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AMERICA REX/Program Notes, TAPAC Showcase Performance, 29th – 31st August, 2018

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Change does not happen in a vacuum; context is everything.

 

I think I have a good memory.

I do not.

 

When first asked to write these Notes I started diving into all sorts of reminiscences that seemed to associate with this play.

Off the top of my head, I had to admit that I was only threading with fiction..

 

Luckily, I keep a journal –and have been doing so since I was 13 years old.

 

I went to one particular well stacked pile of books, took up the top Journal and opened it –only to be struck at the fact that the book’s first page was titled “America Rex”..

 

It turns out that the work you are about to see did not start as a play, but as a state of mind – a place of America in 2002.

I at least got that right: America Rex began in 2002.

 

I labeled the journal as such, already being witness to a year of how the leadership of the Bush II Presidency was using a paucity of words in articulating a new dimension of national grief, anguish, fear, and eradication of compass..

 

The opening entry in the Journal is dated “October 7th, 2002”.

 

I read of myself, musing upon a gift a friend has given me, having just returned from London with a copy of a Saturday insert from The Guardian, titled: “Rome, AD … Rome, DC?” written by Jonathan Freedland.

 

I note in my Journal that “The tag carries two photos opposite one another: one, Rome and the colonnade steps of the Senate – the other, Washington, DC and the colonnaded rotunda of Congress. Inside there is a photo of Bush – in gold breast plate armor and purple skirt of an Emperor of Rome – his thumb ‘down’ – standing in front of a balustrade that is draped in Imperial Purple…”

 

And out of that, comes my own digression towards what will become paradigm for a play:

..”America is being run by a nest of bullies”, stitching themselves “into a suffocating chrysalis – ending any view of light, or promise, until we have metamorphosed – into our destruction, or into the future, is uncertain. What are we meant to become”..?

 

I pull down another Journal. It is from 2003, and details a first trip to Australia.

 

Beyond initially touching this, I do not need to be reminded of the significance of the trip, or the impact on my consciousness and creativity during a particular visit to a Melbourne gallery of Indigenous Art.

I remember distinctly: standing in front of a work of art which detailed a presence of Dreamtime .. that drew me into thinking along concepts of arts disciplines, meshed, and representing dynamic relationships between earth -dream -knowledge -journey.

I came away from that glimpse of possibilities, gestating something that could frame ‘an inclusive sandbox’, in which to offer scaffolding for a theatrical work – a work which I then consciously hoped would not only speak to global culture, but inform a wider conversation of what might be done with theatre and a black box.

 

America Rex, the play, is the result of that ambition. Begun in 2002, it was completed in 2003.

Now a full 16 years on from the first thoughts of this work, its premise is more relevant than ever, while its relationships of power articulate contemporary institutional and global fears of “otherness”.

 

But it is the component of journey that makes this work the right frame for Dione Joseph’s vision of wisdom and warning which results in its being “a call for a return to indigenous ways of knowing and belonging”.. “..located in a te ao Māori context that 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.”

 

Context is everything, as change cannot happen in a vacuum.

 

Opening Scene of the Tour Float Tourists – David Capstick, Ruth Capstick, James Maeve, Carl Drake, Chris Auva’a, Mustaq Missouri, Joseph Wycoff, Kacie Stetson, Mel Odedra, Graham Vincent/AMERICA REX, Showcase Performances at TAPAC, 29th – 31st August 2018, New Zealand; JK Productions & Ahi Karunaharan; photo by Michael Loh

 

General Fisk – Graham Vincent/AMERICA REX, Showcase Performances at TAPAC, 29th – 31st August 2018, New Zealand; JK Productions & Ahi Karunaharan; photo by Michael Loh

 

Speaker swears fidelity – David Capstick/AMERICA REX, Showcase Performances at TAPAC, 29th – 31st August 2018, New Zealand; JK Productions & Ahi Karunaharan; photo by Michael Loh

 

Yves, and Louise – James Maeva, Sandra Zvenyika/AMERICA REX, Showcase Performances at TAPAC, 29th – 31st August 2018, New Zealand; JK Productions & Ahi Karunaharan; photo by Michael Loh

 

the anguish of General 3 – Mustaq Missouri/AMERICA REX, Showcase Performances at TAPAC, 29th – 31st August 2018, New Zealand; JK Productions & Ahi Karunaharan; photo by Michael Loh

 

Speaker and seeping chaos – David Capstick/AMERICA REX, Showcase Performances at TAPAC, 29th – 31st August 2018, New Zealand; JK Productions & Ahi Karunaharan; photo by Michael Loh

 

AMERICA REX, closing night Cast & Jimmy Kouratoras, Original Artwork and AV Design – Otis Donovan Herring, Choreographer and Movement – Tom Minter, playwright – Dione Joseph, Director/AMERICA REX, Showcase Performances at TAPAC, 29th – 31st August 2018, New Zealand

 

 

I am grateful for all who gather to see this work, Dione’s vision, and the incredible and empowering coalition of Production Family, Creatives and Artists who share in the premiere telling of this story.

 

Thank you.

tkm/dc August 2018

 

 

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..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”..

..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 of the script 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.

In point of fact, I began writing in the summer of 2001. A first draft of my thinking was finished by August, 2001.

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!

 

 

 

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

A Reading In NY..

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..it has been far too much time between entries, and though there has been a great deal going on, the tempo has been such that I have not had the opportunity to pause and commit to reflection..

A good thing! Never fault too much to do ..but, I must find the way to enjoy moments of viewing the ride!

Such a moment has appeared in the invitation by a company in NY, Blackboard Plays, who reached out wondering if I would mind their featuring my piece Reconstruction in their Reading Series schedule; the presentation is Monday the 12th May, at 7:30, in The Cell space, at 338 W. 23rd Street (which is bet 8th & 9th).

The space where the reading is being held is wonderful platform; I was introduced to it by the folks of The Cell, who gave a workshop reading of 3 one act plays of mine, in an evening entitled, Doors To My House.

With Reconstruction though, I find myself at a special moment of expectation; I feel this remains a very unique work, and every opportunity it has to be heard -to be experienced -to be the fodder for conversation -well ..it is a rare and wonderful thing.

Reconstruction speaks to discerning choices hidden in the past and made in conscious sacrifice of survival; a portrait, inherited by Ioni, resonates with answers to forgotten questions, and becomes the agent in discerning a legacy that threads her life with that of an artist in France, Francois, who himself is haunted by the complex undercurrents of legacy..

The play shifts in time; details present an America of the 1870’s, while converging answers, in 2008, occur in both America and Paris, France.

This is the first time the play is receiving a public reading in NY. I am grateful for the support of Blackboard Plays, and each of those generous souls along the way, who have participated in bringing this work to community.

Written by tomminteroffthestoop

May 6, 2014 at 10:28 AM

Whittling

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..last week I attended S.C.A.M.P., an opening at Gallery Plan b that included the works of friends of mine; each, visual artists. Standing in that gallery I enjoyed their success as much as their work, and felt a cathartic joy at seeing the walls of the space hosting such a diverse and complimentary collection of completed thoughts.

..savoring it I realize: each time I sit at my computer, being a visual artist has compensations no playwright can claim; in hanging a work, it is presented. Even hung in a room of the artist’s home, the work is ‘alive’ and available to be seen and enjoyed.

A play only comes to life after many hours and days, if not (hopefully), weeks of rehearsal; it stands by way of the grip of a collection of professionals, many of whom participate unseen –designers, technicians- all of whom work in phalanx to the director-..Only in the crucible of a performance space can a playwright’s mettle be weighed. Because of this, a work isn’t finished once it is complete; it has merely reached a ‘lodging’ –a drawer, or thumb drive, until it is given full opportunity.

.. this is not a whinge on the unsung plight of playwrights; at our best, we manage the parameters of our genre. It is, in fact, part of the package in our art, this extended (and protracted) climb to true ‘existence’.

..it’s just..the abiding challenge to a playwright is not to ‘create’; but, I believe, to shrewdly ‘construct’. For in some future, in presentation, the work must prove the writer’s intentions, while bearing the weight of interpretation.

For me, it is very much about architecture. Being a ‘good’ playwright is about presciently countering the nuances that will be found in a performance, which might give opportunity to distortion of the work’s dimensions. It is about being aware, and anticipating collaboration.

No matter what I write, I know that it is not going to be onstage in the very strict contours of my thinking; it is going to be breathing through the wit, timing and intelligence of the actors, as well as the impulse and scheme of the director interpreting the whole.

..Pinter is a master architect; his writing is a level of manipulation that only the most adroit and adept can steer by.

It is not about placing non sequiturs in a ratcheting string of emphasis, modulated through strategic ellipses; it is about conscious dimensions of construct, and crawl; a specific psychological stairway. And the actors who must climb this track know to connect the unseen beats, and words, and find the tensile, invisible architecture.

They know to be prepared for challenge, from the moment of reading the words “written by-”.

But the majority of we who write have no such eminence; until our work is brought into the hands of others, the arrow we’ve fashioned only hits its mark in the perfection of our own minds..

-so, when scripts were placed on the table, for the first read through of strawberry dwarfs and other lies, I could only know in the abstract- the dimensions of the piece I had written.

On that Thursday, June 7th, 2012, the voices in my head listened to words finally spoken.

Jack Cutmore-Scott hit the sass and swagger with Painter’s character; Charlie Tirrell gave grounding to Glassman’s comedy; while Charlie Socarides detailed Evan’s calm, into inexorable..

All while Amy Van Nostrand’s Lillian..

-unnerved me; her journey being a descent through two interactions, seemingly nothing more than salacious, but, in truth, hurtling this driven character into a clear contour of desperation..

With the last words spoken, a cloying sense of ickiness draped us at the table; I had to stand, and shake it off, literally!

..and this was just a first read through!

The work given four days rehearsal and full concentration by the artist and its director, Bob Jaffe, stood up in blue wash onstage, leading the audience to laugh, chuckle, and then swallow disconcertedly ..

Sometimes, queasy silence is affirmation of effectiveness, and Lillian’s ebbing stole the breath of those watching..

-until their applause broke with the subsequent dark.

…my father used to quote a phrase of his mother’s: “..you sit by the door of opportunity, sit and wait, but be prepared, because once it opens, you’re going to rush in ready.”

Playwrights may create in a vacuum, but “prepared” is a good password..