On Halloween night, 1969 Leonardo Shapiro using members of local communes put on a performance of the W.B. Yeats poem "The Second Coming" at the Rio Grande Gorge outside Taos, NM. As productions go this one was far from New York or Los Angeles but in its creativity and earthy metaphors it stands out in the memories of all who took part. And in it best sense it represented the times and the place, the energy and the creativity, the hope and the alternatives better than any other event.
Here are two remembrances:
From Andrea Lord who was part of the production:
"I arrived in Taos in the spring of 1969. I was a newcomer and the whole movement happening in Taos was both strange and familiar to me. People were opening up their minds to new information. Carlos Castaneda, I Ching, Astrology, new ways of relating to everything and everyone. Racism was being put on the front burner along with sexism, sexual freedom and patriarchal domination etc. Everything was being challenged.
The Taos Community may not have overcome all of these problems but at least it confronted them in some manner. People came to Taos because they felt stifled and were looking for freedom to be. Acting in Leonardo's play was a part of challenging the old way of looking at things. I know he was trying to take the lid off of some part of society. I guess that was why I became part of the play.
Late summer I was staying at the Taos Community Information Center when Leonardo came in looking for people to act in a play based on Yeats' Second Coming. He dressed like a traveling man, a troubadour, very excited, wanting to share his talents. The rehearsals were being held at the Information Center so by osmosis I became a part of the production.
The very first time we met I remember sitting around a table with just a few people and Leonardo laid out the idea. The next time other people showed up I don't remember how they were recruited probably by word of mouth. Eventually there must have been about 20+ people involved we met quite frequently.
I had no acting experience and I believe most of the people involved had none or maybe little school type experiences. So the first few times we met he took us through some kind of method acting scenarios. One I remember was that he told us to lie down anywhere, close your eyes and pretend that you are coming alive for the first time blind and discover your environment. Another time we went out to the Rio Grande Gorge and he had us lined up practicing tumbling. It felt like a circus troupe.
We worked hard on the production. We met. We practiced. We created the set. We made the costumes. We showed up. This was part of Leonardo's energy because back then, people were pretty casual, very in the moment, on the run etc. So, the fact that this production happened and was extremely successful was a tribute to his vision.
The play was produced in the Rio Grande Gorge at night on Halloween 1969. The weather was crisp and cold. It was pitch black, dark as night, and people came feeling there way into the gorge along a narrow path. We were placed strategically along the twining path holding lit sagebrush torches wearing hopsack robes and hooded masks. As people came in (and a lot did) we directed them down to the plateau. We spoke some lines I think from the play and never identified ourselves. I can still remember seeing this one guy that I knew and him looking at me trying to see who I was. It was kind of empowering knowing without being known.
When everybody was seated, actually no seats just the ground, a large fireball made of sagebrush that had been soaked in gasoline was lit. It came hurling down the side of the gorge on a wire guideline smashing into a half moon briar at least six foot high and around 30 feet wide. It too had some gasoline on it and when lit it created the theater lighting. The play was performed backlit inside the briar. If I remember correctly we created shapes like pentagrams as we said our lines moving in and out of each other.
We had made all the costumes, built the torches and the briar backdrop, and designed the guide wire fireball all under Leonardo's direction. It was his creation and I think it was enormously successful. The whole performance was a blending of movement, discovery and natural design. It was Leonardo's vision.
There was a party at the Taos general store after the performance. Everyone in the community was mostly there. The play produced a great sense of community and creativity. It made the community feel good.
In my opinion it was a winner. The Taos community was a new way of being, very untried and vulnerable. Leonardo's play gave it some kind of creative center and expression. Other media did too, fountain of light newspaper, general store, La Clinica and the information center. It was a real community.
It was a very exciting time, full of promise and hope.
Leonardo was a kind and generous man. I worked with him on the play and I saw him around the community until I left in October 1970.
I still see him and am grateful for the memories."
From "CHEERLEADERS OF THE REVOLUTION" by Richard E. Kramer
[Excerpt from "Commitments and Consequences: Leonardo Shapiro and The Shaliko Company," Chapter II, "Out of the Theater and Onto the Streets: Shapiro Before Shaliko"]
The performance of Leonardo Shapiro's Second Coming, based on Yeats's poem, started at midnight on a brisk, chilly Friday, 31 October 1969, in a canyon of the Rio Grande River Gorge about 15 miles outside of Taos which Shapiro dubbed "The Midnight Theater." To get to the clearing in which the performance took place, spectators had to come down a narrow path through dry waterfalls following a rope guideline and a succession of torch-bearing performers "wearing hopsack robes and hooded masks." It was quite a trek in the pitch darkness through the desert and down into the little box canyon from cars parked above. After the audience was seated on the ground, Shapiro recited the invocation from occultist Aleister Crowley from atop a rock outcropping, like a small mountaintop a couple of hundred feet above the clearing:
"Magic is the science and art [of] causing change to occur in conformity with will."
"Any required change may be affected by the application of the proper kind and degree of force in the proper manner through the proper medium to the proper object . . ."
"Every man and every woman is a star."
He then lit a fireball formed of gasoline-soaked sagebrush which hurtled down an invisible wire and smashed into a six-foot-high, 30-foot-long crescent of briar that was also saturated with gasoline. When the bonfire ignited, the performance began-a ritualized dance that Shapiro developed from the Grotowski plastiques he had learned in New York. Andrea Lord, one of the performers, describes it as "a blending of movement, discovery and natural design," backlit by the bonfire; she remembers the performers forming shapes such as pentagrams and speaking lines from Yeats's poem as they moved among one another before the burning briar arc. Shapiro and Lord both recall that Second Coming was quite successful, attracting about 100 spectators or so, and the director declared he was impressed that there was an audience in the Taos area for such a spectacle. Further, Lord believes, the performance gave "some kind of creative center and expression" to the nascent counterculture community, which was still "very untried and vulnerable."
Ed Note: Richard E. Kramer contacted the Fountain of Light seeking information about Leonardo for his book "Commitments and Consequences: Leonardo Shapiro and The Shaliko Company." prompting Andrea Lord to write about the performance. We are grateful to Rick for reminding us of this event but were saddened to hear that Leonardo had passed away in 1997 after returning to New Mexico at the end of his life. Rick also told us that Leonardo never forgot his two years in New Mexico - "it affected the whole rest of his life and work".
Leonardo was definitely a man who "never went back" except as a changed person who kept his spirit and his consciousness intact.
Thanks for the Memories!
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