Tom Minter's Off The Stoop Blog

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

Archive for October 2010

..on the porch at Cedar Hill

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Situated on a prominent knob, raised above the district of Anacostia, Frederick Douglass’ house has a magisterial view of Washington, and is evidence of the eminence this African-American statesman had achieved in his lifetime.

Built in 1850, Douglass moved into the house in 1878, naming it Cedar Hill, and relishing its bucolic aspect above the river.

The property is now part of the preserve of the National Parks, who facilitate tours through the house and views into life in the 1800’s.

From the corners of Cedar Street, and Galen Street, S.E., a slight ochre path of brick stairs makes a crab like sidle through grass, and up the steep knuckle of stone and earth; panoramic views are framed by tall trees, which sway, and shift the aperture of the picture, from visions of the District’s buildings of government, to inspiring sight of its monuments; there is a special view of commanding prominence: it is of the ivory obelisk of the Washington Monument.

Yesterday, as the sun fell into the arbor of branches cosseting Cedar Hill, a concert and celebration was taking place on the porch of that house; it was a program of music and recognition.

Near 80 people sat, or stood upon the incline of grass of the front lawn, to hear singers from the Washington National Opera Company, in a narrative I was engaged to create: Black Women In Opera, Celebrate Black Women In Community.

The DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, in partnership with WNO, wanted to publicly recognize and award two extraordinary black women of the District’s Ward 7, Mrs. Doris Thomas, and Ms Mary Brown, for their indomitable energy and service, in creating programs which focused on underserved families, youth, and young adults East of the river.

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Ms Mary Brown is the Executive Director of Life Pieces to Masterpieces; mentoring in families and schools, LPTM’s programs create a safe scaffolding for personal growth, designing assuring and affirming experiences that assist in the development of skills of leadership, discipline, language, and arts techniques.

Ms Doris Thomas is the director of Serenity Players, Inc, a theatre company whose mission, since 1983, has been to bring professional entertainments that enlighten, educate, and inspire individuals to empower their own artistic talents and expression.

Ms Thomas is witness to countless connections of individuals and neighborhoods, to the power of stories and theater. She understands that leadership does not just come as a rousing monologue, but appears as a thread to follow, in a tapestry woven of many journeys and examples. The example of her own story, as a 42 year survivor of breast cancer, is part of that narrative, and enrichment of the community she serves.

Ahead of the ceremony, Arts and Humanities Commissioner for Ward 7, Marvin Bowser, made the observation that, through their groups, Mrs. Thomas and Ms Brown “use the arts to educate, to motivate, to embrace, to communicate, and to love.” He identified that their work “touches individuals, neighborhoods, businesses, schools, political office, and corporations, and offers African-American youth the rich example of community effectiveness, in a sustainable network of support.”

The award plaque was presented by DC CAH Chair, Dr Anne Ashmore-Hudson, and Vice Chair Commissioner Bowser. DC CAH Executive Director Gloria Nauden, and past DC CAH Commissioners were in the audience. Bruce Taylor, Washington National Opera’s Director of Education and Community Programs, and Serena Wills, incoming Assistant Director of Education were present, facilitating the performance.

In the frame of the day’s narrative, black women of community were themselves the successors of other models of achievement, and opportunity.

Alia Waheed and Joyce Lundy, of the Washington National Opera, connected their own stories, of black women in opera who inspired them to visualize themselves in this art, and spoke of the effect this role modeling had on their artistry and ambition.

They then, in the course of the program, offered selections of arias and spirituals that were associated with such operatic inspirations as Leontyne Price, Marian Anderson and Shirley Verrett; Alia performed the Ave Maria, from Verdi’s Otello, and Che bel sogno, from Puccini’s La Rodine. Joyce performed Ain’t Got Time To Die, by Hall Johnson, and Pace, pace, from Verdi’s La Forza Del Destino.

The singers also performed two selections from Graffiti Corner, a one-act opera in process of commission by WNO that I am doing the libretto for, in collaboration with Mary Ann Ivan as composer.

The program closed with a duet arrangement of He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands. Dana Scott accompanied them on the piano throughout.

ABC affiliate, WJLA newscaster Maureen Bunyan did the honors presenting the narrative to this event, and imbued the program with her unique ability of connection, and warmth, recognizing the Honorees and framing the interludes of music and celebration.

Julie Kutrup, of the National Park Service, stood near the porch, beside the garden, and was moved to make the comment that she felt Frederick Douglass would be beaming, as “…he loved music and music making, and would often have such activities in his home, being performed for anyone to hear..” she said this, the warm air of dusk took the last notes of the final selection off the hill, and down the slopes, to the front porches of the homes that surrounded us; there, families listened, seated, or leaning against porch railings..

while neighborhood children scampered about for better looks uphill, and a fall’s false summer night approached..


…reflections of artistry

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Some moments in the legacy of Dame Joan Sutherland..





-and humorous..


Written by tomminteroffthestoop

October 12, 2010 at 11:04 AM

Pitiless moonlight

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..bathes the first advance Salome makes to molest John the Baptist; aghast, the orchestra blares outrage with a shiver of lust, as she grapples to feel his body..

“Lass mich ihn berühren deinen Leib.”

..-but Salome dismisses instantly the grave white flesh of the Apostle, and desires instead the black snakes of his hair..

“Lass mich es berühren, dein Haar!”

Jochannan spurns and hisses at Salome; crimson, the lips that condemn her, incite her instead..

“Lass mich ihn küssen, deinen Mund.”

The strings and woodwinds slink and shriek; the brass brays malediction; the orchestra is a swollen mass of depravity and desire; the music whips down a vortex, darker, murderous, worse..

In 1905, when this particular scene was first played onstage, some members of the audience fled the opera house; others, riveted in their seats, gasped, amidst the oboes, all gulping air, staving off the deepening swoon of rapture and connection. The carnality of the Judean princess was in every note of music; visceral, it clutched every ear and descended into every shocked soul..

This is the work Richard Strauss created; this is the creature he crafted. This is the masterpiece.

..laughter should not be the response. But when you have a portrait of Salome as a pouty, flouncy kitten of a thing, rubbing herself into ever more petulant poses, and jiggling spiteful proclamations to achieve her desires.. -what’s an observer to do?

Witness, is all in perception; Anne Midgette, of the Washington Post, fell under the lunar seduction.

..two views of the same event; there is no one view. This is what happens when individuals are presented with an artistic endeavor, or product: they make interpretation; the image, or event, resonates with something specific to each observer.

I have negotiated my way along that ravine for most of my creative life; as a playwright, I can’t expect an audience to come out of seeing a work of mine with a common impression, message, or thought. The best I can do is but succinct with how I present the journey, and know that the air that surrounds the work will produce its own currents, creating unexpected ripples, facilitating all kinds of unanticipated access for those watching the presentation.

And in all honesty, that is what writers wrestle with: the individual reaction, which cannot be dictated, and comes from visceral response. It may have nothing to do with what the individual has actually seen, or heard, but with what that person feels they have seen and heard.

As writer, I believe the best we can do is hone our tools, so that when we whittle out a work for presentation, it has the ‘bones’ of our intent; allow it to stand in complete scrutiny, and be willing to engage with the variety of perceptions we induce in the audience.

It is that dialogue which keeps me honest; I must be willing, not only to express myself, but allow the expression of all the many resonances that my work pricks forth..

Art is an interactive business; as it should be.

Written by tomminteroffthestoop

October 11, 2010 at 10:18 AM

…a veil over Salome

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The DC opera season has started. Washington National Opera began with the lyric gallows swing of Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera, and is now tilting into the eroticism of Strauss’s Salome –an uncanny offering to my mind, reflecting the present zeitgeist, as plattered heads seem the political metaphor of choice these days.

Things were equally cut throat for Richard Strauss; the opera’s premiere was met with outrage and hyperbole; venom and swoon in equal measure. With Salome, Strauss seared his audience from inside out.

The opera remains one of the most graphic, aural spectaculars ever written; the strings winnow and scream in a sinuous wallow of voluptuous resonance; the writing for bass sculpts both cistern and temptation, and etches the moral murk in which John the Baptist hulks, enchained. It is a compelling and unrelenting work, ravishing in its atonality and instrumentation.

…needless to say, much too contentious for elementary school students, so we won’t be using it as our opera showpiece for this year’s “Opera Look-In”, part of the Washington National Opera/DC Public Schools program.

Instead we’re putting together a presentation that creates something of a ‘library stroll’ through a diversity of operatic scenes; the vignettes offer music by Bizet, Mozart, Rossini, Puccini, and Donizetti, and are presented by students from the Duke Ellington School for the Arts, as well as members of the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program. Maureen Bunyan will be the compère for the event, which will be given in the opera house at the Kennedy Center next week.

This is my third year as a Guest ‘Teaching Artist’ representing the opera company. I will be working in three different elementary schools this time, located in wards in the SE, NW and NE of the District.

There is a pre-‘Look-In’ visit this week, as orientation for the students; we go on to follow up the “Look-In” with a session to glean what moved the students, and to identify what kinds of threads they would like to pull together in creating their own opera, which is then presented in May of next year.

The students are always so direct and honest in their observations and connections; with the array of musical offerings they’ll encounter at the Kennedy Center presentation, I’ve no doubt this year’s schools’ programs will be diverse and imaginative-

..leaving the tour de force of Salome, for later fodder..