Tom Minter's Off The Stoop Blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘The Orion

..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.

..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!

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.