Graveyard Shift performance series coming to Green-Wood Cemetery

Need a reason to live? Here’s one more thing to do before kicking the bucket: spend a summer evening contemplating your mortality at a moonlit show in Green-Wood cemetery. 

Green-Wood has teamed up with Pioneer Works to present Graveyard Shift, a performance series that will feature two site-specific shows this summer, commissioned for and inspired by the spooky setting. 

Experimental guitarist Yonatan Gat and the Eastern Medicine Singers, a traditional Algonquin pow wow group Gat has been collaborating with since 2017, will perform at the cemetery’s historic Cedar Dell on July 27.  

The group plays in a circular formation with the audience surrounding them, rather than keeping the performer on one side and the audience on the other. The circling will get downright concentric when the show comes to the center of Cedar Dell, where the tombstones are already arranged in a ring. 

After the performance, the Native American group will lead the audience out of the cemetery with a drumline procession along a moonlit path. 

According to Gat, the evening will include music and chanting that’s meant in Algonquin tradition to commune with the dead, and which the group doesn’t normally perform in traditional venues. 

“It’s going to be a very intense experience,” said Gat. “One can’t help but kind of wonder about his own mortality and that of their loved ones in a situation like that. And part of the idea behind the series is to not fear those thoughts and to just accept them as perhaps a beautiful part about being alive.” 

Interdisciplinary artist and choreographer Kim Brandt will present her new dance performance piece, “Untitled,” at Cedar Dell on August 10. The work will feature performers collapsing mobile structures in “a rumination on circles, spheres, spirals and loops.” 

Brandt, who has performed at the Shed in Hudson Yards and MoMA PS1, created the show especially for the cemetery and has been using Cedar Dell for rehearsals. 

While it might sound odd for Green-Wood to find a second life as a concert venue as the graveyard begins to run out of burial space, Graveyard Shift is really about getting back to the cemetery’s roots, according to the series’ co-organizer Bethany Tabor. 

Tabor points out that, in its early years, Green-Wood was something of a proto-Prospect Park and treated as much as a picnic ground as a burial ground by the Victorians. 

“They had a very different relationship to death in that time period. Since then, that relationship has been diminished and harmed in my opinion.” said Tabor. “Events and programs happening at the cemetery sort of brings us back to that time where we in Western society can mingle with each other and make the cemetery a social space again.” 

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