The INVITATION goes to One of 18 Compassionate Cities
by Rory Colgan

In the summer of 2006, I wanted my parents to visit the college I decided I would attend. They came with me to the College of Metaphysics and witnessed The Invitation.

I cried, being so moved by the performance. The next summer I was teaching in Columbia, MO, less than six months from becoming a college student at COM, and I brought a small caravan of people with me to witness The Invitation. They were moved too.

In 2007, at that time, I remember thinking quite clearly, “I want to bring “The Invitation to a city.” Almost five years later, with the dedication of the cast and director, The Invitation still had a consistent heart beat.

It was because of this presence, this concentration on these people’s parts, that one of the students at the School of Metaphysics in Louisville, Ryan Renoud, saw a flier for The Invitation being shown some months later at the Peace Dome. He looked at me and asked if we could bring the play to Louisville. I said, “Sure, lets check into it.”

And so, knowing that something magical was occurring, I called my area director Judy Weber. I explained to her Ryan’s vision and asked her to be our liaison to Dr. Barbara Condron, director and creator of The Invitation, and through her, the cast.

When the green light was given last year (2011), Ryan, Judy, and I began to go forth in mind and heart to expand the thought. How many times will we give it?

The answer came: twice. When? The answer came: July 28th, 2012. Where? The answer came: St. Williams’Catholic Church and The Eilfer Theatre at the Clifton Center.

The timing was right. Ryan and I could see that. He was the religious director reputation “as the most liberal parish in the Arch Diocese”, and the year 2012 was their year of “peacemaking.” By late March, we were thrown a “curve ball”, for St. William’s didn’t have central air-conditioning. They decided to give their money to a mission instead of purchasing air conditioning, which was similar to a few ten-fold stories the School of Metaphysics has done over the years, not excluding Dr. Sheila’s $50,000 tenfold gift during her tenure as president.

In any case, we were in good company. Around this time, Ryan brought in his work mentor Ann Walters, a peace activist with over 30 years of connections in Louisville. She was also the president of Drepung Gomang Institute, the Tibetan temple in the city. Through many consistent meetings, we developed fliers for sponsors requesting different organizations to sponsor us to bring The Invitation here to Louisville.

We requested organizations to sponsor us at three levels: friend, minor donor, and major donor; respectively $100 or less, $150-$249, and $250 and over. We made personal contacts with some of these prospective donors and relied on Ann and Ryan’s connection for others. We raised $800 from sponsorships from 2 churches, 1 non-profit, and 3 businesses, and also became very active in the Partnership for a Compassionate Louisville which really supported the promotion of the play in monthly meetings and bulk emails.

At this time, one of Ryan’s classmates, Carol Neel, stepped up to the need to oversee and focus on catering and later housing for the cast. Through her “Lightening Bug Initiative”, which was all about bringing out the inner light, the inner passion, and communicating that to prospective food donors. The short of the long was that we received over $400 dollars worth of food and $85 in donated gas cards. One of Carol’s most moving experiences was being turned down by a business owner who sold locally famous cookies. Carol accepted that initial response and shared with the owner her intention. She explained to the owner that she wanted to have the cast members experience the things that she was most proud of in Louisville, Kizito cookies being one of those things. Carol walked out with a promise from the owner for 30 gourmet cookies! And after the event, we can certainly see why those cookies are so famous. In addition to providing catering for the cast, Carol Neel opened up her entire house to the cast since our hotel donations did not come through, and the cast, Ryan, Rory, and Judy were very touched by that service.

The week before The Invitation was fun and really busy. Cleaning the School, designing programs, picking up donations, taking Dr. Laurel to WHAS channel 11 for two TV spots, cleaning Carol’s house, selling tickets at luncheons, churches, and meet up groups, and of course having classes!

As Thursday rolled around, NPR was playing our ad for the performance, Dr. Laurel’s TV spots were still generating phone calls with people asking “are there any tickets left?” the cast began to arrive as Judy, Carol, and Ryan began last minute prep work, and Rory was getting a crash course in running 12 wireless microphones into a sound board for the rehearsal the next day. It was a quite and calm evening, staplers ringing through the school as hundreds of programs finally made their way into book boxes. It was a very peaceful evening to say the least. Friday morning, the cast came over to the School of Metaphysics for breakfast and changed into their performance clothing before caravanning out to the 1st rehearsal at the Eifler Theatre at the Clifton Center.

About this time, a taped radio show with Dr. Laurel was airing on 1590A.M., but most of us were focused on rehearsals and not listening in. The stage at the theatre was 60 feet long and 20 feet deep and so the last tweaking of positioning of props and laureates happened there and then. After rehearsal, Carol served donated Jimmy John’s box lunches for every one with local organic tea as we got packed again with equipment and props.

After another successful rehearsal at Highland Baptist Church, we went back to the School to rest before the cast was to be served at the local Tibetan Buddhist Temple, Drepung Gomang Institute by St. William’s Peace and Justice committee for the evening meal. Of all the community connections, this one was the most sacred for me, and I know others felt the same way. Once we arrived, we were greeted by our friend and “connector” Ann Walters, the president of DGI, and Geshe Kelsang Rapgyal, the monk who lived in the temple. We were honored to be received and expectant for the tea ceremony blessing offered by Geshe. We all took off our shoes and entered into the shrine room where the raspy Geshe’s Tibetan voice echoed for a good twenty minutes, and I could feel the good omens being placed on all of us for a successful event. We were all silent, and then we ate!

July 28th, the day of the performances, we served the cast a brunch at the School and then went over to Highland Baptist Church an hour before the performance. Before the cast arrived, people were already starting to be seated. This 1:00 p.m. offering had waves and waves of people come in, where there was a line to get tickets multiple times. There were 76 people who witnessed the play and many, many, many people were grateful to have attended.

The cast was brought back over to Carol’s house for rest and a light meal before the next performance at the theatre. By 6 o’clock, the lights were being set by our sound and lighting guy, John Newman. The two local musicians, Andrea Davidson and Michael Kessler were performing sound checks, and people were waiting to be let into the theatre at 7:00 p.m., a half hour before the doors opened!

The air hummed with anticipation as people kept coming in. The whole center section of the theatre was filled, with a few empty seats here and there. When MC, Ryan Renoud, came onto stage, he was welcomed with applause.

149 people witnessed The Invitation that evening (not including some School of Metaphysics servers), got to hear great music. One of the cast members said at the wrap up meeting, “It was so nice to perform for so many people who were listening.” They, the cast, and everyone who put on the event, were grateful that the ones who showed up, including at least 1 nun, 5 priests, and Geshe from DGI in his traditional Tibetan Monk garb, absorbed the performance.

Perhaps the most telling story of that day, was a woman who came up to Dr. Barbara Condron at the end of a performance, and said smilingly, “I accept your Invitation.”•

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