Let's face it: American society has weird hang-ups about sleep. Be it in the workplace, academia, or supposedly public spaces, rest is either (a) a bought-and-paid-for private luxury or (b) a mark of indolence instead of, you know, one of the most fundamental biological necessities shared by literally every living being. But for people of color, some shut-eye in a car or park or Ivy League common room can be rewarded by encounters with paranoid Caucasian bystanders or hostile law enforcement.
I was moved, then, by Free Street Theater and Tricia Hersey's seemingly simple and quietly radical performance art piece, which invites members of the Chicago community to assemble in various parks throughout the city, listen to some spoken-word poetry, and then safely nap as a group. Director Katrina Dion leads an 18-member youth ensemble dressed in ethereal white who together create a circular pillow and mat-lined "Dream Space."
Natural, ambient sounds of joy throughout the park create a rich a serene atmosphere that would be difficult to recreate in a traditional theatrical setting. At the performance I attended in Gage Park, young friends of the performers giggled and took turns having their auras cleansed preshow with burning sage; kids in the adjacent pool splashed and made noise; portable speakers in different corners of the park played a pastiche of different songs; trees rustled overhead. While the resistance-themed movement and vocal pieces are brief and shouldn't be oversold, the spiritually revitalizing impact of the experience shouldn't be undersold either. As part of then ongoing work of the Nap Ministry, Rest is an enlightening, thoughtful event that reminds audiences that a simple snooze can be a powerful and political act of self-care. v