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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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Integrity in the Time of Post-Truth

An Actor Wonders How to Be in a Culture Devoid of Honest Self-Assessment

It’s Tuesday, November 15th, so how long is that after the presidential election?  And that’s how long it’s taken for me to realize this most absurd of things has actually occurred.  In fact, the level of absurdity is such that it cannot bear rational commentary.  The only truth to be gleaned from the morass of sound that generated it, and that it is generating, is that it HAS occurred.  We can try to put our brains around that fact if we like—it’s taken me a week—and take action from there.  But I can leave the talking to the pundits of the entertainment news networks, who are wholly culpable in helping to bring this absurdity about.  While I haven’t watched any television news since election night, I’m quite sure they are readily embarked upon the lucrative endeavors of talking about the absurdity that their talking about promulgated in the first place.  They got you comin’ and goin’…  It’s a helluva business…  But I don’t have to invest.  I don’t think any of it was my fault, and know that I wouldn’t be able to fix it if I tried.   That doesn’t mean I won’t try.  There’s much to do, but I don’t think there’s much to say at this point unless you’re selling something.  It’s fucked in numberless ways, but there it is.  And here we are…

If I’m going to talk, I want to talk about theatre.  This is something I know.  I’m an actor.  I can impact this, a little bit with my talent, but that’s the cheapest of commodities.  I can impact it more, much more, with something far more scarce, integrity, and the simple, but not easy act of showing up with all 110% of the artist in me ready to play, or fight, however you wanna bring it.  Discussions of American theatre are important to me.  We must have them because Read More →

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Julius Caesar at Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival

Julius Caesar  at Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival  June/July 2016

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This was a talented ensemble of seasoned professionals, with a young company of eager, intelligent and highly focused students at Desales University.  The director, who was also the producing artistic director of the theatre, Patrick Mulcahy, was/is a seasoned professional and former actor who knew his Shakespeare.  Ya gotta know your Shakespeare, y’all!  He told a tight, intense, moving story with simple staging, costumes, and sets.

It helps, I think, when directing good actors, to have been one yourself.  Too many directors, I find, have studied telling actors what to do without any real understanding of why and how actors do.

Roz Coleman as Calphurnia

Roz Coleman as Calphurnia

As the artistic director of a mid-tier Shakespeare festival with limited funds, it also pays to be deft at the husbandry of resources.  I’ve always maintained that good Shakespeare can be done on a bare stage in jeans and t-shirts.  But that probably doesn’t work quite so well if you are trying to sell it to the American masses, who are much better at seeing than they are at listening…  Mr. Mulcahy was able to rally the requisite team of creatives to paint a compelling picture and tell a believable story without the benefit of uncountable riches, and I imagine he was able to do that as a manifestation of his extensive experience.  Of course, experience doesn’t always guarantee any such result.  Not all regional theatre experiences can I call successes, and some that are would be better termed “happy accidents.”  But I think, in this case, that clear intention and an ability to work with and integrate all creative elements bolstered by a life already lived in the theatre were to be given the credit.

Spencer Plachy as Mark Antony

Spencer Plachy as Mark Antony

As for the play…  I haven’t seen many Caesars who didn’t stalk about the first half of this play declaiming self-aggrandizing platitudes, and making themselves so damned annoying that nobody ever really gave a shit when they got knifed to death in the assassination scene. That’s sort of how Shakespeare wrote him, and he can be forgiven for the parameters of his form that sometimes left characters to stand as representations of a thing more than the authentic human incarnation of that thing with all its nuance and complexity.  People aren’t simple. The way I see it, if we are telling stories about people, then no one in the story can be left as an unexplained idea, least of all the title character, or else the story isn’t ever really told… I didn’t want to be that guy.  Patrick Mulcahy and I both thought it much more important to the play to make it rather ambiguous whether the issue was ever really Caesar’s conceit and ambition, or the egos and jealousies of his assassins.  He had to behave in such ways as made people think about who he might actually be as a human being, not just what he represented.  When you begin to recognize the levels in a man, you can begin, perhaps, to empathize.  I wanted the audience to like him enough to mourn him when he died.  I think we did that.

Kathy Lauer-William wrote in The Morning Call: “Keith Hamilton Cobb’s Julius Caesar is something of an enigma. He is certainly charismatic but is he a danger? There are some hints of arrogance but it’s never clear if he would truly be a threat to Rome.”

Paul Willistein wrote in The Bethlehem Press: “Keith Hamilton Cobb, an imposing figure, strides the stage like a colossus (“This man has become a God,” Cassius marvels-warns) and yet he’s likable, humble and the least wrath-filled God this side of the universe”

And Mark Cofta wrote in Broad Street Review: “Keith Hamilton Cobb makes an appropriately enigmatic conqueror. Tall and dignified, with President Obama-style hair tinged with gray, he doesn’t seem “a man of such a feeble temper” as Cassius (Greg Wood, compelling as always) describes, and has a majestic charm that’s easy to like.”

I think my director and I found old Julius a little justice.

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from left: Henry Woronicz as Brutus, Steven Dennis as Metellus Cimber, Greg Wood as Cassius

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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.

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A Power Outage at University of Maryland!

Our performance of “American Moor” at the Nyumburu Cultural Center on the campus of the University of Maryland sponsored by The Office of Diversity and Inclusion on Tuesday evening 4/7 was cancelled due to a massive power failure in large part of the state that took out power on the entire UMD campus!  Needless to say we were all extremely disappointed, and we are already talking about a rescheduling of the event for the beginning of the fall semester.

I was particularly disappointed because the post-show discussion that was slated to be facilitated by Dr. Faedra Carpenter would not happen.

However, sights are now set on the DC area production at The Anacostia Playhouse this summer, and towards another chance to play to the student population at UMD in the fall.

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Interview w/ Andaiye Taylor / Brick City Live

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Moor on Manhattan

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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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Powerful Return Performance Weekend at Luna Stage

I’ve always got to start with thanks…

It was not the easiest weekend to come out to the theatre.  There was snow… lots of it…  But many made it to Luna Stage just the same, and stayed to share their thoughts and perceptions at the latest incarnation of this work, “American Moor.”

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Opening tableau, “American Moor” at Luna Stage 2/27/15

Added to the weekend’s many adventures was the presence of film maker, Bobby Razak, and his crew, accruing footage for some cinematic rendering of the play, and a study of the myriad elements that have conspired to give birth to and grow it.

Bobby Razak and I, November 2009

Film maker, Bobby Razak and I, November 2009

Bobby’s film making career has spanned twenty years, focusing mostly on the world of mixed martial arts.  But he is also taken with theatre, and this project presents a huge departure for him in his work, and an exploration of an actor’s life as opposed to that of a fighter’s…  There are many similarities as we have discovered…

Filming post-performance, day 3 of the Luna Weekend.  Final thoughts and perceptions for camera...

Filming post-performance, day 3 of the Luna Weekend. Final thoughts and perceptions for camera…

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“American Moor” performance Q&A at Luna Stage 3/1/15

Two of the three performances over the course of the weekend were extremely strong from a critical standpoint.  One was not.  We had issues that effected all of us, camera crew, theatre staff, and performer on Saturday night that made it difficult to muscle through to the curtain call.  But the audience response that evening was equally as positive and complimentary as it had been on either of the other two nights.  I am beginning to believe that the content of the script is tending to outweigh what might from time to time be lacking in performance.  This is a wonderful reassurance.  Not that I plan to get lazy and let the power of the words carry the show forward.  We’ve still got a long way to go…  But I was encouraged by the weekend with all its ups and downs.  Those that came out made everything work, and contributed to the further education of everyone involved.

"American Moor" post-show audience interaction 2/28/15.

“American Moor” post-show audience interaction 2/28/15.

“American Moor” is such a minimalist and simple show to stage.  It is essentially a single man on a bare stage for 87 minutes…  And so it is continually fascinating to me how layered and complex the matter of the play becomes, particularly when discussions about what was just experienced continue after the curtain call.

So we are looking forward to the spring, and our ten dates with The Phoenix Theatre Ensemble at The Wild Project space in the East Village.  Spring… when the weather begins to warm, and people’s brains begin to turn on again for the few weeks before it gets insufferably hot.  Our New York debut!!  As usual, I hope everyone can come out and see this play.  But at least no one will be able to offer the excuse that it was snowing…

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Returning to Luna Stage in February!!

This is a return engagement to the venue where “American Moor” played to an over-sold house in August of 2014.  I’m excited to be returning to Luna Stage for three dates in February/March.  The play has undergone some slight evolutions since the August staging, and we are expected the numbers to come out and lend their minds to its continuing growth.

There are also a couple of other new creative experiments we’ll be launching at this engagement, and I hope all those in the trip-state area who have not yet experienced this important piece of theatre will come out and be a part of this newest exploration.

COME PLAY WITH US!!

Click below to be taken to the calendar and box office for Luna Stage.

LUNA STAGE: 555 VALLEY ROAD, WEST ORANGE, NJ

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Video Promo

 

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Monday Night Moor

August 11th, 2014, “American Moor” plays to a full house at Luna Stage

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Photo Credit: Donna Davis

Of all three public performances of this new, developing play to date, this one, Monday night, the 11th of August, was the most energized, the best performed, the tightest textually, and the most satisfying evening of theatre that I, as the performer have had for some time.  Luna Stage is a 98 seat “black box” theatre space.  The seats were filled with a diverse audience, a combination of Luna’s regular patron base, some friends and colleagues of mine, and a number of people having come from as far away as DC, Massachusetts, and Missouri, to lend their minds and voices to the growth of this work, and all for one evening in the dead of summer, the toughest time to get people to come out and support theatre.

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Photo Credit: Donna Davis

What I have found about these one-night-only presentations of “Moor” is that there can be no real relaxing into the work.  There is the one opportunity to put it on its feet, have people watch, listen, and comment, then nothing until the next time you get a space to mount it, and an audience to watch it.  In that circumstance, nerves are high, the space is unfamiliar, things are happening for the first time, that haven’t happened anywhere else.  This can lend itself to what people like to call “the magic of theatre,” or create utter amateur hour…  The entire creative process is stilted at best.  As those sorts of things go, this was a fairly strong showing.  At least I thought so, and the audience responses seemed to back up my perception.

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Photo Credit: Donna Davis

This play is trying to speak to several very complex issues that haunt our culture in a very short space of time.  It frustrates me to attempt to do so, and I think it frustrates the audience as well.  It is a lot to hear and consider, and one tendency seems to be to say to the play, “That just ain’t so…  It’s not like that.  It’s like something else.”  As we ventured into the “talk-back” segment of the evening, I felt the agitation that this play causes in the bodies of people.  This, I felt, is a good thing.  If it were not rattling people into thought, and reaction, there would be cause for worry.  But people are outspoken and vehement in their reactions to this piece, and I’m guessing, for all my creative frustration, that I’ve done something right… something…

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Photo Credit: Donna Davis

The discussion was long, and we spoke to many uncomfortable aspects of the play.  The play is about the discussion that never gets had.  I’m encouraged that it seems to want to happen in the moments following the curtain call.  People have had their emotions stirred, and are all wanting to express, “This is what I feel!”  We asked them to please feel free to express it.  They did not disappoint us.  We spoke like a group of people, diverse in background and experience, all trying to understand the same thing; to find a point of balance.  In that respect, I think the play did what it was supposed to.  American theatre did what it’s supposed to.

 

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Photo Credit: Donna Davis

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Photo Credit: Donna Davis

Then…  We stood on the stage and talked, one to one, face to face, until it was late.  Many did.  I suspect that means there was something worth staying late and talking about…

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Photo Credit: Donna Davis

from left:  Frankie Faison, myself, Cheryl Katz (Luna Stage artistic director), and Craig Alan Edwards

from left: Frankie Faison, myself, Cheryl Katz (Luna Stage artistic director), and Craig Alan Edwards
Photo Credit: Donna Davis

I’m grateful to Luna Stage Company, and all who came out to make this evening with me.  I knew there was a reason to be doin’ this shit.

 

 

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In Performance at Luna Stage Company

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We needed a place to keep this thing on its feet without letting the summer go by; a place to keep the words in my mouth, the thoughts and ideas, so important to me, expressing through my body…  The good people of Luna Stage Company have offered me that opportunity.  Not only will this be a place to perform, an intimate ninety seat black box space, but, as a theatre that supports and develops new works, it will also afford me an opportunity to grow the piece, and to discuss it with an audience of smart, theatre-minded people, giving me the much needed reactions and feedback that will carry the work on to the next place.

Perhaps YOU can attend…  All info for the purchasing of tickets, directions, etc. are available HERE.

Please come be part of the discussion.  I’ll see you there.

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“American Moor” in Performance: The Phoenix Theatre Ensemble’s Spring Rep, April, 2015

This Just In!

Anubis in The Jean Cocteau Repertory production of Jean Cocteau's The Infernal Machine.  Directed by Robert Hupp.  Costumes by Gregory Gale.

Anubis in The Jean Cocteau Repertory production of Jean Cocteau’s The Infernal Machine. Directed by Robert Hupp. Costumes by Gregory Gale. 

So what if it’s far enough away on the calendar to birth a baby?  It is one, really…  I’ve worked with the prolific and dedicated artists at The Phoenix Theatre Ensemble over many years.  In fact, their predecessor, The Jean Cocteau Repertory, was the theatre where I worked my very first professional theatre gig in New York, as Anubis, the Egyptian God of the Dead in Jean Cocteau’s “The Infernal Machine,” how many ages ago??!!  I mean look at that guy above!  What was he, twelve?!!

Then, only just three or four winters ago, I was on stage with several of these same astonishing actors again at a beautiful black box space on the lower West Side called The Wild Project in their production of Tom Stoppard’s “Hapgood.”

With Craig Smith, co-artistic director of The Phoenix Theatre Ensemble, performing in The Phoenix production of Tom Stoppard's "Hapgood," directed by John Giampietro.

With Craig Smith, co-artistic director of The Phoenix Theatre Ensemble, performing in The Phoenix production of Tom Stoppard’s “Hapgood,” directed by John Giampietro.

They are thespians of integrity and intelligence, and intention, and vision who have known me throughout my entire professional career.  They were there when it began. And so I am excited for their announcement today of their 2014-15 rep season, and honored that they have taken an interest in this new work of mine.  So, April of 2015 will be “American Moor’s” New York City debut!  It could not happen amongst a more nurturing company of artists.  You’ll see, if you check out the links, that it’s a short run, (we will be running April 21-25, 2015 and May 5-10, 2015) and The Wild Project, while it could not be more perfect for this piece of theatre, is a small space.  So I encourage everyone to put us on their calendar, and reserve their seats early!!  You can save money on tickets if you order early.  If you’re local to New York, you may want to buy a package so that you can experience all of the remarkable work that The Phoenix Theatre’s coming season has to offer you.  Have a look here for ticket packages and discounts.

For single tickets, you can still purchase in advance at the online box office here.

The season calendar can be found here.

I’m really extremely proud to be a point of focus in the life of this theatre company.  And I’m proud of this evolving, and I think rather important work.

Please follow the updates, and join us next spring.

AmMoor Wild Project

“American Moor” is written and performed by Keith Hamilton Cobb, and is being directed by Paul Kwame Johnson.

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