“Elijah in the Wadi” in Minneapolis, MN, is one of the multimedia dramatic work projects by Interference Arts. It explores the life, times, and character of the Prophet Elijah, an iconic figure who appears in the stories of all three Abrahamic religions – “the People of the Book.”
The Prophet Elijah is a witness and an activist. Elijah’s stories have an epic quality, while preserving the highly personal relationships that he has with people from all walks of life. He speaks truth to power, has a deep connection to his people, and is a fierce advocate for those who are disenfranchised. He spends long periods of time in isolation, escaping and hiding from repeated threats against his life, and he struggles with periods of intense doubt and desperation.
“Elijah in the Wadi” focuses on Elijah’s personal experience as an individual dealing with issues of enormous responsibility, extreme challenge, and isolation. The people of Israel are straying from the path of unity and holistic values, a situation exacerbated by King A’hav succumbing to Queen Jezebel’s adherence to her belief system, and by their mutual lust for power and control. Elijah tries to convince A’hav and Jezebel to lead the people back to the true path, and is faced with death for threatening a status quo that favors those at the top of the hierarchy. As the show opens, Elijah is in the Wadi Cherith – an isolated valley east of Jordan – hiding from A’hav and Jezebel. It was where he was waiting for the impact of the drought and famine to move A’hav, Jezebel, and the people of Israel to change their ways. As we spend time with Elijah in isolation, we learn that his challenges are not only due to external sources, but that the seeds of his conflict also originate from within.
Elijah lives in his time, our time, and all time. As the story depicts, the Prophet Elijah doesn’t die. Late in life in his own time he is carried away in a whirlwind, yet he travels through all time embodying an omnipresence as an iconic figure representing our constant struggle to be our best selves, striving to make the world a better place. Elijah makes appearances at each week at the Sabbath Havdalah ceremony, marking the closing of Sabbath as we endeavor to carry our best selves into the coming week; and he appears at the Passover Seder to mark the change from looking back at history to looking towards the future. He is also present at circumcisions, and there are many stories of his interactions with others throughout time. Some people believe that he joined Moses at the transfiguration of Jesus, and will be present as a herald to the coming of the Messiah. In “Elijah in the Wadi”, the whirlwind is a time portal through which Elijah travels to visit and engage with the world throughout time.
Here are some samples of the sounds and sights of “Elijah in the Wadi”:
“Elijah in the Wadi” Collaborators
I’m fortunate to have had a tremendous artistic team working with me, and I want to recognize the substantial impact that these exceptional collaborative artists had on the development of this work. Their vast cumulative experience, insights, generosity, and willingness to explore new terrain with unbounded excitement boosted my spirit and brought so much more to the show. They held me accountable; they saw different things that clarified the vision; and they are all creative, solution-oriented explorers.
Written and Composed by Craig Harris
Pearce Bunting: Elijah & Story to Stage Collaboration
Randall Davidson: Cello & Story to Stage Collaboration
Jim Peitzman: Video Design & Story to Stage Collaboration
Candy Kuehn: Costumes, Digital Illustration & Story to Stage Collaboration
Tim Donahue: Live Sound Mix Performance
Mike Grogan: Lighting Design
“Elijah in the Wadi” was produced at Illusion Theatre April 8-10, 2016, as part of The Right Here Showcase, an annual juried platform that supports Minnesota-based, mid-career contemporary performing artists, introducing new audiences to their work. I’m grateful to have received one of the 2016 commissions, as well as a commission from the Southwest Center for Jewish Culture supporting the development of this work.
The original commission from the Southwest Center for Jewish Culture to create “Elijah in the Wadi” flows from an initiative to create a collection of theatrical works based on the Jewish Prophets to present in various formats, venues and situations: theaters, synagogues, Jewish Community Centers, other religious venues and community settings. These works would be used to provide a context for discussion and community engagement within and across communities.
I was thrilled with the response from our audiences at the premiere performances of “Elijah in the Wadi”, and I am seeking additional venues to present the work to new communities around the country. I created “Elijah in the Wadi” with a view towards taking the show into different communities, and different sizes and types of spaces. My goal is to travel with the show, customizing the production to the specific circumstances and resources that suits the host community. While I would certainly be thrilled to produce the show in large, well-equipped theaters, I feel that there is deep value to presenting the show to small groups in intimate settings, providing opportunities for people to explore the topics revealed in the show in more depth.
The premiere production, “Elijah in the Wadi”, was accomplished by a complement of approximately 12 people, including a complex rigging system for the hanging projection scrims, four video projectors, a quadraphonic sound system, and a running crew of five people, in addition to the live actor and cellist. The set and staging for the show were created for a large venue with high ceilings and a full lighting grid and extensive production resources. I am currently creating a flexible touring model and a portable set design for the show that could easily travel with as few as three people – the actor, me, and one production associate.
In addition, I am creating a platform for community engagement to facilitate group exploration of the issues raised in the show, intersecting with the issues of concern within the host community. “Elijah in the Wadi” will travel to many different communities, and it will seek to bring diverse communities together. The implementation plan is based on developing relationships with synagogues and/or Jewish Community Centers, Christian, Muslim and other faith communities, and with organizations serving the general public. Panel/discussion programming is developed in collaboration with representatives from each community who are knowledgeable about Elijah’s significance in their religious and/or spiritual realms, or who have an interest in exploring the concept and role of prophets in the world. Performances and discussions will be held within each community, in addition to bringing different organizations and communities together to explore common themes and meaning in today’s world.
I am grateful to have received grants from the Howard B. & Ruth F. Brin Jewish Arts Endowment, and from Rimon: MN Jewish Arts Council to support this initiative, and I am encouraged by their support. The plan is to produce four or five performances and community engagement events beginning in the spring of 2017 throughout the rest of the year. Discussions are taking place now with prospective venues, and I will announce the schedule as soon as information is available.