How do you make a compelling, enjoyable picture about art, love, ethics and the meaning of life – and do it for pocket change?
That’s the crazy challenge Cheltenham native Brad Raider set for himself half a dozen years ago when he conceived of Kensho At The Bedfellow, a $200,000 existential drama Raider wrote, directed and in which he stars in the lead role.
It is available exclusively on iTunes.
A visually stunning, ravishing work that looks far more expensive than its meager budget, Kensho features Raider as Dan Bender, a once-promising playwright who works at a quirky hotel filled with strange and wonderful characters who help distract him from his true passion, to write.
Dan is stuck in a deep rut, his life derailed by a series of dark events. These include the death of his sister (costar Michelle Cameron) of a drug overdose and his estrangement with their father (Grainger Hines).
Dan retreats increasingly into a narcissistic solipsism that ruins his friendships, including his half-hearted romance with an ex-girlfriend (Christina Brucato) whose love he can’t quite accept.
“I really wanted to explore the role of the artist in society,” Raider said of his protagonist. “And [Dan] is an artist, but he wasn’t satisfying his life purpose. … I portray him at the outset as a character who is not only suffering, but who has become nihilistic and who makes others around him suffer in his search for self-fulfillment.”
Dan finally is able to come out of himself through an encounter with an old friend (Kaley Ronayne), an aide worker with the International Rescue Committee (IRC), an organization that unites families affected by civil wars in Africa. She inspires Dan to revise his view of the world.
“The IRC really encouraged us and it’s been such a perfect partnershipis picture,” said Raider, who hopes the organization’s work also inspires viewers.
The IRC’s mission is only one of Raider’s passions. The other is Vedic meditation, a practice that he says opened him to the world in a radically different way.
Kensho, which also features Kathryn Erbe, Steven Klein, Mara Davi, Dana Ashbrook, and Madison McKinley, may be set in New York’s theater world. But, it’s filled with the spirit of meditation said Raider, and the insights that meditation provides practitioners.
“The idea that the protagonist has a destiny to fulfill isn’t exclusive to him because he’s an artist. We all do. It’s about finding how you fit into the bigger picture. Where you find your life purpose,” said Raider. “Potential is also a good word for it. … And the extent to which you realize your fullest potential is the extent to which you can give yourself fully to the world.”
Raider, who teaches meditation around the country (he’ll offer classes in Elkins Park later this spring), said the goal of meditation isn’t merely inward.
“It’s not about navel-gazing. … It’s not about just feeling groovy," he said.
"It’s about learning how to take that illuminated state of mind you experience in meditation and export it to the world through your relationships and your work.”