“What is sanctuary? Is it a place? Is it a feeling? A state of being?” a narrator asks near the start of Sanctuary, an immersive audio soundwalk about the historic Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine. Working Theater’s Five Boroughs/One City Initiative began with Adam Kraar’s Alternating Currents in Queens and includes Liba Vaynberg and Dina Vovsi’s The Only Ones and Ed Cardona Jr.’s Bamboo in Bushwick in Brooklyn, Dan Hoyle’s The Block in the Bronx, and Chisa Hutchinson’s Breaking Bread in Staten Island. It returns to Manhattan with Sanctuary, a forty-eight-minute
piece that has been in progress since 2015 and is now available for free download through December 31. It is not a guided tour of the cathedral but instead is a spiritual (and secular) journey that you can experience at home. (In 2013, Working Theater staged La Ruta, an immersive play about illegal immigration, set in a truck outside the cathedral.)
Sanctuary was created by Michael Premo and Rachel Falcone of Storyline and developed with and directed by Working Theater associate artistic director Rebecca Martinez, with original devotional music by Broken Chord, recorded in the cathedral’s nave on the Duke Ellington grand piano. The soundwalk welcomes listeners into the diverse cathedral community, consisting of people who work there, visit regularly, have celebrated special occasions there, or turned to the cathedral at times of hardship or joy. Participants discuss immigration, a blue heron, 9/11, gay marriage, gardening, depression, letting go, healing, and rebuilding, accompanied by the sounds of footsteps, nature, a helicopter, sirens, and a door opening.
“We are unfinished,” one person says. A man adds, “The amount of grief that we have seems to be insurmountable. We mourn partly because so much of what we called normal is gone, and yet, we persevere.” The narrator asks, “Do we ever get where we’re going? If we arrive, are we here?”
The cathedral has been providing sanctuary since the late nineteenth century; construction by architects George Heins and Christopher Grant LaFarge began in 1892, and the first services were held there in a chapel of the crypt in 1899. The cathedral is an Episcopal church that doesn’t discriminate on any basis; in fact, it falls right in line with New York’s decision to become a sanctuary city in 2020, as delineated by Manhattan Community Board 10 here.
Sanctuary expounds on the cathedral being a revered safe space, both physically and psychologically, not only during the pandemic, but at all times. It is currently open for free to visitors; timed tickets are strongly encouraged. “What is the path you’re on?” the narrator asks. Any path leading to the historic Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine is one that is worth taking.