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American Moor at University of Pittsburgh-Bradford 1/30-2/3/2017

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The week in Northern Pennsylvania was short; five working days really.  The University of Pittsburg-Bradford is a small, beautiful campus, and the week saw it covered in snow.  My host, Professor Kevin Ewert, who teaches theatre at the college, packed a great deal of interaction into that five days.  I met with theatre students, students from the African American Student Union,

At dinner with students of the African American Student Union.

At dinner with students of the African American Student Union.

and a highlight of the trip, I met with Professor Ewert’s Modern Black theatre class at FCI McKean Federal Correctional Facility, where his students share a session once a week with a class of incarcerated men, all of whom had read American Moor.  The feedback from this group was profound for me.  This was the first time that the play had been presented to any group, not as performance, but as literature.  The responses of the inmates were unique and immediate.  Of course they would see in the play what has always been there, but see it in the starkest of terms, particularly the elements focusing on social justice.

The theatre students were most interested in inquiring about what possibilities there were for an actual life in the theatre.  How does one pursue such a life and be reasonably comfortable in the belief that life will be livable.  Of course I’ve no answers for such concerns.  What young aspiring theatre people need to hear most, it seems to me, is that there isn’t much choice in the matter if you are innately driven to manifest your being through the arts.  You may be miserable attempting to eek out a living, but you’ll be equally miserable, if not more so, attempting to live a life in an albeit “safer” way, yet one that does not honor your soul-labeling.  In our interaction I did not get the sense that these students get to express much regarding their needs in art, or their fears born of those needs.  I was happy to have the time just to engage the discussion.  Communication is everything…

The students of the African American Student Union and I got to sit down to dinner, where I listened to them speak on the issues of Blackness and campus life that most concerned them.  They were also helpful in generating an audience for the Thursday night performance of American Moor.

One last group that I was given the opportunity to speak with was an Art Appreciation class.  This was a discussion that fed directly into many of the themes present in American Moor, most particularly ideas about who gets to make art, and who is to say what art is good, relevant, and/or worthy of attention.

Except for the inmates from McKean, of course, many from all of these groups were present for the performance.  I played to a house of about 75 people in a playing space uniquely configured for our production.  It was extremely intimate, with very little distance between me and the audience.  This always allows me the ability to truly include them in the journey happening on-stage.  Most often they seem happy to come along.  The post-performance discussion was, as always, alive with audience expressions of the experience.

Students prepare the intimate playing space for the performance.

Students prepare the intimate playing space for the performance.

UPitt-Bradford, unlike FAMU and Southern Shakespeare Company, did not have the wherewithal to bring in the community beyond the college in the same way.  The performance there was largely for students and faculty.  I always feel as though one week, though better than the one-off nature of a couple of days, is still sort of a one-off in itself.  I’m left wanting to do more, to explore more deeply, to ask and answer further questions, which are endless.  The first performance is always rough.  There needs to be at least two…  When the production finds a home of its own for an extended run, that problem will ostensibly be alleviated.  But there is stuff in the academic setting that I won’t find out in the world of the professional theatre.   I suppose it’s nothing for me to dwell on, but just to take each new endeavor as it comes and for what it presents.  I think lives were affected by the work of the week in Bradford, none the least of which was mine.

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Post-Performance Video of American Moor in Tallahassee

Just a few brief clips of the work in Tallahassee.

This post performance discussion was particularly informative for me, as I saw that the work is beginning to expose levels of itself that only audience experience can reveal.  Post-performance participants express connections to the play that are unique to them and to their experiences in life.  I respond to their questions, but mostly I want to just sit back and listen to their immediate responses to the play.  I learn so much just by hearing them talk.

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A Southland Premiere

Southern Shakespeare Company and Florida A&M University Collaborate to Host Actor and Director and American Moor for a Week: 1/9-1/13/17

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This experiment in community engagement was a first for American Moor AND for my director, Kim Weild and me.  Southern Shakespeare Company is a small Shakespeare Company in Tallahassee, Florida with a focus on education.  Not so small it seems, however, to stop them from taking an interest in American Moor, and rallying the resources to bring us to Florida for a week of work.

With the FAMU Essential Theatre students

With the FAMU Essential Theatre students

Their partners in this endeavor were several.  Most prominently Florida A&M University played host to our rehearsals and performances in their Lee Hall Auditorium.  While there we met and worked with college students from FAMU’s Essential Theatre Program, as well as with eleven-, twelve-, and thirteen-year-olds from Southern Shakespeare’s youth company called The Bardlings.  We also met some wonderful people in the greater Tallahassee community when we attended an event hosted by Village Square, a non-partisan public educational forum.  Their event was called “Created Equal,” and sought to stimulate constructive dialogue around matters of race and race relations.  We were busy…

The production team: (from left) director Kim Weild; stage tech - Felix, Anitra, and Nile, and publicist Pamela Daniels in front.

The production team: (from left) director Kim Weild; stage tech – Felix Anitra, and Nile; (front) publicist Pamela Daniels.

We had not had a concerted period of rehearsal for quite some time.  Most of the recent outings for American Moor have been of the one-off model, where we quickly mount the show in a venue, do it, and go home.  This was an experiment in residence, where we had several days to work, eat, drink, acquaint ourselves, and communicate with smart, engaging, theatre-loving people who believed in the work of this play as much as we did and do.

We played two performances to houses of about 500 people each night.  Even this many years in, the post-performance responses from always diverse audience members astound me.
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Reception at Meek-Eaton Black Archives

Reception at Meek-Eaton Black Archives

There is always some perspective or thought that someone will share that I’ve never heard before.  Each new endeavor brings discovery.

Here are as many pictures from the week as it makes any kind of sense to stuff into a single blog post.  There really isn’t a whole lot else to say but “Thank you.”

From left, Southern Shakespeare Company Executive Director, Laura Johnson, me, and director Kim Weild at Village Square's "Created Equal" event.

At Village Square’s “Created Equal” event: (from left) Southern Shakespeare Company Executive Director Laura Johnson, me, and director Kim Weild.

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With noted writer and attorney, Chuck Hobbs, on stage at “Created Equal,” the Village Square event in Tallahassee.

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Just A Whole Lot to Talk About…

I decided I’d leave this here because it really doesn’t fit in any other category.  This was a gab session done in LA for a podcast with Hilliard Guess and his co-host, Lisa Bolekaja.  Hill is a screenwriter and producer.  His company is Hilldog Productions, and his podcast heard in several countries, is called The Screenwriters Rant Room.  So…  When we talk about things that one has just got to say…  Ranting is cathartic.  I must have left the rant room a couple of pounds lighter at least.

 

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Academic Honors, and A Performance at University of Maryland

The week after Easter, 2016, saw some milestones for the performance life of American Moor.  UMD Moor w:audience

The production of the play that had taken place in DC, at the Anacostia Playhouse in the summer of the previous year, was recognized by the Folger Shakespeare Library, the preeminent institution of Shakespearean scholarship, and the largest collection of Renaissance literature in the world.  And what in the world does one say about a thing like that??!!  

Plays are like people.  You give birth to them, and they evolve over time.  The summer production at The Playhouse was just another stop on the developmental arc of the work.  And that’s all that any of us involved were doing, nurturing the health of a new and exciting piece of theatre.  No one was expecting the recognition of so august an institution as the Folger.

from left, Dr. Frank Madden, professor of English, Dr. Michael Witmore, Director, Folger Shakespeare Library, Daniel De Simone, Head Librarian, Folger Shakespeare Library

from left, Dr. Frank Madden, professor of English, Dr. Michael Witmore, Director, Folger Shakespeare Library, Daniel De Simone, Head Librarian, Folger Shakespeare Library

We were no more expecting that than we were expecting the Audelco Award, recognizing the Phoenix Theatre Ensemble production the previous spring.

It feels funny to say, “We’ve got something special here.” Self-praise does nothing to enhance the honest growth of any artistic work.  But other voices are speaking rather loudly on behalf of our efforts, and I’m beginning to believe them.

On the evening of March 28th, we celebrated the Folger’s acceptance of our work with a cocktail reception at the Anacostia Playhouse. 

The following evening, there was yet one more one-off performance of American Moor in the Kogod Theatre at the University of Maryland’s Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center. The Kogod is a one hundred and seventy seat black box space, and different than any other space in which we had played to date.

The event was sponsored by the university’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion.  It was well attended, and followed by a post-performance discussion lead by Khalid Long, a doctoral candidate in the School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies.  12513694_1586863738300027_3366954172210828079_oAs with every new space, the need to adapt to unique, and previously unaccustomed surroundings created new moments of discovery and growth; the magic in doing something different for the first time because the circumstances demand it…  At the Kogod, the stage space was small, and only six inches or so off the floor. This allowed me to step down off the actual stage and walk right up to people seated in the first row, bringing them deeper into the play itself, and not allowing them the safety and remove of spectators.

The end of the week in the DC/Maryland area culminated with The Third Annual Black Theatre Symposium at the University of Maryland.  I was able to engage with other theatre makers, and connect with students involved in creating the next generation of performance art.UMD-Black-Theatre-Symposium-Web

So here we are… The sights remain set on NYC…  We have been out in the countryside, created friends and colleagues in several states, in the halls of academia, in multiple theatre communities, and among the people around the country who are inevitably moved by this work.  It now needs a home, at least a temporary one, to sharpen the edges of the presentation just a little more; to define moments, to hone in on every subtle nuance, and then to run for weeks.  There are any number of theaters in any number of major cities that could serve to raise the national profile of American Moor, but New York is my home.  It’s where all this started.  It is the theatre community from which so much of the material that fabricates the play is drawn. American Moor is asking for huge questions to be addressed.  They are questions the answers to which will govern what the future will be, in the American Theatre, and in the world from which it draws it’s stories.

12308609_1586582218328179_8046412234011147107_nI’m restless to put these questions before the American populace at large.

I am eager to hear what it will say.

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KEYNOTE PERFORMANCE

AMERICAN MOOR Opens and Closes

The Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival Region 7

Denver, CO, February 15-19, 2016

Rehearsal Rawls Courtyard Theatre, Denver 2/19/16

Rehearsal Rawls Courtyard Theatre, Denver 2/19/16

The Kennedy Center Festival consists of 8 regions.  Colleges from Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Northern California, Idaho, Northern Nevada, Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado make up Region 7, and students from theatre programs throughout these states converged on downtown Denver for a week of workshops, performances, competitions, and discussion on aspects of theatre from acting to scenic design, lighting design, and other elements of stagecraft.

IMG_9826A performance of American Moor opened the festival on Monday, 2/15, and concluded it on the following Friday.  Students who had attended the performance in the Eugenia Rawls Courtyard Theatre of The King Center on The University of Denver’s Auraria Campus were compelled to talk it up throughout the week.  By Friday, the play had become the prevalent buzz of the Festival.  Friday’s performance was huge and powerful to the full house, and revelatory to actor and audience alike.

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Rehearsing in the space with director, Kim Weild

This was the first performance under the direction of Kim Weild, who had introduced some minor changes in tone.  There was no time before Denver to dig deeply, but we were looking forward to deeper explorations when we returned to New York.  We were also new to the space, a stadium like theatre in style that was still very intimate, and demanded a performance the delivery of which was much more “up and out” than what I had grown used to in smaller houses.3P4A4462

For students of theatre, while the social justice aspect of the play was not lost upon them, just as many seemed to be particularly taken with the idea that powerful theatre could be so simple, i.e., a bare stage, a body, some chairs, and a truth.  Many voiced their realization that their theatre was waiting to be made just as simply, without the support, the permission, or approval of anything beyond themselves.

For me, Denver is as far away from home as I have taken the play in its performance life.  20160219_145326Each new audience seems to embrace it, no matter where they are, no matter how diverse or homogenous, American Moor seems to speak to something human in all of us.

This was a week of youthful, creative energy that I surfed back to New York, where plans for the next engagement for American Moor were already underway.

Post-Performance discussion with playwright and educator, Idris Goodwin

Post-Performance discussion with playwright and educator, Idris Goodwin

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American Moor’s 2015

The Things We Did, The People We Saw, And What They Had To Say…

Luna Stage Company

Phoenix Theatre Ensemble

Anacostia Playhouse

Rider University

The Brickerati Group

Kevin E. Taylor

Bobby Razak

The Folger Shakespeare Library

AUDELCO (Audience Development Committee, Inc.)

It all looked something like this…

 

 

2016 is going to be astounding!!!  We’ll see you there…

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Two Weeks at The Wild Project

A Brief Diary of Phoenix Theatre Ensemble’s Production of American Moor

                                                            from the perspective of an American Moor

Opening Night of "American Moor" in New York 4/21/15

Opening Night of “American Moor” in New York 4/21/15

This April into May has been two months of revelation.  Making the work, as arduous as it can be in so many ways, is always a whole lot more fun that looking for the work.  This work grew and attention grew for it.  It showed me people’s capacity to listen and consider with expansive minds and hearts.  It also showed me the poster children for the very argument of the play, those that see first, identify what they think they are seeing, then don’t hear or consider another thing after that, other than what is defined by what they think they saw.  I had one remarkable reviewer write, “…Enter Cobb, a large black man, anxiously awaiting the call of the casting assistant as he proceeds to unapologetically disturb the entire waiting room with his nervous behavior…”  I sit and wander about for fifteen minutes at the top of the show as the audience enters in a small area upstage where three chairs are illuminated to give the impression of a waiting area.  There is no one in the space but me…  What did he see?  If he and I were equivalently cop and black man waiting anxiously for a bus, would he have said, “He looked suspicious.”  
     ”He did?  Why?”  
     ”Well, he was behaving erratically…”  
     ”Really?  How so?”  
     ”Well, he was standing up and sitting back down a lot.”  
     ”Was there anyone else there waiting?”  
     ”No…  But I assumed that there would be…”  
     ”But there was no one there at the time…  So what was the problem?”  
     ”He was behaving nervously…”  
     ”Perhaps he was nervous.  Is that a crime?”  
     ”No.”  
     ”Do you mean, he looked like he might be dangerous in some way, because he was black, and moving, and engaged in some sort of mental process… and alive?”
     ”Well, no…  I don’t mean that at all…”
     ”Oh…  Well, what do you mean?”
     ”I mean he looked suspicious…”

Such critical voices were in the minority over the run of the show.  I would like to believe that there are fewer and fewer of them as it gets later into the 21st century, but I think the more accurate assessment is that fewer of them saw any reason to attend a play about race in America in the first place…  I could be wrong about this.  I hope I am.  Time will reveal as we continue on.  But it was an extraordinary moment, his reactions to the play.  One among many extraordinary moments at The Wild Project during the run of “American Moor.”

Monday, 4/20
The final dress rehearsal was strong.  The four or five people sitting in the house were moved… at least that’s what they told me…  When you are mounting a show, even a “one-man” show on a small budget, so much time and energy goes into doing all sorts of things besides acting, and I am left never knowing what’s going to be there when the time comes to hit the stage.  Judging from the reaction, I guess something was there…  ”American Moor” is a theatre piece fraught with intense emotion.  It is great to hit all the notes when you only have to do it once.  To know that, after the final dress, you have to get up and out and do it several more times can be quite daunting.  But for the moment, I was happy.
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Tuesday, 4/21
Opening Night
Well, whatever was there at the dress rehearsal had, at least to some extent, taken the night off.  I’ll never know what that is…  Just bad acting skills, maybe, but I could not access that same deep-seated well of emotion that, on other nights, just wells up for me in this piece.  I mean it was there.  It’s all through the play, that age-old emotion; that’s what the play is about.   But somewhere around page fifteen or so of the thirty-two pages it just began to feel like there was still a long way to go to the end.  The Wild Project is an eighty-nine seat house, and if the audience were seated any closer they would be on-stage.  In addition, the set has a white floor and white rear wall.  This was the first time that we had tried anything like this.  Previously, we have always performed in a completely blackened space.  Necessity required that we do it this way, and I have to say that I think it added something to the metaphor — the black man in the entirely white space…  However, when it is lit, all the light reflects into the house illuminating the audience as well. MoorOpenTableauWebIf someone in that intimate little house scratches their nose, I can see them.  Nose-scratching, like coughing, is a sure sign that the audience is not focused on what you are doing on-stage…  Alright, that’s not true, but again, alone on-stage, and not feeling one hundred percent in the work, there is this snowball effect that happens where everything that you’re experiencing serves as another distraction that pulls you further and further out of where you’re supposed to be, and ultimately you find yourself just struggling to find the end, when you will be mercifully allowed to exit the stage.  I guess it’s a thing about how, having done, or let be done all of this hype about how wonderful a piece of theatre it is you have made, then standing out there and realizing, or at least feeling as though you are not delivering that to this house full of people who have bought your self-aggrandizing pitch, and bought a ticket.  And then what?  It ends up being completely a projection, of course.  You are feeling like it’s not getting across; that it’s boring, or clunky, or some other thing that is not good.  And so you put that on the guy who just shifted in his seat, thinking, “He hates me,” while, in fact, he’s totally enthralled and hanging on your every word…

Opening night reception, and festivities tell this story.  The audience effuses gratitude and praise.  Unless they are all lying through their teeth, I am left with the impression that they were there all along, thought for thought, word for word, and deeply affected by what those words conjured within them.  MoorOpenParty1WebIn the wake of such responses after such opening nights, I am compelled to realize that the play is the play.  I may be feeling any number of things on-stage during any given performance that have nothing to do with the text, or the truth, but the words seem to put something important and impactful across with or without my help.  I hadn’t left the building.  I was there.  But there are performances when moments in the arc of the play shake me to my very core, and strike me as though some force is speaking through me for the first time.  When I don’t feel those, it doesn’t mean that the power of the piece has fled.  It means, perhaps that I’m carrying it, instead of it carrying me, but either way, it is being conveyed.

Josh Tyson who enacted the role of the director.

Josh Tyson who enacted the role of the director.

It never means that I am not being an adequate vehicle for the conveyance of this particular poetry.

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w/ Kevin E. Taylor and a group of Brothers that he brought from Newark.

Brent Buell, my first creative consultant on this work.

Brent Buell, my first creative consultant on this work.

Wednesday, 4/22
This was a long day, with a 2pm matinee performance for a small house, meant specifically for the press.  But it was a strong show, as was the second on that evening, which was followed by a post-show discussion facilitated by the Reverend Jacqueline Lewis of the Middle Collegiate Church.  Reverend Lewis oversees a 900+ poly-ethnic, non-denominational congregation in the East Village.  Her post-show attempted to reflect on the work, and people’s reactions to it, from the place of gaining a spiritual awareness, the lack of which is at the root of our communication gap with regard to racial insensitivity in our culture.  She raised an interesting point in emphasizing our common humanity, that we might be here in this place and time with white American culture the unheard, and unseen, and black culture wholly unaware and insensitive to it if ancient world events had unfolded differently, but that the dilemma of how to communicate and transcend it would be the same, because the nature of the human animal would be the same, and that it is only a spiritual maturation that will change that, nothing else…  That’s what I took away from the evening, in any case…

Thursday, 4/23
Another strong show, I thought, to a smallish house.  I am particularly aware of the size of the houses because I can see every seat.  The white stage and rear wall with stage lights shining on them illuminate the entire theatre of 89 seats.  As meager as the mid-week audience was, however, they seemed rapt, and fully engaged with the process unfolding on-stage.

The Wild Project is about as beautiful a venue as any 99-seat New York City black box theatre for hire as any that I’ve ever seen.  I suppose you couldn’t have such a space and maintain it on the income of low-budget theatre if it were located uptown where more people might be apt to come.  I’ve seen a few of the tiny, for-hire venues uptown, and to a one they’re ratty little dives that no one would like to spend any more time in then they had to.  There are nicer ones over on Theatre Row, but, of course, you pay for every inch closer to Broadway…  Down on 3rd Street and Avenue B on a Thursday night, I’m happy for my house of 26 as long as they’re happy with me.

Friday, 4/24
The largest audience since opening…  It was a strong performance.  People who have seen multiple performances seem to think the piece has arrived.  I think that, with 32 pages of words, no matter what one does to learn them, drill them, rehearse them, they are only going to be in you, truly in you when they are truly in you.  And that ends up being a matter of something that is neither wholly mental or physical.  There is no rushing the process.  It’s like the gestation and development of anything else, from babies, to bottles of wine.  It becomes more and more natural in performance every time I do the piece before an audience, but there are still, even after two years, times in the middle of the arc of 32 pages where I’m supposed to be up there being this guy, but I’m really busy thinking, “What the fuck am I supposed to say here?  How did that next line go?”   No one seems to notice.  I’m happy for that.  But there is still a ways to go until it has “arrived.”

Saturday, 4/25
This was the largest house since opening night.  It is the night after night playing of the piece with the audience numbers and energies changing that begin to solidify the words, less and less in my head, and more and more in my body.  I am beginning to do the role now, and not perform it.  It’s not as though I still can’t tend to wander a bit around page 25 of the 32 page text…  It’s a lot of words to infuse with that level of emotion every night, which begs a bigger question…  What do you want to do with this play?  How many times can you continue to crank out fully actualized performances of this work, inasmuch as it takes all that you’ve got?  I don’t have the answer to this question yet, but the reactions to the work by the diverse and wholly engaged audiences are certainly validating enough to make me want to do it at least a while longer.  It is a play that another actor could certainly do…  I suspect that publication as a licensable work would be the next logical step…

Post-show with, from lft, Dr. Akil Khalfani, Phoenix Artistic director, Elise Stone, and director Paul Kwame Johnson

Post-show with, from lft, Dr. Akil Khalfani, Phoenix Artistic director, Elise Stone, and director Paul Kwame Johnson

This was the second post-show discussion performance.  This evening was moderated by Dr. Akil Khalfani, director of the Africana Institute, and professor of sociology at Essex County College.  His discussion as compared to Reverend Lewis’ at the beginning of the week, took on a more scholarly bent, as one would expect.  As a professor of sociology, he was interested mostly in the idea of “blackness” as a stigma, and by what process we can begin to de-stigmatize the term, and the people the term attempts to define.  I think, however, that we return to Reverend Lewis when we understand that, to de-stigmatize a people requires that shift in spiritual awareness that allows us to up-level as a human species.  I’m not sure this is possible, but I don’t suppose I would have written the play if I didn’t hold out hope.

It was an extraordinary week.  I grew.  The play grew.  We all left eager to see what the next performance week would bring.

Second Week

Tuesday, 5/5
Rough, rough, rough…  A week off will do that, particularly without any sort of a brush-up rehearsal.  Again, I think the impact of the play itself tends to mask for the audience any difficulties I may be having personally on-stage.  Still, it’s important that I stay honest about it.  Not much else to report about this evening.  First days back can tend to look like this.  I guess there are times when one can be grateful for a small house…

Wednesday, 5/6  11049635_378676378988575_8681463549536942497_n
This evening’s house was full.  There was a high school group from Brooklyn, and the moderator of the evening’s post-show discussion was the professor and author, Daniel Black, who also brought a contingent of students from CCNY.

Dr. Daniel Omotosho Black, author of Perfect Peace.

Dr. Daniel Omotosho Black, author of Perfect Peace.

The high school kids left after the curtain call, so I was never able to get any feedback from them, or any sense of how they had experienced the play, which is a drag, as I was looking forward to it… However Daniel’s group stayed, and this coterie of college-aged black men had no shortage of positive input, creating a truly valuable discourse.

Dr. Black has written extensively in the first four of his seven novels of life and circumstance in the pre-civil rights South.  I tend to think that there is very little difference between what creates our current racial divides, and what created them before 1960, and that what gave rise to all of it is as old as the slave trade itself.  I was sure that Dr. Black would see the same issues at work in my play as those he explores in his books, and I thought therefore that he would be a strong choice to facilitate one of these discussions.  He did not disappoint.

Thursday, 5/7
A midweek slump in attendance.  There it is again…  It’s just hard to get people downtown to these little NY theatres, no matter what’s going on, unless you’re boasting some sort of celebrity name, or something like that.  They come on the weekends, however, as the numbers for the rest of the run attested.  As for the performance…  I think it was just fine.  A little bit more honest, a little bit more natural every day…

Friday, 5/8
11067829_379262262263320_7344456954256998116_nThis was the day that Bobby Razak and crew came to record footage of the production, the performance, the theatre, and the New York environment for the film that he is making about the making of this play.  We started early.  We needed a full day to capture all the essence and energy of the NYC debut of “American Moor.”  Interviews with the theatre’s artistic directors were conducted.  There was clearly a different energy all around then when we were doing the same at Luna Stage in NJ earlier in the year.  New York is different than everything…  Any documentary made with this play as the focus would not have been complete without coverage of this element of its evolution.

It was a nearly full house this evening as well, with an impromptu post-show discussion.

Dan Lehrecke at the camera, and Elise Stone, and Josh Tyson

Dan Lehrecke at the camera, and Elise Stone, and Josh Tyson

By this point, the show is running smoothly…  I, as per usual, tend to panic slightly in the last third of the piece as I’m trying to bring it home, but also as per usual no one seems too much notice my struggles.  And again, I can only assume this is more testament to the power of the play itself, and not so much to me.

Saturday, 5/9
The last of the scheduled post-show discussion days, moderated by Kevin E. Taylor, a Newark author, minister, impresario.  He too brought a following to the theatre this night, but the audience, in general, was quite diverse, and eager to speak back at the end of the evening.

Elise Stone, Kevin E. Taylor, and Josh Tyson

Elise Stone, Kevin E. Taylor, and Josh Tyson

These post-show discussions are always a bit frustrating, especially with a play like “American Moor” that demands that so many questions be asked and answered in order to do what the play begs, which is to reach an understanding via communication.  There is never enough time in the post-performance setting to pursue any line of dialogue to satisfactory conclusion.  Regardless, the things that most needed to get said did get said.  Points of connection and the expression of new awareness by people across the ethnic and gender spectrum (yes, there is now a gender spectrum) suggested that all we are doing is right.

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Sunday, 5/10
Mother’s Day was our final performance at The Wild Project.  It was a sold out matinee.  I was exhausted from doing the show the evening before and getting very little sleep, then jumping into an early performance on the following day.21884_379506082238938_7028183891345871003_n

After each performance over the two weeks, even those with post-show dialogue, many would remain in the theatre and in the theatre lobby to greet me and give their further comments.  This made evenings long, and the afternoon of the matinee was no exception.  However, I can only regard it, this energy towards further engagement, as validation of the strength and impact of this work.

We made it to the end of this piece of the odyssey.  My energy and attention is already turned towards Anacostia, Washington DC, and what four weeks of performances at The Anacostia Playhouse will be like.  I need to rest up, but I am eager for the challenge and up for all the awakening that it promises.

DC is an exciting prospect for our next stop.  It is a smaller, more tightly-knit theatre and academic community, with an unheard, unseen population all it’s own, and a theatre right in the middle of an underserved neighborhood on its way back.  There will be a great deal to do and explore there.  The greater DC area may or may not be happy we came, but we certainly will not go unnoticed.

MoorSmileWeb

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Interview w/ Andaiye Taylor / Brick City Live

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ONE NIGHT ONLY at The University of Maryland

A Special Event!!

Sponsored by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at The University of Maryland.

UMD Flyer

 

 

So much of my time is currently being spent focused on the 11 dates of “Moor” in Manhattan.  But this promises to be a truly intimate, one-time, event with the students of UMD and a post-show discussion with Dr. Faedra Carpenter.  The event is open to all.

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Moor on Manhattan

PhoenixMoor Flyer

And that’s all there really is to say…  The New York City debut of this play begins on April 21st.  The Wild Project is an intimate 88 seat black box playing space on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.  It is the perfect space to perform this piece in, and I expect it to be oversold for all of it’s eleven dates.

The members of Phoenix Theatre Ensemble and I are all hugely excited about this endeavor.  Our collaboration in presenting this work is the next logical step in the performance path of something that I’ve begun to believe has true contemporary relevance and import.

As per usual, I urge everyone to secure a seat soon, and to come be a part of this continuing discussion.

For those who’ve come late to the party, just to bring you up to speed…

American Moor is a passionate and uneasy study of a large African American actor auditioning for the role of Othello for a middle-aged white director who portends to have knowledge about how a large black man should act and respond in an unaccepting society.

The play asks uncomfortable and complex questions, moving to much larger issues than the audition/theatre process: Is there a patronizing racism that exists in our contemporary theatre?  Is this a microcosm of progressive/liberal society that thinks it has knowledge of the black experience?  Do directors want to work with actors who ask challenging questions in a 3-week rehearsal process?

And then, there is the whole issue of whether or not we can ever talk past our own personal perspective to address any of these questions and a multitude of others…

It’s a big chunk of theatre that will make you laugh… or maybe weep…

“In this remarkable evening a unique performer with an uncanny ear for the language of Shakespeare lures you into taking a startling double journey.

In the seeming act of demolishing The Bard’s OTHELLO and resurrecting him in his own image, Keith Hamilton Cobb takes you on a riveting journey through the love and rage in the turbulent interior of a modern black man.” 

                                                Ellen Holly, Actress/Writer, author of ONE LIFE:                                                                         The Autobiography of an African American Actress.

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Selma, The Movie

or
The Invisible Man
or
Anything But a Black American Male

Thoughts on a Hollywood Film

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“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

                                                          Martin Luther King, Jr.

RM306a                                                         Craig Alan Edwards, American Writer/Performer,                                                                                    The Man in Room 306

 

I went to see the film, Selma.

Not because of the hype it’s been riding.  There are innumerable films that do that each year that are not worth the price of admission, and certainly not worth two hours of my time.

I didn’t go because I needed to have the story retold to me.  Having lived, a black American for over half a century, the cinema of this piece of my history continues to play in my consciousness, enhanced to high definition by events occurring presently and regularly.  I need no movie to re-illustrate for me the highlights, and only the highlights, of the bad old days without the depth of exploration required to offer me any truly new perspective.

I did not go because the story of the struggle of the black American for civil rights, or, for that matter, the story of Solomon Northup in 12 Years a Slave, or the story of Rosewood, or of the Tuskegee Airmen in Red Tails were stories more worthy to be told when measured against all of the stories of black people that there are to tell.  I find a troubling irony in all of the reaching back we do for the purpose of immortalizing some piece of black American history, when what those historical figures were all most intent upon was creating an even playing field for us in the present day, a goal which, despite the endless efforts of ancestors remains widely unachieved, and, in glaring instances, would seem now to be in a process of complete regression.

I would be pleased to sacrifice all the films about all the black icons of the past—now so very safe to speak of in laudatory terms—for a high-budgeted Hollywood film or two about contemporary black men and women as, if we care to look, we can observe them today.  Not sophomoric comedians, or urban malcontents, but leading men and women, self-governing, sexy, proactive, effectual, whose present day lives, and on-camera focus-holding abilities are every bit as compelling and cinema worthy as DiCaprio, Affleck, Damon, Pitt, and all this entire last generation of white movie star, and certainly this newest one.    Read More →

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