Tevyn East on the collective prayer generated by the Carnival de Resistance

When we create our stories each week, one of the most agonizing decisions is what to call people. How do you distill a life—in the case of our storytellers, an otherworldly life—into the three or four words of a title scroll?

Listen to the full conversation below:

Carnival de Resistance is an eco-village-urban-circus-street-theatre-school-and-ecological-experiment-residency. Since I wasn’t quite sure what all that meant, they invited me down to experience it firsthand.

After touring the Norris Square Neighborhood Project, the urban garden that’s the site of the eco-village, Carnival Founder and Director Tevyn East hollers out a beautiful melody. Slowly, folks emerge from hidden corners, chiming in with a rhythmic call and response. Hands clapping, bodies swaying, voices joining together.

Tonight’s meal was the tender offering of local partner, Circle of Hope. Chipped earthenware dishes of watermelon, rice, and colorful vegetables decorate a long picnic table. Someone grabs my hand. I’d been here just a couple hours, but instantly felt like an old friend, welcomed home. As tears stung my eyes, muralist Dimitri Kadiev leans in to whisper, “you feel it, right? Here we say that to sing is to pray twice.”

East, this week’s storyteller, is the soul force behind Holy Fool Arts, a theatrical production company that inspires communities to live in right relationship with each other and the earth. One of the primary expressions of Holy Fool Arts is the Carnival de Resistance, a traveling carnival, village, and school for social change bridging the worlds of art, activism, and faith.

She sees her work as bridge-building between these worlds, calling them into a collaborative relationship that makes each more relevant and sustainable. What if the faith world was infused with the creativity and courage of activists? What if the serious, often bleak world of activism was infused with spiritual imagination? What if artists heeded the call to use their gifts for meaningful social change?

I talked with Tevyn during their month-long residency in Philadelphia to explore dimensions of the Carnival’s spiritual laboratory. In this clip, we dig into why it’s so hard and so necessary to grieve collectively. In quiet moments, I catch myself creating a hierarchy where my daily heartbreaks are rungs lower than unspeakable tragedies that dominate our headlines. The violence of our political climate. Aging parents and health scares. Worries over children. Job insecurity. Climate change. The daily barrage of life we all face. Yet how often I forget to turn my pain inside out to find where it connects into yours and comfort us both. Insidiously ranking my wounds is a cruel form of self-betrayal.

East’s ceremonial theatre invites us into a more loving relationship with suffering. A reminder that on other side of grief is love. Pain’s inextricable bedfellow is joy. When grief is absent from public life, we’re left to bear it silently. This, Tevyn believes, creates conditions for loneliness and burnout endemic today. Drawing on the wisdom of indigenous traditions, her performances give grief an honored seat at the table. Space to mourn the thousand ways we hurt. But she doesn’t leave us there. Each ritual ends with dance and some sick drumming, a process Tevyn tells me, that “metabolizes grief in a generative way.”

This social experiment is an important start, but to Tevyn, requires a permanent infrastructure. “I am holding the question” she confesses, “if our communities of faith can be relevant. A place for retreat and inspiration through the ecological, cultural, and social storms we’re facing.” At a time when organized religion, attendance and membership is in decline, Tevyn’s is a radical hope. Raised in the church, she grew disillusioned. Working now from the theological margins, she’s not giving up on faith communities ability to answer the call.

The irresistible magic of the Carnival isn’t the whimsical costumes, inspiring murals, or bicycle-powered sound system. The disparate tribe that answers Tevyn’s siren song may have nothing in common but their willingness to feel their heartbreak long enough to lead them to each other. Pooling their dreams, they’ve inoculated themselves from despair and loneliness and cynicism. At least for this month.

 

They are a people so brimming with spirit despite having spent the past month sleeping on a musty church floor. Theirs is a contagious joy that epitomizes what’s possible in community, where we are more together than alone.

***

To learn more about the Carnival de Resistance and Tevyn’s upcoming projects at Holy Fools Art, visit: https://holyfoolarts.org/ and sign up for emails updates at: http://carnivalderesistance.com/carni…

A shout out to our friends at The Simple Way for introducing us to Tevyn and the Carnival de Resistance.