Assembling a Prayer: a response by Samantha Allen

Fifth City revisited/Imaginal Politics embodied

Artistic direction: Meida McNeal

Choreography and text: Meida McNeal

Performance: Meida McNeal

Projection and animation: Justin Botz

Lighting design/Production stage manager: Celia Calder

Videography: Stephanie Jeter

Camera assistant: G’Jordan Williams

Set and decor: Keli Stewart

Dramaturg/Exhibition curator: Vitaliy Vladimirov

Thu, June 20, 2019, Links Hall*

image by: Samantha Allen


Meida McNeal’s solo work, Fifth City revisited/Imaginal Politics embodied, is a performance collage in homage to her parents, Chicago’s Westside and the Fifth City community redevelopment experiment her family was part of during her childhood.

McNeal shifts from dance scenes to video projections and monologues — sometimes lessons in history or politics, sometimes anecdotes from her own life, sometimes a mix of both. McNeal conducted months of research and also commissioned research by urban planner Vitaliy Vladimirov, who dressed the Links Hall lobby with an educational installation, teaching viewers about the Fifth City movement and the area’s history.

Once in the theater, McNeal draws on her bounty of research. Interspersed between moments of dancing, she uses vintage audio recordings, personal memories, interviews, video footage of East Garfield Park, family photos and symbols and documents from the Fifth City project.

Early in the piece, McNeal talks about her parents and grandmother and growing up in a home where you’d find a Bible, a Quran and a Buddhist text. Her family taught her that a prayer can be anything you want, as long as it has good intentions and brings light into the world.

Watching McNeal perform, I can see how this work is a prayer. As she excavates and explores her past, she strives to uplift and empower her community. It’s more than an homage to the past, it’s a prayer for today.

It’s a memory, lovingly given life.

An archival feat.

A collection of memories and facts.

An oral history.

A ritual.

A prayer for today.

A past trauma acknowledged, honored.

A movement stuck in the body.

An energy reversed, redirected.

An unfolding on repeat.

A gasp for breath.

A prayer for today.

A history lesson.

An exploration

An examination.

An investigation.

A documentation of what was.

A yearning, a hope for what could be.

A prayer for today.

A patchwork collage.

An assemblage.

A collaboration.

A commitment.

A prayer for today.


Samantha Allen is a performer, dancer and maker in Chicago. With L.A.-based collaborator Devika Wickremesinghe, Samantha makes live work and films through the INSTITUT IDGAF. She also partners with director Chris Cascarano on film projects, as an actress, production designer and creative producer. She’s an editor by day and also sells vintage art and furniture from her ever-changing studio in West Town.

(*) PRJ is partnering with Links Hall to celebrate their 40th anniversary by providing a platform for artist-to-artist responses to the work that is presented as part of the Pay-the-40th-Forward season. Thank you, Links Hall, for all that you do for the dance and performance communities in Chicago. Congratulations on 40 years!