“Where the streets have no name…”
By John S. Murphy, Founder and Artistic Director
When I began performing on a street corner in the late 90’s, I had no idea that my idea of performative mythology would grow to be what The Cabiri is now. To see your project grow through infancy, to adolescence and then to approach adulthood, is a stupendous thing. Now, after two years of searching, we are approaching opening our own rehearsal training space, and in that next step there is time for reflection of what happens when you carry through with your dreams.
It all began on a street corner in 1997. My family had all grown up dancing for Pacific Northwest Ballet and I too had spent my childhood either backstage or onstage. But at some odd point that all came to an end, and as things turn out I ended up instead as a somewhat miserable biochemist. This did not sit well, and to put to rest the weeks crazy thoughts, I let myself fall into the street art scene that was bustling in the then exploding Fremont community. I was pulled into a somewhat mad Halloween performance by Maque Davis, the presidente aeternus of the Fremont Arts Council… and the work just stuck. Three months later, I was street performing in Pioneer Square on New Years Eve and the most moving thing happened to me.
My tip hat was empty, and for the most part people were staring at me in either confusion or fear. But they were staring. It was a humbling experience; performing in Fremont been a homerun that had received huge applause from thousands and now… not so much. But as I was packing my stuff, up a homeless fellow came over to me from where they had all been watching and before I could react he patted me on the back and said:
“That was the greatest thing we have ever seen down here, you keep comin’ back now!”
And well, it got me a little teary eyed as he tossed three quarters in my hat. You know, if you can’t play to the richesse, then you can perform to those they live over, So those quarters made me return to that park a week later and I made something like $15. A year and a half later I had made enough busking to invest in creating some real street theatre and I had gotten enough charisma my friend John Mulally got sold on it.
We started doing some craziness with Fremont fire circus Cirque de Flambe, but in the process I realized that there was an undercurrent that was calling me. All of my stories had an undercurrent of myth, whether they were straight up telling of tales or allegorical myth like the Cohen brothers dish out, it was all there. But unlike most allegorical tales that rehash Greek classics, I was lost in Sumer, or the Ch’u dynasty or some other forgotten people.
I’d grown up lost in Bullfinch and other classic collections of myth, and my time at the ballet and being around Kent Stowell had really impressed upon me how effectively a story could be told without words. Keyed in to what I had been doing with street theatre, I created the idea of sort of an animate diorama that would tell the tales of the ancient gods with images and movement. This had been done before, in Greece and before that in ancient Anatolia, and with that realization I decided that this had to be reborn. Taking on the moniker of The Cabiri, we paid homage to the first mystery plays in the southeastern Aegean and decided to form a company.
Right around then, Seattle was really exploding with street art, to the point that Paul Allen created a legendary festival called ArtsEdge (that he proceeded to abandon the following year at a great cost to the Seattle artistic community). This was exciting; it was using Seattle Center to be a giant multi performer stage. So I was excited, the time was now. But I needed a company.
The calling together of the original five members of the Cabiri is a huge tale in itself, but let’s just move through this and say that we came together. One night I pulled together the usual suspects (JP, Jeanine, Kirsten and Charly) at my live/work hovel at the Fremont Fine Arts Foundry and we cast the little circle that was the formal declaration of Cabiria. A few weeks later, on May 1st we gathered together for a maypole celebration at a local witches’ coven that Charly was a part of and formally performed for the first time under the name The Cabiri.
Five weeks later, we were at Seattle Center for ArtsEdge performing in front of the Flag Pavillion to hundreds of people and… they got it! They actually saw the story, a tale of Hekate loosely based on the Greek Magical Papyri and were able to discuss the idea of it.
The idea had been sowed, and with love and care we brought it to fruition and it was accepted by audiences. We started to move forward setting up flaming pillars and altars in parks anytime there was a local festival. A regular at the Fremont celebrations and the original Ballard Art Walk that started in the end of the 90’s, we placed a little ritual theatre everywhere we could at every opportunity offered.
It was a start, but I had not the slightest idea how far those first few steps would take us…