by Brittany Crowell

TERCE: A practical Breviary, the new piece by Heather Christian being presented by HERE at this year’s Prototype Festival, is a community ritual prayer, which we have been invited into.  Upon arrival, guests are offered seating in chairs situated in a circle around a center area set equally roundly for a series of musicians and vocalists.  There are two tables on either end of the space with tea and crackers, encouraging folks to break bread with their community and mirroring the post-mass gatherings at church services.  As audience mingles and settles, the cast and company are busy preparing on the exposed balcony and the musicians are getting set up on the floor of the space.  This is not your normal proscenium theatrical show, TERCE establishes early on an informality and lack of fourth wall, which immediately embraces the audience and brings them into the experience.

Staged at The Space at Irondale, a renovated Sunday School adjacent to Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church, the setting itself embodies a riff on the biblical.  A space with spiritual history, the building showcases both its former glory with large arching windows and stained glass, as well as its age with chipping paint and exposed supports.  TERCE spatial designers Nick Vaughan and Jake Margolin embrace this, adding scaffolding and dirt-strewn flags of blue tarp that sweep in and out of the piece from movement to movement on a series of ropes and pulleys that web and tangle over the audience’s heads.  Lighting by Masha Tsimring is at once both industrial and spiritual with large reflected lamps lighting circles around the space to high overhead spots shining down on audience and cast alike as if from windows in the high rafters of a cathedral.  The ensemble is clad in a mix of denim working gear and choir robes (costumes by Brenda Abbandondolo) which have been stitched together into a combined uniform embracing the gardener of the Divine Feminine as well as the spirituality of the ritual practice.

The direction by Keenan Tyler Oliphant and movement by Oliphant, Heather Christian, and Darlene Christian looks to amplify the Divine Feminine, pulling from modern trope with ensemble members beating rolling pins and interludes featuring the sound and action of vacuuming the space, as well as the metaphoric and mystical feminine of circular motions, gardening, and contemplation of the unique challenges of the human experience. 

The ensemble of TERCE; photo by Maria Baranova.

TERCE features a cast of diverse women of all age, race, and background, creating an ensemble of artists and citizens singing together.  This led to a variety of voices which inevitably made some moments shine brighter than others, but which also highlighted the communal ritual nature of the piece.  TERCE is a practice, not a performance.  It is a community ritual that the audience is viewing, yes, but through the immersive nature of its staging, is also actively asked to participate in through experiencing.  The program, received upon arrival, encourages a lack of etiquette and behavior, asking the audience to pray and praise as they see fit, hoot and holler, wiggle and boogie.

TERCE is a ritual which the audience is invited into. It’s an evolving and growing practice that believe that, through the rigor and work of asking the same question each day in an earnest and real manner, and through inviting new members of the community to bear witness, we can each find more of the Divine Feminine, the caretaker, mother, generator, creator in ourselves.


TERCE –  written, composed & created by Heather Christian

Directed by Keenan Tyler Oliphant; Music direction by Mona Seyed-Bolorforosh & Jacklyn Riha

Environmental design by Nick Vaughan and Jake Margolin; lighting by Masha Tsimring; costumes by Brenda Abbandondolo; sound by Nick Kourtides; instrument fabrication by Terry Dame; libretto illustrations by Alice Leora Briggs, Koomah, Lovie Olivia; movement by Heather Christian, Darlene Christian, and Keenan Tyler Oliphant.  Produced by HERE: Kristin Marting, founding artistic director; Sungah Han, managing director.  Presented as a part of the PROTOTYPE festival; running through February 4th.