“Let There Be Light”: SUNDAY SERVICE NOIR Is the Best Theatre of the Decade
The world was about to end the last time I found myself hungover at a Sunday Service, and Ye dared us to dance in the face of death, to celebrate the life we had. That was in February 2020, in the middle of Paris, and people walked out of Peter Brooks’ Theatres des Bouffes du Nord buzzing with a newfound appreciation for what might be possible in communion with people breathing the same air. It accomplished in an hour and a half what my place of worship, the theatre, so desperately strives for but so rarely achieves: the sublime. The jubilation of that experience felt unsurpassable. Then, I went to an abandoned warehouse in L.A. and felt that, for a moment, I saw God while watching Ye’s newest iteration of Sunday Service that I’ve titled SUNDAY SERVICE NOIR: “Let There Be Light.”
If Paris February 2020’s Sunday Service was a celebration on the edge of the apocalypse, L.A. November 07 2021’s SUNDAY SERVICE NOIR: “Let There Be Light” was a mourning, or a meditation, in a post apocalyptic world. We travelled to what felt like the edges of L.A.’s downtown after receiving an email informing us to wear all black. This was stressed twice: ALL BLACK. Like participants in a shiva, we walked in a quiet line through guarded gates into an immense yet austere warehouse where a large black door was slid open to solemnly welcome us into a pitch black room.
The only source of light as the door slammed shut behind us was a brilliantly slanted solitary ray of sunshine beaming in from the skylight above us. This was the moment I felt I saw God. As a lover of experimental theatre, and having read and studied Peter Brooks’ “EMPTY SPACE” since my teens, the feeling that one experiences when a space makes itself open to be filled by only memory, history, and spirituality is unparalleled. A cadre of designers work tirelessly to create that effect in the theatre, as was the case here, yet there was something about knowing the history and context of the performance we were about to witness that made it feel as though our only lighting designer today was a God who has shaped our understanding of our smallness in the immenseness of the universe since the dawn of man.
As my eyes adjusted, I could make out the faint outlines of roaming bodies headed towards rows of seats arranged like pews, and found my way to the back row just as Ye’s voice whispered something just behind me, and a quiet procession of a choir in all black began to walk from the back of the space to just behind that beam of light. A choir director stood silhouetted before it, telling us to turn off our phones.
I would wax poetic about the set list, and the fact that outside of the two performances by the children’s choir where we were asked to celebrate with applause, the entire audience was struck dumb by the spectacle on display. We were rendered quiet and attentive, reminiscent of seeing a performance of THE RING CYCLE. I would say that watching as Ye’s children and their friends ignored the ways that ritual and performance moved the adults, in favor of reveling in the joys it inspired within them—their voices, laughter accompanying the choir at various moments—moved me to tears on more than one occasion. I would say that Ye’s recent embrace of Marilyn Manson and DaBaby have infuriated and saddened me, for does not Christianity not only preach forgiveness, but call on those who have sinned against others to repent?
I want to say all of that, to write about all of that, but mostly I want to thank all those who labored to get me into that room this Sunday, because for an artist who makes sense of himself by seeing theatre as his church, I felt as though I’d been brought back from that apocalypse where my church wasn’t possible. This show was evidence that theatre which reminds of you of the power of humanity to inspire with only voices and bodies is still possible. This was a show for the kids who miss the Schaubëune and Adrienne Kennedy. Who see the agony and ecstasy of mourning and meditating in public with others as not only necessity, or a simple rite, but a right.