catherine to St. Teresa to St. Bernadette to the BVM to Jesus until it crosses the finish line that is the very ear of God himself where it is answered in God’s own mysterious language.
I believe it is no coincidence that actors and secretaries have the same patron saint.
I believe that no good deed goes unpunished.
I believe in civility toward everyone, no matter how loathsome.
I believe that when I think of you the phone rings.
I believe in miracles since you came along, you sexy thing, sexy thing you.
I believe that you should never carry a credit card balance because those motherfuckers don't deserve a single red cent.
I believe the worst of everyone and everything and I’m always surprised to be right.
I believe you love me still.
I believe I will never be older than 23 in my mind.
I believe that lack of love can kill you.
I believe that touch can heal.
I believe you.
I believe that there is no god.
I believe that from death is nothing more mysterious than the transmutation of energy from one form to another.
I believe that if we were meant to be able to talk on the phone every-goddamned-where we’s have been born with receivers embedded into our palms.
I believe that there are no enterprise any more but the marketing and sale of goods and services of limited use and dubious value.
I believe that living well is the best revenge.
I believe that virtues is its own reward.
I believe the South will rise again.
I believe that there is a link that binds all people together and I don’t mean some six degrees of separation celebrity match game bullshit so you can put that right out of your mind.
I believe that haste makes waste.
I believe that kindness begets kindness.
I believe that words begets words.
I believe that belief without action is meaningless.
I believe that we hold the thread of one another’s life in one hand and pair of scissors in the other.
[By this time Diana is standing on stage with three ropes around her waist. At the end of the last line she falls backwards into the ropes, pulling them taut, requiring the lassoed audience members to hold tight in order to keep her upright (and to keep from being yanked out of their chairs.)]
[NOTE: How and if this visual words depends on how the audience and playing spaces are configured. Getting the tension, the angle of the fall, and the right distance between and among ropes take a little practice, and should be given a test run before trying it on an actual audience. It helps to figure out in rehearsal where you want the center of the arcs to be and then work backward from there. The people you chose to attach to the ropes can be in different rows of seats, sitting or standing. It will be up to you how to create the stage picture.
If you choose to do this play yourself, employ the form but change the content, and write a list of your own beliefs. If you believe exactly as I do, feel free to use the text as is (or use some of mine and supply your own for the rest.) The first and last items on my lists, however, are essential to the play, and if you don’t believe those, then I would ask that you not perform the play.]