This year's Fusebox Festival has been a cornucopia of unexpected and delightful happenings. We've seen robots, free jazz poetics, post-apocalyptic tribal dance and Captain Kirk communicating from the future, among other wonders. Why not a chili-slinging, cuss-mouthed, itinerant praise-and-worship show to help round things out?
A ring of tiki torches surrounded a congregation of folding chairs and an ultra-deluxe pop-up camping tent in the space's side yard, all situated facing a squat white lectern with a black-painted cross. A cell phone went off and our evangelist awoke, muttered to his father on the other end of the line and emerged from the tent's front door flap wearing nothing but an open bathrobe and a mustache.
Osborne styles himself as a collaborative physical theater artist, and collaborative physical theater is exactly what this was.
He withdrew, dressed hurriedly, rejoined us in full preacher costume and kicked off the revival, singing and glad-handing the souls in the seats. "Are you ladies together?" he said to a pair in the middle row. They smiled. "Praise Jesus," he said, smiling.
He sang and sang, extolling the virtues of the Lord and calling for hallelujahs. It wasn't long before the crowd took their part in the show. Fifteen minutes in, every voice in the gallery made a joyful noise when asked for amen.
We sang a hymn — a southern gospel done justice by Gillian Welch and Alison Krauss — and waved our hands at the sky in praise. He told stories about getting his call to preach as a toddler and the disastrous consequences of mixing adolescence and gasoline.
Osborne styles himself as a collaborative physical theater artist, and collaborative physical theater is exactly what this was. Members of the congregation peppered his performance with shouts of "Amen!" and "Praise Jesus!" He did not hesitate to lay hands upon us.
The format and its result worked like wizardry. The blueprint for audience collaboration in a revival meeting is known to nearly every human soul grown up in the United States, whether you learned it in church, from stories or through televised megachurch worship on the Trinity Broadcasting Network.
When the preacher says hallelujah, you say hallelujah. When the preacher asks if he can get an amen, you don't say yes or ask why. You say "Amen." We know exactly what to do. We found ourselves shouting.
In a recent interview, Osborne characterized the revival preacher as one part jive-talking magic man, one part spiritual alchemist. He pulled this off in spades that night, giving us a bodily experience of the four elements of human connectedness: shared sustenance, love, revelry and cool ideas.
At the end of the performance, after stories of difficult love and more phone calls from his father, Osborne gathered our attention to pray.
It's hard, he told us. Preaching is hard, life is hard. It's just hard to keep going sometimes. He spoke earnestly, sincerely. His eyes went to heaven. He bit his lip.
For an excerpt from the show, click here.