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Posts Tagged ‘playwright’

Photo: Robert W Kelley/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images
Langston Hughes on the front steps of his house in Harlem, June 1958.

Before Suzanne and Erik moved to Providence, they were living in a lovely renovated brownstone in Harlem.

There’s a fine line between newcomers investing where there’s been too much disinvestment — and gentrification. The early changes seem to benefit a neighborhood and its people, but inevitably rising property values push out many longtime residents and institutions.

Today, a group of Harlem artists from various disciplines are banding together to keep a significant piece of the Harlem Renaissance around to nourish African American arts.

Tom Kutsch writes at the Guardian, “All that signifies the legacy of a house once occupied by the poet laureate of Harlem is a small bronze plaque, partially covered by a cedar tree’s branches and the green ivy that envelops much of the building.

“The onetime home of Langston Hughes has sat largely unoccupied for years, but a new movement is trying to reclaim, for a next generation of artists, the space of a man who is forever intertwined with the Harlem Renaissance.

“Spearheaded by writer, performer and educator Renée Watson, the collective effort is busily trying to raise the necessary funds to purchase a lease and make needed renovations to the house. …

“Watson plans to make the Hughes house the home of the I Too, Arts Collective that she launched alongside the effort, which aims to, in her words, have ‘programming that nurtures, amplifies, and honors work by and about people of color and people from other marginalized communities.’ …

“The collective gets its name from one of Hughes’s most famous poems – I, Too – in which his narrator concludes by intoning:

They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—
I, too, am America.

“Watson is using the crowdfunding website Indiegogo to solicit donations for the project, for which they’re hoping to raise at least $150,000 to cover a lease and begin the renovation process. By the time of publication, they had raised more than $54,000, already exceeding the $40,000 Watson says would cover at least a six-month lease. …

“For more than a century, Harlem has been inextricably linked to black life and culture in America; the birthplace of the aforementioned Harlem Renaissance, which fostered a wide array pre-eminent black artists and writers, from Zora Neale Hurston to Claude McKay and Duke Ellington. …

” ‘The erasure of black Harlem may come despite our best efforts …’ said Tracey Baptiste, a local children’s author who is involved with Watson’s collective. ‘But this project is about making sure that gentrification doesn’t also happen in the hearts and minds of our artists.’ ”

More here.

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One thinks of Iran as repressive, and having watched the doomed 2009 revolution unfold on twitter, I believe it is. But Iranian theater people seem to be managing to squeeze in some fun.

I blogged before about the Tehran production in a taxi, here. Now Studio 360 has a story on what might be called extreme improvisation. I take that back. There’s a script. But the actor doesn’t get to see it in advance.

“Actors face stage fright all the time,” says Studio 360, a radio show. “But consider this scenario: you show up to perform a one-person show, and you’ve never seen the script. You don’t know what it’s about because you promised not to do any research. It’s your first performance, and the only one you’ll ever have. The theater’s artistic director hands you a fat manila envelope with a script. And go.

“Also, the audience will decide whether you drink a glass of water that appears to have been poisoned.

“This is the premise of White Rabbit, Red Rabbit, by Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour. ‘I did not know what was in front of me inside that envelope,’ says actor Gwydion Suilebhan. ‘What if this script is going to require that I disrobe? Or insult my mother? Or be rude or self-debasing?’ …

“Soleimanpour pulls his strings from afar, because — although the play has been performed in Toronto, Berlin, San Francisco, Brisbane, Edinburgh, London, and now Washington, DC — he really is in a cage. He doesn’t have a passport and can’t leave Iran, so he has never seen his play performed. ‘Nassim has given up the kind of control that is customary for playwrights,’ says Suilebhan, of working with actors and directors to realize the play. ‘At the same time, because he has put all of these restrictions on how it is to be performed, he has seized certain kinds of control that playwrights normally do not have. So he is literally embodying the ideas of control and submission and manipulation that he’s baked into his script.’ ” More.

Photo of Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour found at the HuffingtonPost

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Deanna Isaacs has a funny post at the Chicago Reader. It’s about the Storefront Playwright Project.

“Tired of sitting around watching paint dry?” she asks.

“Then get yourself over to 72 E. Randolph, where, thanks to the League of Chicago Theatres and the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, you can watch a real, live writer at work.

“The Storefront Playwright Project is putting 27 authors on exhibit this month in the big front window at Hot Tix/Expo 72.

“Never mind that writing is right up there with sleeping as a potential spectator sport, so stimulating that the writer him- or herself often has to bring the action to a complete stop in order to check e-mail, clean a closet, or book a flight and get the hell out of there. …

“Guessing that dramatists would be more dynamic at work than, say, novelists (readily observed in deep rumination at most any coffee shop), I stopped by last week, when Emilio Williams was on display.

“The playwrights each take a four-hour shift. Williams was a couple hours into his afternoon stint, gamely focused on his laptop, which was perched on a small white table and hooked into a large screen mounted in the window. The big screen faces outward, allowing passersby a look at the creative product the instant it emerges from the writer’s brain. …

“Behind the glass, Williams pursed his lips and crossed his ankles. …

“He leaned his chin on his hand and scrolled through several pages of dialogue that went something like this:

“Mar: Done?

“Ted: Yep.

“Mar: You don’t sound very enthusiastic.

“Williams paused.

“He blinked.

“He scrolled again.

“And then, it happened!

“On the big screen, before my very eyes, the cursor hesitated. It stopped. And it backed up, deleting as it went, wiping out ‘tucitcennoC’ and replacing it with ‘Lake Geneva.’ ” More from Deanna, even funnier.

Readers may recall several posts I wrote on a playwriting class I took the summer before last. (For example, here.) I thought the class got playwriting out of my system. Should I reconsider now that playwrights have the opportunity to sit in storefronts where strangers can watch them think?

Um, maybe not.

Photograph: The Chicago Reader

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I have always loved theater, and even when I have been in a play and felt stage fright, I have been able to make it work as a springboard for the lines I have to say. But when I have to do a presentation as myself and not a character, I freeze up.

Which is why I keep taking classes in how to give presentations, to no avail. But the class that I took last week may finally help me. And I think the secret of it was that the instructor, though an experienced corporate coach and adviser, is also a practicing actor and playwright.

He was very good at paring down the words participants wanted to use and helping choose the most effective ones. And his ideas about how to make an entrance, how to stand, natural gestures to use, tone of voice, and eye contact seemed to have roots in the stage. Even the freshness of his own presentation to the class seemed the result of having to say the same lines night after night in a show and make them seem new.

Of course, no class is magic, so we have to wait and see how it goes when I do my work presentation in late March. But I am definitely going to try harder to apply what I heard than when I took presentation classes in the past full of jargon, phony jokes, and gimmicks that are supposed to work but don’t seem to have a lot underpinning them.

The teacher was Brandt Johnson. See the actor here. See the corporate consultant here. Another one of these people who lead several lives simultaneously.

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When playwright Willie Reale started the 52nd Street Project in 1981 it was to meet a need. Children living in poverty in and around the Hell’s Kitchen section of New York City often had little joy in their lives. A group of theater people decided to use the art they knew best to change that.

“The mission of The 52nd Street Project is to bring together kids (ages 9 to 18) from the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, with theater professionals to create original theater.  The primary activity of the Project is to present free theater to a general audience. The Project’s deeper purpose is to use the art form of theater to engage the children’s imaginations, broaden their means of expression, and increase their sense of self worth, their literacy skills and their appreciation for the arts. With the addition of our expanded Clubhouse and our own theater, the Project has been able to add programming in various other art forms (such as Photography, Poetry, Theatrical Design and Dance). Additionally, the Project runs a free, after school homework help and academic mentoring program.”

In the early years, I saw some of the plays created when one child and one actor bonded and collaborated. Delightful. As Reale says, “There is no way to fast forward and know how the kids will look back on this, but I have seen the joy in their eyes and have heard it in their voices and I have watched them take a bow and come up taller.”

In this clip, kids work with adult partners on haiku.

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Only two more sessions now. After a class on a meltingly hot day when we discussed the play “Mud,” by Maria Irene Fornes, my teacher’s longtime mentor, we were sent out into the world to write down conversations overheard in public places.

Some class members got great conversations down on paper in spite of noisy air conditioning and music. My scene, which featured three tourists (a mother, father, and 14-ish son) was beyond boring. Instructive, though. People really do not converse the way we think they do. Lots of broken-off and garbled lines. Nonsequitors. Chitchat to fill dead air. Often about food. And to cover real thoughts.

I’m really interested in how people use language to not communicate. Not just when the chitchat covers what they are consciously thinking, but even more, when the words cover thoughts that are too deep for the speaker to be aware of. Like some political or religious discussions. For example, one Right to Life person getting red in the face shouting at a clinic could be feeling on a deep level that being the 10th child, his mother might have thought twice about having him. I’m oversimplifying. But I do know a couple folks whose political arguments are closely tied to how they felt about their fathers.

An art professor Suzanne had at Pomona used to paint over an under story. He believed one could sense the completely invisible picture. That interests me.

This week, members of the playwriting class are to take our overheard scenes and develop them more. I am mainly adding what the people are consciously thinking. Someday I’ll write about what people don’t even recognize they’re thinking.

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