December 13, 2009

Hipster racism

If you live in Brooklyn, you need to read this article about hipster racism. Not like there's anything new there, but at least it confirms that working-class people and people of color are not crazy when hipster racism is pointed out.

Now if only there was something to do about it. I've often suggested muggings and acts of random violence, but nobody's taken up the challenge yet.

December 5, 2009

Just say no

If the Fair Sentencing Act passes, I anticipate legalized marijuana in about 10 years or so. But I wonder what will happen to all the disproportionately incarcerated Black people in jail over crack cocaine. What about the powder cocaine possessors/distributors? Will their sentences increase?

A good idea, to be sure, but I wonder about what will truly come of it.

November 19, 2009

Seriously, Facebook?

And this is why I'll never join Facebook. Forget Len Whatsherface. Scroll down to the screencaps of ads that Facebooks allows on their site.

August 20, 2009

FringeNYC thus far

So far, I've seen:

The Taming of the Shrew
A Contemporary American's Guide to a Successful Marriage
Dancing with Ghosts

While all four have something to recommend about them, the absolute must-see is A Contemporary American's Guide to a Successful Marriage. If you can go see it, head down to the Cherry Lane Theater by 2:30 today or buy a ticket for the show tomorrow afternoon at 2pm. And if you can't go, you obviously don't believe in marriage, which is un-American, which makes you a communist. Or worse - a homosexual. You don't want to be a communist or a homosexual, do you?

August 16, 2009

It's that time again - FringeNYC!

So my first-year anniversary for being a New Yorker has come, and what better way to celebrate than to attend the New York International Fringe Festival? Imagine - all the indie theatre I can see without being in two places at once!

As to why I'm so excited about this - check out this thing I wrote a while back - "7 Reasons Why Indie Theatre Rocks."

June 17, 2009

Happee Burfday to Me!!!!

Here's what I want:
  1. No drama
  2. Quality time with people who think I'm fabulous
  3. Cake - check
  4. Ice cream - working on it
  5. Raunchy times with Spock
  6. Airplane - check
  7. Pony

June 11, 2009

June 9, 2009

Courtesy of Matt Freeman

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Haaaaahahahahahaha! Ha! Haha! Teehee! Hee hee hee hee! Ho ho ho ho ho ho ho! Ha ha ha ha! Hahahahaha! Hee hee! Hee hee! Ha! Ha! Ha! Haaaaahahaha! Heeeheehee! Ha ha! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Haaaaahahahahahaha! Ha! Haha! Teehee! Hee hee hee hee! Ho ho ho ho ho ho ho! Ha ha ha ha! Hahahahaha! Hee hee! Hee hee! Ha! Ha! Ha! Haaaaahahaha! Heeeheehee! Ha ha! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Haaaaahahahahahaha! Ha! Haha! Teehee! Hee hee hee hee! Ho ho ho ho ho ho ho! Ha ha ha ha! Hahahahaha! Hee hee! Hee hee! Ha! Ha! Ha! Haaaaahahaha! Heeeheehee! Ha ha! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Haaaaahahahahahaha! Ha! Haha! Teehee! Hee hee hee hee! Ho ho ho ho ho ho ho! Ha ha ha ha! Hahahahaha! Hee hee! Hee hee! Ha! Ha! Ha! Haaaaahahaha! Heeeheehee! Ha ha!

Where the Ladies Are

I can't believe I missed this!

Anyway, I should just get down to it and answer some of GreyZelda's questions there.
I've noticed, as of late, that it seems like only men get into the exchanges on a lot of the theatre discussions, particularly. Why is that? Why are we women backing off lately?. . . Where have all the lady bloggers and commenters gone? I know they're out there reading but they're staying mum and I'm not sure why. Any ideas?
I hadn't noticed, but that may be because theatre blogosphere comes off as a bit of a boys' club anyway. So I sort of expect mostly men to be the voices being heard. Not like I agree or think it's a good thing. As for why I'm backing off, read on.
I can only speak for myself but I've definitely backed off from getting into philosophical discussions with the guys online. I realized it was making me emotionally weary and, at the same time, bored and irritated . . . I was still reading the theatre blogs, but I didn't want to join in the discussions anymore. . . . I realized that my comments didn't seem to aid the discussion. The talks appeared to retread the same issues and, to be quite honest, started to reek of a lot of hot air and wind. . . . I wanted to focus on my family and my life.
This is it in a nutshell for me too.

I touched on this in a previous post as well.

Now my circumstances are such that I want to devote more energy to activities that reward me, so I'm devoting more time to Playsmiths, the big copywriting gig I'm working on, and doing more to prepare myself for a bat mitzvah.

Contrary to Scott's accusation that I don't want real interaction, I do enjoy genuine exchange. But the interactions I enjoy is not the kind that it seems people are interested in - at least not interested enough to actually engage in me with it. I'm introspective by nature. I'm most comfortable with focused, personal discussion that digs beneath our surface personas. I require a certain intimacy to feel deeply satisfied by interacting with others. Otherwise I just feel drained. From my experience, it's very difficult to get depth of discourse in theatre blogosphere. It's sort of like I explained in Beyond Religion 101:
I frankly think the way Isaac presents his post (particularly the part quoted above) is kind of a set-up. It presumes a lot about my reasons for calling myself a person of faith or the role religion plays in my life. It also presumes a lot about how I experience God, especially how it undermines the depth and complexity of that experience to one or two cliche variables. And from there, I'm forced to engage with the discussion on those limited grounds (limitations that don't necessarily apply to the people involved) or not engage at all. So, even without meaning to, the way he frames this discussion excludes and marginalizes the very people who could enrich it.
Now, in theatre blogosphere terms, I could easily say the same thing (albeit slightly edited):
I frankly think the way theatre blogosphere discusses things is kind of a setup. 'The talks appear to retread the same issues' (quoted from GreyZelda). And from there, I'm forced to engage with the discussion on those limited grounds (limitations that don't necessarily apply to the people involved) or not engage at all. So, without even meaning to, the way theatre blogsphere frams discussions excludes and marginalizes the very people who could enrich it.
Let's be frank: theatre blogosphere is not exactly a safe space for divergent perspectives. And by this I don't mean simple differences of opinion. I mean different ways of being - different ways of experiencing and understanding the world.

And before people start setting up false dichotomies, it's not that I want Don or Scott or Isaac to shut the fuck up. That's not it at all. But it would be nice to discuss smaller, more personal things a hell of a lot more often.

The fucked up thing is that this has been brought up before: by me (here and here), Laura (there and there), Adam, Mac, DevilVet, and Nick.

But, as always seems the case (especially in discussions about how gender, race, and class intersect with our day-to-day interactions), it gets mentioned but shit never changes.

Breakthrough (aka All About My Grandmother)

One of the struggles I've had with my play so far is making Orixa interesting. In a movement-based piece, you can't rely on witticisms and other verbal tricks. It's hard to convey quirkiness in a play filled with spirits, demons, ghosts, and other beings.

At first, I was kicking and screaming against the idea that my character had to want something, had to be a personality at all.

But as I was working on the play, I had a revelation. It started as I was sitting in the Lincoln Center Barnes & Noble reading Jeffrey Sweet's The Dramatist's Toolkit. In it, he cautioned against making characters too autobiographical. "Change it up!" he says, in so many words. "A different age, different gender, different social class - find at least one way to make the character not like you!"

I resisted the notion at first, for several reasons. First of all, as each play is my own creation, there's nothing in it that's truly outside of me. And even when you do reach a point beyond yourself, you're still the starting point. Second of all, the idea sort of struck me as coming from a privileged perspective. It's easy enough to apply when you're dealing with a demographic that dominates today's theater landscape - but when it comes to authors whose voices are typically marginalized, it's a little bit harder to justify taking that advice full-stop.

But my resistance faltered as I was eating breakfast today and I suddenly - like out of the blue - thought about my grandmother. And I had so many questions! What was Grandma like? Not the Grandma I grew up with, but the one who raised my mother, aunt, and uncles? How did she see and interact with the world? These questions hounded me so much that I called Mom on her job to ask them.

The conversation was revealing in itself, but now I've solved my main problem with this play: I didn't know anything about my main character. As a result, everything seemed generic and nebulous. While what I had was imaginative and potentially very interesting, there was no visceral, emotional connection to it because it wasn't rooted in something concrete for me. So everything I wrote felt bland, trite, and meaningless.

All the feelings surrounding my relationship with Grandma - the joy of recognition, the sorrow at parting, the regret for things unsaid, the yearning to reestablish a connection, the love that needs no words, the humbling respect for a remarkable human being - suddenly surged and bubbled up to the surface, and it's so overwhelming I'm almost crying.

I now know who Orixa is. And her name is/was - Linda Ray Thacker.

May 29, 2009

Flowcharts rule!

That's all I have to say, really. But to make it more pertinent . . .

I'm really digging the non-linear format. It lets me note simultaneous action and offer choices to everyone without having to spell it all out in "chronological" order (which means actors, directors, designers, etc. have to hunt down the information instead of just see the parts that apply to them). With all the shapeshifting and transformations that happen in the story, it makes it a lot easier to keep track of things.

Of course, I'll probably have to submit to standard script format eventually - which I'll likely do kicking and screaming. But at least I'm putting up some resistance.

After the first full draft is hammered out, I'll probably invest in some index cards.

But that probably means I won't be able to let you be as close to the process as you were earlier. :(

BTW, I'm now involved in a playwrights' group called Playsmiths. This ain't your Too Cool For You type of group, for which I'm thankful. I won't pimp them too hard, but if there are actors and directors who want to work on interesting new work. Did I mention interesting and new? Oh, I did? Well let me remind you again. These are new works by new playwrights that are really fucking interesting. None of the American Family in Crisis crap. No Theatre of the Great White Man. And definitely no motherfucking Broadway revivals of popular (and often mediocre) films! So . . . No Transformers: The Musical. No Pirates of the Caribbean: Beating the Dead Horse. No Matrix: Regurgitations. OK, there are occasionally talking animals, but nothing ripping off Disney.

So if you're in New York City during the weekends, shoot me an e-mail or reply to this post if you want to get involved.

April 28, 2009

Richard Nelson's speech

Read it here. (H/t Isaac at Parabasis.)

The whole thing is worth reading, but here are some gems:

  • The profession of playwright, the role of the playwright in today’s American theater . . . is under serious attack. Some who attack are simply greedy, some ignorant, some can’t understand why theater isn’t TV or film. But perhaps the greatest threat to the playwright in today’ s theater comes from . . . those who want ‘to help.’

  • . . . I am not saying that a playwright should avoid and ignore comments and reactions to his work . . . But I am saying that our mindset toward playwrights should be this: 1) the playwright knows what he is doing, 2) perhaps the play as presented is as it should be. So that the onus for change is not on the playwright but on others, on the theater . . . How to improve a play should be the domain of the writer, with the theater supplying potential tools, a reading say, or a workshop with clearly delineated goals. These are tools that should evolve out of a need, as opposed to being a given.

  • . . . I have watched actors and directors approach classical plays that have massive contradictions and address those plays not as works to be fixed, but rather to be solved. So I am arguing for a theater where the mindset is not to fix new plays, but to solve them.

  • Rules for writing plays. My god. One hears young playwrights being told what a play ‘must do,’ or ‘how a play works.’ One hears writers being told that a character’s ‘journey’ isn’t clear enough, or that the writer needs to determine a character’s ‘motivation.’ One hears how a play has to ‘build’ in a certain way, or how ‘the conflict’ isn’t strong enough. These are terms that seem to suggest a deep understanding of what a play is and how it is put together, but in fact they tell us very little. Perhaps a particular play might be helped by one of these suggestions, but they (and other ‘rules’) are too generally prescribed . . . The playwright doesn’t write out of ‘motivations’ but rather out of truth and reality, out of people and story and worlds he or she wishes or needs to create for us.

April 22, 2009

Theater and Immanence

Back in the main post and comments section of Beyond Religion 101, I contradicted the assertion in Isaac's Coherence, Theater, God post that a religious approach to theater hinges on the coherence of a performance or text rather than its aliveness.

I initially answered by saying that it's a difficult thing to communicate at the drop of a hat, and that the best way to understand the mystical experience of theater is to, well, experience it.

But after a few days to think about it, I have a more coherent (ha-ha) response to the idea that a religious approach to theater is more about what it means than about what it is or does.

When a lot of people talk about the purpose of religion or the God experience, they often talk in terms of transcendence. Going back to Isaac's post, the coherence of theater is closer to a transcendent religious experience. You know that point where we've figured something out, that we know what it means, that we see how all the parts fit together? That's what I'm talking about.

But there's another God experience that often gets overlooked: immanence.

The aliveness of theater Isaac talks about is more closely linked to the immanent religious experience. Have you ever experienced the fullness of a moment, that feeling of wonder at the simplest and most ordinary things, that feeling of being overwhelmed at the vastness of existence. This is what I mean.

The scope of this blog is insufficient for a full exploration of these concepts. Entire religious traditions have been built around them. But at the very least, I hope that I've opened up a way to explore a different understanding of a religious approach to theater.

April 15, 2009

I miss words now

I've been wrestling with this piece for a few months now, probably closer to a year, and I can't seem to progress, only write in circles.

In the meantime, I've been neglecting some other stories I wanted to work with, stories that use - gasp! - dialogue.

I feel that right now, my persistence is working against this piece. Perhaps I'm just not ready for this play yet, and I need time to work on other things first. Rather than force the play through (which results in the play feeling forced), I'm going to set it aside and come back to it later, when there's something I feel compelled to write with it. Then at least I'll be working with something real instead of something I squeezed from my brain out of sheer determination.

So don't be surprised if the next bit of writing is a bit different.

April 14, 2009

Beyond Religion 101

Over at Parabasis, Isaac posts Coherence, Theatre God. The gist of the post is summarized as follows:
Carroll, being both a novelist and a devout Catholic, sees the human aspect of theatre coming not from the liveness of the event but rather the coherence of the text, because in that coherence of moment to moment, meaning is created (or at least meaninglessness is denied).
. . . . . . . . . . .

For me, it strikes me as an acutely religious (or spiritual anyway) understand of the dramatic art.
. . . . . . . . . . .

To me, part of what is beautiful and ennobling both about being an atheist and about being an artist is that we get to create our own coherence and thus meaning.
I was tempted to reply in his comments about how his whole line of questioning is suspect and and just how fucking wrong he is about the meaning of faith and belief, as well as the difference between faith, belief, and dogma.

Then I thought better of it and decided to post my thoughts on my own blog.

I'm going to come clean about something so that people who have religious discussions with me can actually get somewhere. Here it is:

I am not interested in Religion 101 discussions. Does God exist? Is the Bible literally true? Is homosexuality a sin? Let me make it easy for everybody . . .

I. Don't. Care.

Those types of grade school-level ontological questions bore the fuck out of me. The discussions they produce always go in the same circles and never reveal anything new. And I'm fucking tired of talking about them.

Just like I'm not thrilled about making well-made plays, I'm not interested in talking about who believes what. I'm far more intrigued by the cutting edge of contemporary religious thought (particularly with how people experience and/or express God), and you don't get that when you're dealing with people whose religious education consists of what's spoon-fed to children. The religious avant-garde (and I don't mean New Age) approaches our experience of God in a way that's deep, subtle, and complex. This appeals to me far more than rebutting the gross misrepresentation of faith in public discourse.

I recently had the opportunity to attend the Religious-Secular Divide conference at The New School early in March. Why? Because I get to ask shit like this:
  • To what extent do the intersections of religious and secular identities - for example, queer Black Jews or transgender Latina Catholics - play into or resist the compartmentalization of selfhood as lived through individual experience?
  • What are some strategies for: developing new definitions for religious and secular that are nuanced, subtle, complex, and rooted in lived experience; taking the public discourse between religion and secularity away from academic and media strongholds and into other areas of public discourse (including but not limited to blogs and other social media); and bringing religious ideas and values into the public discourse for addressing secular issues facing people today?
(Side note: I have to gloat here. I fucking stumped the people on the panel - people with motherfucking PhDs in this shit. This is how I know I'm PhD material. Fuck a Master's.)

(Note to educated White folks: Read that last part a few times before you start talking down to me - about anything. Chances are that whatever comes out of my mouth goes way over your fucking head. Do me a favor and acknowledge that then let me explain myself better instead of assuming that I don't know how to fucking communicate.)

Back to Isaac's blog post.

In the comments, Tony asks a couple of really good questions:

In practical terms, does a religious writer necessarily have a overtly different type of coherence in a work than a non-religious writer?

Does having a different way of seeing how our world is created automatically equal a different way of creating a work?

I think that helps steer conversation in a better direction, but it doesn't go far enough for me - doesn't go far enough in addressing the implicit and problematic assumptions behind Isaac's post or far enough in opening the discussion to genuinely different points of view.

Let me address the implicit assumptions first.

I'll be fair and acknowledge that Isaac doesn't want to offend anyone and apologizes in advance for doing so. Fine. But to prevent future offense, I feel compelled to explain the source of the offense in my case.

I frankly think the way Isaac presents his post (particularly the part quoted above) is kind of a set-up. It presumes a lot about my reasons for calling myself a person of faith or the role religion plays in my life. It also presumes a lot about how I experience God, especially how it undermines the depth and complexity of that experience to one or two cliche variables. And from there, I'm forced to engage with the discussion on those limited grounds (limitations that don't necessarily apply to the people involved) or not engage at all. So, even without meaning to, the way he frames this discussion excludes and marginalizes the very people who could enrich it.

As far as opening the discussion to divergent points of view, it's simple: ask more genuinely open-ended questions - questions that overtly assume nothing or are at least open about the limitations of those assumptions.

So, rather than linking a religious response to theater as by necessity rooted in the search for a predetermined meaning or coherence, why not come out and ask us how religion interacts with our experience of the aliveness of theater?

That is a far more interesting question than whether aliveness or coherence is the predominant mode of a religious experience of theater.

And to answer the question I really want to answer, it's really difficult to describe in words. Like most things that are truly profound, it has to be experienced.

March 14, 2009

Still Black, still real

I know it's been a while.

I've honestly been swamped with work and resolving personal and business issues.

I'm still Black, though. Still real.

But I think I can handle it a little better for the time being.

March 4, 2009

Being Black, being real

I'm about to get real for a moment. So if seeing a Black woman express herself with passion and conviction rubs you the wrong way, I suggest you return to the delusional world you live in where people of color aren't supposed to feel anything about the way White people treat them. Not like you're a stranger there, anyway.

This post brings up a lot about what frustrates me about talking about Black identity and racism with well-meaning White people - that racism is about hate. It isn't. Racism is about power. I can deal with a bigot. I can't deal with an environment that undermines my humanity at every turn.

Even the way you frame this post kind of makes me squirm because it smacks of this attitude that "progressive" White people have that subtly - and not-so-subtly - places the onus of eradicating racism upon the shoulders of those oppressed by it. Whether White people choose to acknowledge it or not, they often place this sort of pressure on people of color to do all the heavy lifting. We have to educate you on the realities we live with everyday. We have to do so in a way that caters to your tastes, appeals to your sense of noblesse oblige, soothes or eradicates any guilt you may feel as a result, and still defer to you as the ultimate arbiter of all that is true and beautiful and good. We're supposed to display endless patience with your attempts to cling to your innocence, endless willingness to educate you even when you show yourselves to be willfully ignorant, endless gratitude that one so glorious as you would stoop so low as to want to treat with us as equally, and endless selflessness to transcend our own pain - to treat it as not real - to make it easier for you to unlearn how to oppress us. Apparently, we're not supposed to express the pain, or fear, or despair, or anger at how we are treated every moment of our waking lives outside the safe zones we carve out for ourselves.

All the while you still don't know the privilege you have to treat racism as an abstract concept, not a reality that people wrestle with every time they interact with you and the people who look like you. You have no idea what it's like to keep your armor on all the time lest those nearest and dearest to you - those who profess deep and abiding friendship that feels closer to family - may say or do something that cuts you to the quick because it says, even if in a whisper, that your thoughts, your feelings, your dreams, your ideas, your very existence, is at best less than theirs and at worst nothing at all. You have no idea how hard it is to trust you with anything important - that is, anything regarding your deepest self - because you don't know if you will treat it with the care and respect it deserves or if you will use it like a toy or disregard it altogether. You have no idea how it feels to have to smother your spirit - or what is left of it - to make yourself less threatening to those around you. You have no idea what it feels like to be exceptional and treated as mediocre. You have no idea how it feels to need to get angry to stave off despair, how it feels to have to bottle up all the hurt at seeing the injustices that the world tosses at you everyday because that hurts less than people telling you how to feel about it and respond to it.

Point of fact is: I'm tired. I'm tired of being expected to be exponentially more capable and virtuous than you simply to be viewed as average. I'm tired of having to be as non-violent as Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi (combined), as serene as Buddha, as forgiving as Jesus, as patient as Job, as compassionate as Mother Theresa and as wise as Solomon just to be seen as a typical human being.

And most of all: I'm tired of you treating me as though I exist for you and not for me.

March 2, 2009

Fairy tale gumbo

It just came to my attention that there is a real-world equivalent for the world I'm creating with my play: the Louisiana bayou. I have to admit that I do associate that environment with a certain magic. And there's the gumbo of influences to consider too: Voodoo, Yoruba, European fairy tales, and Japanese theater. If I think about it, it's pretty Creole. Even the environments I envision have a sort of swampyness to it. Tangled roots, overhanging branches, rich black earth, owls, outlines of strange creatures (a dog? a wolf?), shadows slinking through the water (an alligator? a water monster?), weird lights, and so on.

February 27, 2009

Dreams and panels

Apparently the panel thing works as far as getting my script from Point A to Point B. But I have to admit I'm still apprehensive. Is this enough to work with? Are the aesthetic qualities clear? Do the scenes strike you as complete narratives in and of themselves, or do they need "help"?

For example, in this scene (Panel 5), I write:

Is that enough to hinge a performance on? Do I need to say more about the quality of movement? I admit that some of this may be me trying to make my script actor-proof or director-proof, but . . . like I said, I'm not sure.

I suppose I'm second-guessing the relative simplicity of the text. I feel like I'm leaving out so much that I want to put in there. And I feel like I'm expecting collaborators to "complete" my script instead of giving them something that's complete to begin with.

I don't know. Actors? Directors?

Is there anybody out there willing to help me out with this?

Third dream

WITCH leading child-Orixa, who has very long dreads, into glade.

STONES falling into place as a tower.

Tower growing as Orixa grows.

Stones transforming into VOODOO DOLLS.

Witch manipulating dolls to good or bad fortune.

Dolls changing into PEOPLE who prosper or suffer according to Witch's actions.

Orixa examining dolls.

Witch transforming into an owl and flying out, leaving behind her comb.

Orixa picking up comb and examining it.

Orixa making Voodoo Doll as Witch.

Orixa thinking deeply.

Orixa stabbing doll with red pin or needle.

Witch returning as wounded owl, perhaps shot with a hunter's arrow.

Witch changing back into human form.

Orixa and Witch looking at each other.

Witch grabbing Orixa and hacking off her hair.

Orixa jumping from tower.

Stones transforming into BRIARS as Orixa falls.

Briars becoming TREES as Orixa wanders, blind.

Orixa coming to a fallow clearing.

Orixa planting seeds.

Seeds growing into garden of lush RAPUNZEL lettuces or cabbages.

Orixa tending to garden.

PEASANT sneaking into garden and taking a few rapunzels.

February 24, 2009

Second dream

Moving right along . . .

Briars change into TREES.

Orixa as Red Riding Hood walking along a path.

Orixa veering off path.

Trees rearranging themselves.

Orixa lost in wilderness.

Trees changing into ZOMBIES.

Zombies chasing Orixa.

Orixa arriving at Grandmother's house.

GRANDMOTHER feeding Orixa minced meat pie.

Orixa finding human finger bone.

Orixa looking for Grandmother.

Orixa finding wolf pelt.

Orixa in Grandmother's bedroom.

Grandmother dressing Orixa in pelt.

Orixa transforming into wolf.

Orixa devouring Grandmother.

Orixa eating minced meat pie.

First dream

I'll go by what I said in the comments of this post to see how it works. Instead of writing scenes as such, I created something more like comic book panels. Being without a scanner or digital camera, it's not possible for me to upload pictures. And I won't even both trying to draw anything using a mouse.

I don't know. It feels scant. Is it enough to base a performance on?

ORIXA wandering in a dense fog.

ANANSI in the form of an old woman coming along.

Orixa and Anansi sharing a cigar (or perhaps some other substance stuffed in a cigar) and rum.

Anansi transforming into a spider.

Anansi weaving cloth from night sky.

Anansi wrapping Orixa in cloth.

Orixa tossing and turning as she sleeps.

BRIARS growing around Orixa.

My play as a Black play

I was reading the Paula Vogel interview in The Playwright's Muse, and I discovered something pretty outrageous about my play - in a good way. See, I did not set out to make any kind of political statement with my piece, none at all. It's not like I wanted to keep my work "pure" of politics. I'm just not consciously creating a political piece. Then I read a couple of things in that interview that made me pause. First:
I think that form is content . . . I've always been more interested . . . in the formal devices and the structure rather than in the subject matter . . . But I really am a follower of Viktor Shklovsky, who said that in some ways the subject matter doesn't even matter. It's whether or not we see the subject matter anew that matters.
And then:
Women and writers of color are still seen as threats because, in essence, when a woman or writer of color is defining a play world, there's another definition of what our society is, and that's very threatening.
I realized how amazingly political that piece of information is considering other facts about me as the writer and the work itself, such as:
  1. The playwright - myself - is a queer Black Jewish woman.
  2. I'm retelling some of my favorite fairy tales through a lens colored by the mythology and religion of West Africa and the African Diaspora.
  3. I'm borrowing heavily from traditional and avant-garde Japanese theatrical ideas and aesthetics.
Not exactly a textbook example of the Theater of the Great White Man. And then I kept probing, asking questions of myself and my work that sort of frightened me the more I thought about it.
  1. What is subversive about my writing?
  2. How do I put my Black womanhood into my work?
  3. What does my work say about the Black experience, if anything?
As I was looking at the piece I'm working on now, I realized something peculiar. I noticed how freely I used West African and African Diaspora mythology and religion as formal elements of my work. I noticed how easily I imagined Orixa as a Black woman without also imagining other characters as White. I noticed how naturally this all came to me, with little if any conscious or deliberate choices on my part. I saw how I'm creating a play that is by and about Black people without it being about Being Black [in America]. This piece I'm working on now is thoroughly Black yet creates a world rooted in myth, religion, and art - expressions drawn from the depths of human existence - and White people are not at the center or at the root of it.

Take a moment to let this sink in.

My play, a play written by a Black woman and about Black people, does not define Blackness as the fucked up shit White people do to us, but as our stories, our songs, our beliefs, and our rituals as they are passed across generations through words, through blood, and through spirit.

My play, a play written by a Black woman about Black people, does not express its Blackness as tragic, ridiculous, enraged, pathetic, or simplistic but as creative, enchanting, fluid, complex, and heroic.

My play, a play written by a Black woman and about Black people, does not reflect Blackness as shown in mass media, but as it is lived on an individual and collective level.

My play, a play written by a Black woman and about Black people, does not recreate history or document life as it is today, but creates the world anew through a lens colored by the deeper currents of the human experience.

My play, a play written by a Black woman and about Black people, does not downplay its Blackness to make it more palatable, more "universal," but assumes universality from the start.

My play, a play written by a Black woman and about Black people, does not set out to make a statement about The Black Experience, but to invite you - all of you - into a new reality.

Do you have any idea how fucking rare that is? Do you have any idea what this means?

Blackness is not a barrier to or divider of humanity, but a clear and complete expression of it.

February 22, 2009


I recently discovered - or rather, rediscovered - a word for the kind of movement I'm going for.

It's Butoh, a Japanese avant-garde dance (form? technique? philosophy?) "tradition." Check out a video from one of the more renowned Butoh groups here.

I'm not married to the form of Butoh (even though it is fucking awesome), but I love what lies beneath it. I'm completely infatuated with how Butoh approaches performance, how it embodies ideas, objects, and creatures instead of just expressing them. Butoh is the essence of what I want to communicate to those who put on my work. I want to write in a way that's "empty" - that is, not imposing a form or meaning, but allowing it to reveal them via performance. Perhaps, for a better visual metaphor, a script that's like water - substantial yet without form.

I was going somewhere with this at first, but I lost my thought. Hm. I guess I'll expand on it later.

February 15, 2009

And more Japanese theater!

I've been on a real kick with Japanese theater. Don't know why, but it appeals to me in a way American theater doesn't. At the very least, it's given me some way to refer to other styles when I talk about the play I'm doing, which is experimental to say the least. With the works I've looked at lately, I've gained more confidence in the uniqueness of what I'm doing and how I'm approaching my current piece.

There's something about the totally obvious theatricality of Japanese theater that makes me engage with it. I want my audience to have this same experience (more on this later). Somehow, being invited not to take the work literally did something to my brain. It sort of told my rational mind to shut the fuck up and concentrate on what's really going on instead of getting sidetracked by ephemera such as lights, sets, and costumes. Not that those aren't important, but they have no need to be completely plausible or logically consistent. In fact, too much consistency in the externals sometimes detracts from my enjoyment of the story, as if perhaps I was distracted from the deeper truths within it.

The main issue I'm having - and I wonder if Noh theater artists have the same problem - is how to translate the substance of the piece from my head to the page. When I envision the transformations and interactions going on in the story of the play I'm working on, they work very well. I can even imagine the stage, the lighting, even the audience. But how do I get that across on the page in a way that opens potential collaborators to its possibilities? You have no idea how frustrating it is when I say that this-or-that changes into such-and-such, only to have people go, "Do you mean for this to be on a projector?" and look at their blank or disbelieving faces when I say, "No."

Part of it, I think, is a preoccupation with naturalism, even in works that are clearly fantasy. There's a certain lack of engagement with the imagination, as if imagination is something that happens to you rather than something you bring with you wherever you go. Somehow, even with the clear invitation to leave behind our everyday notions of reality, we need to be consumed with an illusion.

Another thing I'm not always sure I know how to answer is, "What's your play about?" I may have mentioned this before, but I don't really write plays for plot or character. I write to create worlds (as in types of realities) for my audience to experience. If I had to pin it down, my enjoyment of a piece hinges heavily on the world it creates. Character, plot, setting, and so forth reflect that world - or rather, are manifestations of it - but they aren't things in and of themselves. It doesn't have to be overtly fantastical, either. Think Spike Lee (especially his early stuff like School Daze) or Quentin Tarantino (particularly Pulp Fiction). Even at their most seemingly realistic, there are hints of a different world, usually reflected through how characters speak and interact.

But the question remains: How do I write in such a way as to help people - especially performers and crew members - make that leap?

January 19, 2009

Interesting comment on Parabasis

Over at Parabasis, Isaac talks about Charles Isherwood's opinions regarding contemporary actresses and roles like Hedda Gabler ("There He Goes Again"). In the comments section, Jason Grote has this to say about today's dramaturgs:

" . . . at the risk of alienating my many dramaturg friends, there is a tendency to want to squeeze out any hint of mystery in a new play by subjecting every little story or character quirk that doesn't correspond to a cause-effect universe. I do imagine that a modern-day Ibsen would constantly have to field questions along the lines of, "but WHY is she such an asshole," or [SPOILER ALERT] "but WHY does she kill herself?"
Let's not leave that interesting note hanging, shall we?

As a playwright, it's something I always have to deal with, even with pieces I flat-out say are works in progress! As I said in "What does it mean? What does it MEAN?", I usually don't have a fucking clue. If I did, I'd just say whatever it is I'm trying to say in a more direct medium. Like, I dunno, an article in a medical journal or some shit.

What was your experience with the "But why . . .?" phenomenon? How did it affect your work? How does its existence affect your past, current, and future relationships with other theatre artists? Do you feel you have to "fend off" this mentality before engaging with the work? What should replace this mode of thinking?

When working on the piece itself, how do we get beyond "But why . . . "? What role do actors and directors play in this process? Is there a way to preserve the mystery of a piece while helping the audience see it for what it is? How do you do that?

Did I mention I'm on a real Susan Sontag kick right now?

January 17, 2009

Meme: Shakespeare Character Most Like You

Here's a meme geared toward self-discovery (or rather, exposure - I'm all for exposure, whether decent or indecent).

What Shakespeare character is most like you? Why? You are TEH WIN if you provide a quote.

I recently found out that I'm most like Beatrice. Apparently I have a wicked way with words, and I often don't know my own strength. It doesn't make me Miss Popular, but I sort of like knowing the power I wield over words (and hence, perceptions). Just don't provoke my bloodthirsty streak.

Anyway, here's a quote that can easily be said about me . . .
O, she misused me past the endurance of a block! An oak but with one green leaf on it would have answered her; my very visor began to assume life and scold with her. She told me, not thinking I had been myself, that I was the Prince's jester, that I was duller than a great thaw; huddling jest upon jest with such impossible conveyance upon me that I stood like a man at a mark, with a whole army shooting at me. She speaks poniards, and every word stabs. If her breath were as terrible as her terminations, there were no living near her; she would infect the North Star. I would not marry her though she were endowed with all that Adam had left him before he transgressed. She would have made Hercules have turned spit, yea, and have cleft his club to make the fire too. Come, talk not of her. You shall find her the infernal Ate in good apparel. I would to God some scholar would conjure her, for certainly, while she is here, a man may live as quiet in hell as in a sanctuary; and people sin upon purpose, because they would go thither; so indeed all disquiet, horror, and perturbation follows her.
Now if only I had some princes, dukes, and whatnot to hook me up with a Benedick.

January 14, 2009

I wrote a scene! (Snow White)

(Note: This part of the play continues from the Rapunzel portion. Like the red cloak going from Sleeping Beauty to Red Riding Hood, I'm imagining the mirror somehow transferring from Rapunzel. This may change later, though.)

We are mirrors in the queen's private rooms, watching and judging all. The place has an air of decayed splendor.

There is a magic MIRROR that is a statue of perfect beauty - tall, thin, and pale with dark hair and blood red lips. It wears a Mona Lisa expression and holds a mirror in its hands. Despite its beauty, there's something creepy about it - as if, when we gaze at it, it gazes back and finds what it sees ugly or pathetic.

Orixa paces, fresh from a bath. She is now approaching menopause, but there remains an elegance to her. She examines herself in the magic mirror. Notices crows' feet at her eyes and brow, wrinkles on her mouth, stray gray strands of hair (all of which maybe only she can see).

SNOW WHITE enters as if going inside a secret chamber within a temple. She bears an eerie resemblance to the magic mirror.

[Mood music: The Velvet Underground, "Venus in Furs"]

Snow White dresses Orixa, applies her make-up (a face mask, perhaps?), and does her hair. There is something erotic about how reverent and meticulous she is. This is no chore, but a kind of liturgy. She may even sneak kisses onto Orixa's feet and hands.

Meanwhile, Orixa struggles to keep her regal reserve and avoid looking at Snow White. Snow White places a crown on her head. Orixa now resembles a kabuki dominatrix - a terrible beauty with clothes for armor and make-up as war paint.

Orixa admires herself in the magic mirror. The mirror gives an approving nod. It could even glance at Snow White.

Orixa notices Snow White waiting with neck bared. Considers. Pounces on Snow White, bites, and gorges on her blood. Holds Snow White in fierce, predatory embrace as Snow White clings to her (may even shiver and cry out in ecstasy). Orixa tears away. Harshly dismisses Snow White.

[Mood music: Bauhaus, "Bela Lugosi's Dead"]

Orixa allows the blood of youth and life to flow into her, invigorating her. Marvels at the breath coming from her lungs, the heart beating in her chest. All her earlier coldness melts away as she succumbs to rapture. Dances for joy - free, expressive, graceful.

When the magic fades, Orixa literally tries to hold on to it. She fails.

January 6, 2009

What does it mean? What does it MEAN?!

Why are we so reluctant to discuss the meaning of our work?

We have conversations about the meanings of art all the time while making it and yet... we get reluctant to share these conversations with our audiences.

Some of this reluctance is understandable to me. You don't want to dominate someone's understanding of the work, and culturally we are trained to accept an artists' interpretation of their own work as paramount. Also, audiences/viewers can themselves chafe at the dominance of the artists' viewpoint. I am particularly hostile to directors notes that tell me how to feel think and respond to what I'm about to see. But surely there's a difference between telling someone before they see something how they should respond to it and discussing it with them, right?

Which gets me back to an old saw, one i deploy all the time and I see my fellow artists deploy: I want to make art that asks interesting/difficult/meaningful questions rather than giving answers. Which is something I do agree with, but at the same time as artists, certainly we come up with at least a few answers to the questions posed by the work we do, even if we don't put those answers into the work itself.

I think the sticky wicket is this: How do we discuss our own interpretation of a work in a way that invites others into the dialogue, to have their own interpretations of it, to approach it in their own way and derive meaning from it, even if we (strongly) disagree with their interpretations or the meaning they derive from it? How do we lead those conversations? How do we use our expertise (we are experts in our own art, after all) without becoming dominant authorities?
Oh, just load it up while you're at it, why don'tcha, Isaac?

If I'm quite honest with myself, my reluctance to talk about meaning in my work is simple - I really don't know.

There, I said it.

I don't know what my work means. If I did, I'd rather just write an essay or something and get right to the point instead of dancing around it and being deliberately obtuse.

But the fact of the matter is I'm more interested in creating an experience instead of choosing or laying out an interpretive thrust for the play. To be frank, that's why I write for theater. I know I'm supposed to spend my energy on story and character and what not, but I'm afraid that's just not what I do.

This current play attempts to create a sense of enchantment - a sense or intuition of a deeper, richer reality than is apparent on the surface. It's a pretty nuanced thing to go for, so I'm not sure if I'm explaining it right. But there it is.

January 3, 2009

Dead end play?

I don't know why, but I can't progress with this play. I keep redoing the same scene(s) over and over, and I can't quite move forward. It's not like I don't have ideas. I just can't get them on paper. And I'm thinking about another script I want to start on too (film?).

I don't know what to do. I could try to sludge through this, and I'm constantly berating myself for not gaining more ground. But it's just - stuck. What's going on here?