Soul of The City
Soul of The City follows a storyteller who has no more stories to tell. Her husband is sick, her boy has moved away, and no one is listening to her stories. Pursued by demons and haunted by ghosts, the storyteller embarks on a journey to find the soul of San Francisco. This multimedia music drama is a ritual performance. Rooted in traditional Japanese theater and music and infused with contemporary spoken word and Asian American Jazz, the Soul of The City reveals the divine in us all.
The audience will arrive dressed in their personal regalia and will gather in the garden to put prayers, photographs or talisman on the Soul of The City sacred tree. A Shinto priest will bless us with a purification ceremony and willing participants will be given temple bells to call the ancestors. We will then go inside the theater. The audience will witness a ritual performance of jazz, storytelling, and poetry that is accompanied by photographs and images of Brenda’s family in San Francisco since the 1800’s. At the conclusion of the performance we will return to the garden for refreshments, renewed, recharged and inspired to carry on.
ALL PERFORMER AND CREATIVE TEAM BIOS
Receiving the Hewlett 50 Playwright Commission is the greatest honor of my life, and a responsibility to truth tell that I do not take lightly. I received this award prior to the pandemic and was going to create a very different work, but life intervened. My husband and I were stalked for miles in Golden Gate Park by a man calling us the “Virus!” Four of our friends were beaten up, one so badly he almost died. People were calling Mark and I from all over the country asking us here in San Francisco, the birthplace of Asia America, for guidance as assaults spiked nationally. The violence continued to spread, encompassing the vulnerable in all communities, not just Asians. Covid continued and performing artists spent years without work. I got so stressed out that I ended up in the hospital. That is where this work, Soul of The City, really began.
In the hospital I couldn’t talk, which is very distressing for a storyteller. It wasn’t that I couldn’t actually talk, it was that I didn’t know how to respond because people’s emotions were so much louder than their words. That’s when I realized that I could talk to anyone whose language I didn’t speak! It was wonderful! I’d look into their eyes (the windows of the soul) and use my face and hands to show them how I felt, and we understood each other perfectly.
Outside the window of my hospital room was a gigantic pine tree. One day when I was feeling blue I looked at her and realized she was trying to talk to me (Aoki means pine tree.) The tree’s long beautiful needles danced in the breeze as if soothing me and when I was depressed, they shook like pom-poms cheering me on.
I looked at this huge mama tree and understood that our roots connect us to the earth and the earth connects us to one another. The only thing that heals is love and the greatest love is mother’s love because we women are the creators of the next generation so God, The Creator, must be a Mother.
This work, Soul of The City, is presented to you with some of my dearest friends – masters of their crafts with nothing to prove but lots to share. We are warriors – but not soldiers. We are Soulgers. We know why we are here, on this planet, at this moment in time, and we know what we must do. We will do it until we die. And even after because like all of us, our bodies return to the earth, our souls go back to Source and the actions we put into motion continue.
– Brenda Wong Aoki
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