Tom Minter's Off The Stoop Blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘Reconstruction

..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 still of the hurricane…

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..how odd to find stillness in a hurricane; to find that moment’s peace in which to catch up with oneself.. –listening, past the howling and rattling windows..

Yes; oddness.

It is not as if nothing has been happening since my last entry; a great deal has.. But in this great deal were opportunities that I was uncertain would come to fruition, and who wants to nail dreams down on a page, in a viewable journal?

Not me. Not my style. And so silence, and playing things close to my chest turned into a reticence of communication and chronicling. Perhaps not only for regard for the potential of things not coming to fruition, but in consideration for the various synchronicities that were involved; an open eager word can avert connection.

I have patience, but it holds best in the quiet and observation of expectation.

Months ago, I handed a play to chance. A weighed chance, I’ll admit. I handed it off to be read, knowing that it would intrigue, and hoped more; to engage.

It did both; and on the conversation of acumen with a director, Steven Mazzola, I tinkered with a work (I must admit) I’d always held in sacrosanct and inviolate state. Steven’s advice offered re-entry; I worked quickly, and the result was a more unfussy view into the work.

The culminating ambition then was to hear it, in front of an audience, in some full state of its text; a way to weigh myself, as the last and only time it had been heard was in a private reading, through Joe Cacaci’s effort, and with Bob and Jill Jaffe’s graciousness facilitating a last minute move of ‘place’, to their New York apartment.

This occurred this past January.

Hearing the words, there, spoken for the first time out loud, I was overwhelmed; this particular work had been gestating since the late 90’s, and first written out in 2004. Few knew of it; fewer, beyond my support of Berkshire Playwrights Lab, had “heard” it, or even seen its print.

The play is called Reconstruction.

Though a ‘free standing’ work, it also sits as the third ‘panel’ of a triptych, whose first panel is entitled The Orion; the play which was my introduction to BPL, and a Great Barrington audience. Reconstruction is also the first time I have ever returned to the journey of a particular character; in this case, Ioni, the woman (in The Orion)  who was the cable network executive who created a break out, hit show. With Reconstruction, and in the full mien of her achievements, we catch up with Ioni; the many successes of her life have failed to prepare her for the experience of facing personal challenges.

Her mother, just before the narrative of this play begins, has died; Ioni is in a dark fugue of isolation, feeling the oppression of being alone and facing the unexpected realization of being the last of her family..

But it happens that she is not alone; ghosts pry into Ioni’s grief, and compel her focus on a portrait in her mother’s bedroom, that has been in the family since ..well, ever; memory coalesces legacy, and forces secrets, long hidden, to be urged toward a reconstruction.

Memory is the fluid of the play. We move back and forth in time -2008 America, to 1871 America; as well as across continents: America to France.

In the ‘past’ of the play, we follow the journey of an artist, Charles; a fair man of color, who makes opportunity in the period of cacophony at the end of the civil war. Discovered, he flees America –for France; leaving behind his father, the man who had placed him in line for better chances to begin with.

The only mark of connection Charles left to his family, or to even detail his existence in America, is the portrait, titled “The Artist’s father”.

___________________

..the work is an immense chew; the very idea of journeying, with “fluidity”, between time and cultures is challenging enough, but the play’s core narrative -of ‘choices’; of ‘degrees of color’; of the voice of an artist; of the urgency of ghosts- all these ramifications of choice, is material that jerks many hands off the text.

But Saturday, 20th October, at The Shop, at Fort Fringe, in DC, Reconstruction had its audience for a reading. There were about 30 folks present; a diverse 30, who witnessed an assembled talent of actors deliver a deep glimpse of characters, who then fully drew the parameters and context of this work. The result: an engaged audience; and a feed back session that ‘unknit’ its seams of PC reticence, to engage discussion in the hot corners of race and American culture.

This talk back was astonishing; civil; unreserved; unscripted. And to be honest, I am still unpacking all the details and currents I witnessed from the “hot seat” on stage..

I can say, unreservedly, that I am very proud of the work; it proves it will engage; it will conflict; it will give opportunity for conversation, dialogue, and journey.

And one other thing I took away from the presentation is that.. –once it is on its feet, in production, it will wreck its own havoc.

Widening the road..

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..time has been hurtling; the school year has been an adventure of journeying with my classes through Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte, and it has brought surprising connections.

In general, the students (independently, and from different schools) did not agree that the men of the piece should have forced their girlfriends into ‘proving their love and faithfulness’; by and large, students felt that deceit was deceit, and not a good trait of friendship.

The operatic scenes they’ve created are based on that view, and reflect a cogent grasp of a moral dilemma; their presentations reflect the choice not to go with the ‘jest’ of Mozart & Da Ponte’s opera, but to empathize with the course of making good choices, when confronted by bad ideas.

Very heartening.

..two of my schools have already given their presentations to the rest of their school, and now are ready to bring their work to the larger arena of the Showcase, when all the participating schools in the program come together at the opera studios, at Takoma Park, and strut their stuff for one another.

The event is a highlight for all of us who are facilitators for these young, creative minds; the day allows students to mix with other schools, and discover how diverse an answer to one question can be.

But that event is in June –and just now, the road widens for me.

A good deed came back as another; the play of The King’s Speech opened in London on the 27th March, and the kindness of its author brought me over to witness a performance.

..so there I was suddenly, on a trip to a place I’ve known as home, but have not been to in over 7 years.. London.

Much has changed; I have changed.

..but beneath those changes, connection to London remains strong, and nurturing.

The energy of the city has always been high, but now it is infused with grand projects, ahead of the spectacle of this year’s Olympics, and the festivities of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

Tourists have always been an infestation there, but my feet, of their own accord and memory, took to back streets to circumnavigate the districts; that fact was very reassuring..

I went to my old den in Soho, The Union; an indulgence I very much miss. The club remains a comfortable, eclectic, writer’s haunt to which I had been introduced by a dear friend and playwright, Bonnie Greer (who was honoured with an OBE ).

I was an endeavoring playwright when I was first in London in the 90’s, and Bonnie, a fellow ex-pat (originally from Pittsburgh), whose tart, wise, and social acumen often girded me against the narrow pens of critics, and my own wilting introspection, taught me how to accept the eccentricities of the personal process of gathering inspiration and channeling it to the page.

…truths, knots of dilemma, debriefs, stoggis, nips of grappa, and refortifying gnosh, would all pass through our conversations, while in the safe retreat of The Union..

And I learned to breathe; and learned that process was an essential ingredient to craft.

That solid lesson has been the guide through many a muddle of sentence’s and grappling ideas, and always affords me the room to trust that the inspiration, which piqued the ride, will align with focus at the right point in the journey..

David Seidler was able to join me at my haunt; we toasted the play’s opening of the previous night, and got to hear, first hand, just how incredible a night it was.

And then –we got to enjoy for ourselves, British talent, on an English stage, infusing characters with vivid life –characters whose words I’d first read on the page, over six years ago..

It was a night of satisfaction; The King’s Speech, as play, in its original incarnation. And being there to see it.

At the end of the performance, a packed theatre rose in ovation.

After taking London’s West End, the piece is meant for Broadway; keep an eye out!

..of course I could not go to London without making my way to meet Matt Lane, Head of ROH Thurrock, and Thames Gateway.

What an amazing day that was. The company’s Production Park is an astonishing facility, not only in its immense and ‘green’ footprint as a ‘workshop’, allowing the Royal Opera House to process and produce its own massive production requirements –specs, sets, carpentry and scenic art- but in the facility’s identity as integrated, engaged partner in the local community and surrounding economic revitalization.

The model is a thrilling, unique, and entirely purposeful one; it succeeds in its arts education seat at the community table by promoting an opportunity for arts and competency skills; it is a living, functioning arena for apprenticeship and platform, and has reached deep into its neighboring communities to enlist and engage interest.

The site is not only in use as an education resource for the local school district, who bring students in for workshops on the underpinning facets of opera and stage design, but offers itself as a skills center, where local business’ can see, and support, the opportunity of training community youth, as the work processed through the production park coaches requirements of mathematics, engineering, metal work, carpentry, industrial painting, and managerial concepts of resourcing material logistics, and overseeing diverse competencies of acumen in meeting company production.

This enveloping 21st century, vital skills opportunity, is the tapestry that the ROH is weaving with its partnership; in making each member of its constituent group an integral component of the commitment’s success, they achieve a sustainable purpose of mutual advantage and benefit, that examples true arts integration in a community’s economic resourcefulness, empowerment and identity.

Rest assured, there’s more to speak of in this…

But returning to DC, I found my cap, as playwright, being tapped.

Through a totally organic process, a play of mine has reached the 3rd round of competition for a full workshop presentation by The Inkwell, here in DC.

To celebrate the 12 local (DC) playwrights who have come this far in their process, The Inkwell is doing a kind of “slam riff”; taking scenes from each of the 3rd round contender works, rehearsing them (with their playwrights, a director, dramaturge and actors), and then plat-forming two evenings of “ten minute scenes”.

This is not only to applaud those of us who have made it so far (after 6 months process, and 2 full rounds of vetting by more than 6 Readers each) but to allow we playwrights the opportunity to feel what it will be like working with this company.

My play is called Reconstruction, and a rounded snippet of it is going to be performed at the Woolly Mammoth on Saturday, 28th April at 8PM.

..so for those of you in DC, and available, the evening is open to the public, and you are welcome; there will be 6 short pieces presented, representing six of the 12 playwrights; mine will be one of them.

Here’s to happenings- in DC and abroad!

..beyond the summer’s heat

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…seeds of this past Spring, flower now.. –even though it is well beyond the end of summer..

My relationship with the Berkshire Playwrights Lab continues to encourage me to have faith in other’s faith; a wonderful journey.

Joe Cacaci and I met serendipitously at a theatre event in late 2008; he, and BPL, have been active in making sure that my work is seen in a public arena, available for enjoyment, question and discussion. Their commitment to new work, and playwrights who tread in new fields of writing, is wholehearted and enthusiastic –and continues to keep facilitating original avenues to collaboration and presentation.

Shirley Edgerton, soul and inspiration for an emerging arts group called Lift E’vry Voice, had heard of my work from Eugenie Sills, founder and publisher of The Women’s Times. Eugenie had been to the presentation of The Orion, in BPL’s 2009 season, and felt that the issues and concepts of the piece spoke to ideas and ideals of politics and race that would resonate with Shirley, who, unfortunately was not able to attend.

Thereafter Eugenie was dedicated to bringing Shirley and me together!

That meeting occurred this past May; my piece, Groundwork, was in the Berkshire Playwright’s Lab first night Gala event. Eugenie brought Shirley, who connected with my writing, and later connected in proposing further opportunity for platform.

It was at that point that I first heard about the group Lift E’vry Voice, and their endeavor of bringing a broader canvas of arts events to Pittsfield.

Speaking with Joe Cacaci, I was able to identify common vision between the two groups, and moot the possibility of a joint activity; Joe and I have been hoping to do a reading of Reconstruction, for some time now, and the moment suggested some synergy for this occurrence.

Reconstruction follows the journey of ‘Ioni’, a character first introduced in The Orion.

With an ambition of presenting The Orion in its first season, it seemed perfect that, if possible, Lift E’vry Voice connect on a table reading of Reconstruction with the Berkshire Playwrights Lab, as the piece had resonance and purpose for both groups.

The conversations started in earnest; the tempo moved quickly, and the result is up coming!

It is wonderful to have found groups and individuals of such generosity and support; there is no telling where this kind of synergy and effort will take us.

But I will keep you posted!

prepping projects..

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..the dog days of summer itch of heat, humidity, and hard work for making the coming autumn professionally viable and prosperous..

There is a project in the works; a table reading of Reconstruction, a play of mine that investigates black history, family memory and social adaptability, in a unique weave of narrative.

In the breadth of this story, a celebrated, black, television executive, Ioni, unexpectedly finds herself grappling with the discovery of a forgotten episode in her family’s history, dating from the 1800’s, when an ancestor, who was an artist, fled the racism of America.

The story moves between the past and present; between a Jim Crow codified America of 1871, and modern day France, where Ioni finds that her ancestor settled, passing for white, and flourished, in full knowledge that his choices irreparably distanced him from America, his race, origins family. In following the threads of her ancestor’s journey, Ioni pierces the veil of the years of ‘unspoken’ that enveloped her family history, and the struggle and choices that lead to its fracture.

The method of ‘storytelling’ in this piece, allows me to present my ethic and belief in what can be done in a ‘black box’ these days. The play incorporates a variety of visual and media mediums [portraits –video –compositions of photography], allowing a weave of cutting edge technology application, into the narrative, creating a dreamlike and suggestive atmosphere, leading an audience to inhabit the world Ioni navigates, as she knits together the nightmares of the past, and the dissonance realities of the present.

The project of the reading is being done by the Berkshire Playwrights Lab, in collaboration with an emerging Arts group in Pittsfield, MA, called Lift E’vry Voice.

At present, we’re looking to do the reading in mid September, at the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts, in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

..this past May, the Berkshire Playwrights Lab had its Gala, and I was asked to write a piece for inclusion in its evening. The piece I wrote is called Groundwork. Though there are not meant to be Press there doing reviews, it seems someone was taking notes in the dark, and has filed something of a report. The ‘review‘ of the evening begins half-way down the page, and is under the title ‘Hurray For One-Acts’ .

..the new school year approaches; DC is again dealing with the Chancellor’s push at establishing a new level of teacher competence and commitment. The dismissal of over 200 teachers has happened in the summer, rather than, like last year, in the first months of class. In addition, over 700 teachers are on notice for performance this year.

Though I firmly believe something radical was needed to recharge the education base in DC, I hope this school year is less wrenching to the students who are meant to benefit.