Four Pairs of Sandals as an Act of Faith
Walking a mile in another man’s shoes leads to kismet
by Jeffrey Stanley
Three years ago I got married to my wife Bidisha in a traditional Hindu Bengali ceremony in Kolkata and spent three weeks touring the country. I bought a pair of sandals there which I wore throughout my trip and back home here in the States. This December my wife, our young son and I went back to India for a month to visit relatives. I brought my well-worn “India sandals” with me. A week into the visit they broke irreparably and I tossed them. The location of their demise seemed appropriate — from India they had come and to India they would return. The next day while we were out sightseeing we stumbled upon a tiny shoe store, one of a zillion in Kolkata, where I found the perfect pair of replacement sandals. They were simple but unique enough that they suited me as a souvenir.
A few days later I struck out on my own for a sightseeing visit Nakhoda Masjid, the largest mosque in Kolkata, built in 1926. A billboard told me with no intended irony that this was Road Safety Week in India. Still the taxis, auto-rickshaws and pedestrians were up to their usual danse macabre.
After a requisite insane cab ride and a short walk down a crowded, narrow street full of screaming sidewalk merchants selling Muslim prayer rugs and other Islam-themed souvenirs I found the mosque. It was sparsely populated at that late morning hour. The (continue reading…)
Allow me to take a moment to drop the self-aggrandizing persona that’s part and parcel of our show and break character (I know; even though I was playing myself). Even with a one-man show there’s no such thing as a one-man show. Part of the joy of producing theatre is that it’s a collaborative medium that requires teamwork.
I must thank my superbly imaginative supergenius director Daniel Student who elevated our show from a mere monologue or storytelling session into a truly theatrical experience. Our show got great press but rarely is the director mentioned in the chaotic coverage of a fringe festival. So, many thanks to Dan for reading my mind, for bringing our show to life while staying true to my vision for the show, and for helping me stay true to its themes.
Then there’s Randy Dalton, the sculptor behind the Blue Grotto, a lost gem in Philly’s visual art scene into which I was thrilled to help breathe new life. The Grotto is Randy’s baby but he was extremely welcoming and accommodating, letting us remove or relocate certain objects to improve sightlines, letting us come and go as we pleased at all hours, letting me summon the dead and offer them a new place to live, and even letting us replace some of his cherished blue bulbs with white ones to add a high contrast, flashlight-under-the-face, campfire ghost story mood when I stepped into certain areas.
Also I must thank CEC Executive Director Terri Shockley and Building Manager Scott Maits for their assistance, flexibility and curiosity about our show.
And I must thank Shiva3 Productions and Iggy Rocketboy, a fellow newcomer (even newer than me) to Philly. This phantasmal young man’s unorthodox approach to publicity and marketing put us in the limelight — no easy feat when competing against literally dozens of other fringe shows on any given night. The Rep Radio interview, the coverage by philly2philly.com, the City Paper, the Daily Pennsylvanian (who named us one of their 5 Must See shows, I might add) and the Philly Daily News all happened largely due to iRock’s quirky machinations and tendency to write his own playbook as went along (how many plays have a jingle?), delighting in breaking nearly every rule of what passes for professional theatrical PR. It was also Iggy’s idea to give every audience member two free gifts; a ouija board homemade by Jeff and a copy of one of Jack Chick’s fundamentalist Christian comic book tracts, Bewitched? because of its thematic relevance to the show.
I am deeply indebted and grateful also to my arts-loving, beautiful, rocket scientist superwife Pia whose patience and willingness to let me disappear night after night to rehearse and to perform a dark, diabolical (some would say profane) show, her willingness even to curtail our summer vacation plans so I could make martinis and play with ouija boards, and her eagerness to sit in on dress rehearsals and offer feedback, went stratospherically above and beyond the call of spousal duty.
And lastly there are my eternally beloved guest stars who shared the stage with me night after night on extremely short notice — SHALEE, DAVID, MALA, F.R.A., “NAMAZ,” “HABIB,” “KHEF” and all the other nameless souls. God bless them all and may they find peace, wherever and whatever they are.
WORST OUIJA CHAT EVER. Very little action last night. I’m not even going to bother alerting my press list on this one, especially not SR at The Daily Pennsylvanian despite her colleagues’ apparent love for my show, for which we are grateful. The only highlight if you want to call it that was –
JEFF: Do you know what’s taped to the back of the grave photo?
JEFF: What is it?
JEFF: Um, no. There is not a “habib” taped to the back of the photo (boy was I wrong; see below). Is Habib your name?
Mind you I’m not touching the board during these conversations. It’s always being operated by two audience volunteers other than at a few brief times between chats when I get on the board to warm it up, if you will. I know of course that Habib is an Arabic male name but I looked up its actual meaning and it’s “beloved” or “loved one” which in that case makes it similar to the 9/10 transcript when DAVID told us that HOME was taped to the back and it put a lump in my throat.
Had I known last night that a habib was a loved one and that the board was again speaking to me in Arabic I’d have been a little less dismissive. This would mark the 4th time out of 7 sessions that a directly Islamic or at least South Asian presence has been on the board — there was also the 9/14 session when it kept telling us NAMAZ, NAMAZ (pray, pray in Arabic), then there was the South Asian 5-year-old girl named MALA on 9/15 and SHALEE on 9/8.
All fascinating but surprising because given our geographical locus I was expecting a lot of old Philadelphia Quakers with names like Rachel or Zebulon or Nehemiah or at least some Johns or Williams or Marys. Yes there was David but he died in 1976 and lives in LA so he doesn’t count.
Lesson learned: never make assumptions about the spirit world/human subconscious.
Only 1 show left and it’s tonight and it’s the final Paranormal Psaturday – the first three ticket holders to show me a convincing photograph or smartphone video clip of authentic-looking paranormal activity in their homes will be given a $10.00 Starbucks gift certificate. Full details and ticket info.
During the final days of the festival BZ:ABOTD has made the Daily Pennsylvanian’s Must-See list, and that includes the curated Live Arts shows, which is extremely flattering. You haven’t seen the show yet? Only 2 chances left, and remember tonight is Freemasonry Fridays – the first three ticket holders to discretely wear their Masonic rings or other authentic Masonic logo jewelry and show it to me in secret before the show will secretly be given a $10.00 Starbucks gift certificate. Don’t try to pull a fast one— I know my Masonic jewelry.
The planchette on the Ouija board was flying all over the place last night. I mean it would shoot off the edge of the board sometimes and the volunteers would have to put it back on and reposition their fingers before it took off again like a little sportscar making hairpin turns all across the alphabet. Transcript highlights:
QUESTIONER: How old are you?
SPIRIT (or subconscious ideomotor impulse depending on your beliefs): 5 AND A HALF
QUESTIONER: What’s your name?
SPIRIT: MALA (turns out it’s a Hindu name meaning garland of flowers)
QUESTIONER: When did you die?
(here it swept a broad ellipse around the board and then swooped into a sideways figure 8 pattern — the symbol for infinity — over and over again in the center of the board)
QUESTIONER: When were you born?
(infinity pattern in response)
AUDIENCE MEMBER: How did you die?
SPIRIT: MOM MOM MOM MOM
AUDIENCE MEMBER: How did she kill you?
QUESTIONER: Do you resent her for it?
JEFF: Are you in the room with us?
JEFF: Where are you standing in relation to me?
JEFF: (indicating with hand) Right here?
(back to the infinity pattern)
QUESTIONER: She’s everywhere in the room.
JEFF: Do you know anyone here?
JEFF: Do you live here at the CEC?
JEFF: Do you know any of the other spirits we’ve talked to throughout the run of the show who also say they live here?
JEFF: Do you know initials FRA?
JEFF: Tell FRA I said hi. Do you know what’s taped to the back of the grave photo hanging in the other room?
JEFF: Okay, what is it?
SPIRIT: MNMNMNMN (which I took to mean “mmmm…”, thinking; remember we’re dealing with a 5 year old)
JEFF: It’s okay if you don’t know.
JEFF: Okay, no worries. Big hand for Mala.
OH. No wonder we were confused. It was speaking Arabic (or Hindi or Urdu). I started out wanting to tell you how uneventful the Ouija session was last night. We had an erascible sort. Lots of apparent gibberish and lots of NOs. As one of the Ouija volunteers said, you could just see this angry old man shaking his cane at us saying, “Get out of my yard!” But in short it was telling us to stop trying to contact the dead and go pray.
The transcript ran about like this: can you tell us your name? NO. Do you know you’re in a show? NO. Do you have any advice for Jeff? NO. Do you know the other spirits we’ve contacted so far with this show? YES. Can we talk to one of them instead of you? NO. Can you tell us where you are? NO. Do you know what’s taped to the back of the grave photo? NO.
So then I get home and Google NAMAZ and find out it’s Arabic (also Hindi and Urdu) for “pray,” as in Namaz-e-tawbah, a Muslim prayer meaning Prayer of Repentance. I think it was trying to tell us something… Now I wish I could remember some of the other “gibberish” it was telling us because it probably meant something, too.
Powerful stuff but I was once again left unfulfilled because You Don’t Know Who didn’t bother making an appearance and I was again left with only the nuclear option. Only 3 shows left… Full details and ticket info here.