“Came Up in a Lonely Castle”: I am quiet and I am more than you can imagine
February 6, 2019
This writing by Angie Pittman is intended to provide some context for the upcoming premiere of Pittman’s “Came Up in a Lonely Castle” at Danspace Project, February 28-March 2, 2018. “Came Up in a Lonely Castle” is a dance work that presents two performers, Angie Pittman and Anita Mullin, as autonomous beings who are alone and together, thinking and praying. Pittman uses sparseness and quiet as a performance strategy to arrive at a more complicated definition of Black expressiveness.
As a child, my favorite toy was a baby doll, which was probably bought at a yard sale or handed down from my older sister. She had soft hair, a rubbery face, a hard torso and soft limbs. She was calm and quiet and she provided me something that I couldn’t articulate back then. One day at show and tell, I shared with the group about how she was my favorite doll. It was then that the daycare provider perceived that my doll wasn’t functioning how she thought she should. The daycare provider, wanting to be helpful, escorted me and my doll to her kitchen. She turned the doll over and revealed the reason behind the doll’s hard torso – a battery pack. Removing the old, crusted-over batteries, she then used a butter knife to scrape the dried exploded battery liquid away, and in the empty cavity where the old batteries once were, she put in two new batteries. I was a silent witness to this chain of events. My doll still didn’t animate. “Sorry,” the defeated daycare provider sighed. “I can’t fix her.” What she didn’t realize was that my doll was already functioning fine. She served as a witness in my life. The fact that she didn’t make noise never concerned me. She had the design to be animatronic, but just wasn’t. I loved her. She was quiet like me.
In many ways, this moment has been revisited upon me time and again. It might show up as someone telling me to use my “big girl voice”, me saying something quietly and then someone saying it louder to get all of the recognition, being cut off in conversation by someone quicker or louder, or impromptu and unwarranted lessons in confidence and projection. Essentially someone perceiving a problem with quiet and calm and then doing social surgery to “fix” it. Competition and capitalism sets us up so that the person speaking the loudest with more bass gets there first and wins. I dream of a space where ears are tuned to hear the quiet person the first time they say something, or maybe not needing to say anything at all. Quiet is not just a lack of noise. It is indicative of the interiority of a person. It is waiting, it is listening, it is breath, it is prayer. All things that keep a Black person alive. And when we are talking about claims and complications of humanity in relationship to Black performance in this country, we have to be quiet. I don’t know how to get to a place where people value quiet in relation to the full scope of Black humanity, so I turn to my performance practice to reconcile. Maybe we all have to pray more. This reminds me of Radio Raheem in Do the Right Thing.
An inventory of Radio Raheem’s appearances in Do the Right Thing:
Radio Raheem’s character is an example of a performance of quiet that his community held space for. In the film Do the Right Thing, Radio Raheem encompasses duality, depth, and spirituality. He moves throughout the film in many ways seeming to be on his own nonverbal journey, speaking only when needing to share deep truth. His community heard, understood, and paid attention to him and his needs (as seen in the chart above).
I use this example because it is clear that something internal is going on with Radio Raheem. His silence is neither empty nor vacant, but charged with purpose. The members of his community see that, hear that, and react accordingly.
Earlier I said we all need to pray more…
Prayer and Performance
…And when I say pray, I mean whatever. I’m not interested in promoting to whom or how you need to pray, but mostly I mean cultivating that part or yourself that doesn’t want or need anything in return. It’s deeply private, personal, and communal all at the same time, which is anti-capitalist in the biggest way. White people need to pray more.
Kevin Quashie in his book The Sovereignty of Quiet: Beyond Resistance in Black Culture says that conceptually, prayer is an expression of one’s contemplations and dreamings. “Inherent in prayer is the idea of self as audience; that is, the praying subject speaks to a listener who is manifest in [their] imagination…Prayer makes space, and in this space the praying subject explores inner life, encounters and tries to give name to desires and vulnerabilities.”
I am seeing prayer as a exercise of waiting and non-haste, making our capacity for non-transactional interactions greater. In waiting, there is a multiplicity of ways to be internally that is in conflict with a singular expression in public. And I agree with Quashie in his relationship of publicness to nationalism. We can think about Kanye West’s relationship to 45 as an example of this, a very public icon as a singular tool to support the most problematic manifestation of empire and nationalism.
I guess what I am trying to say is someone who REALLY prays wouldn’t do that shit.
I think that’s a jump, but there is truth when I hear my mother say “Trump needs Jesus”.
As much as a I problematize publicness in relation to Black performance and artist, my medium is performance. Not PURR-FOUR-MAHNCE but performance.
As africans in the new world black performing artists are faced with the daunting challenge of how to sing the liberating song of our ancestors in a hostile alien land. having been dislocated from the site of our ancestry, memory or liberation song demands an inquiry into the spiritual origins. -Paul Carter Harrison from “Form and Transformation: Immanence of the Soul in the Performance Modes of Black Church and Black Music”
In my work, I lean on my experience of Black church as a helpful example of publicness. If prayer is interiority, church service is exteriority. Church performance is full of complicated beings that navigate queerness, community, song, expression, leadership, resistance, joy, uplift, trial/tribulation, deep truth, and devotion via praise and worship, offering, choir selections, devotion, bible study, sermon, altar call, and after-service fellowship. My dances do this too in different ways and this dance,“Came Up in a Lonely Castle”, is interested in resistance in the vein of devotionals and altar call.
A dance done in public can still have the mood and integrity of a dance done alone at home. That’s what I am trying to do. Make a dance that reminds you of that space you allow yourself to be in when you are a little bit tipsy at home alone.
My “capacity to speak to collectivity is not hindered by the interiority of my gesture”. -Quashie
I stay praying. Always ruminating on hopes and dreams for myself, the spaces I inhabit, the people I love, the people I want to love, and the evil systems that are so prevalent. My experience in church has taught me that tonal spectrums of performance (quiet and loud) is necessary in support of the collective. All of these tones are important to create a full experience of the world and what’s above, alongside, beside, and underneath it.
When I think about wholeness, I think about who is allowed to be whole in relation to history of representation in this country. Radio Raheem wasn’t allowed to be whole and my doll wasn’t either and that matters to me. Interiority is life; its where my guts are, my secrets, and my dreams. And in those guts are ancestral secrets that keep me and my people alive. Those secrets live in my kidneys and backspace. I am so thankful to be alive and I realize that being quiet has always played a role in keeping me that way. Sometimes you need to yell, but most times you need to be quiet.
written and produced by: Anderson .Paak
A bird with the word came to me
The sweetness of a honeycomb tree
And now my look was taking over me
Couldn’t fake it if I wanted to
I had to wake up just to make it through
I got my patience and I’m making due
I learned my lessons from the ancient roots
I choose to follow what the greatest do
I’m repping for the longest cycle, mmm
My uncles had to pay the cost, mmm
My sister used to sing to Whitney, mmm
My mama caught the gambling bug, mmm
We came up in a lonely castle, mmm
My papa was behind them bars, mmm,
We never had to want for nothing, mmm
Said all we even need is love, mmm
We see the same things
We sing the same songs
We feel the same grief
Bleed the same blood
You grew up in the home beside me
I always had a friend to call
How could I make it here without you? Mmm
I pray I leave before you’re gone
Hey, my little youth is crying
I’m almost home, almost home
Look no further riots, mmm
Working my fingers to the bone
See I do the best I can, mmm
Mama was a farmer, mmm
Papa was gonner, mmm
 Although I do think praying to Michelle Obama is a good option.
 “…And still the emphasis on content in Black culture is particular to the issue of publicness: Racist discourses expect Black art to tell the true story of Black life unvarnished by craft, which is also an expectation of nationalism… What is lost here is not only an appreciation of artistic value but also a sense of how form can disturb the assumed precision of content and support a reconsideration of expressiveness.” -Quashie