Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Oh Jesus: A Story Of Barabbas

This post was written by our 2012-13 R&D Group Artist and Associate Artist, Matt Dellapina! Click HERE for info about the Group and Matt. Here's the description of his project from the site: "Barabbas was the criminal spared for Jesus in a violent public vote. This faithless man walked away from the pages of history to live a life racked with the personal cost of his freedom. Here's what might have happened, with songs." And now... here's Matt!

To look into the character of Barabbas is to look at a B story in society. Noted throughout the gospel as a “notable prisoner” and a “bandit”, he comes up from the ink due to his random, yet auspicious seating next to the title character in The Jesus Story. In keeping with a Passover tradition, each were wheeled out before a bloodlusting crowd where one would be granted a public pardon and set free. The other would stay the course towards execution. We know how this turned out. But the what-if of what happened to the other guy has always intrigued me and seemed ripe for drama. How could you live with the guilt of being at the hinge of the modern Western world?

Barabbas’ tale is told in the shadows of a hero legend. Like every supporting character arc, whether or not one’s journey is a success, the heart of every man self-narrates a hero’s journey. If told by Barabbas himself, his footnote would swell to a triumphant tale of padding through the muck to climb out and walk tall once more. Wiser, and with the bruises to prove it.

But whatever the wisdom received by the received wisdom, the refracted angle of a minor player’s part in a larger story feels an ideal subject for a mix of what-if imaginings and historical digging. This kind of social discussion is what drew me to this R & D Group. And in the first series of presentations and discussion (including my own), I’ve been awestruck to the degree with which each of the artists in the room has provided insight that could’ve spawned it’s own evening unto itself. It’s a satisfying thing to see the postmodern streak of Barabbas mirrored in such real-time lens-shifting among fresh eyes and generous trust.

And to reflect my own storytelling leanings, song provides a real opportunity to embody Barabbas’ itch to tell his side of things. He’s a downtrodden folk singer, weaving the folk tale of his own life. Upon approaching such an emotional story, there is for me always a tendency to send the thing up & satirize the pain involved. It’s a tendency of our age to wink through tales so ripe with pitfalls of potential bombast. My last solo show was essentially a one-hour exercise in self-effacement. And it was good fun. But out of both a personal need to challenge myself and to explore the possibilities in a stripped-down (maybe even solo) musical, I had to attack this story straight from the pain of a man who’s trying to set the record straight.

When the germ of the idea first hit, the songs were what came earliest and easiest. The challenge now is to chip at the body of the piece. My first thought was that it’d be just one man, one guitar, a soundscape, and nothing else. All well and good, but still not a true framework. Namely, where the hell is he? Is he speaking, in fact, from hell? Some kind of purgatory? A jail cell? A circus? A busking tour along the streets of the world, stubbornly crooning his story to anyone who’ll listen? Maybe not that, but something like that?

In chatting with a couple of theologians and historians on the topic, it seems like Barabbas was first and foremost a kind of insurgent. And in digging at the socio-political history of Rome and Jerusalem around the time of Christ, he was one of hundreds, perhaps thousands, who took a more aggressive, even violent stance against the occupation and infringement of Rome onto their land. Sound familiar? In my fictionalized vision, Barabbas is on the spiritual quest of an atheist. And as a counterpoint to Jesus, he constantly doubts the religious ceiling of his contemporaries and realizes that change can only come from clenched fists and inflaming the hearts and minds of a public already enraged towards an empire. Pacifism is not his way. His is the way of action.

Perhaps the most haunting spark for me comes down to the simplest thing - his name. When translated from Hebrew, bar means “son” and Abba means “father”, making Barabbas the “son of the father”. Now what kind of name is that? Isn’t every man a “son of the father”? It’s a bit like calling him Everyman, or John Doe. Other manuscripts even translate it to Jesus Barabbas, essentially naming him “Jesus, Son of the Father”. Sound familiar? With each of their lives inextricably linked as outcasts of Rome, each prisoners awaiting execution for rebellious activities, each with a hearty following, is it that absurd to think that Jesus Barabbas and Jesus of Nazareth may be the same person? Perhaps the other side of the story is simply the dark side of the man.

Thanks to Matt for writing this for us!

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