New York | 0h 50m | Already closed

Early Shaker Spirituals

From 12 critic and 9 member reviews
Members say: Absorbing, Intelligent, Great staging, Resonant, Ambitious

About the show

The Wooster Group revives its musical inspired by the 1976 LP recorded by the Sisters of the Shaker Community, giving a new live performance of their songs. More…

'Early Shaker Spirituals' returns to an artistic practice that the Wooster Group has used throughout its history: working with record albums as source material for original productions. The piece also investigates the Shakers, a millenarian, celibate, communitarian sect. In 1980, Elizabeth LeCompte, Kate Valk, and other members of the company visited the Sabbathday Lake Shaker community and met with Sister R. Mildred Barker. Around that time, the company first began listening to the record album that forms the basis for this new piece.

0h 50m | Already closed | The Performing Garage (Soho/Tribeca)

SF Gate

for a previous production "Time seems to stop — at least in the normal quotidian sense of its passage. Not just in their songs but in the uncommonly settled, placid presence of the four women in “Early Shaker Spirituals,” we seem transported to a space where temporal concepts no longer apply...I couldn’t say if this is spiritual ecstasy. But it’s transcendent." Full Review

Santa Barbara Independent

for a previous production "For most of the 50-minute piece, the five women in the cast sit like bodhisattvas on the stage, as static as canvases yet charged with electricity. Peaceful and yet ready to take flight, they feed us the world of these Shaker hymns with glorious precision. The slight turns and movements they make are carefully scripted, reading neither as “choreographed” nor as spilling out unconsciously from the actors’ bodies...The Wooster Group has a shaker-like gift of creating simple, potent, and essent... Full Review

The New York Times

for a previous production "Austere and profoundly affecting...“Early Shaker Spirituals” testifies joyously to the discipline, dedication and conviction that have allowed one band of artists to endure and flourish on its own uncompromising terms. The show lasts only an hour, yet it seems to span not just decades but centuries of creative evolution and ancestry...What you feel is a true communion of artists with their predecessors." Full Review

LA Weekly

for a previous production "It is the very austerity and rigorous minimalism of the show that eventually takes hold. Beginning with vaguely familiar hymns that are reminiscent of monodic Appalachian folk songs...With the addition of eerie harmonies and then, in the evening’s finale, reconstructed Shaker dances, "Early Shaker Spirituals" soars beyond a canny ethnomusicological evocation to become something more deeply poignant and wonderfully enchanting." Full Review

Time Out New York

for a previous production "The austerity refreshes like cool water. No text but the record sleeve, no sound but the invocation of long-ago, creaky-voiced Shakers. The women, beautifully severe, don’t even “perform,” beyond looking gravely at the audience. The Wooster gospel has ever been complex, sophisticated and arch. "Early Shaker Spirituals" has such simplicity and vulnerability, I was surprised to find that they’re charging money; it has so much the aura of a proffered gift." Full Review

Los Angeles Times

for a previous production "What could be the points of connection between an avant-garde performance company and this monastic tradition? Nothing on the surface, but dig deeper and you'll find the same proud insularity, daily commitment to work and openness to the grace of inspiration..."Early Shaker Spirituals," a brief work that could probably be presented as effectively as a theatrical installation in a gallery, reminds us that artists following a true calling are secular saints." Full Review

Stage Happenings

for a previous production "Amid a cacophony of technologies competing for our attention it is downright remedial to take in The Wooster Group’s latest offering, a plain and exceedingly disciplined Early Shaker Spirituals: A Record Album Interpretation... If you ask me, it gave us an overdue respite from our fast-moving LA tumult." Full Review

The Huffington Post

for a previous production "It's a strange, defiant, quixotic, fruitless and all-the-more-admirable-for-it evening of entertainment...It lasts one hour and is, appropriately enough, seemingly simple and straightforward in every way. It's purely in the spirit of that strangely memorable religious sect...The evening is not moving in a theatrical sense, but it moves... It was quaint. It was sweet. When can we do it again?" Full Review


for a previous production "Why also, the songs and interviews are not memorized and sung without relying on technology is also a bit of a curiosity. Did this contrast between high tech and low tech really add to the piece? You think not…but then you wonder if your expectations are now too high and you’ve begun waiting to find yourself “in the place just right” where everything is pure and white as snow. One thing is certain, you’ve been transported into a world." Full Review

Viva Lifestyles

for a previous production "There’s a meditative quality to this piece of work...Not much happens in hour–long production of Early Shaker Spirituals, but it’s a piece of theater that holds meaning in its lack of plot or narrative." Full Review

The Hollywood Reporter

for a previous production "Although performed with uncanny exactitude, this experimental musical theater piece is easier to admire than enjoy...This is as austere and unaffected as the spiritual music it reproduces...more intriguing in its conception than execution...The evening soon feels dull and repetitious." Full Review

Manhattan Digest

for a previous production "There certainly is beauty in sparseness and simplicity but that doesn’t always make for great theater. The piece seems somewhat purpose-less, uninspired, and frankly, rather dull." Full Review

Great staging, Great singing, Great acting, Exquisite, Absorbing

See it if are interested in American history, or spirituality, or folk music or dance, or experimental theater.

Don't see it if get antsy: the piece begins in stillness & remains "low energy" for some time before breaking out into great joy.

Resonant, Quirky, Intense, Intelligent, Delightful

See it if You like something totally unique. Or Frances McDormand.

Don't see it if You don’t like very precious productions.

Slow, Funny, Intelligent, Absorbing

See it if you enjoy the exploration of ritual

Don't see it if you want your theatre with a hefty dose of narrative

Also While the first half of Kate Valk's show is visually stagnant (just li... Read more Read less

Refreshing, Riveting, Profound, Great staging, Ambitious

See it if Wooster Group dials back its usual hyperkinetics for a simple aesthetic Presenting Shaker society thru its music & movement A profound 1 hr

Don't see it if Lack of drama or storyline may trouble (even bore) but the spiritual simplicity of the piece wins one over The five women ensemble shines

Absorbing, Intelligent, Masterful, Dizzying, Ambitious

See it if You view theatre as aesthetic experience rather than dramatic experience.

Don't see it if You don't like the avant garde.

Intelligent, Entertaining, Absorbing

See it if Want to see/hear something different, short, and get an idea of what these spirituals are all about.

Don't see it if I think one either love this or hates this. Interesting to "see" a staging of a musical album for historic purposes.

Memory, Abstract, Specific, Quiet

See it if You want to bring the memory of the extinct female Shaker community alive through an exploration of simplicity.

Don't see it if You can't sit through abstract theatre.

For a previous production
Absorbing, Thought-provoking, Educational, Different, Interesting

See it if you're interested in learning/experiencing what is was to be a Shaker, or simply what it's like to experience/live in the world differently.

Don't see it if you need arc, plot or drama.

For a previous production
Riveting, Resonant, Original, Great staging

See it if You like dance, experiments in theatre, master female artists

Don't see it if You want a clear message, dialogue, dramatic action

Cast & Creatives (18)