Tom Minter's Off The Stoop Blog

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

Archive for the ‘Creating’ Category

..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”..

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..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 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.

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!

 

 

 

The Me I Want To Sing

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The Me I Want To Singsoars again, and is buoyed by the fierce talents of T Laree Simon, Leah Hawkins, and Roderick Demmings, Jr.

Commissioned by Washington National Opera, this is a piece for community, and is being presented in SW, at Westminster DC, Saturday the 5th May, at 3:30pm.

Sing is a contextualization of the times, legacy and artistry two singing icons – women of color – Marian Anderson, and Leontyne Price.

Sing was first performed in November 2017, on the Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center. This is it’s 2n’d presentation, and we’re expecting others in the coming months.

This performance is free and open to the public.

an Arts Programming lens at Stanford in Washington

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It has been a little more than 6 years that I have had the opportunity to work with Adrienne Jamieson, the MaryLou and George Boone Centennial Director of Stanford In Washington (SIW).

It is an honor to be a part of this programing initiative in support of Adrienne’s vision for SIW, which insures that students are presented with diverse culture experiences. These have a cumulative impact in offering unanticipated views, and connections, into dynamics of intersectionality.

That opportunity for such insights are supported by Arts Programming, is a significant guideline in SIW practice. And to have an article in Stanford News speak to this, is acknowledgement of the impact.

 

..a gifted image

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Maumahara..-

The word shapes an American tongue to translate wonder, through a Maori meaning of ‘remember’, setting the palate for awe in a journey of America Rex.

MAUMAHARA – Jimmy James Kouratoras, artist; image gifted for use by the artist, in this iteration of America Rex.

The play is about to state it’s cast for the workshop and culminating event of the staged reading. The opportunity of a journey into ‘otherness’ has proved an exact fodder for framing this work as I had hoped, by way of an artistic and cultural lens not American, and allowing for another culture to weave their own specific universal take on something epic, in layers of language and storytelling which speak out of a place more than half a world from where I wrote it.

The knowledge that there would be a workshop has incrementally dawned on me as something incredible and imminent. It is now almost exactly one year in gestation, ready to stand as fact – gift of a director who serendipitously attended the workshop of Breathing Ash at EST in NY, in October of last year.

At the interval of that presentation, I met Dione Joseph; we spoke of what we were watching, and between us acknowledged how much more there was to say in threading fodder that might speak into a variety of cultures and could be something to traverse any stage.

Dione came to the surprise ‘after party’ the beau had sorted, held in an ‘old world’ NY warren of philosophy, among staggering amounts of books, art, conversation, wine -just at 98th off Broadway- a place of incredible nurturing, and family.

In snatches of conversation there, Dione asked about other examples of my work -and I found myself speaking about America Rexthe 4th ‘panel’ of a quartet of plays, collected under the general concept “..in Caliban’s eye..”.

Each ‘panel’ stands individually (The Orion, Breathing Ash, Reconstruction, and America Rex).

With each work I was able to move deeper in my investigation of the complex dynamics of American culture, as each play proved to be part of a massive, interlocking ‘Rubix cube’ of narrative relationships, tumbling through issues of generational schisms of race, class, caste -politics, religion -media, and contemporary mediums of visual narrative.

The journey of writing out these works stretched over 6 years in total; at one point there were only three panels, and I felt I’d said all I wished to investigate.

As can happen, a particular character, Ioni, from the 1st panel, The Orion, had more to say – into a corner of opportunity, hinged at the maw of Reconstruction, where freed black slaves suddenly had an ‘imperative’ in making choices for themselves; for some individuals, there was no “right” or “wrong”- in living with the consequences their choices left for family.

In this specific crease, lingers the impact of those who made critical judgment to control their own destinies, unshackled to an American narrative and free to move. Suddenly fluid to be enfolded in the dynamics of other cultures, in foreign countries. Having a life the scope of which was -at the time- impossible to achieve in America, they could even dignify as artists.

The tensions of that play roiled into content as Reconstruction, inserting itself just ahead of what was already America Rex.

In Rex…  A great border sequesters the last five zones of government. Outside this, in extremis, humanity sifts in exodus until chance pits the vision of a Seer in the dream of a General.

The concept of the work was informed during a visit to Australia where I had opportunity to stand in another country’s presence of spirituality. A country which thrummed a resonating dynamic relationship between earth -dream -knowledge -journey; I wanted to speak about ‘power’, that which rose through one’s tread of earth, and that which was wrested from thin air – two effects, through which people struggle to stand upright -as both elements own dynamic purpose, and vie to make an innate free will submit, or suspend itself.

I came to struggle with being able to articulate a landscape of Aboriginal spirituality, with respect of consciousness, and find some transit for speaking into my own country and culture -in a way where I could express paradigms of sub -consciousness and spirit.

I deliberately wanted to frame the method ‘outside’ of what American culture would expect as specific articulation of its cross currents, resonances, subconscious, and power dynamics of caste, race, and “otherness”.

I wanted a frame that would offer a way for any culture to speak into impactful conversations of their own, specific cultural dynamics, which could, ultimately apply to a shared denominator of resonance.

America Rex is the result of that ambition, and is an experiment in trying to find a way to allow enough room, in a work of theatre, which will be more deeply infused with the cultural narratives of the communities in which it finds artistic hands to inform its application.

With this upcoming workshop in New Zealand, made specific for Aotearoa, cultural dynamics of storytelling will be put to task to ply through innumerable currents of unspoken, lifting my bark across open water, into resonant language and context, where we will see if such a supposition of theatre as Rex can thread its storyline.

In The Smoke Of The Sting .. a journey of ‘otherness’ for Pianist & Baritone

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..woke now -to the changes in directions buffeting country and personal journey..

Fully woke. And working.

It is my honor to be in process of collaborating with two esteemed artists -Ms Dana Kristina-Joi Morgan, and Jarrod Lee- in a performance piece I have written for Washington National Opera entitled “In The Smoke Of The Sting”, a music journey which threads the words, determination, and courage of three Champion boxers -Joe Louis, Emile Griffith and Muhammad Ali- through music and poetry, and arias from operas written about these men.
The intimacy of this salon piece invites us all to experience the nature of discrimination that was a daily fight to these men, who endured the truth that being titled ‘Champion’ did little to stop the public’s disquiet at such prominent ‘otherness’.
Current dates/locations of presentation that I will update should there occur any changes:
2/14/2017, 10:30 am, Anacostia Library
2/15/2017, 12:00 pm, National Postal Museum
2/18/2017, 2:00 pm, Takoma Park Library
2/22/2017, 10:30 am, Francis Gregory Library
2/24/2017, 6:00 pm, The Sitar Arts Center
2/26/2017, 3:00 pm, Westminster Presbyterian Church
2/28/2017, 7:00 pm, Shaw Library
3/1/2017, 7:00 pm, Petworth Library
3/2/2017, 2:00 pm, Bellevue Library
3/7/2017, 7:00 pm, Woodridge Library
3/9/2017, 7:00 pm, Mount Pleasant Library
3/14/2017, 7:00 pm, The Hill Center
…the energy and focus of Dana and Jarrod speak to how fierce artists work under & through all conditions – and capture attention, with fierce artistry!