Tom Minter's Off The Stoop Blog

a playwright's journey, creating, connecting, and conversing.

Growth, new branching.. reaching The Gathering/The Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics

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Leadership. Is everything. This is what Dione Joseph is about, and she brings the circle of an incredible empowerment to any work she engages in; it is my best good fortune that she is the director of AMERICA REX, in which -“doing difference differently“, is crucial.

The paradigm of the effort is in the confluence of experience that Dione was already moving through, and into her work on our collaboration in standing up America Rex in Auckland, NZ.

The fuller treaties & theory on this new tact of dramaturgy, meant to scaffold experiencing new ways of discerning what is being seen onstage, and not to -as audience- flip into default viewing of ‘new things’, was presented in an article in Te Kaharoa (pdf available), which is an open access, multi-disciplinary, refereed, electronic journal with a focus on indigenous issues in the Pacific region. It is supported by Te Ara Poutama – the Faculty of Māori and Indigenous Development – at AUT University. [It accepts but is not limited to articles dealing with language, culture, art, history, anthropology, development studies, and other disciplines associated with the indigenous peoples of the Pacific.]

In the knit of this way of thinking..

..threads out of New Zealand brought me to an incredible moment of synchronicity; I have been invited to The Gathering, which is being hosted by The Lab next week.

While the sessions are by invitation only, they will be live-streamed to the public via HowlRound Theatre Commons.

..and this coalition of global conversations in the arts is another essential ingredient in “doing difference differently”.

 

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..there was a journey, to creating The Me I Want To Sing

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In 2015, DC Public Library commissioned me to create a work on Marian Anderson that could tour community libraries.. The piece became Inspiring The Me I Want To Be: Marian Anderson.
 
Crafting it, I felt a further conversation developing that I could not get to at that time..
Then Washington National Opera (WNO) commissioned me for a performance work, ahead of the 2017 Kennedy Center Honors, and wished the subject to be Marian Anderson, a past Honoree. I celebrated by widening the aperture of the subject to be able to thread how her life sent a ripple into the lives of others, who followed her..
Originally I wanted the new work to consider the interrelatedness of Marian Anderson, Leontyne Price (also a past Kennedy Center Honoree), and Reri Grist – so that I could speak to art song, opera, and music theatre (as Ms Grist started her career, plucked from ‘the chorus’, to be the voice from ‘the pit’, in the Broadway premiere of Bernstein’s West Side Story, who sings Somewhere).
..however, the commission turned out needing to be of a slimmer scope, and so The Me I Want To Sing considers only two of such significant icons of song… but certainly two whose twined rippling presented paths of opportunity for so many more..!
The Me I Want To Sing is being produced the 13th April 2019, in the Family Theatre at the Kennedy Center. It is a cause of celebration for anyone who loves music, believes we each have a story to sing, and once heard, that our voice can inspire  others..

AMERICA REX/Program Notes, TAPAC Showcase Performance, 29th – 31st August, 2018

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Change does not happen in a vacuum; context is everything.

 

I think I have a good memory.

I do not.

 

When first asked to write these Notes I started diving into all sorts of reminiscences that seemed to associate with this play.

Off the top of my head, I had to admit that I was only threading with fiction..

 

Luckily, I keep a journal –and have been doing so since I was 13 years old.

 

I went to one particular well stacked pile of books, took up the top Journal and opened it –only to be struck at the fact that the book’s first page was titled “America Rex”..

 

It turns out that the work you are about to see did not start as a play, but as a state of mind – a place of America in 2002.

I at least got that right: America Rex began in 2002.

 

I labeled the journal as such, already being witness to a year of how the leadership of the Bush II Presidency was using a paucity of words in articulating a new dimension of national grief, anguish, fear, and eradication of compass..

 

The opening entry in the Journal is dated “October 7th, 2002”.

 

I read of myself, musing upon a gift a friend has given me, having just returned from London with a copy of a Saturday insert from The Guardian, titled: “Rome, AD … Rome, DC?” written by Jonathan Freedland.

 

I note in my Journal that “The tag carries two photos opposite one another: one, Rome and the colonnade steps of the Senate – the other, Washington, DC and the colonnaded rotunda of Congress. Inside there is a photo of Bush – in gold breast plate armor and purple skirt of an Emperor of Rome – his thumb ‘down’ – standing in front of a balustrade that is draped in Imperial Purple…”

 

And out of that, comes my own digression towards what will become paradigm for a play:

..”America is being run by a nest of bullies”, stitching themselves “into a suffocating chrysalis – ending any view of light, or promise, until we have metamorphosed – into our destruction, or into the future, is uncertain. What are we meant to become”..?

 

I pull down another Journal. It is from 2003, and details a first trip to Australia.

 

Beyond initially touching this, I do not need to be reminded of the significance of the trip, or the impact on my consciousness and creativity during a particular visit to a Melbourne gallery of Indigenous Art.

I remember distinctly: standing in front of a work of art which detailed a presence of Dreamtime .. that drew me into thinking along concepts of arts disciplines, meshed, and representing dynamic relationships between earth -dream -knowledge -journey.

I came away from that glimpse of possibilities, gestating something that could frame ‘an inclusive sandbox’, in which to offer scaffolding for a theatrical work – a work which I then consciously hoped would not only speak to global culture, but inform a wider conversation of what might be done with theatre and a black box.

 

America Rex, the play, is the result of that ambition. Begun in 2002, it was completed in 2003.

Now a full 16 years on from the first thoughts of this work, its premise is more relevant than ever, while its relationships of power articulate contemporary institutional and global fears of “otherness”.

 

But it is the component of journey that makes this work the right frame for Dione Joseph’s vision of wisdom and warning which results in its being “a call for a return to indigenous ways of knowing and belonging”.. “..located in a te ao Māori context that boasts a diverse eleven strong New Zealand cast and an indigenous team of Creatives descending from Zimbabwe, Caribbean, India, Sri Lanka, USA, UK, Ireland, Samoa and of course, tangata whenua.”

 

Context is everything, as change cannot happen in a vacuum.

 

Opening Scene of the Tour Float Tourists – David Capstick, Ruth Capstick, James Maeve, Carl Drake, Chris Auva’a, Mustaq Missouri, Joseph Wycoff, Kacie Stetson, Mel Odedra, Graham Vincent/AMERICA REX, Showcase Performances at TAPAC, 29th – 31st August 2018, New Zealand; JK Productions & Ahi Karunaharan; photo by Michael Loh

 

General Fisk – Graham Vincent/AMERICA REX, Showcase Performances at TAPAC, 29th – 31st August 2018, New Zealand; JK Productions & Ahi Karunaharan; photo by Michael Loh

 

Speaker swears fidelity – David Capstick/AMERICA REX, Showcase Performances at TAPAC, 29th – 31st August 2018, New Zealand; JK Productions & Ahi Karunaharan; photo by Michael Loh

 

Yves, and Louise – James Maeva, Sandra Zvenyika/AMERICA REX, Showcase Performances at TAPAC, 29th – 31st August 2018, New Zealand; JK Productions & Ahi Karunaharan; photo by Michael Loh

 

the anguish of General 3 – Mustaq Missouri/AMERICA REX, Showcase Performances at TAPAC, 29th – 31st August 2018, New Zealand; JK Productions & Ahi Karunaharan; photo by Michael Loh

 

Speaker and seeping chaos – David Capstick/AMERICA REX, Showcase Performances at TAPAC, 29th – 31st August 2018, New Zealand; JK Productions & Ahi Karunaharan; photo by Michael Loh

 

AMERICA REX, closing night Cast & Jimmy Kouratoras, Original Artwork and AV Design – Otis Donovan Herring, Choreographer and Movement – Tom Minter, playwright – Dione Joseph, Director/AMERICA REX, Showcase Performances at TAPAC, 29th – 31st August 2018, New Zealand

 

 

I am grateful for all who gather to see this work, Dione’s vision, and the incredible and empowering coalition of Production Family, Creatives and Artists who share in the premiere telling of this story.

JK Productions have put-up a 90 second video clip of the performance – have a view!

 

Thank you.

tkm/dc August 2018

 

 

…”why theatre is essential to democracy”

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Just sharing something I was pointed to this morning, though posted in April 2018.. –
This is a TED Talk engagement of thought/thinking.. part of a threading of ideals, for dialogue.. -And in this, we must not forget Joe Papp.. – who I was able to interview, for a high school project, such a long journey ago..
Oskar Eustis speaks as Artistic Director of New York’s Public Theatre.. the ‘House that Joe Papp built’..!
“Why theatre is essential to a democracy…”

Written by tomminteroffthestoop

July 26, 2018 at 11:38 AM

..part of an exchange I had from Dione Joseph, on America Rex

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..it is hard to explain what it is to hand over a piece of work, that has -up till now- not been fully seen standing ..and has waited, years -for the chance.. Only to find that the wait had timing.. and the hands it has been received by, are giving it all kinds of dimension I’d only dreamed possible..

This is part of an exchange I had from Dione Joseph the other day, as we caught up on her reflections of the process to rehearsing REX:

 

20TH JUNE 2018

Dione: “I have something for you to read on my vision.

I’m writing a paper for an indigenous conference at the end of the year on Rex. It’s made me think about it in a lot of different ways.

This paper will discuss my conceptual and practical approach to directing the world premiere of America Rex by Tom Minter.

America Rex is a play of epic themes, an acute look at global politics and policies that seeks to bring an ethereal dramatic quality to contemporary theatre.

As a gay Black American, whose work has been produced in London, Berlin, New York, Philadelphia, Madison, Wisconsin and Washington, DC, Tom Minter is fascinated with what he calls the ‘tapestry of identity’ and the question of how different communities are created.

My production looks through and beyond the postcolonial to the cosmopolitan, in the first instance, by bringing together actors and artists of diverse backgrounds: Māori, Samoan, Greek, Caribbean, Zimbabwean, Indian, Sri Lankan, Singaporean, Chinese, Colombian, Lebanese, African American, and White English and American.

We perform difference differently.

For most of us, the colonial past remains proximate. At the same time, here in Aotearoa most of us identify as tau iwi; some of us may be indigenous, but we are not necessarily seen as indigenous here.

We are, as such, a cosmopolitan company, our international paths crossing on the local stage in ways that can move us beyond customary polemics toward a cosmic reckoning.

 

For Ka Haka 2018, I want to provoke a reconsideration of the definitions and boundaries of theatre and performance in the indigenous context.

How might performing diverse identities, indigenous and not, become also a play of ideas?

In America Rex, one of the generals says: ‘It is important, very important, to please the crowd . . . Luckily, stability is one of the greatest soporifics in history.’ By this he means that power is sustained by constancy.

 

How might the theatre, while making use of the conventions and tropes that audiences need to make sense of what they see, also destabilise our assumptions of how brown bodies on stage are expected to perform?

How can we push beyond old ways of making theatre, into new ways of knowing who we are to be making it and what it might mean as a result?

Keywords: Indigenous theatre, diversity, postcolonial performance, cosmopolitanism, power..”

 

The title of the paper is “Performing Difference Differently: Post the colonial, Post the cosmopolitan…into the cosmos”..

..thoughts for August 2018 Showcase, of AMERICA REX, in Auckland, NZ Part II

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..memory not being what it used to be – I looked up the details on the period of creating Rex.

On the front pg of v1 of the script is:

 

begun 15.8.02

finished 26.7.03

 

_________

 

My time in London had pushed me ahead of general conversations to be found onstage elsewhere.

Returned to the US, the realization was that my theatre voice was not at all in synch with what then was American theatre culture.

I was rumbled and dug deeper in my belief of how arts disciplines must intersect, synergistically utilize distinct forms of storytelling, woven as fuse to permissions across arts disciplines, and give breadth to new landscapes of narrative.

In point of fact, I began writing in the summer of 2001. A first draft of my thinking was finished by August, 2001.

By 2002 boundaries were being stretched by technology, in a way that would transform how audiences consumed information, and instantaneously multi-task digesting waves of diverse details..

It was also almost a year on from 9/11.

America was continuing to react  – to dynamics of globalization.. migration.. climate change..

..-it was in this crucible where I found the subject of Rex, ancient fodder of ‘end of empire’..

But constructing it in the chance to be refracted through innumerable cultural lenses happened in a trip to Australia, from a specific moment in a very small gallery in Melbourne, where I found myself absorbed by the details of an incredible piece of Indigenous art..

Although before that instant, I may have had a sense of the importance knowing was in Indigenous culture, the aspect of considering this as an immemorial river, of ways of belonging and journey .. that had not been my appreciation..

 

-connecting to such a view of continuum ..gave me the center to Rex – as a  ‘map’, of sorts, that might refract any culture’s narratives of struggle.. through indigenous art forms of storytelling.. and memory.

 

But what now comes to life through the acumen of JK Production’s vision and community of talent.. is navigation beyond even my most longstanding hope.

 

..thoughts for August 2018 Showcase, of AMERICA REX, in Auckland, NZ

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Some thoughts on Rex for Auckland..

Part I/28thMay 2018

..in expressing the intention to create a FB group pg for this upcoming iteration ofAmerica Rex, Dione asked me to feel free to offer some introductory thoughts.

Developing my writing skills happened in London, across the heights of the 1990’s. I was immersed in a world of theatre that was itself mutating under peerless quantity of permissions that came from living in a moment of Harold Pinter, Sarah Kane, David Hare, and even Mark Ravenhill.

As well as the astonishing Shakespeare, performed by directors who were reconfiguring what could be imagined in a ‘black box’!

Multi-media was the ‘being’ brought into use in methods of storytelling, rather than employed as just toy.

And I, kinda witless to the enormity of what was going on, was equally engaged in becoming more aware of the audience’s hunger for playwrights and actors to grip sharp new angles of content, and imagination.

This sensation, and craft, and trail, and error, and engagement- began to cosset what it was I really, dearly wished to be able to verbalize, with distinction, and in every painful shade of music, language could emit: I wanted to speak about my culture, about its tiers of unspoken –grades of color, race, politics, entitlement, occlusion, religion- but initially about a specific expanding thought: how the chasm of a black generation gap was deepening distance between righteous activism of civil rights impetus, and youth’s squandering as ordinary, permissions they had grown up on, stretching the tether of empathy in comprehending the hard won achievements by their oldsters…

That thinking emerged in 2000 in a play called The Orion,which turned out to be the first panel of a quartet of plays that culminate with the dreamscape of America Rex..

___________

America Rex has gone “live”, so to speak – with a “Boosted Funding Campaign“, and arc aimed towards a full production in June 2019.

I am especially proud of how this work is being framed:

“Written by Tom Minter and directed by Dione Joseph, AMERICA REX boasts a diverse eleven strong New Zealand cast and an indigenous team of creatives descending from Zimbabwe, Caribbean, India, Sri Lanka, USA, UK, Ireland, Samoa and of course, tangata whenua.

Located in a te ao Māori context, the work is a call for a return to Indigenous ways of knowing and belonging, in a world crisscrossed by tensions of power, politics and personalities.

Drawing upon the combined creativity of visual artist Jimmy James Kouratoras and writer/director, Dione Joseph, JK Productions brings a diverse New Zealand cast to African-American playwright, Tom Minter’s, contemporary epic drama.”

 

Further thoughts on the dynamics of Rex shortly!