Tom Minter's Off The Stoop Blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘Breathing Ash

..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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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

ripples

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..in the period after meeting Philip Rose, Breathing Ash received several opportunities for workshop, and though each was well attended, and the play provoked all kinds of engaged conversation and interest, it had a visual component which, ultimately, was too challenging to produce.

I was left to consider how else I might engage a producer, or theatre company, to get involved with bringing the triptych to some kind of berth.

Though Breathing Ash seemed timely, as we approached 2006, it was the middle ‘panel’ of the triptych. I began to think of finding a way of having someone consider The Orion, which was the first panel. In it I established the story of 2 main characters that subsequently appear in Ash, and though there is a multi-media dimension to the work, it is a more straightforward presentation in the scheme of the plotline.

…while puzzling how I could get such a piece to the attention of an adventurous and willing company, I found myself at a birthday party, where I met Valerie Smaldone, one of the warmest guardian angels I’ve ever know. Valerie and I wound up speaking almost through the entire event, plunging into conversations on theatre, media, the economy, television, health care, and how life may sometimes give you lemons, but how it also can have unexpected moments of serendipity, which throw open French doors onto a whole new vista of possibilities.

At the time, Valerie was gearing up for a very special project presentation –producing the play of a friend of hers, Amy Coleman, called Spit It Out! The play was going to be on at Etcetera Etcetera restaurant on West 44th Street, in NY. Valerie was also acting in the piece, and asked if I’d be interested in coming to see the show. I was very interested –but life intervened, and I wasn’t able to make the show until the last evening’s performance.

When I got to the restaurant, I was shown upstairs to a makeshift cabaret theater; small cocktail tables were tightly grouped in the room, with a thin artery of space available for people to move through, getting in and out of the seating area. I have a habit of being early to anywhere I’m meant to be, and as I was shown to my own small table, I noticed most of the other tables were already tight with parties of 4 or more people. But there was one other table, with a single person at it, and within a few minutes the manager was slinging us together to share it, so he could accommodate a group of 8 that had arrived.

Once settled, we introduced ourselves to one another, his name was Joe Cacaci, and then starting making wry talk about the huddle happening about us, and the probability of the manager prying in another few tables. Our conversation soon wandered off the track and into politics, which then veered to the subject of New York, before giving us opportunity to ask what we did when not seeing plays. I told him, “I’m a playwright.” To which Joe responded, with a chuckle, “I’m a director.”

Then Joe asked about my work. Not knowing how to do things by halves, I wound up starting a conversation on how discouraging it was trying to get companies to look at new work, which slipped into a moan about the lack of such impresarios as Joe Papp -at the mention of whose name, Joe Cacaci lets lose a grin and admits that he once worked for the man, and also found the style and intuition and guidance of such men, as Joe Papp, a forgotten art of mentoring. We really started talking theatre then, and he told me stories of The Public, Shakespeare In The Park, and, with as much wit as reverence, let me in on some anecdotes of Papp’s working method and no nonsense drive.

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Joe Cacaci then brought me back to speaking about my work, and listened with great interest, nodding at the dilemma I described in finding companies unwilling to put in abeyance the question of whether or not adding multi-media to a play made it a film. Joe seemed to agree with my position that American playwrights had to be allowed to fumble with the toys of technology, and create a new vein of storytelling which not only embraced the challenges of the millennium, but also could speak to a deepening youth market entirely steeped in technological multi-tasking, who would find the staid wrestle of ‘is it film, or is it theater’ a numbingly boring argument to use so as not to play with the toys at hand!

All the cabaret tables were thick with occupants when our conversation came back to the evening’s entertainment, and Joe admitted, “I know one of the actresses, and I’ve been promising to come. Luckily I saw the flier on the refrigerator door this evening, saying tonight was the last show, so I hoofed it down here.” I said I knew one of them too –and, as if on queue, we both said, “Valerie Smaldone.”

The evening was great, and when Valerie came off the stage at the end of the show, she seemed happy to find us at the same table, and said to us, “That’s so terrific. I wanted the two of you to meet.”

…that connection, that conversation, that serendipitous gift of Valerie’s, precipitated my working with The Berkshire Playwrights Lab, this past September, and receiving a workshop presentation of The Orion, directed by Joe Cacaci.

Philip Rose

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there are no rules about leaping into the new, because no one has ever been there before..

That was my high school yearbook quote, and remains something of a deep belief.

Guidelines are not the same as rules, though –and often, serendipity is a way of affirming direction.

Though separated by several years, two instances of particular chance are linked to the opportunities, and hopes, I have for the triptych.

The middle ‘panel’, called Breathing Ash, cuts close to the bone, touching issues of race, culture and politics.

In 2002, when the play was being seen at the end of an intense series of workshops, it had an especially powerful resonance, as some of the references to government surveillance and domestic military apparatus, were sensitive subjects to a present so immediately post 9/11 – the action of the play takes place in 2006, and is instigated by a Republican President down in his pole numbers, who sees the re-ratification of the Voting Rights Act as an opportunity to get the  Senate to self destruct…

At the heart of the work is the story of a young black man who is caught in a series of disconnected suspicious incidents, judged without pity by the minister of his own community- and the life of a black junior congressman from New York, tasting his own unexpected power, not concerned of being low pawn on the political chess board in DC.

I’d written the play in 2000, and knew it to be politically hard hitting. But I also felt the interior terrain of Ash, looking at schisms in American black culture, was a fresh view of a potent issue, and was reminiscent of Lorraine Hansberry’s fresh view of such issues in A Raisin In The Sun.

One week before the presentation, as I walked through Borders Bookstore on M Street, NW, my glance caught sight of a hardcover book, stood upright in the middle of a small cafeteria table, as if its reader, finished with browsing, had forgotten to replace it on its shelf. The cover was facing me. I remember reading it and laughing outright as I walked over to the table to pick it up – the title being: You Can’t Do That On Broadway!

My chuckles melted to an awed silence as I read the book’s liner. This book was a memoir. And it was written by Philip Rose, the producer, against all kinds of odds, of Lorraine Hansberry’s play, A Raisin In The Sun.

I didn’t put it down; I bought it, and read it in an evening.

Lessons and incidents of overt racism, poured out across almost every page in the telling of bringing the play from a living room reading, to the stage. But what struck me most was the unshakable belief that Philip Rose had, in the rightness of the work, the unregistered talent of Lorraine Hansberry, and the need to have the play presented –and, most especially, the note throughout, never to let someone tell you ‘no’.

I was so moved and provoked by the passion of Philip Rose’s commitment, and the words of his expression of events in facing the bigotry, hardships of financing and closed mentality of the ‘dinosaurs at the gates’ of theatre, that meant to impede bringing this piece to the stage, that I found myself determined to meet this man, and closing the book at its last words, I dialed information and asked for the phone number of Philip Rose, at the address he (surprisingly) admitted to living at, in NY.

..in the memoir, he had also admitted to being fond of taking chances, and enjoyed those who walked through the open door of opportunity.. For some reason, I didn’t think twice at taking him at his word.

We spoke.

..I can’t say the words came out of my mouth with any sense to them, but he seemed to grasp that I had just read his book, and had been moved. We wound up speaking for twenty minutes. And then, he invited me to visit with him when I was next in New York. –..as serendipity would have it once more, I was in NY two days later, and took him up on the visit, taking him out for tea at a restaurant around the corner from his home.

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We spoke theatre; he went into other details of the journey with Raisin, as well as Purlie. He encouraged me to speak of my own writing, and I found myself finding words of frustration and anxiousness in describing my efforts with  Breathing Ash, its challenging landscape of race and politics, as well as its ambitious visual narrative. He listened, nodded, understood, and I felt honest enough, with my uncertainties, to ask if he’d come see the presentation.

He did. Was engaged by it, and told me to keep pushing.

The second piece of serendipity connected to the triptych occurred in September of 2008..