On a bleary Sunday morning, it is the wonderful Miranda July who is taking this week’s Sunday Sermon at The School Of Life, situated in Holborn’s Conway Hall.
An organisation set up to promote, “Ideas to live by”, The School of Life, is a unique experience, offering amongst their range of events; dinners, classes, weekends and sermons, to inspire.
‘Strangers’ is the focus of this week’s sermon and July, no stranger herself (if you will excuse the pun) to the topic, begins with an informal walk around the foyer picking willing participants to take center stage in her act. July revists her ideas of life as art relying on audience and more importantly, “real people” participation, shown in much of her past work, .
With this emphasis in mind, we are greeted at our seats by a pamplet titled, ‘Don’t be a stranger’. Prompt questions are provdied for us, though rather than ‘What do you do?’, July has formulated questions which seek a deeper connection, such as, ‘Do you live more in the past or in the future?’, reminding us of, and cleverly promoting, her new film The Future, out this week.
Luckily somebody who has come on their own sits themself down next to me and we get chatting, leaning on July’s questions as a good excuse to be talking to each other. A special appearance from Jarvis Cocker gets round and it’s hard for me not to stare at him, just one row ahead. If only he’d sat himself next to me, eh?
Soon we are interrupted as a representative of The School Of Life introduces the sermon. Sticking with the Sunday relgious esque theme we are asked to stand and open our hymn book. Strangers In The Night is aptly the song of choice and everyone seems more than happy to belt it out.
Sung out and seated, July makes her way onto the stage, telling us there is a really big yellow jacket in there (the room she has just come from) and she’ll shut the door to make sure it stays in there.
July begins with an interactive speech, asking us again to connect to a stranger, this time physically. July advises us to only touch their arm, we don’t know where their hands have been. Her quirky comic style shines through while touching on more emotional themes, and simultaneously breaking down the artist audience boundary (seen in a lot of July’s past work).
Interested in this breakdown, the artefacts July gathered in the foyer beforehand now have their moment. Three people in total are chosen, questionned on and around the objects July has gathered.
Highlights of this experiment include; the revelation of a girls estranged parents and unobtained dreams, all from her cocoa butter lipbalm, an insight into a man’s close relationship with his daughter and wife, gathered from his 60th birthday card and the more intimate item of tweezers, providing an excuse to air a man’s unlucky love life.
These items are auctioned off along with a note, reminding the winning bidder where, when, and who, this stranger’s item came from. July reassures us the money is going to a good home, which it does at the end as we are asked to put our heads beetween our legs and hands around eyes, and to lift our hand only if we really need this money.
The money disappears and July thanks us for coming and adds she’ll be in the foyer again signing her new book, It Chooses You. An opportunity I’ve been waiting a LONG time for.
July is friendly (even when I tell her how to spell my name) and unsure of just what to say to her, I mumble out that I like her new book’s cover. She tells me I should take the stickers off, there are more cats lurking under there. Another reason to already love her new book.
The Future (finally) opens to the UK on Friday (4th). Though not at all audience based or open for participation, her new film, like July’s sermon promises to deliver both a funny and moving experience.
I choose Miranda July.