Tom Minter's Off The Stoop Blog

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

Archive for the ‘Race Themes’ Category

..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.

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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

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..it 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.

..in 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