Youth Drama Tours U.S. East Coast "Devotion" Bus Tour, Part 1
Posted July 21, 2007
We started the 2007 summer festival tour with intensive performance rehearsals at the Atlanta temple. For one week, 45 youth from around the world spent the first days of the tour absorbed in auditioning for the various roles in the play, dance and live music band. Anapayini dasi and Balarama Chandra das are directing the performance this year. They are both experienced and talented actors and we are fortunate to have them on the tour.
This year's performance is a dance drama with live music called
"Devotion." We start the show with an introductory dance and narration
that establishes that everything we do in our Krishna culture is an
expression of devotion to Krishna. The dancers begin with Pushpanjali
dance, followed by mudras that introduce the nine processes of
devotional service to Krishna.
Scene 2 - (Remembering - Smaranam) depicts how Lord Narasimhadeva defeats Hiranyakshipu and protects Prahlad. We have Mohini from Australia acting as Hiranyakashipu. She overwhelmed us during auditions as having the best stage presence and really giving life to the demon king. And since we have 30 young ladies and only 17 young men on the tour this year, some of the women are playing men's roles. So far it is working out nicely.
Scene 3 - (Serving the Lotus Feet - Pada-sevanam) depicts Lord
Narayana and Lakshmi, who is constantly engaged in serving the lotus
feet of the Lord. This scene is performed by the dancers, with mixture
of Bharatanatyam elements, mudras and dramatic expression. Lord Vishnu
reclines on His bed of Ananta Shesha, comprised of dancers acting as
serpent heads... There is live music of violin, flute, harmonium, dolak
and mridanga, with kartals tastefully arranged to accompany the
Scene 4 - (Worshiping the Deity - Archanam) depicts the story behind India's oldest festival, Jagannatha Rathayatra. These scenes are mini-stories in and of themselves, and the narration helps to set the scene and establish time, place and circumstance in a way that uninitiated audiences can try to understand. So in this scene, the narration tells the history of India's oldest festival, about King Indradyumna and his quest to see the Lord face to face, which eventually leads to the carving of the Jagannatha Deity. The actors depict how Indradyumna arranges for the carving of the Deities of Jagannatha (Krishna), Baladeva and Subhadra, and Krishna speaks to Indradyumna (voice from the sky) towards the end of the scene to inform him about the special nature of His appearance as Lord Jagannatha.
Scene 5 - (Servitude - Dasyam>) depicts Hanuman as the messenger of Rama, who finds Sita and restores Her hope that Rama is coming to Her rescue. Hanuman is played by Sundari dasi, a very enthusastic young woman from Hawaii. During auditions she was the natural choice for Hanuman, playing him very convincingly and with a charm that was irresistible.
Scene 6 - (Friendship - Sakhyam) depicts Krishna instructing Arjuna on the battlefield. Arjuna approaches Krishna as his dearmost friend and asks for advice. Krishna instructs Arjuna about the imperishable nature of the soul, and to do his duty.
Scene 7 - (Offering Prayers - Vandanam) depicts Queen Kunti mourning the loss of Karna, surrounded by the Pandavas and Krishna. She recounts the various calamities that happened to them, and offers beautiful prayers to Lord Krishna. The scene emotionally draws in the viewers as we discover that Karna was her first-born son. By the end of this scene it is hard for people to contain their tears.
Scene 8 - (Complete Surrender - Atma-nivedanam) depicts Bali Maharaja surrendering to Vamanadeva. Bali is played by Balaram Poddar, Radha Jivan das's son, in a very regal and classy manner. Vamanadeva is expertly portrayed by Komala Kumari. Ganga prabhu does a good job at portraying the skeptical Shukracharya, with a long matted red haired wig.
Scene 9 - (Chanting - Kirtanam) depicts a short mridanga presentation (Manipuri style) followed by Lord Chaitanya and Nityananda appearing on the scene with a kirtana party and dancers. Lord Chaitanya and Nityananda explain the significance of chanting the Holy Names and begin a melodious, choreographed stage kirtana.
June 30, Saturday - Prabhupada Village, North Carolina
Our first performance in Prabhupada Village in front of a test audience of devotees and guests was well-received. One senior Prabhupada disciple approached me and said he was very, very upset. I responded, "Oh, no. What have we done to offend you?" He told me that he was "upset" because he was crying the entire duration of the play and his tears were getting in the way of being able to watch the performance. Naturally we take these comments with a grain of salt. Devotees are trying to praise us and make us feel good. It does show that the many hours of rehearsals have paid off; people's emotional strings are being pulled by this performance, and they feel moved after watching it. A couple of guests new to Krishna consciousness approached us and said that they were completely amazed. Great! That is what we wanted to achieve: to amaze people with the amazing colors, music, dance, and Krishna-culture stories from the Bhagavatam.
We have several important hall and auditorium programs booked for this summer, and performance rehearsals intensify as we try to make the presentation better. We are trying to put on miniature Krishna Culture Festivals at hall programs between the Ratha-yatra weekends. In Toronto, for example, devotees have booked a prestigious 500-seat theatre for us, where people coming to see us are paying $62 per seat (for front and centre) and $42 for other seats. There is an orchestra pit and everything. We are also scheduled to be performing in auditoriums at Lakehurst University in Thunder Bay, Royal Saskatchewan Auditorium in Regina, Ashcroft Opera House in B.C., Boise State University Auditorium in Idaho, Ferst Theatre for Arts at Georgia Tech University, and two back-to-back performances at theatres in Miami, Florida.
July 1, Sunday - Prabhupada Village, North Carolina
After some deliberation, we decided to cut our upcoming camping trip short to spend an extra day in Prabhupada Village, where Dravinaksa and I have electricity to continue making last-minute fixes to the bathrooms on the buses. Shower water lines are being hooked up, PVC pipes are being glued, sinks are being installed, etc. A local devotee plumber named Ranchor helps us.
After breakfast, a devotee couple, Chitra dasi and Mathura das, along with their 2-year old son Devavrata, invite us to participate in a hands-on seminar on how to help build their house out of cob -- a mixture of straw, clay, sand and water. Happily we accept this unusual invitation and send the boys down the hill to dig in the cob mixture, pound it with their feet and apply it to the foundation of their house. The girls go swimming to the local pond. Halfway through the day, we switch. The boys go swimming, and the girls help build the cob house. Later that day we participate in the Sunday feast program.
July 2-3, Monday - Tuesday, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
We camp for two days at Shenandoah National Park to give the youth some time to relax and rest. We go on a couple of hikes to waterfalls, spend some time around the campfire in the evening singing bhajans and eating campfire baked potatoes. Tuesday night we drive to Washington, DC.
July 4, Wednesday, Washington D.C. Ratha-yatra and U.S. Independence Day Parade
Washington, D.C. Ratha-yatra is our first for this summer's tour. So the youth are introduced to the various services they will perform at the festivals. In rotation, teams of youth staff the Free Feast tent, the Questions and Answers tent, the book tables, and the Prasadam sales tent. Our youth provide the bulk of the entertainment for the Ratha-yatra festival, and, as it turns out, the bulk of devotee presence at the festival. Except for a brief dance performance by Vrinda dasi and filler music by Sankarshan das with his keyboard, our bus tour youth led Kirtanas at the beginning and end of the festival on the main stage, and peformed "Devotion" during prime time in the middle of the afternoon.
The sound system didn't work out so well at our first open-air performance. The wireless microphone system we had just bought for $2,000 used clip-on lapel mics that were not close enough to the actors' mouths, causing feedback and picking up a lot of wind. I made a note to stop by the B & H music store in New York City and inquire as to solutions.
At about 5 p.m., a severe thunderstorm rolled in, and the police asked crowds to take shelter in the nearby museums. The boys stayed behind with Madhuha das to protect the festival tents, exhibits, stage and sound equipment. As the storm intensifies, we hurriedly take down the exhibits and stack them flat on top of each other, then climb up the tents and take down the various banners that are acting like sails, catching the wind. Then we gather under the main tent and have Maha-mantra Kirtana while Indra and his rain clouds put on a grand performance, washing away the sins of the capital city of the U.S. (We are set up right in front of the U.S. Capitol building -- quite an amazing location for Lord Jagannatha's Ratha-yatra festival.)
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