AAPEX Interview: David Wright, resident playwright/producer of Orisha Tales Rep Radio Theatre — David Wright , Orisha Repertory — AAPEX

Monday, July 6, 2009

AAPEX Interview: David Wright, resident playwright/producer of Orisha Tales Rep Radio Theatre

David Wright

Meet David Wright, resident playwright/producer of Orisha Tales Repertory Radio Theatre. David is very passionate about his work and the tradidtions in which it is rooted. I asked David to share that passion with us. Below is his response.

What role did theatre and the arts play in your childhood and upbringing?
Theatre and the arts particularly music played a large role in my growing up in the streets of Brooklyn, New York. As legend would have it my story begins at the age of two banging with wooden spoons and cooking pots in the middle of the living room floor while playing with the studio orchestra of The Ed Sullivan Show. Subsequently my father bought me a set of junior trap drums and my mom enrolled my younger sister and me in dance school. I was a dedicated and determined student in both forms.

Tell us about your evolution as an artist.
My evolution as an artist continued to flourish as my oldest sister was a poet and the editor of her high school newspaper. She brought me into the world of writing during my primary school years and my younger sister and I would create and act out our stories for friends and family alike. I was among the first Black students to be bussed in New York City to an all white school across town. It was in that environment that I was accused of plagiarizing a poem I had authored in the fourth grade. My mother had to come to the school to inform my European teacher that I had in fact written the poem. Whew!!! My first come-uppance with not being good enough. I acted in school plays and musicals played in the Boy Scout Drum and Bugle Corps, first in the Horn section then in the Drum Section.

At 14 years of age I became a student of the Project Double Discovery Program at Columbia University. It was on that campus where two things happened in 1966. One was I discovered my African and African American history and consciousness, and two, I learned how to play congas and an assortment of African percussion instruments.

“Thank God for the Pullman Porter and the Domestic.” After hearing that expression hundreds of times I got what it meant in the summer of 1967. My mother worked as a domestic for Morris Levy of Roulette Records and she told him that I wanted a set of Bongos of my own. He then sent her to a certain musician who will remain nameless and had him give her a pair of bongos for me. I should have told him myself because she couldn’t tell the difference between congas and bongos. But the bongos became another tool in my tool kit of percussion instruments and knowledge.

During one summer vacation from college after my junior year I had the opportunity to sit at the feet of the late Morris Levy and the late Nate McCalla, of Roulette and Calla Records respectively. Under their tutelage I became one of the youngest successful African American Regional record promoters in America during the early 1970’s. I compiled the first R&B Radio Directory which consisted of all the primary and secondary R&B radio markets and radio stations in the entire United States. I also performed as a percussionist/keyboard player with the likes of the legendary Eddie Palmieri’s Harlem River Drive, Fonzi Thorton, the Coasters and the late Chief Bey. I toured with, Mark Radice, Brass Construction, The Ohio Players, The Trammps, and K.C. and The Sunshine Band to name a few. I also worked as a drummer for some of the great dancers, and instructors in America including the late Charles Moore and Alvin Ailey. I am a six times Vivian Robinson, AUDELCO AWARD winner for Excellence in Black Theatre. I won for Excellence in Musical Direction for The National Black Theatre’s production of The Legacy, and received five Excellence in Sound Design Awards for, Rome Neal’s Julius Caesar Set in Africa, Amiri Baraka’s Meeting Miss Lillie, The Nuyorican Poets Café’s production of Pepe Carill’s Shango de Ima, Joseph Edward’s American Place Theatre’s production of Fly and Take Wing and Soar’s 2007 production of William Shakespeare s Hamlet. I have also sound designed for many theatres in the New York City metropolitan area, and across the country.

As an actor, I was nominated for an Most Outstanding Lead Male Performance, Audelco, for my "channeled-like" portrayal of the late Louis Armstrong in Ishmael Reed’s play, The C Above C Above High C.

I received a Parents Choice Award for my production of Stephen Di Lauro’s River Tales tape and CD, as well as a Golden Reel, Silver Reel and Special Merit Awards from The National Federation of Community Broadcasters for my numerous radio productions aired on WBAI-FM, in New York City. I also received a Law Enforcement Video Award for my musical score of an NYPD training film while producing, hosting and engineering my own radio program entitled Orature, a dramatic literary series.

I am a recipient of the National Arts Club’s Food for Thought, Playwrighting Fellowship, and I am a Fellow of the Columbia School of the Arts, WGAE’s Harlem Arts Alliance Screenwriter’s Workshop.

I am the producing playwright of the Orisha Tales Repertory Radio Theatre Company, having successfully co-produced six of my seven critically acclaimed Yoruba Dance Dramas. Oshun(The Goddess of Love); Oya (The Yoruba Dance Drama), winner of four Audelco Awards including Outstanding Musical Production; Obatala (King of the White Cloth), two Audelco Nominations; Sango (Lord of Thunder), winner of Outstanding Choreography; The Creatures(Tales From the Bush) and Orunmila (The Adventures of the Father of Ifa Divination), one Audelco nomination. I am also a retired twenty-two year veteran of NYPD and an initiated Babalorisa, (Yoruba priest).

What are your roots in the Yoruba religion?
My roots in the Yoruba Tradition (Ifa) began the summer of 1967, when I heard the distinct sound of congas and the like emanating from a distance along the streets of Brooklyn. I followed the sound until I encountered three men drumming in African attire in the front yard of a brownstone. Upon asking questions about whom and what they were, they invited me to come learn about the religion and its music. I stayed with them briefly and brought my younger sister to meet them. She stayed and learned and I went on to have a life, because I was still on my spiritual journey. Eventually she was initiated as a priest of Yemonja and it was then that I began to pay attention to the dogma. I was eventually initiated ten years after my sister , as a priest of Oshun.

What is the mission of the Orisha Tales Repertory Radio Theatre Company?
The vision of The Orisha Tales Repertory Radio Theatre Company is one of laser vision. We exclusively explore the Yoruba culture of West Africa through the artistic sensibilities of myself, its resident playwright. Anthony Sloan interprets these sensibilities through his directing; as Keisha M. Booker acts as dramaturge for the projects. This way of working firmly defines the guiding vision of the company as taken from my writing. My words are the source – the wellspring, if you will, of all we seek to do to elevate this art to the classical state it deserves.

What is your take on the curr ent climate of the American theatre with regard to African American playwrights?
My take on the African American playwrights climate is that it is ever evolving and as African Americans we have to take responsibility for the images we project, and be historically accurate about how we present them when dealing with historical information, persons and subject matter. I contend that there is room for playwrights, if they would take a stand on having their work produced. There are only so many Woody King Jr’s, Garland Thompson’s, Marjorie Moon’s and the late Barbara Ann Teer’s in the world who have the vision and tenacity to see young playwrights work mounted. The dynamic of the playwright is often overwhelmed by film, television, webisodes, and video games. It is a brave new world we have entered within this digital age, and we as playwrights have to begin to embrace and add these new skills and technologies to our tool kits if we are going to survive and endure.

To learn more about Orisha Tales Repertory Radio Theatre Company, please click the post's title.

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