Interactionarama: Linda Mary Montano’s Mysterium Masterpiece
HONORIA STARBUCK AND LUANNE STOVALL
When was the last time you sang a song to your pineal gland?
When you walk into Austin’s Vortex theatre you see the stage at floor level. The audience is banked on two sides. You find your seat. The stage is suddenly bathed in violet light, the color of the crown chakra, the color of mourning, of Lent.
One by one the nine performers walk to the stage, step to the microphone to reveal their day job and the role they are embodying, and take a seat at their respective stations. All are dressed in black and white. There are three Listeners — one with a therapy dog, a Water Healer, Dancer, Secretary, Choirmaster, Angel, and a Master of Ceremonies.
Wearing a flowing gold robe, Montano enters and sits at center stage, next to the Choirmaster. The Master of Ceremonies explains that we are venturing into the unknown space of death. We are invited to move in and out of the theatre, as needed, and to take advantage of the support system offered on stage. We can talk to the Listeners, describe thoughts about death to the Secretary who will record them on a scroll, dance with the Dancer, and engage with the Water Healer.
Audience members cross the threshold from the dark space to enter the stage illuminated with violet light. In addition to private audiences with the cast, a live microphone beckons at the front of the stage. Participants speak into the microphone, vocally meditating on a personal experience with loss and grief. The Angel with white gossamer wings comforts those who exhibit outward stress. The darkness provides a safe space of great potential. When we walk onstage into the mysterium, we journey into a spiritual place.
Throughout the evening, a large screen at the back of the stage plays a video depicting Montano’s father (before and after his stroke), his caregivers, and his dying days. Montano describes the video as “mourning art”. With the video, the cast in their stations, and audience members moving in and out, there is a lot going on. At unpredictable intervals, a dynamic focal point is enacted at center stage. Montano delivers haunting renditions of lounge set songs. Her voice is mournfully hypnotic, laced with unexpected pathos and pacing.
Immediately following each lounge song -- and in contrast to the solemn ceremonial atmosphere -- the Choirmaster playfully leads the crowd in singing gratitude to seven glands: ovaries & testes, pancreas, adrenals, thymus, thyroid, pituitary, pineal. After two hours of this pattern of remembrance, deep reflection, and gratitude, we sing the finale to the last gland, the pineal. We exit theatre space singing I’ll Fly Away by Allison Krauss and enter real space -- the cool night and a welcoming campfire. The Secretary’s scroll is tossed on the fire, exploding into a glittering fountain of sparks that ascends to the heavens. We break into applause.
Interactionarama is a complex, generous, and profoundly touching happening. Montano has honed her art/life message and intensified her performing presence to create an important work of art. The title describes the level of engagement without exposing the gift of supportive spiritual opportunities this collective experience offers. Born of grief, Montano’s masterpiece is brilliantly woven from unique personal stories, sensuous singing, video biography, and cathartic insights. Interactionarama invites us into the Heart of the Deep and pulses with wise blood.
Honoria Starbuck, teaching artist, is a professor of drawing and design fundamentals at the Art Institute of Austin. honoriastarbuck.com
Luanne Stovall, lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin and the Art Institute of Austin, is an artist specializing in color with a passion for modernist design. luannestovall.com