"If you'd come today you would have reached a whole nation, Israel in 4 B.C. had no mass communication."
-Judas, Jesus Christ Superstar
Guru Maharaj Ji has come in 1973, when electronic communications and international media hook-ups assure that his message of peace will be heard throughout the world. Millennium '73 can be broadcast around the globe from the Astrodome's systems for satellite communication, and within the Dome itself, the message of Guru Maharaj Ji is magnified, emphasized. illustrated, illuminated and inscribed with the use of modern technology.
Crucial to communication is the sound system that enables the festival participants to hear Guru Maharaj Ji speak and the airwaves to carry his verbal message. Said Larry Bernstein, designer of the Millennium stage, "You've got sound problems in the Astrodome that are astronomical. There's really not a sound company in the United States that's anxious to do that job." However, a sound company was found - Hanley Sound Company. Michael Hanley, who developed the sound system for Woodstock in 1969, attended by 500,000 people, brought in three 4,000 ton clusters of speakers to enable all people to hear Guru Maharaj Ji and all other parts of the program. He is also working with the Blue Aquarius soundman to achieve the right "mix" of sound for the band of Shri Bhole Ji.
The world can hear Guru Maharaj Ji. but they also want to see him, and a combination of standard stage lighting and technological "toys" created for the event illuminate and focus attention on the one who can reveal Knowledge of God. Responsible for lighting in the Dome is Paul Barringer, working in conjunction with John Tedesco, who has done lighting for major rock groups such as a Rolling Stones tour, and was extremely interested in this opportunity to light Millennium.
The stage lighting requires twice the power available in the Dome, necessitating the use of additional generators, and uses spotlights in place of the traditional smaller stage lights. With no apparent source of light on the glowing stage, hidden strips of floodlights color the stage as well as the fountains, the reflecting mirrors are used to bounce light onto Blue Aquarius and the Holy Family. The light must be strong enough for the Cinemascope filming of a full-length movie, yet versatile enough to allow for a "blue-out" of Guru Maharaj Ji or special effects like a sunrise for the play.
People sitting in the rear of the Dome will see only a small white figure atop a four-story stage. The facial expressions and hand gesture of Guru Maharaj Ji, normally invisible at such a distance, are amplified by the two videoscreens built into the stage. Two color TV cameras hidden in the stage reproduce visuals via video projectors onto the I5-foot screens. "We use PA systems to amplify sound," commented Jim Conlon, who coordinates the systems, "and now we are using a video system to amplify movement." Besides close-ups of Guru Maharaj Ji, slide projectors are used for general visuals, special effects and presentations.
In the age of McLuhan and Buckminster Fuller. some hitherto improbable mixes of medium and message are taking place. At this festival, a message of peace is printed out on a scoreboard, and the search for happiness is portrayed like a cartoon.
The electronic "gizmos" of the Astrodome have been transformed into methods of communicating Guru Maharaj Ji's message to the festival participants.
Never before in history have we been able to relay a message around the world within minutes, but now, the Millennium systems combine with the Astrodome facilities to broadcast Guru Maharaj Ji's message to the world and inform all people, as it is happening, that this 15-year-old boy, just over five feet tall, seated in the Astrodome for these three days, holds the key to peace and will unlock the gate to heaven for you upon request.
The medium through which Guru Maharaj Ji will speak to the globe during the three days is through press and media. Modern communication by telephone, telex, wire, airwave and satellite has made new media effective and efficient. The coverage in the Dome originates in "blinds" hiding cameramen in the stage, and in reporters covering the event. Photographers rove through the festival catching moments for AP wires or their particular project, which could be the Canadian Broadcasting Company filming their hour-long special on the event or Shri Hans Productions making a full-length feature film to be released this March.
Back in the Astrohall, the press compiles reports and stories pounded out on electric typewriters and wires them to their paper or network. Glossies for newsprint are provided by Millennium photographers from their darkrooms along with transcriptions of recorded satsangs.
Local papers have been covering the development of Millennium '73 for several months, as have the local TV and radio stations.
Associated Press supplies information nationally to the press, supplemented by additional updated information from the local Divine Light Mission centers. In addition, the Millennium staff tapes radio "feeds" - short edited tapes with clips of the program - and relays them by WATTS line to stations throughout the country, and public service announcements on Millennium were carried on the major radio networks.
National television networks, who have been kept up-to-date with releases from the Millennium media staff, are covering the event for national news. Besides the Canadian special program on Millennium and a CBS documentary on Soul Rush, other TV programs on the festival are being considered.
Internationally, the Astrodome has the facilities for satellite hook-up. and foreign Divine Light Mission centers have detailed information to support the wire services.
As we develop more efficient means of communication and more striking methods of presenting a message, the world is shrinking beneath us. The day of the barefoot sage wandering from village to village is past. As Guru Maharaj Ji offers peace to those who seek it, the world can hear and see him via modern technology.
"…And every eye shall see Him."
Back in August premie musicians from all over America were called to Los Angeles to record an album. The musicians, numbering 23 in all, came from a variety of bands. Guru Maharaj Ji decided that the album should be called "Who Is Guru Maharaj Ji?" For a number of reasons, however, the record encountered difficulties and eventually Bhole Ji called the project off. At this point seven of the band left to go on tour with Guru Maharaj Ji, who decided to call the group The Apostles.
After the tour The Apostles went down to Houston to rejoin some of the original band, a few of whom had been spirited off into Blue Aquarius. Soon afterwards four members decided that they wanted to play acoustic music and so split to form the Bliss Band. Since then The Apostles have grown and altered on a day to day basis.
When the band was asked just one week before Millennium '73 what the present line-up was, it seemed that the signal had been given for all-around hysterical laughter. One of the members pulled himself together sufficiently to reply, "The Apostles are just one giant, cosmic musical joke! It's like we are just one of Bhole Ji's favorite amusements. Every day he plays some little lila on us, adding new instruments as soon as we get the old line-up together, disorganizing things as soon as they become organized. One thing is for sure, and that is that being a member of The Apostles soon teaches you that there is nothing constant in the world… and that is particularly true when you come to this group!"
The band is basically a rock group with horns added: two guitars, two keyboards, bass, drums, percussion/congas, six horns and two female singers. In addition to the players themselves the band also has a manager and two arrangers. They have prepared about 30 numbers for Millennium and were often visited at the warehouse where they practiced by Shri Bal Bhagwan Ji, who stopped by to listen and give suggestions. "Millennium is no amateur event," he told them. "You must practice, practice and practice, all night if necessary. The night is yours, nobody can take that away from you."
In addition to the set which The Apostles play during dinner at Millennium the group also performs two overtures, Arti, "Amazing Grace" with the choir, and three or four members will be doing music for the Jesus play.
Six months ago, 2,000 miles away from Houston, the play Lord Christ was conceived in a brainstorming session between Shri Bal Bhagwan Ji, eldest brother of Guru Maharaj Ji, and members of the Divine Light Dance Ensemble. The troupe was preparing for Millennium '73 and met with Bal Bhagwan Ji for direction. He suggested a play about Jesus based directly upon the four gospels in the King James Bible.
Initial research and brainstorming was done within the ensemble as the call went out nationwide to locate playwrights. Four were selected to go to Houston and work in collaboration on the play - Mickey Cottrell, actor and director; Jerry Sanders, actor, dancer and writer; Penelope Stowell, writer and journalist; and Val Vadeboncoeur, media writer. They arrived in Houston in the middle of June and started writing.
The international cast of professional actors was assembled in Houston as rehearsals began. Training with Grotowsky-type exercises, the troupe prepared for this unique performance in the Dome, receiving suggestions as they worked from Shri Bal Bhagwan Ji. As the play developed, the script changed to better meet the requirements of performing in the Dome, and the play seen at Millennium is the result of intensive group interaction and effort by the scores of people working together on Lord Christ. The style developed represents the meshing of the ancient with the avant-garde, both artistically and technically.
The Astrodome is so large that the usual tools of facial and hand expressions to create a character are invisible, and a means of communication using the whole body had to be developed. The acting uses the classical movements of Greek arena theater with the current understanding of movement in terms of space and body tension to create a wholly new concept of performance. The staging reflects elements of both ritualistic and environmental theater. The result is almost a naturalistic mime-dance.
Because the acting is unusually strenuous in the Dome, the play is performed as two simultaneous productions, one being a pre-taped "sound" play and the second being the stage movement. The sound play, using sound effects and the voice as an instrument, again reflects both classical and modern concepts of a reading. The method of interpretation used in this play allows both naturalistic and highly stylized readings, including the singing of lines, moog backgrounds to speeches, and sound effects to emphasize a character. The sound play and stage play blend together as the actors, instead of "lip-synching" their parts, provide the action only. Because sound and action are done separately, often a role is read by one actor and played by another. In this way, actors with strong reading voices can mix their talents with actors with strong movement to create a stronger character.
The development of the play has been a group activity from the beginning. Instead of there being one author, four writers worked in close collaboration on the play, and the actors further developed the script to fit the acting possibilities and limitations of the Dome. Instead of strict director/actor divisions, the interpretation of the play evolved through interaction within the troupe. Instead of one actor playing a role, one plays the voice, another the action. "This is what you would call 'group art'," commented one of the actors. "If it weren't for Guru Maharaj Ji, our egos would have killed each other by now," said another. "Instead, we're doing something much better than any one of us alone could produce.