Tom Minter's Off The Stoop Blog

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

Archive for September 2010

birds of a finger..

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For those people who don’t live in DC, there’s one thing you should be aware of: folks don’t drive well down here. And they’re bad tempered about it too!

I make it a habit to purposely wait on the sidewalk, until cars stop for their light –which usually occurs some feet into the cross walk, impeding pedestrian crossing.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen SUV’s, plopped at idle in the crosswalk, driver on their mobile, eyeing the motorized wheelchair moving out of safety to get by them. Or the car determined to execute a ‘rolling stop’, and being uninterested in what the right-of-way statutes are for the corner, or the District.

But today’s fly by birdie was the best; the traffic light had gone a very stunning red, when a grimy, mid-sized SUV, driven by a young woman whose sleek features melded into a white tight crop of blond hair, yanked taunt through her scrunchie, decided to sail into a sharp right off of P Street, at 21st, and cut ahead of lawful foot traffic.

Astounded at the balls of the maneuver, my shoulders hunched up of their own, as my hands went open palmed, in a movement of wonder and question –to which the driver, continuing her streak through the crossing, found that the tool of flipping me the finger provided the multi-tasking act of saving her from halting her conversation with the young man in the seat beside her.

The SUV sped along 21st street, in cool detachment, leaving me and another pedestrian shaking our heads.

…such occurrences are almost endemic, and reflect driver’s attitudes in the District when faced with the inconvenience of pedestrians. And round-abouts.

…in all fairness, I can’t say that pedestrians are all blameless in the wrestle for priority at crossings.. I’ve seen far too many wander into traffic, glued to their iPhones, or dashing out that last syntax of txt, eyes riveted on their hands and not their environs.

That being said, it’s that little bit of graciousness that’s gone out of everyday living; too few have time to consider others –and even less have the self-awareness to comprehend when they’re not.

I remember when I first visited California; if a person even looked like they were about to step into the street, cars stopped.

..of course, that was in 1974.. and many thousands of miles away..

Written by tomminteroffthestoop

September 25, 2010 at 1:20 PM

Word, Shout, Song..

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Wednesday I was at the National Press Club, here in DC, attending the 43rd Anniversary Luncheon for the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum.  The invitation came through the Washington National Opera, and I went with my colleague, Stephanie Wright.

I’d said ‘definitely’ to the invitation, when asked some time ago, because, as far as I was concerned, it was a free lunch! …-And you know, we writers never turn down a free anything, especially when it involves food and a gathering of people, as the material from such events is inevitably fit for fodder..

Waiting for Stephanie in front of the Press Club, I was happy to spend the time ‘people watching’.

Out of the flow of pedestrian traffic I saw Maureen Bunyan approaching the building. Ms Bunyan, newscast doyen of DC’s ABC News affiliate, has been Mistress of Ceremonies for the opera company’s “Look-In” presentation, which brings opera to an audience of elementary and high school students at the Kennedy Center, these last many years.

Watching her make a demure way down 14th street, I felt an inexplicable sense of familiarity –knowing, albeit not personally, the local personality who was bringing the luncheon ceremony, and compere cohesion.

..it brought me to think about just how long I’ve been in DC (over 10 years), and how far into its Arts workings I’d serendipitously navigated. I found I was smiling at the thought, which is how Stephanie found me as she arrived- smiling into thin air!

But just at that moment, two of the area’s traffic violations officers descended on a mini fleet of limousines waiting outside the Press Club. The interaction was barter on the parts of the drivers, and intransigence on the part of the officers –until one of the chauffeurs whispered who it was they were waiting for.

The names Denzel Washington and Ashanti turned into one single word of high breathless astonishment –‘notdenzelandashantinotdenzelnotdenzel’!

As a casual crowd of spectators suddenly collected to act nonchalant, Stephanie and I broke away and went upstairs to the luncheon.

We entered the dinging room where items of Art -paintings, collages, drawings and autographed books- were laid out along a series of tables, all part of a heated silent auction.

The room was energetic with conversation and a large count of lunching Ladies, well connected to the nexus of Arts endeavors of the District and its environs; nothing in the world of Art gets done without such adroit Ladies, or salmon plated luncheons.

In this case, the room was predominantly African American; the Anacostia Museum resides in Ward 7 of the District of Columbia and has a community predominant of an African diaspora.

The museum’s current exhibition, Word, Shout, Song is about the work of Lorenzo Dow Turner and his documentation of the Gullah people of Georgia and South Carolina, in the 1930’s, who still possessed parts of the culture and language of their enslaved ancestors, which had long been believed lost at the time.

[DuBose Heyward, a native of Charleston, S.C., used the Gullah as a model for study when he wrote the book of Porgy & Bess, that later caught the attention of George Gershwin.]

Stephanie and I went to our table and sat down; Ms Bunyan went to the podium, and took control of the proceedings; she truly is a generous, affable and an eminent Mistress of Ceremonies.

After opening remarks and context, Ms Bunyan gave place to the Director of the Anacostia Museum, Camille Giraud Akeju, who celebrated the community of Ward 7, and the continually burgeoning community of the Anacostia Museum. Ms Akeju spoke of leadership then, making her remarks and thanks to Melvin Deal, who was to receive the John R. Kinard Leadership In Community Service Award.

Mr. Deal is a living, “Dancing Griot”; he is Founder and Executive Artistic Director of the African Heritage Dancers and Drummers, a group I worked with in 2008, when they were part of a collection of artists enlisted by the Ward 7 Arts Collaborative, in association with the Washington National Opera, in a program called Community in Bloom, where collected stories and memories of members of the Ward 7 community, were passed through the prisms of artists, as visual art, multi-media presentations and an operatic scene, called Threading Time, which I wrote the lyrics for.

The final presentation, for Community In Bloom, was a powerful tapestry of history, art and culture.

The keynote speaker was next at the luncheon podium; Marquetta L. Goodwine, also known as Queen Quet.

A descendent of two Gullah families, Queen Quet grew up on St. Helena Island. She founded the Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition in 1996, in an effort to bring together a community dedicated to preserving Gullah history, heritage and culture.

She entered the room in song; keening in Gullah patois, enjoining her ancestors to bless the gathering and guard the journey.

Queen Quet’s address was wit, admonishment and passion entwined; it brought forward information on the Gullah community and language, and taunted the crowd with tart quips on their lack of church schooling, moving from a sentence in Proverbs 4 [..Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom…], to relating the urgings of African ancestors to “heal the tree” of knowledge; bring all parts of knowledge together, and grow.

It was a powerful, animated, engaging, enveloping, masterful locution of Gullah dialect and anthropological intellect and insight.

…and had particular resonance, when speaking of the ghosts of ancestors looking to make sure that, in the moment, we feel their hand upon us, leading us; leaving knowledge for us, in song and speech, to smooth and support our own progress..-enjoining us to remember words, songs, and shout.

Past and present; ghosts and memory; I felt myself in the circle, using the fodder of one, as a tool of the other.

Before Queen Quet left the podium, she exhorted us to listen; to see; to sing; to remember; to grow towards knowledge, and leave wisdom as seed..

..beyond the summer’s heat

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…seeds of this past Spring, flower now.. –even though it is well beyond the end of summer..

My relationship with the Berkshire Playwrights Lab continues to encourage me to have faith in other’s faith; a wonderful journey.

Joe Cacaci and I met serendipitously at a theatre event in late 2008; he, and BPL, have been active in making sure that my work is seen in a public arena, available for enjoyment, question and discussion. Their commitment to new work, and playwrights who tread in new fields of writing, is wholehearted and enthusiastic –and continues to keep facilitating original avenues to collaboration and presentation.

Shirley Edgerton, soul and inspiration for an emerging arts group called Lift E’vry Voice, had heard of my work from Eugenie Sills, founder and publisher of The Women’s Times. Eugenie had been to the presentation of The Orion, in BPL’s 2009 season, and felt that the issues and concepts of the piece spoke to ideas and ideals of politics and race that would resonate with Shirley, who, unfortunately was not able to attend.

Thereafter Eugenie was dedicated to bringing Shirley and me together!

That meeting occurred this past May; my piece, Groundwork, was in the Berkshire Playwright’s Lab first night Gala event. Eugenie brought Shirley, who connected with my writing, and later connected in proposing further opportunity for platform.

It was at that point that I first heard about the group Lift E’vry Voice, and their endeavor of bringing a broader canvas of arts events to Pittsfield.

Speaking with Joe Cacaci, I was able to identify common vision between the two groups, and moot the possibility of a joint activity; Joe and I have been hoping to do a reading of Reconstruction, for some time now, and the moment suggested some synergy for this occurrence.

Reconstruction follows the journey of ‘Ioni’, a character first introduced in The Orion.

With an ambition of presenting The Orion in its first season, it seemed perfect that, if possible, Lift E’vry Voice connect on a table reading of Reconstruction with the Berkshire Playwrights Lab, as the piece had resonance and purpose for both groups.

The conversations started in earnest; the tempo moved quickly, and the result is up coming!

It is wonderful to have found groups and individuals of such generosity and support; there is no telling where this kind of synergy and effort will take us.

But I will keep you posted!