Tom Minter's Off The Stoop Blog

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

Archive for the ‘Race Themes’ Category

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!


Ensemble Studio Theatre is giving BREATHING ASH breath..

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..exciting -excited! -and feeling proud.

Through longstanding support of Bob Jaffe, Ensemble Studio Theatre is giving my play Breathing Ash a workshop, and then rehearsed reading, on Tuesday the 25th October.

The company have gathered a terrific group of actors, and I have a fearless and deep thinking director in Christopher Burris!

More to come on the details and journey of this work, whose themes and narrative profoundly resonate, in the chilling nature of culture today..


Written by tomminteroffthestoop

September 22, 2016 at 8:51 AM

Congressional acts of non-violent courage..

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Earlier this week I attended a panel discussion, at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, on New Health and Economic Research on Work and Family Policies in the United States and Canada, hosted by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
..when entering the chamber.. I realized that I’d been in the building once before -exactly 10 years previous -to attend a hearing on the Voting Rights Act, ahead of the vote for its re-ratification.
..remembering this left me with a strange sensation of having just ‘passed my younger self in the hall’, so to speak.. -but it seems my politics and sense of historic timing remain congruent.. -as, at that very moment of remembering, Congressman John Lewis was, again, offering a civics lesson, and exampling social activism in the cause of making sense of a senseless current political impasse..
I say “again” because that example was what was occurring, in June 2006, when I was first in the Dirksen Senate Office Building – and witness to this Congressman’s reason, leadership, and eloquent social consciousness, trying to face an unconscionable situation, with a rightful sense of Justice.
In our current moment of history, he speaks to gun control; in 2006, he was speaking to equality.
But in every direction of his efforts, Congressman Lewis is always leading a call to shine a light upon the dank currents that surge to sink a rightful debate beneath the rhetoric of a divisive oppression, remnant and resonant of our cultural history..
..charging us to insist on change.. and imbuing a path ahead with a power of process that is informed by a long procession of souls who exampled leadership in defining an invigorating paradigm of non-violent, social activism..
We may wrestle up and down, through ongoing time, and returning issues of inequity ..imbalance, and ignorance.. But it is instructive to remember that change is incremental; that calling out injustice has purpose; and that in the siege of politics, a permanence of our government -it is a constant, non-violent courage that is best heard above the fray..

Kennedy Center Millennium Stage: Washington National Opera preview of APPOMATTOX

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..ahead of the current production premiere of Philip Glass‘s opera APPOMATTOX, I was asked by Washington National Opera to sculpt a thread of narrative to give some context to music, and resonant issues of civil war/civil rights.

The result was an entirely collaborative effort with WNO’s music Administrator, Ken Weiss, participation by Domingo-Cafritz Young Artists, and Greg Watkins, as the event’s Narrator, in a program of readings and song, presented on the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage.

The evening’s performance was streamed live by the Kennedy Center.

Cedar Hill

with one comment was in 2010 when I was first at Cedar Hill having created an enrichment program for Washington National Opera, in collaboration with DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities. That presentation was called Black Women In Opera Celebrate Black Women In Community.

On October 24 2015 there is to be another gathering at Cedar Hill, with new partners and ongoing collaborators. This event is an original enrichment for Stanford in Washington, and is being shared as programming enrichment with Stanford in New York; to be creating for these two constituencies of students is a marvel for me, as well as an incredible opportunity for facilitating connection to DC history, as well as threads of a national, historical narrative, through the life of the last resident owner of Cedar Hill, Frederick Douglass.

Several skeins of education weave through this event, by way of Douglass.

In November 2015 WNO is mounting a production of Philip Glass’ opera Appomattox. Though its initial incarnation was premiered in 2007 with the San Francisco Opera, there was work to be done on the piece and the Washington National Opera commissioned Glass to re-visit it. It is this reimagined creation which will receive its premiere in DC.

With this unique event I found myself in a position to pull several threads of opportunity into one tapestry; SIW has kept to a track of offering enrichment programming on issues and paradigms of diversity. In seeking to further expand their students’ view into contextualizing conversations on race, civil liberty, and our nation’s gripping tatter, into the harrowing march of civil war, the fact of the opera and the site of Cedar Hill became cause of a mutual exposition.

Cedar Hill was Frederick Douglass’ house and acknowledged home from 1877 to 1895. Here he would often have evenings of song performed in his parlor with the windows opened wide, so that his community could enjoy the music too. This was a purposeful exchange of society, as it was meant to offer opportunity to singers and musicians of color, so that all could see that music, in itself, held no barriers, but was available to be performed for anyone who would take it up.

Douglass, a man of exacting proportions of intellect and endeavor, by the late 1800’s was very widely traveled and accustomed to a wide variety of music; he shared knowledge easily, and with a deliberate taste for assortment.

Salon opportunities of socializing at his home included the music of spirituals as well as ‘parlor songs’ -a term for the American response to the fashion of European ‘art songs’, and performed by singers in the intimate settings of recitals, or salons.

Here are some selections of spirituals, and ‘parlor songs’ that might have had moment on Cedar Hill.


 All God’s Chillum Got Wings -Spiritual

Ain’t That Good News -Spiritual

Think On Me -composed (1850’s) by Alicia Ann Scott


Douglass would have heard original “art songs” in his traveling through Europe, and during the period of 1885 – 1887 he would have come across the songs of Johannes Brahms who was contemporary to this time, prolific and well known as a composer of the German art song called “lied”..


Sommerabend – composed (1885) by Johannes Brahms


At twilight the summer evening lies

Over green fields and forest;

Golden moon in the blue sky

Shines down, hazy, fragrantly refreshing.

By the brook chirps the cricket,

And the waters are stirring,

And the wanderer hears a ripple

And a breathing in the stillness.

Yonder, alone, by the brook,

The beautiful mermaid is bathing;

Arm and neck, white and lovely,

Shimmer in the moonlight.


Though not heard on Cedar Hill, Charles Ives is an American composer creating at the beginning of the 20th century. He took the many models of Europe, but sieved the form through American folk music and American ethnic rhythms into a style of classical interpretation that spoke of American origins and ‘soundscapes’.

Ives utilized the model of ‘art song’ to inform a growing musical language, reaching into atonality.


Afterglow –composed (1922) by Charles Ives


Moving forward into the musical landscape of American composer Philip Glass ..

Appomattox presents us with many of the characters of the civil war period, but central to this narrative is the character of Frederick Douglass. In its entirety  the opera skews time and weaves a tale that presents dynamics of power, with issues of civil liberty, through an assortment of historical characters that include President Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, as well as President Kennedy and Martin Luther King.

Philip Glass’ musical idiom is essentially referred to as “minimalism”, in that his use of orchestration and rhythmic dynamics are spare and utilized to accentuate and articulate patterns of speech and sketch specific emotion.

At first fully embracing this style of idiom, Glass, as he progressed from enfant terrible, to eminence grise, emended his identity to that of “being a composer of music with repetitive structures”.

These are some samples of Glass’ music.

The piece, Dance, was created in 1979, and was a work done in collaboration with Lucinda Childs (choreographer) and Sol LeWitt (artist); it was premiered in Amsterdam, then at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.


Dance 8 – composed (1979) by Philip Glass


Moving closer to composition of Appomattox, Glass’ Symphony No.8 was written in 2006.


Symphony No.8  – 1st movement (partial) -composed (2006) by Philip Glass

During the program at Cedar Hill on the 24th October, along with a selection of parlor songs performed by local performing artists, there will be selections from Appomattox presented as well. seeking to create this full program I have revisited a great deal of Douglass’ writings and speeches..

These are two which resonate with the wide dynamics of compassion and Abolitionist fire that was embodied within the man..


Douglass the Abolitionist; content of ‘July 4th’ speech (1852)


Douglass as Statesman; giving the oration at the unveiling of the Freedmen’s Monument, in Lincoln Park (1876)

Another step of Blues..

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..beyond the averages; Blues has had three important iterations in a twelve month period, and for a ‘new work’, that is remarkable.

Such a swift journey has also afforded opportunity for me to whittle in on specific changes that I feel the need to engage in with this piece, as it is new, and as every time there is the chance to see it ‘standing’, I get to view a further shading in its stance.

Blues has a very far reach into a layered presentation of narrative; it requires fierce musicians – fearless actors – and visual artists of a unique coalition -all of whom play in a rhythm of words and music, through image and a prism of history.

With this last iteration of the work, presented for Stanford in Washington’s winter Arts Track students and guests, I was able to excise a ‘full thought’ of exchange, creating fodder for a potential Education plank, in that much of the material in the back half of Blues resonates with racial, social, and ideological conflicts that were manifesting in the late 60’s.

Clearly etching this, is the opportunity presented for characters of the play, at the time of Billy Strayhorn’s death, which occurred in 1967 – two years after the assassination  of Malcolm X, and a year before the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr...

This specific moment in time is the ledge separating activism from rage; a breath, at the fulcrum, where civil disobedience was tenuously balanced against the unthinkable of chaos; that breath, shortly venting in confrontation and violence that would not only engulf U Street in flames, but would inform a new dynamic to the cry of “Black Power”.

..this is the texture that articulates in the play’s timeline and is resonant in every moment of exchange in Act II.

With Greg Watkins, Scott Patterson, and Bina Malhotra reprising their roles of BILLY STRAYHORN, DUKE ELLINGTON and LENA HORNE, respectively, and Joy Jones – who was originally ELLA in Act I – now informing the character of the REPORTER – rehearsals began with a base line of familiarity that allowed for deeper investigations into the ‘temperature’ of the dialogue and exchanges between the characters.

..this is the fullest measure of the gift – not only being able to have successive iterations of the work in a short amount of time, but also to have a troupe of professionals who bring with each iteration the discoveries of content and character, and commit to the endeavor which allows for deeper mining of nuance.

This particular presentation was given in the Langston Hughes Room, in the 14th Street Busboys & Poets – whose location, just beyond U Street, NW, is literally less than a block from the very history that is epilogue of the play; it was at 14th & U streets NW, in the wake of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., on April 4th 1968, that flames, ignited by members of its own community, ravaged the area.

But DC was not the isolated event; between 1965 and 1967, endemic frustrations had already lit firebombs, leaving engulfing beacons of outrage to cross the states (Los Angeles; Chicago; Newark; Detroit) ..

-and it is in each edifying chance of presentation, that Blues For A Royal Flush gains its fluency to speak to context; it strides into a fissure of opportunities that were exceptional, significant, and as dynamic as any seismic shift of chord.


Bina Malhotra as LENA, Scott Patterson as DUKE, Greg Watkins as BILLY and Joy Jones as REPORTER/BLUES at Busboys and Poets - Feb 9, 2015/Kristenn Stipanov, photographer

Bina Malhotra as LENA, Scott Patterson as DUKE, Greg Watkins as BILLY and Joy Jones as REPORTER/BLUES at Busboys and Poets – Feb 9, 2015/Kristenn Stipanov, photographer

Greg Watkins as BILLY/BLUES at Busboys and Poets - Feb 9, 2015/Kristen Stipanov, photographer

Greg Watkins as BILLY/BLUES at Busboys and Poets – Feb 9, 2015/Kristen Stipanov, photographer

Bina Malhotra as LENA, and Joy Jones as REPORTER/BLUES at Busboys and Poets -  Feb 9, 2015/Kristen Stipanov, photographer

Bina Malhotra as LENA, and Joy Jones as REPORTER/BLUES at Busboys and Poets – Feb 9, 2015/Kristen Stipanov, photographer

Scott Patterson as DUKE, and Bina Malhotra as LENA/BLUES at Busboys and Poets - Feb 9, 2015/Kristen Stipanov, photographer

Scott Patterson as DUKE, and Bina Malhotra as LENA/BLUES at Busboys and Poets – Feb 9, 2015/Kristen Stipanov, photographer

Scott Patterson as DUKE, and Joy Jones as REPORTER/BLUES at Busboys and Poets - Feb 9, 2015/Kristen Stipanov, photographer

Scott Patterson as DUKE, and Joy Jones as REPORTER/BLUES at Busboys and Poets – Feb 9, 2015/Kristen Stipanov, photographer

A talk on the past, touches the present

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When the pieces of a puzzle suddenly fit in place, it’s inevitably a wonderful feeling. But when the piece fits into a puzzle of family history, it can be the ‘ah-ha’ for resonating emotion and pride.

Stanford in Washington’s winter session had its Orientation this week, and it included a trip to the National Portrait Gallery, and the opportunity for a talk on the history of DC – the city, apart from the government.

I started the talk on the 2nd floor of the museum at the exhibition of Mr. Lincoln’s Washington: A Civil War Portfolio, which is a photographic presentation of DC, and the President, in the latter part of the Civil War.

It shows a city rummaged up from dust into white stone and masonry; carriages and top hats; Union uniforms, rifles; thoroughfares of tamped dirt and ranks of pedestrians; parasols, horses and buggies; prestigious edifices, such as the Patent Office, forts, hospitals, and the Navy Yard; images grabbed in action, set in panoramic still life; sunlight of the 1860’s: on sweat; brightness bleeds earnest and palpable emotions out of death numbed survival; some glances are filled with apprehension, others are looks full of expectation.

My talk initiated in speaking about Congress’ 1790 Residence Act, appropriating land from Virginia and Maryland to establish a residence for the nation’s government – imbuing this District, from the outset, with specific purpose of opportunity.

By 1865 this area, the District of Columbia, war weary, ravaged and burnt, still gleamed as the embodiment of freedom, being the place from which slavery had been abolished by Proclamation, and further enshrined in government.

Touching the very soil of this city could be supposed a religious experience, and worth pilgrimage to former slaves, suddenly vested as a “population” of this country, wishing to be established as true citizens.

In 1860 the national census identified 3,953,760 slaves in this country, and 488,070 Freed Blacks. In 1870 it identified 0 slaves in this country, and 4,880,009 Freed Blacks..

With the knowledge of those numbers, and sight of Mr. Lincoln’s Washington before us, my talk moved into the mandate for education that became the paean of further enfranchisement, exhorted by such black men of stature as Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Carter Woodson, who comprehended the vast challenge ahead of establishing an African American existence after slavery that would faithfully support a new legacy of permanent application and advancement in American society.

The opportunity, to define African American beyond property or domestic, demanded a context for an emerging culture; it required apparatus for educating a sudden population of over four million souls.

We moved into the exhibition of The Struggle For Justice, where my talk broadened into the establishment of the initial network of black colleges, such as Fisk University, established in 1866, Morehouse College, established in 1867, Hampton College, established in 1868, and Tuskegee University, established in 1881 – each of which were to determine the quality of opportunity a new society of educated people of color could have.

Standing in front of the images of George Washington Carver, and W.E.B. Du Bois, I spoke of the reach of higher education, and brought into sequence the through line of the impact on Washington City, and, in its Jim Crow laws of segregation, the paradox of it inculcating within its environs a territory of black endeavor and merchant success, codified as the ‘city within a city’, and the place of one of the most important institutions of education, Howard University, established in 1867, which became the hotbed for philosophical debate in giving definition to a “New Negro”, as well as approbation in creating the art, music, and essence of literature upon which to stand this prototype.

The dynamism of this city within a city, drew talent, and thought, and enterprise, advancement, entrepreneurship, commerce, banking, and society, all –of color. It became an unspoken template of a way of enriching culture, while under the very stone of inequity which the nation at large had set to cap and contain such endeavor..

And the footpath to come up within this environ were the high schools, for color, one of which, Armstrong Manual Training High School, had its very corner stone laid by the hands of Booker T. Washington.

The philosophy of this school looked to make its students self sufficient; able to make their own bricks, build their own homes, grow their own grain, farm their own livestock, master their own accounts, and invent to their own science.

The direct line, out of slavery, and through such as Booker T. Washington, into higher education, established schools as another place of sanctity and benefit. It also meant that they held a position in black culture where “opportunity” encompassed everything to be found in any relevant society.

In this, commitment to the Arts was profound, and a place for nascent artists of color to be identified, sustained, embraced, applauded, supported and presented for all to see.

My intention was to speak to two specific portraits housed in the collection of the NPG; as it turned out, I was only able to speak in front of one of them, and reference the other.

The two people, who for me are linked in the circumstances of opportunity specifically offered in the history of the District, and specifically connected with Armstrong Manual Training High School, are Marian Anderson, and Duke Ellington.

The portrait of Marian Anderson is part of the exhibition of The Struggle For Justice. Though she is usually identified with DC in reference to the concert in the Mall, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, which occurred in 1939, my talk went to the roots Ms. Anderson had earlier established in the District, and, specifically, in the city within a city.

Ms Anderson’s presence in the District formalized through her engagement by Howard University, in 1933, through their Lyceum Concert Series, which offered opportunity as a recital and song series held in the Andrew Rankin Chapel, on campus.

Though Ms Anderson was already establishing herself in opportunities abroad, she would remain faithful to being available for the Series, and always make her way back to DC to participate.

By 1934 her notoriety was such that the crowds who came to hear her were too great to be held within the intimate space of the Chapel, and Howard University moved the series to the auditorium of Armstrong.

In 1935, after a sensational European tour, culminating in her debut onstage at the Paris Opera, Ms. Anderson returned to an America of Jim Crow limitations and a culture reticent to embrace an artist of color.

After a Town Hall recital, in New York, Ms. Anderson received an invitation to sing at the White House, extended by the First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt.

The White House visit coincided with Ms Anderson’s presence in the 1935 concert series, and there was an expectation that the crowd would be too large for any auditorium.

It was at this point that Ms. Anderson’s manager, Sol Hurok, first reached out to see if he could book Constitution Hall.

But the Hall’s policy of denying its stage to anyone of color could not be challenged at this point in time, and so Mr. Hurok and Howard University continued to utilize Armstrong’s auditorium, and, in subsequent years, utilized opportunity of the auditorium at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School.

…but by 1939 Ms Anderson’s fame was such that the size of the expected crowd pre-condition that the Concert Series had to be held in a larger environment.

It was at this time that Mr. Hurok made the determination to petition for use of Constitution Hall once again, which was denied, after which, history clasped the reins –the denial became the lit fuse to a series of unprecedented acts of civil remonstration, furthered by the resignation by Eleanor Roosevelt of her membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), the officiating body who held ownership of Constitution Hall.

Ultimately Ms. Anderson presented herself in consummate artistry to a crowd of over 5,000 people in the Mall, at the steps to the Lincoln Memorial.

…at this point in my talk I’d intended to lead a tour to the 3rd floor, and into the Bravo showcase, where the portrait of Duke Ellington is situated –but time had grown slim, and, swiftly concluding my lecture, I mentioned Duke, and the fact that he had gone to Armstrong as a high school student – a school which, to this day, still serves its community; a school whose linage contained the lit embers of endeavor, laid in its cornerstone by Booker T. Washington, and at one point in the nineteen-teens was held in stewardship of culture overseen by Carter Woodson, the 2nd man of color to receive his PhD from Harvard University, who would go on to be Dean of Philosophy at Howard University.

All of this history is a powerful legacy that is resident in the U Street corridor, in the city within a city and remains pertinent. A fact that made itself explicitly clear at a post lecture lunch..

At my table, intermittently during the meal, a guest to the day’s orientation was holding a discrete exchange on her mobile. Just as lunch was being served, she looked up at the group of us round the table beaming and said, “I was meant to be at that talk today.”

-she continued: When I was growing up my grandmother would tell me about the time she gave up her membership with the DAR. It was something very important to her, the position she took, but, to be honest, it didn’t have context for me was just something my grandmother had done, which had made her proud. Listening to the talk about Marian Anderson, I wondered if this was the situation that had made her choose to give up her membership. So I txt’d her-“

And she read from the response.

Her grandmother, now in her eighties, and reaching through an immediacy of technology, fully shared the story and identified that it was, indeed, connected to Marian Anderson.

..though it was an amazing moment be in the weave at this coming together of a living context for conversation, review, and definition, to further continue the connection of personal journey in this family’s oral history –I have to admit to enjoying the laugh at the end of the exchange, as the grandmother concluded her txt by saying –“If you want to know more about Marian Anderson, use the internet.”

..and in that spoke to a life, not only of keeping her personal context with history alive, but also being fully engaged with her present and the advance of technology and social media ..all to encourage and share with her granddaughter, a personal sense of pride and Witness.

..affirming that the past is always present.