Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Fandangle - Albany, Texas

If the name "Fandangle" doesn't already stir your imagination, then you should probably stay home from this whip-crackin', bronco-gallopin', cowboy singin', historical extravaganza.

On our way in, we got to hear Louann tooting away on the Calliope, a sort of steam-whistle organ (we got there early specifically for this, at the website's recommendation). A large, red, wooden instrument, the calliope is set up outside in a spot between the parking lot and the outdoor amphitheater.

Albany is a small city, with a population of around 2,000 not including horses - and every single thing and person about this production is from the town. While people were being seated the "stars at night, are big and bright" song played, and I happened to be videotaping when many in the audience did the appropriate clapping almost reflexively -- **** "Deep in the heart ... of Texas."

The bulletin provided stated, "The Fort Griffin FANDANGLE ... is theatrical history written, directed, lighted, costumed, sung and danced by Albany people."

Parts included actors playing roles like, "Tall Grass" and "Prairie Schooner." Songs ran the gamut from "Drunk & Disorderly" to "Croonin' in June."

The newspaper-style program also had this quote across the top, "Other states were made or born -- Texas grew from hide and horn." Adapted from the poem "Cattle" by Berta Hart Nance.

The longhorns were awe-inspiring. guest starring as an ensemble. They trotted in and stopped within a startlingly few feet of the crowd, with their curved, sharp horns just a few feet from the front row of folding chairs. The herders stayed tight around them in a semi-circle, and the cattle remained still, seemingly cowed.

At one point in the show, featuring "The Buffalo" several barefoot children dressed as animals of the plains (as in, "scores of prairie dogs") ran across the grass stage. I noticed the 'Eagle' and the 'Possum' couldn't see well to run, unless they held up the large, stuffed heads of their costumes with one free hand. Then they performed beautifully.

All participants seemed well-rehearsed and there were some with very good singing voices.

Definitely a humorous element was a part of this production as well. Sample words from one song:

A cowboy ain't no hero / In life he is... Zero! / Ain't it sad?!

The actors on horseback were my favorite. It was very obviously not their first time on a horse. Several raced across the stage, criss-crossing close to one another. It was impressive. They were going fast and smoothly in a relatively small space.

Locally homemade ice cream is available for sale onsite. As well, you can buy cushions for $1 each, benefitting the local high school. The folks below contributed a bit more to the cause, indicating that it was not their first Fandangle, I don't think. We will do the same next time.

Fun to be had.

Next year is the 75th anniversary of the performance, and we hear it's going to be big.

We are a people's theater, a dramatic interpretation of ourselves on our home ground. If we please those who come to see us, we are deeply gratified. Yet we keep remembering that the show grew out of us and is principally for us.

Robert E. Nail, original writer & director
[Quoted in the show program]

(We didn't get to see the entire show, having to leave early.)


Other states were carved or born,

Texas grew from hide and horn.

Other states are long or wide,

Texas is a shaggy hide.

Dripping blood and crumpled hair;

Some gory giant flung it there,

Laid the head where valleys drain,

Stretched its rump along the plain.

Other soil is full of stones,

Texas plow up cattle-bones.

Herds are buried on the trail

Underneath the powdered shale;

Herds that stiffened like the snow,

Where the icy northers go.

Other states have built their halls,

Humming tunes along the walls.

Texans watched the mortar stirred,

While they kept the lowing herd.

Stamped on Texan wall and roof

Gleams the sharp and crescent hoof.

High above the hum and stir

Jingle bridle rein and spur.

Other states were made or born,

Texas grew from hide and horn.
Berta Hart Nance from The Road to Texas, 1940
[From the Fort Griffin Fandangle program, 2012]

Atlanta - Ebenezer Baptist Church

"New" Ebenezer Baptist Church - follow the fenceline

Ebenezer Baptist Church, down the street from M.L.K.'s birth home

I'd never seen a light-up cross in a church sanctuary before, but this one didn't impress me as garish instead seeming to match the rest of the dignified architecture of its surroundings - maybe fitting as well. because of the history of the place. Martin Luther King Jr.'s voice was playing into the space on a recording.

The words below, an excerpt from one of his sermons, reveal a few different things. For one, they show an incredibly intelligent and educated man. To be perfectly honest, I didn't know this. Until recently I thought Martin Luther King, Jr. was a charismatic man; a symbol, maybe an object of people’s worship; a convincing person; a tragic figure. This sermon and others of his however, reveal a deep, abiding revelationary, personal relationship with God. They also show that he was brilliant and extremely educated. In terms of what civil rights demonstrators had to face at that time, these words offer clues as to where they got their strength and determination.

It wasn’t from a quaint, emotionalism-heavy “Black church” experience. It wasn’t pumping one another up to go out and, "fight to win." It was calm wisdom and powerful truth, enabling them to put one foot in front of the other down an ordinary street, for miles. Knowing fully that they might die, be spit on, injured, or maimed, for walking. Knowing that they would not defend themselves.

They weren't protesting, the way we think of it now. They weren't taking a political stand one side or another, risking being derided or insulted for their opinions. They weren't shouting. Dignified, they were marching for voting rights, or sitting at a counter simply to be served. With each step, they were establishing and declaring their personhood. Their value. 

They weren’t self-righteous, full of hateful anger or revenge – those would’ve been counter-productive.

[Note: yes, these were ordinary people and I know they felt fear, anger, everything, but their behavior demonstrated restrained courage.]

In the sermon below, Martin Luther King, Junior mentions Highway 80 and alludes to the march from Selma to Montgomery.

Titled “Unfulfilled Dreams," [an excerpt] it was preached back at Ebenezer Baptist, his growing-up church down the street from the house where he grew up, a month before he was killed: 

(I love that the text includes the verbal responses from the congregation, an integral part of the message.)

[From the book, “A Knock at Midnight,” edited by Clayborne Carson & Peter Holloran.]

So many of us in life start out building temples: temples of character, temples of justice, temples of peace. And so often we don’t finish them. Because life is like Schubert’s “Unfinished Symphony.” At so many points we start, we try, we set out to build our various temples. And I guess one of the great agonies of life is that we are constantly trying to finish that which is unfinishable. We are commanded to do that. And so we, like David, find ourselves in so many instances having to face the fact that our dreams are not fulfilled …

And each of you this morning in some way is building some kind of temple. The struggle is always there. It gets discouraging sometimes. It gets very disenchanting sometimes. Some of us are trying to build a temple of peace. We speak out against war, we protest but it seems that your head is going against a concrete wall. It seems to mean nothing. (Glory to God) And so often as you set out to build the temple of peace you are left lonesome; you are left discouraged; you are left bewildered.

Well, that is the story of life…

Now, let me bring out another point. Whenever you set out to build a creative temple, whatever it may be, you must face the fact that there is a tension at the heart of the universe between good and evil. It’s there: a tension at the heart of the universe between good and evil. (Yes, sir) Hinduism refers to this as a struggle between illusion and reality. Platonic philosophy used to refer to it as a tension between the body and soul. Zoroastrianism, a religion of old, used to refer to it as tension between the god of light and the god of darkness. Traditional Judaism and Christianity refer to it as a tension between God and Satan. Whatever you call it, there is a struggle in the universe between good and evil…

But you know some of us feel that it’s a tension between God and man. And in every one of us this morning, there’s a war going on. (Yes, sir) It’s a civil war. (Yes, sir) I don’t care who you are, I don’t care where you live, there is a civil war going on in your life. (Yes it is) And every time you set out to be good, there’s something pulling on you, telling you to be evil. It’s going on in your life. (Preach it) Every time you set out to love, something keeps pulling on you, trying to get you to hate. (Yes, Yes, sir) Every time you set out to be kind and say nice things about people, something is pulling on you to be jealous and envious and to spread evil gossip about them. (Yes. Preach it.) There’s a civil war going on. There is a schizophrenia, as the psychologists or the psychiatrists would call it, going on within all of us. And there are times that all of us know somehow that there is a Mr. Hyde and a Dr. Jekyll in us. And we end up having to cry out with Ovid, the Latin poet, “I see and approve the better things in life, but the evil things I do.” We end up having to agree with Plato that the human personality is like a charioteer with two strong horses, each wanting to go in different directions. Or sometimes we even have to end up crying out with Saint Augustine as he said in his Confessions, “Lord, make me pure, but not yet.” (Amen) We end up crying out with the Apostle Paul, (Preach it) “The good that I would I do not: And the evil that I would not, that I do.” Or we end up having to say with Goethe that “there’s enough stuff in me tomake both a gentleman and a rogue.” (All right. Amen) There’s a tension at the heart of human nature. (Oh yeah) And whenever we set out to dream our dreams and to build our temples, we must be honest enough to recognize it.

And this brings me to the basic point of the text (the eighth chapter of First Kings). In the final analysis, God does not judge us by the separate incidents or the separate mistakes that we make, but by the total bent of our lives. In the final analysis, God knows (Yes) that his children are weak and they are frail. (Yes, he does) In the final analysis, what God requires is that your heart is right. (Amen. Yes) Salvation isn’t reaching the destination of absolute morality, but it’s being in the process and on the right road. (Yes)
There’s a highway called Highway 80. I’ve marched on that highway from Selma, Alabama, to Montgomery. But I will never forget my first experience with Highway 80 was driving … to California.

… Salvation is being on the right road, not having reached a destination.
… Now, the terrible thing in life is to be trying to get to Los Angeles on Highway 78. That’s when you are lost. (Yes) That sheep was lost, not merely because he was doing something wrong in that parable, but he was on the wrong road. (Yes) And he didn’t even know where he was going; he became so involved in what he was doing, nibbling sweet grass, (Make it plain) that he got on the wrong road. (Amen)

And the question I want to raise this morning with you: Is your heart right? (Yes. Preach) If your heart isn’t right, fix it up today; get God to fix it up. (Go ahead) … And I can hear a voice saying, crying out through the eternities, “I accept you. (Preach it) You are a recipient of my grace because it was in your heart.

… I don’t know this morning about you, but I can make a testimony. (Yes, sir. That’s my life) you don’t need to go out this morning saying that Martin Luther King is a saint. Oh, no. (Yes) I want you to know this morning that I’m a sinner like all of God’s children.

… It will be dark sometimes, and it will be dismal and trying, and tribulations will come. But if you have faith in the God that I’m talking about this morning, it doesn’t matter. (Yes) I’ve felt sin-breakers dashing, trying to conquer my soul. But I heard the voice of Jesus, saying still to fight on. He promised never to leave me, (Yes, sir) never to leave me alone. (Thank you, Jesus) No, never alone. No, never alone. He promised never to leave me. Never to leave me alone. (Glory to God)

And when you get this faith, you can walk with your feet solid to the ground and your head to the air, and you fear no man. (Go ahead) And you fear nothing that comes before you. (Yes, sir) Because you know that God is even in Crete. (Amen) If you ascend to the heavens, God is there. If you descend to hell, God is even there. If you take the wings of the morning and fly out to the uttermost parts of the sea, even God is there. Everywhere we turn we find him. We can never escape him.

Delivered at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, Georgia, 3 March 1968