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?