Buried in the lyrics of “Being Alive,” Stephen Sondheim’s classic from the Broadway musical “Company,” is the encrypted password to the creative riddle of the Transcendence Theatre Company, which opened its 2014 season at Jack London State Historic Park – the third in its young and meteoric life – last Friday.
If you don’t know about the Transcendence Theatre Company and their “Broadway Under the Stars” summer concert series – performed inside the old open-air winery ruins, at the park that was almost closed in the state budget crisis – then perhaps you don’t often read this newspaper.
We have fawned over Transcendence since their first, tentative test run in October of 2011, when they spent money they didn’t have to produced one performance on a night when it was supposed to rain and some locals warned them not to expect more then a couple hundred people.
The rain never arrived but 900 people showed up to see a stunningly professional, vastly entertaining and equally inspiring night of song and dance while a full moon chased a gallery of clouds across the spine of Sonoma Mountain. It was musical magic.
Since then, support for Transcendence, and for the public-private partnership between California State Parks and the Valley of the Moon Natural History Association that makes the concerts possible, has expanded exponentially. In the first two years, Transcendence contributed more than $72,000 to Jack London State Park and helped build a devout following for the successful effort to keep it open.
And with that growth has come a dawning understanding of the deeper intentions, the spiritually subversive scheme – if you will – of the Transcendence principals to reach way beyond the boundaries of Jack London State Park to infect, ultimately, the world, with a virus of musical joy. They want, in short, to use the formidable power of their musical gifts to make us all happy, to make us reach higher, to – dare we say it – impregnate us with love.
Stated in the abstract, outside the range of a Transcendence performance, this can all sound like so much New Age treacle, emotional hyperbole. Sit through one performance and, BAM! Welcome to the club.
It’s a nonprofit club, so they’re not just in it for the money. And the whole thing is guided by a vision first birthed by artistic director Amy Miller that triggered a sequence of improbable events, including a top-secret,90-minute video; a little theater in a secluded Baja village; the number 14; a mysterious donation from Japan; a flash-mob, wedding video; a three-month vision quest and theater production in that Baja village; a two-month, cross-country “knowledge” odyssey; the search for a “natural crevice of awesomeness”; the threat of state parks closures and the fact one of them was seeking private partnerships; some sage advice from Ranger Bob; and a lot more.
“I just think the arts have a power to move people,” Amy Miller has said. “They have the power to make people live more.”
Which brings us back to the lyrics from “Being alive,” sung at Friday’s opening night:
“Somebody crowd me with love/Somebody force me to care/Somebody let me come through/I’ll always be there/As frightened as you/To help us survive/Being Alive.”
That’s sort of what Transcendence Theatre Company is all about. But really, you have to be there.
– David Bolling