(1/21) The newest Wooster Group work, Early Shaker Spirituals: A Record Album Interpretation is a performance based on a 1976 LP of Shaker hymns, marches, anthems, and testimony recorded by Sister R. Mildred Barker and the sisters of the Shaker community in Sabbathday Lake, Maine.
Early Shaker Spirituals features performances of all twenty tracks from side A of the album sung by Cynthia Hedstrom, Elizabeth LeCompte, Frances McDormand, and Suzzy Roche. The performers channel the voices of the Shaker singers to give a new live rendering of the songs. Complementing the songs are dances created by the Group. They are composed of simple patterns inspired by the surviving fragments of the ecstatic dance that characterized the Shakers’ worship services. For the dances, the singers are joined by Matthew Brown, Modesto Jimenez, Bobby McElver, Bebe Miller and Andrew Schneider. Jamie Poskin reads from the album liner notes.
Early Shaker Spirituals returns to an artistic practice that the Group has used throughout its history: working with record albums as source material for original productions, among them Hula (1981) and L.S.D. (…Just the High Points…) (1984). The piece also expresses the Group’s long-standing interest in the Shakers, a millenarian, celibate, communitarian sect. In 1980, Elizabeth LeCompte, Kate Valk, and other members of the company visited the Sabbathday Lake Shaker community and met with Sister R. Mildred Barker. Around that time, the company first began listening to the record album that forms the basis for this new piece.
In addition to the performers, the full Early Shakers Spirituals ensemble includes Max Bernstein (sound), Enver Chakartash (costumes), Eric Dyer (tour technical director), Elizabeth LeCompte & Jim Clayburgh (set), Bobby McElver (sound), Erin Mullin (stage manager), Jamie Poskin (assistant director), Emily Rea (production manager), Ryan Seelig (assistant lighting), Jennifer Tipton (lighting) and Kate Valk (director).