Thursday, May 16, 2013

A Few Words About Tarell Alvin McCraney

 
Tarell Alvin McCraney

I was introduced to playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney through his seminal work The Brothers Size. The Public Theater decided to mount a limited engagement of this new voice that was just about to graduate from the Yale School of Drama. Ilene Rosen, who was then director of marketing at The Public, called me to provide marketing assistance for the production. She sent me the script. I read it. But, my response to it was so unexpected.


After reading The Brothers Size I burst into tears and cried for a very long time. By allowing me into the world/lives of young black men, sharing their truths/his truth, Tarell, in the words of Ntozake Shange, was “layin’ me open to myself”. The experience of reading the play was shattering because it blew up every notion of what I thought it meant to be young, black and male in America in the 21st century. The language, the emotion, the action of The Brothers Size caught me completely off guard and I was thrilled by it. I knew at that moment I would always say “Yes” to bringing Tarell’s work to the broadest possible audience – especially to black folks. Even if my marketing services were not professionally engaged, I would be an ambassador for his work. I committed to sharing with anyone who would listen about the wonder of Tarell because his stories told us who we are, where we’ve been and where we are going. And his stories made people talk – to each other. Not all of the conversations were easy, but people talked about Tarell and how he saw the world. That said it is important for him to continue to tell his truth so the next generation of playwrights can tell theirs. There would be no Tarell without August. No August without Lorraine. No Lorraine without Langston.


When Debra Waxman-Pilla, director of marketing at Manhattan Theatre Club (MTC), told me that the theater was going to mount Tarell’s new play Choir Boy – and asked if I was available to assist with marketing the production to a broader audience -- I jumped on the opportunity. Tarell’s body of work had grown tremendously. The Brothers Size was part of a trilogy called the Brother/Sister Plays (I will be forever grateful to Tarell for introducing NYC to the limitless range of the actress Kimberly H├ębert Gregory). And then there was Wig Out! plus several more. Choir Boy, a new play featuring gospel music? Written by Tarell? What??? Of course, I wanted to be part of this new journey.

I attended a reading of Choir Boy at MTC at the end of January 2013. What a joyous occasion! Tarell was in the room – I had not seen him in a good while. And Chuck Cooper, the amazing Chuck Cooper, was part of the cast.

Again, I was moved beyond words by Tarell’s work. Like The Brothers Size, the lives of young black men in Choir Boy were played out in ways that were both familiar and unexpected. How he chose to feature gospel music, sung a cappella, underscored the play’s emotional impact on me. I was particularly struck by the way a non-gospel song, “Love Ballad,” one of my favorite songs by the 70s R & B group LTD (Love, Togetherness & Devotion), was presented. I was so taken by the moment I could not remember the correct name of the song. I called it: “What we have is much more than they can see.” The line is part of the chorus and also the final words of the song. The actor, Kyle Beltran, who sang “Love Ballad“ during the reading, helped me find/know/feel/see the scared in something secular. “I have never been so much in love before,” the first words from the song took on new meaning for me as well. Through Choir Boy, Tarell Alvin McCraney and his truth telling was layin’ me open to the new, the familiar, the bold, the unexpected, and to our common humanity -- AGAIN.


I find/found Tarell in myself. And love/ loved him -- Fiercely.


About the play
Tarell Alvin McCraney’s CHOIR BOY,
the new play featuring gospel music
Directed by Trip Cullman
with Nicholas L. Ashe, Kyle Beltran, Grantham Coleman, Chuck Cooper, Austin Pendleton, Jeremy Pope and Wallace Smith


CHOIR BOY was commissioned by MTC with support from Time Warner Inc.
CHOIR BOY is a co-production with Alliance Theatre.


The Charles R. Drew Prep School for Boys is dedicated to the creation of strong, ethical black men. Pharus wants nothing more than to take his rightful place as leader of the school's legendary gospel choir. Can he find his way inside the hallowed halls of this institution if he sings in his own key?


Tarell Alvin McCraney is author of The Brother/Sister Trilogy: The Brothers Size, In the Red and Brown Water, & Marcus; Or the Secret of Sweet. His other works include Wig Out! set in New York's drag clubs and The Breach which deals with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He was the first recipient of The New York Times' Outstanding Playwright Award, the 2009 Steinberg Playwrights Award, and the Paula Vogel Playwriting Award.


Manhattan Theater Club
The Studio at Stage II
131 West 55th Street , NYC
Previews Begin: Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Opening Night: Tuesday, July 2, 2013


Tickets on sale now! All Seats $30



Friday, December 21, 2012

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Why I Love Colman Domingo And Other Thoughts

 I first met Colman Domingo in 2008 when I was part of the marketing team for the Tony Award winning musical PASSING STRANGE. I thought that both he and the musical were amazing. He is an artist of great skill, depth and scope. AND he is not hard on the eyes.

In 2010 I witnessed Colman's work as a playwright and solo performer. A BOY AND HIS SOUL was an autobiographical trip through his life in Philadelphia underscored and punctuated by some serious soul music. I laughed, sang and cried during that 90 minutes. I, too, hail from Philly so it was great to hear the music and recognize the places that held great meaning for me.

Next up, a Tony nomination for THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS.  Although many in the African-American community were outraged by the work, Colman never, ever lost focus or his dignity as an artist, serving as a bridge between the producers, director and the community.

With the opening of the Signature Theatre's new $75 million space on West 42nd Street, I finally got to see Colman perform in a play -- Athol Fugard's BLOOD KNOT. All I could say after that performance was "Wow." Up until that point I had only known Colman as a song-and-dance-musical-theater-guy. Fugard makes the actor and the audience dig deep. And dig we did. I couldn't wait to see him do another play. Little did I know the next play I would see him in would be WILD WITH HAPPY -- an ensemble piece that he wrote.

WILD WITH HAPPY takes us to the bizarre comedy that lies between death and healing.  I have never laughed so hard or cried so much  during a production. Why? Because Colman always delivers me to a place that allows me to embrace/celebrate my humanity fully, without question and without judgement.

Want to experience why I love Colman Domingo? Go see WILD WITH HAPPY. It is playing at The Public Theater (425 Lafayette St @ Astor Place) through November 18, 2012. Use code STORM and get your tickets for $25. 212.967.7555. www.publictheater.org. www.colmandomingo.com

CULTURE CLASH AT THE PIANO LESSON

I went to see THE PIANO LESSON, the stunning rival of the Pulitzer Prize winning drama by August Wilson, deftly directed by Tony winner Ruben Santiago-Hudson. This Saturday matinee was sold-out with a wonderfully diverse audience of black and white theater goers.

Well -- the white folks in the audience did not, I repeat did not, like the call and response/commenting tradition of black audiences. When black folks started to talk, we got shushed! SHUSHED! Shushed and shut down. There was very little vocalizing after the shush shutdown. Later on during the performance one lone "Oh Oh!" was met by much sucking of the teeth. When I left the theater, I heard two white women laughing about the running commentary of the people behind them and how "terribly annoying" it all was.

All I could think of was the line from PURLIE VICTORIOUS by Ossie Davis -- and I am sure I am paraphrasing this:  "It sure is fun being colored -- when there ain't nobody looking."

THE PIANO LESSON is playing at Signature Theatre, 480 W. 42nd Street through December 16. www.signaturetheatre.org., 212.244.7529. Go see it. And make some noise.

ICED OUT

My good friend Mo Beasley has co-written a play called ICED OUT. It is a drama infused with movement, music, spoken word, monologues and scenes that draw a straight line between the legacy of slavery and the conditions/behavior/lives of the descendants of the enslaved. It is a riveting work with tour de force performances from Stephanie Berry and Bianca LaVerne Jones. GO SEE IT. It runs through November 18 at the National Black Theatre, www.nationalblacktheatre.org, 212.722.3800, 2033 5th Avenue @ 125th Street, NYC.

Monday, June 18, 2012

A Few Words About Walter Dallas, The Amen Corner and Project1Voice

In just a few hours a cast of stellar performers, including Tony Award winners Lillias White, Chuck Cooper and Adriane Lenox, will take the stage at Gerald W. Lynch Theatre at John Jay College to present a benefit reading of James Baldwin's THE AMEN CORNER. The reading is part of a nationwide event called 1Voice, 1Play, 1Day, presented by Project1Voice, a grass roots movement dedicated to preserving and promoting the legacies of Black Theater and her playwrights. Over 28 theaters, including 10 in NYC, will read Baldwin's seminal piece to raise money and awareness for this very important cause.

Walter Dallas, currently senior artist-in-residence at the University of Maryland, College Park and former artistic director of Freedom Theatre in Philadelphia, will direct the NYC production. I met Walter in the early 90s. I was working at the Philadelphia Drama Guild and he was the director of the first August Wilson play I ever saw -- Joe Turner's Come and Gone. We became good friends and Walter, is without a doubt, my favorite director. You'll find out why if you come out to see THE AMEN CORNER tonight at 7pm.

Let me introduce you to Walter and to his words about his friend James Baldwin:

Walter Dallas, a celebrated director, playwright, and photographer is pleased to direct the Project 1 Voice reading of The Amen Corner in memory of its author and his friend, James Baldwin. He and Baldwin worked on Baldwin’s last play, The Welcome Table, here in the States and in the South of France. Dallas directed the world premiere of the play at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. A legendary icon in the African American theater, Dallas has directed theatre and opera at major regional theatres, on and off Broadway, and abroad. He has received numerous accolades including a Philly Barrymore Nomination for Best Director of 2010, Creative Genius Awards, an Audelco, several Best-Production of Season honors, garnered a San Francisco Emmy Award for KQED-TV for the televised version of his first play, Willie Lobo, the Mover and Shaker Award for Distinguished Contributions to the Promotion of South African Arts and Culture, and a NAACP Best Director nomination. He has been a Director Fellow for the NEA, a board member of Theatre Communication Group, and was lead writer for the international award-winning documentary, Standing in The Shadows of Motown, whose soundtrack won four Grammy Awards. His creative work has been shared at the O’Neill, Sundance, and in England, France, India, the Caribbean, Ireland, Russia, South America, and in West and South Africa. He studied at Morehouse College, the University of Ghana, Harvard Divinity School, and the Yale School of Drama. He is currently artist-in-residence at the University of Maryland, College Park.


Walter on James Baldwin: “The people at Baltimore's Center Stage insisted I take a bow on opening night. It was 1982. I had just directed The Amen Corner with Frances Foster and Bill Cobbs. When I ended my bow and stood up, next to me was my opening night surprise, the playwright James Baldwin. We fast became friends and he asked me to help him develop (and promise to direct) the new play he was working on, The Welcome Table. During the next few years, whenever Jimmy was in the states, to speak or to be interviewed, he'd always come to visit with me in Philadelphia and we'd work on the play. Or I'd go to his villa in the South of France where we designed the set. It's an honor to direct the reading of his The Amen Corner for Project 1 Voice. And with such a brilliant, brilliant cast. Raising funds and bolstering awareness of the joys and challenges of America’s black theatre is a cause that I know Jimmy would eagerly endorse. We are adding his voice to the national conversation as over 28 theatres across the country pay homage to him, to his legacy, by reading his play, The Amen Corner, on the same day.”

 So there you have it. An introduction to my good friend and favorite director Walter Dallas. I hope that you will come out tonight to know what I know about this incredible, huge talent. Here are the details:

Project1Voice
, in association with the Gerald W. Lynch Theatre at John Jay College, presents THE AMEN CORNER by James Baldwin.  One Night Only Monday, June 18, 2012 @ 7pm, Gerald W. Lynch Theatre, 524 W. 59th Street, between 10th & 11th Avenues. Tickets: $15-$50. To purchase tickets -- Tonight at the theatre box office, visit www.project1voice.org or call 631.464.7421.

Hope to see you at the theatre in support of the effort to keep the Black Theater live, vital and strong!










Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Check Out What's Happening This week In Brooklyn, NY


Color Between the Lines
Presented by Brooklyn Historical Society, Irondale Ensemble Project & Weeksville Heritage Center

Final Performances

Tues May 22 7pm $10
Wed May 23  & Thur May 24 8pm $35 General Admission; $20 Student Rush

For tickets: Visit www.irondale.org, call 866.811.4111 or
Irondale Center Box Office | 85 South Oxford Street | Brooklyn, NY
30 minutes before the performance

Color Between the Lines is a new play about the antislavery/abolitionist movement in Brooklyn. The play is part of In Pursuit of Freedom, a public history project, which is a collaboration between Brooklyn Historical Society, Irondale Ensemble Project & Weeksville Heritage Center.

Meet Victoria L. Ward. She is part of the Irondale Ensemble Project. Here are some details about her participation in the project in her own words:

Victoria L. Ward in Color Between the Lines

This project literally came out of no where for me. Jim [Neisen, director, Color Between the Lines] emailed me on a Saturday saying that an actress in the show needed to leave because of complications with her pregnancy, and he needed a replacement ASAP. He gave me a brief description of what the show was about, but all I needed to read was "a show about Brooklyn's involvement with the abolition of slavery"...I read that and knew it was the show for me. I love black history and the chance to be in such a monumental production, was something that I couldn't pass up. I called him as soon as I was done with the email and I said, "I'll be there Monday morning". This is my second "new work" but first show where there is no "playwright". I've never been in a production where the cast creates the peice from the ground up. It took me a few days to wrap my head around the process, but once I released my expectations of "how a production SHOULD be put together" the process became freeing. I would come home and tell my husband, "I can't believe they're paying me to play." Thats what it was: play. We would read the history as a group, disect it, digest it, then put the books down and play!  However I was feeling on the day of rehearsal I could come in and use it, and the group always said YES, everyone was open to any idea. No one ever shot anything down.  It was try it and then after we'll see if we like it or not, and does it serve the purpose of the peice? The Irondale ensemble is different than any place I've ever worked before because the ensemble alows themselves to play. Just be who you are in your true self and the create work will flow out of you like a fountain. That's what I've learned here, and that's what I'll take with me. Jim would always say to me, "We don't know what it is yet, but we'll find it." That is how art should be created, don't think, just go...be...live. From that comes magic, through that we were able to find the voice of these people. I specifically say people because they were not characters in a story book or script. These were real live human beings striving for a better tomorrow. And it was our duty to bring them back to life via the history that we read. This experience will stay with me for the rest of my career. This process reminded me why I became an actress in the first place. I was put on this earth to tell the story of those who cannot tell it themselves. This production is necessary to today, to this community and I am honored to be the voice of these poineers."

Make sure that you catch Victoria and the rest of the Irondale Ensemble in this seminal work that gives voice to our fore mothers and fathers.

--Marcia Pendelton

  
BAM/DanceAfrica!
One more thing! Check out DANCEAFRICA at BAM. Programming is now underway with the huge vendors market slated to begin on Friday, May 25th. Vendors from all over the globe will gather in the People's Republic of Brooklyn to sell their wares. Dance, music, food, film, fashion and DANCE will be in full effect this Memorial Day Weekend. Baba Chuck Davis has an amazing festival in store for us all! For more information about DanceAfrica at BAM  visit 30 Lafayette Avenue, call 718.636.4100. or visit www.bam.org/danceafrica.

By the way -- I attended an amazing concert on Sunday, May 20th at the BAM Opera House that featured some of the original companies and dancers who participated in the very first DanceAfrica in 1977. My favorite? Arthur Hall's African American Dance Ensemble? Why? Because they are from Philadelphia, PA and so am I! Arthur Hall really changed the arts and culture landscape in Philly. I am grateful for his infusion of a bold and unapologetic celebration of the African Diaspora.



Friday, May 11, 2012

A Few Words about...COLOR BETWEEN THE LINES

Color Between the Lines is a new play about the anti-slavery/abolitionist movement in Brooklyn, NY presented by Irondale Ensemble Project. The play, now running at Irondale Center (85 South Oxford Street in Brooklyn) through May 24, kicks off In Pursuit of Freedom, a multi-site, multi-faceted project by Brooklyn Historical Society, Irondale Ensemble Project, and Weeksville Heritage Center. In Pursuit of Freedom recovers the role that Brooklyn played in one of the tumultuous periods of American History.

I had the chance to ask Irondale Artistic Director Jim Niesen (who also directs Color Between the Lines) and Executive Director Terry Greiss about how the theater piece developed for this very exciting public history project.

 How did Color Between the Lines develop?

Jim Niesen, Irondale Ensemble Project Artistic Director: It started with a summer of research, followed by a three day workshop and "performance" as part of our annual retreat in Maine. This was a traveling environmental piece which bore more resemblance to Sleep No More than to what you're seeing at Irondale, but both were attempts to deal with the fact that the historical narrative is made up of contributions of many individuals who either worked quietly behind the scenes or rose up briefly to public prominence. The obvious solution to the problem is the history pageant or living picture approach, and right from the beginning that was something we wanted to avoid.

When Nolan (Kennedy) returned from his sabbatical to Chicago, I made him the musical director for the show. Historically music played a dominant role in the movement, but the songs as written and performed were firmly rooted in another era. Nolan's first charge was to take the dust off this material and then to add some original incidental music. In the process working musical skills on a daily basis became a part of the company's rehearsal process when we turned our full attention and time to the development of the show in January. The fall of course had been spent working on our Henry V. Part of the reason for doing this was an experiential investigation of how the world's greatest playwright shaped history into drama. (At one time we even considered using the dramatic and dynamic structure of Henry as a basis for the show.) At this time we still had no idea that music would play such a major role in the show. Then we went down a number of dead ends trying to find our form and content--improvised scenarios, storytelling exercises. Eventually Nolan developed some song exercises allowing individual songs, based on character and relationship) to emerge. A result of this is that almost every song was initially developed by the actor who performs it in the show. At some time I asked Nolan what he thought about the idea of the entire show being sung within a format of intuitive connections rather than a linear narrative. And that’s how it all happened.

Why and how did Irondale become involved with the project and its partners Brooklyn Historical Society and Weeksville Heritage Center?

Terry Greiss, Irondale Ensemble Project Executive Director:
The city of New York issued an RFP (Request For Proposals) for cultural organizations who would create a project that celebrated the abolition and anti-slavery history of Brooklyn. I knew Deborah Schwartz (President, Brooklyn Historical Society) for many years. We had often talked of doing thing together (not dirty things, just projects).When I got the RFP I went to the phone to call her and she had called me with the same thought in mind. We knew that we needed the additional voice of an organization like Weeksville (Heritage Center) to give the project its full due. Deborah called Pam (Pamela Greene, Executive Director, Weeksville Heritage Center) and we three created the project. For us, it's an extension of our (Irondale's) history based work: Degenerate Art, Peter Panic: Flying Underground, Murals of Rockefeller Center, Outside the Law. It made artistic, community and educational sense.

Talk about artist selection/participation.

Jim Niesen: I think I covered this to some extent in the first answer. As always we begin with the contributions of the core company and what skills they bring to the project. In this case, that included Terry Greiss, Patrena Murray, Damen Scranton, Scarlet Marissa Rivera, Nolen Kennedy, and our two student interns: Alex Miyashiro and Ben Matthews. To fill this out we brought in Taifa Harris, a terrific actress I've known for about 13 years and has experience developing this kind of work. When Taifa had to drop out (she just gave birth to twin daughters) Vicki Ward replaced her and continued developing Taifa's stuff as well as making strong contributions of her own. Antwayn Hopper and Natasha Soto-Albors came in to do the dances when the show started moving in that direction. The designers Ken Rothchild (set and lights) and Hilarie Blumenthal (costumes) have been with us almost since the beginning of Irondale.

I have to say that this has been the most collaborative piece we have ever done. There was a strong sense of ownership and excitement about the material that kept propelling us through the entire process.

What do you want the audience to learn/take away from experiencing Color Between the Lines?

Jim Niesen: That the battle to make this a better, fairer [world] is never done, that we have the example to these brave, steadfast, courageous and largely unknown women and men to remind us of the necessity to keep on going no matter what and to not let the bastards get you down.

Irondale Ensemble Project’s Color Between the Lines
Now through May 24
Tuesday 7pm $10
Wednesday-Saturday 8pm $35, Student Rush $15
Irondale Center – 85 South Oxford St, Fort Greene, Brooklyn
Tickets: www.irondale.org or call 866.811.4111

For more information about:
In Pursuit of Freedom – www.PursuitOfFreedom.org
Irondale Ensemble Project – www.irondale.org
Brooklyn Historical Society –www.brooklynhistory.org
Weeksville Heritage Center – www.weeksvillesociety.org

Monday, April 9, 2012

A Few Words with...ADRIANE LENOX!


Adriane Lenox has received rave reviews for her role as Mrs. Duke in REGRETS, the critically acclaimed new play by Matt Charman, now playing at Manhattan Theatre Club. The play, an uncommon tale of friendship, loss and finding the courage of one’s convictions is directed by Carolyn Cantor and also stars Alexis Bledel ("Gilmore Girls"), Curt Bouril ("Boardwalk Empire"), Ansel Elgort (Off-Broadway debut), Brian Hutchinson (MTC's From Up Here), Lucas Caleb Rooney (Orphan's Home Cycle), and Richard Topol (The Normal Heart).

Lenox returns to MTC after having created the role of Mrs. Muller in John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt, for which she received the Tony Award, Drama Desk Award and Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play. Her other Broadway credits include Caroline, or Change; Kiss Me, Kate; How to Succeed…; Dreamgirls and Ain’t Misbehavin’. Off-Broadway she has appeared in Miss Evers’ Boys, Dinah Was (Obie Award, AUDELCO), and Cavedweller. She was most recently seen in the long-running Off-Broadway hit Love, Loss, and What I Wore. Her regional theater credits include Blithe Spirit, The Color Purple (premiere), On the Town (Helen Hayes Award). We’ve seen her in films such as The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, The Blind Side, Black Snake Moan, My Blueberry Nights, Where God Left His Shoes, and Preachin' to the Choir. She has a long list of TV credits that include appearances on “Damages,” “30 Rock,” “Detroit 187,” “Lipstick Jungle,” “Griffin & Phoenix,” “Third Watch,” "Law & Order: SVU," “Law & Order,” and "Shark."

Not long ago we got the chance to ask Lenox a few questions about Mrs. Duke. Here’s what she had to say about this truly fascinating woman.

Tell us about your character, Mrs. Duke. Who is she? Where is she from? How did she, an African American woman, become a business owner in 1950s Nevada?

Mrs. Duke is a product of the great migration when blacks moved north from the oppression of Jim Crow in the South to places like Chicago or New York. Of course, racism was still experienced (in Nevada) but not to the extent in places like Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and the like. The playwright, Matt Charman, met me before rehearsals and even casting had been completed to talk with me about Mrs. Duke's character so he could flesh it out more. I gave him a "biography" of who I thought she might be, where she's from, the kind of car she drove or music she may listen to as well as what she might do for a living, etc. He took that sketch and a lot of it ended up in the script.

Why did you choose to take the role?

I took the role because I liked her. She's intelligent and feisty; savvy business wise and a little crusty but decent overall.

What lessons can Mrs. Duke teach us about negotiating the world as an African-American woman in 1954 and in 2012?

This cannot be answered without bringing the recent incident/tragedy surrounding Trayvon Martin into the picture. Mrs. Duke is a mother and she would not see much difference between a lynching of a son in 1954 and the shooting of this boy. Therefore negotiating some 58 years later in America is not hugely different now than then in some circumstances. Negotiating would entail watching your back, living to the best of your ability with integrity and intelligence and appropriate courage. The truth is that laws have been passed but they do not change the heart of a man. There is still the struggle for equality. Ask any African American mother from any generation what she fears concerning her black son in America. Trayvon's story is not an aberration - there are many similar ones from around the country. Discrediting the child is a smokescreen it seems to cover up what is now coming to light from the voice analysis of who was actually pleading for help on the 911 call to who this Zimmerman certainly appears to actually be. Yes, there are two sides to every story but which story is more plausible?

You can check out Adriane Lenox in REGRETS at MTC’s City Center Stage 1, 131 West 55th Street through April 29th. For more information about the play and a complete list of performances visit www.RegretsPlay.com.

One more thing: See REGRETS and save over 40% off the regular ticket prices. Tickets are just $45 (reg. $80). There are three easy ways to purchase these discount tickets: Online: Visit www.nycitycenter.org and enter code 9082. Call: CityTix® at 212.581.1212 and mention code MBTB. In Person: Bring this offer to the New York City CenterBox Office, 131 West 55th Street, NYC.