Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Opera Composer Wanted

Wanted! Classical music composer interested in writing music for a new African American opera based on a locally produced stage play and film by a local writer/producer. The work is in English and the producer is looking for the music to be fused with Jazz and Blues with a Gershwin feel. Must be able to work collaboratively with the playwright and director in writing the music within the structure of the story. Experience preferred, in at least writing a stage musical, but not necessary. Salary negotiable. Send resume and sample of your work via CD to here or call 804.305.5029 for more information.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Steve Warren reflects on being a drama critic

As one of the surviving (though non-practicing) members of the previously mentioned Atlanta Circle of Drama Critics of the late '70s, I suppose I should weigh in on this thread.

I started reviewing Atlanta theater on the radio in 1967; was on WGKA, "the voice of the Arts," from 4/68 through 1/79, mostly sponsored by Dante's Down the Hatch when it was in Underground Atlanta. I called my show "The Third Voice," implying an alternative to the Constitution and Journal critics.

When Creative Loafing started I was the Curt Holman of the day, reviewing theater and film for them for six years. It was said I reviewed anything that moved. I saw Samuel L. Jackson and LaTanya Richardson with the Morehouse-Spelman Players, John Schneider as Cowboy in The Boys in the Band, and more Neil Simon plays than you could shake a stick at (which I did on occasion).

I never drew a distinction between being a reviewer and a critic. I suppose I was a bit of both. I felt my main function was to serve as a matchmaker, to help readers/listeners find the entertainment they would appreciate. I've long said that you should find a writer you consistently agree or disagree with, so they can serve as a positive or negative barometer. This has become increasingly difficult, with publications employing multiple (or no) reviewers.

My original motivation for becoming a critic was to get free tickets. I still think it's valid, showing a love for the art form. The profession - when it was a profession - never paid me enough to be able to afford to pay to see everything. Although the radio station made money airing my reviews, it was understood that I did the reviewing on my own time, not as part of my job. (I was paid a little extra for it.)

Today anyone with a computer can be a critic, although not every one can get free tickets. I don't know how theaters determine a critic's legitimacy anymore. With everyone writing blogs, I don't know how anyone finds time to read anyone else's, and I suspect only a handful are read by more than a handful of people.

When I returned to Atlanta for my second 14-year term, 1997-2011, I had crossed over to (from?) the Dark Side and become an actor. I ran into a few people who could still quote verbatim what I had written about them, good or bad, and I appreciate their forgiveness and acceptance.

I don't know what the future holds for theater criticism. I certainly don't recommend it to young people as a viable career goal, but I hope it continues in some form. Theaters will always need a way of getting the word out, and there will always be times when their work deserves a public spanking.

Steve Warren

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Cheryl Hall's "Dowager Daughters of Transcendence" opens June 14th (Chicago)

You and a guest are invited to the opening of
"Dowager Daughters of Transcendence," (DDTs)
Thursday, June 14, 2012
8:00 p.m. curtain.
Please R.S.V.P. to kenseycomm@sbcglobal.net or call 773-288-8776.
The DDT's have fought racism, sexism and ageism
but when cultural identity and community are threatened
the DDT's take action!

A Serious Comedy
Written by CHERYL HALL
JUNE 14 - AUGUST 5, 2012

Thursday thru Saturday at 8:00 PM
Sunday at 3:00 PM
General Admission: $30.00
Group rates available
Discount Thursdays: $20.00

eta Square
7558 S. South Chicago Avenue
Chicago, IL 60619-2644

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Jaz Dorsey: Objectives of Dramaturgy or How to talk to a dramaturg over coffee at Starbucks

Maybe the day will come when Americans will know what it means when some one says that s/he is a dramaturg - or a day when American children answer "I'm gong to be a dramaturg" when asked that iconic question of childhood - What are you going to be when you grow up?"

According to something I read recently, the profession of dramaturgy began to take serious root in our country and our culture around 1980. I was shanghaied in 1978 to pioneer the graduate dramaturgy program at VCU in Richmnd, Va which makes me an early member of the Dramaturgy Generation. And while I was blessed to study this fascinating field in an academic setting, I have met other dramaturgs who came into the fray in a variety of different ways.

Today there is a small but potent army of dramaturgs marching into the battle of making theatre as important in our lives and society, as it is in the minds of dramaturgs - of urging everyone around us to join us for readings, workshops, showcases and productions of new plays.

It is a fool's errand but it is not a losing battle and in fact we now have in our possession the tool which is putting new contours into the furniture of our minds - and that is the circular saw of cyberspace.

The first objective of dramaturgy is to get people to think about theatre.

Cyberspace and the internet open cosmic doors for that task.

You might become an actress for fame and attention. You might become a director to fulfill your inner obligation to interpret for others. I think people become producers because they are trying some other field of theatrical endeavor and come to the conclusion that if they want it done right, then they must do it themselves - and do it by empowering others.

The second objective of dramaturgy is to empower others, from the playwright to the audience.

I do not know why anyone would choose to become a dramaturg and that's odd because it seems to be the choice I have made.

At the moment that I grasped the scope and awesome potential of the dramaturg's mission, I knew that dramaturgy would never be a "job" but that it would either be a career or a destiny. In my case it turns out to have been the later.

But why does one - would one - decide to become a dramaturg? What is it? What the hell IS a dramaturg?

There's an answer and to the degree that it impacts on the gestalt of the American theatre, it is a dangerous and uncomfortable answer and that might be getting in the way of dramaturgy taking root, because on the whole, the psychological and economic geography of the American Theatre is one of poor soil, lacking the social nutrients necessary to allow our national theatre to flourish.

In this gestalt, Broadway is like the Queen in Snow White - she rules but in order for her to do so, all threatening entities must be suppressed. Ergo Artistic Directors at regional theatres do their casting in New York to the detriment of local talent. I say detriment because in the unhealthy gestalt of the contemporary theatre, it is necessary for these "Broadwayists" to undervalue the resources around them and to taint local talent in the eyes of the Powers that Be. I saw this over 10 strange years in Atlanta. It creates a "class" system almost to the degree of a caste system and the bestowment of grant monies has usurped the idea of patronage and validation from an aristocracy.

Have you ever tried to write a grant? I would just as soon have to learn Chinese in a week as to spend one minute of my precious life and time even reading the guidelines for a grant. Of course, thank God for grants and for the people who write them, but as all us artists know, the allocation of grant monies is not an authentic barometer of what's really happening in the realm. Two things true art does not wait for - permission and money.

The theatre is a mirror of us and therefore much bigger than the area around Times Square. Broadway stole the show - the whole world show - throughout the 20th Century and Broadway will always be our Mecca, but it is a silly and unrealistic tool for defining the theatre in all of us.

Professor Vardac opens his book Stage to Screen noting that art does not ever exist in a static manifestation. This echos philosopher Morse Peckham's thesis in his amazing book MAN'S RAGE FOR CHAOS.

What both men are saying is that shit happens - constantly - and that art is the species' nervous response to perpetual, relentless evolution.

The third objective of dramaturgy is to keep up with the current and impending madness and, through theatre, help others do the same.

These are heady phenomena to contemplate and can lead to molecular breakdown if you open Pandora's Box of Reality in a moment of frailty.

As a human being I'm still more concerned with finding a good parking spot than I am trying to understand that there can not be an end of the universe. But as a dramaturg I still might find myself working with an actor who is playing Einstein - we call this "production research." If neither I nor the actor has a mathematical mind, then we will have to go in search of some fellow human who does have a mathematical mind and is able to impart clues to the character of Einstein.

The fourth objective of dramaturgy is to discover, uncover and recover the gestalt of authenticity sought by the collaborators in their quest to produce the play.

Literature exists in all languages and one characteristic of the dramaturgical profile is the ability to function in some other languages. Those dramaturgs who have these skills bring a special resource to the table - the potential for diplomacy.

The theatre needs this - unfortunately, while there is a lot of highly skilled sucking up going on in "the Theatre", I have been sad to discover that both diplomacy and tact are qualities that seem to be lacking in far too many comrades in the trenches of legitimate theatre.

The fifth objective of dramaturgy is to empower diplomacy through theatre and in the theatre.

I can not claim any authority that justifies my points. It's just that 32 years ago, someone conked me on the head with the iron skillet of Dramaturgy and my ears are still ringing- but maybe I am beginning to understand the chaotic harmonies that I'm hearing which make up the back opera of my particular pilgrimage - because the one thing that I do know for sure is that to pursue dramaturgy is to join a quest that best has it's mirror in Cervantes masterpiece DON QUIXOTE.

The sixth objective of dramaturgy is to tilt with the Windmills (of our minds).

So if you run into a dramaturg at Starbucks, whether you're in NYC or Birmingham, Ala or Seattle or Baltimore or - hey! - Nashville - you'll know what to talk about over coffee. Esoteric today but maybe not tomorrow.

Jaz Dorsey
The Nashville Dramaturgy Project

Come to Nashville and Go to the Theatre!

AAPEX Essay Contest: ReWriting America

ReWriting America

The African American Playwrights Exchange (AAPEX) is pleased to invite you to join the first contest of our ReWriting America project.

The winning essay will be posted on the AAPEX blog.

Lengthwise, the essay should be the equivalent of 1 & 1/2 typewritten pages.

Entrants must be pursuing a career in the theatre.

The contest is limited to 15 participants. Do not just send me something. You must register first.

The subject of the essay is:
Imagining the The Harlem Renaissance.

The contest is open to artists of all ages and colors.

To register or to get more information (though frankly - this is it; there's not much more to say), contact me at this email address: dramaturgtn@gmail.com.

Jaz Dorsey
The African American Playwrights Exchange

Jaz Dorsey: How I learned to write songs.

I was the only boy in the reform school to have a Latin tutor.

I'd been taking Latin before they locked me up and my mother insisted that I continue. This may have had something to do with the fact that my great-grandmother, who was still alive, had spent 50 years as a Latin teacher. In Senoia, Georgia.

Who would think a town that small would have a Latin teacher?

Where mother found this dude I will never know, but if you looked up "Latin Tutor" in the dictionary, there'd be his picture. He was about 6'6", weighed about 130 pounds and reminds me in memory of Big Bird. I can't remember his name, so we'll call him "Gary" for a reason that will soon become apparent.

I was only in that particular reform school for a year before they kicked me out (who gets kicked out of reform school?) but twice a week every week for that year I had a 2 hour Latin session with Gary - who had a serious obsession with a popular band of that era called Gary Puckett and the Union Gap (which is why I remember dude as "Gary"). My final assignment - translate LADY WILLPOWER in to Latin.

I had no clue, but "Gary" was so excited by the assignment that he translated it himself and so excited by the translation that I got an A in Latin. I guess that was my first success as a dramaturg. And I still remember "Gary's" lyrics:

Obstinatio, ad nuc ad nunquam
Dar amorem me et
Tib fundam cor cum melitia semper.

Hope I spelled all that right - Spellcheck doesn't speak Latin.

Well, my next stop was a mental institution - the John Umstead Hospital in Butner, North Carolina, where I spent the last three years of high school (much to my family's alarm, I graduated and went to Chapel Hill on scholarship. Turns out, I wasn't the one that was fucked up.)

These were the 60s and actually John Umstead had one of the most progressive adolescent units in the country, so over those three years, I got an extraordinary if unorthodox education, which included an entire year (11th grade) under the influence of a rather fascinating teacher named Flicka Tate ( seriously) whose curriculum for us Juniors consisted of an entire year studying the lyrics of contemporary songwriters, from Bob Dylan to Buffy St. Marie to The Beatles and Grace Slick.

One pill makes you larger and the other makes you small. Perfect song for the nuthouse or Woodstock, whichever came first.

This fit right in with the one extra curricular activity that we were allowed - music. We kooky kids spent most of our free time either in the music room listening to the songs we were studying or sitting on the front porch singing them. The one thing each of us patients had was a guitar. And cigarettes. We all smoked.

Then I went to university and studied Brecht and Weil as a German major- including a year on scholarship at the University of Goettingen in West Germany. Minoring in French, I also read all of the classic drama of that cannon in French. The 17th Century French playwrights were the greatest rhyming geniuses of history and that lays a great foundation for a songwriter. And as it turned out, later in life when I was living and working in New York, I had several commissions to write songs in Spanish and French:

Cantamos, bailamos, estamos aqui
Brindamos teatro con gran frenesi!

I didn't write my first song until I was 27, but once the floodgates opened they just kept coming. Now at 60 and looking back, I'm going "where did that come from?"

I guess my advice to aspiring songwriters would be - get locked up but be sure and take your guitar.

And get a Latin tutor.

Come to Nashville and Go to the Theatre!

Jaz Dorsey
The Nashville Dramaturgy Project

Friday, May 25, 2012

Jaz Dorsey to facilitate a workshop on writing musicals for songwriters at the Nashville Songwriters Assoc (8/23)

I am very excited to be facilitating a workshop on writing musicals for songwriters at The Nashville Songwriters Association on Thursday, August 23.

It has also been my honor to have been connected to or involved with the development of quite a few new musicals by Nashville songwriters over the past decade, from Mike McFaden's AIN'T WE GOT FUN which started here and went on to New York and Cleveland, to Sue Fabisch's MOTHERHOOD, which just closed in Atlanta and is running in Australia, to Parrish Stanton's ONE KISS CAFE which had a three week run at The Country Music Hall of Fame and is now in revival down on Second Avenue, to the Steve Leslie/Len Cohen collaboration UMBRELLA which is one of three finalists in the Boiler Room new musicals competition to Randi Michaels' GUESS WHO'S COMING TO SEDER which just premiered in Tulsa after readings in Nashville and NYC.

And I am in awe of the success of THE DOYLE AND DEBBIE SHOW which continues to run on Tuesday nights at The Station Inn in one of Nashville's coolest "urban" districts, The Gulch.

The musical in it's various manifestations is an ideal vehicle for songwriters to share a greater body of work with a greater public. The Nashville Writes Musicals Workshop will provide an orientation to songwriters on how to approach and develop the creating of a work for the musical stage.

Come to Nashville and Go to the Theatre!

Jaz Dorsey
The Nashville Dramaturgy Project

Thursday, May 24, 2012

AAPEX Interview: Dr. Henry Miller via Cultural Weekly

Dr. Henry Miller

Check out Jaz Dorsey's interview of Dr. Henry Miller, author of Theorizing Black Theatre at Cultural Weekly.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Jaz Dorsey directs SO SHE LIVED 6/1 (Nashville)

Dear Colleagues and Associates,

Please join us for my Nashville directing debut on June 15 at The Darkhorse.

The Playwright: Emmy Winner and Academy Award Nominee (for THE COLOR PURPLE) Chris Boardman. www.chrisboardmanmusic.com

The Cast: David Kinnard, Ann Street, Michelle Glenn and Perlie Dunn.

Make your reservations by June 1st for the special opening night $10.00 ticket. Just email me at dramaturgtn@gmail.com


Jaz Dorsey (Director) has an undergraduate degree in International Studies from UNC-Chapel Hill followed by graduate studies in directing at VCU in Richmond, Va.

His NYC Off Broadway directing credits include productions of MISS JULIE by August Strindberg, A WOMAN OF NO IMPORTANCE by Oscar Wilde, PURIFICATION by Tennessee Williams and THE BROKEN HEARTS OF EDGAR ALLAN POE.

Nashville credits include TORCH SONG TRILOGY with Bianca Paige in 2002 at The Darkhorse Theatre, MISS JULIE: THE MUSICAL at The Gaslight in 2003 and STAGEFRIGHT at Scarritt Bennett in 2011.

Dorsey is the founder of The Nashville Dramaturgy Project and it's divisions.

Come to Nashville and Go to the Theatre.

Jaz Dorsey
Artistic Director
The Nashville Dramaturgy Project

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Jaz Dorsey on Aesthetic Tension: Who do we think we are?

I'm reading a pretty cool book - FROM STAGE TO SCREEN by A.Nicholas Vardac.

I was glad to find it because there once was a very strong connection between the stage and the screen and Professor Vardac is telling me all about it. But beyond the designated subject matter, I like the way this dude writes and what he has to say about the nature of art in it's greatest sense. Take, for instance, the opening line of the introduction:

"Art in any of it's many forms cannot be considered in terms of static manifestation."

Tell that to Mona Lisa - she may be the one exception to that truth: she's pretty static and has been for centuries. But it is true - art advances with the molecular frenzy of mitosis in a warm petri dish.

A couple of pages later, Professor Vardac throws out a phrase that really rocked my world and instantly opened my eyes to the underlying facts. That phrase is "aesthetic tension."

The aesthetic tension that Vardac identifies is that of the 19th century, which comes down to this formula:

Romanticism + Realism x Industrialism. Industrialism forced realism on artists and the romantics retaliated. The manifestation here, at least in the theatre, was a kind of necessary demand on set designers to create spectacles of reality that soon exceeded the stage, which in turn catapulted the whole shebang into the eye of the camera. Cinema was born - but it was born out of theatre and that theatre was reflecting an aesthetic tension which compelled the men who were inventing "film" to rush in as fast as they could invent celluloid.

So that was then - and now, suddenly just over 100 years later, we have all the technology we could ever possibly need (not that more isn't coming). We've gone from making films on celluloid to making films with cell phones - but what is our "aesthetic tension"? In particular, what is the aesthetic tension of America USA in the middle of the year 2012?

The question really fascinates me because I have spent the last 5 years on a pilgrimage of aesthetic tension which started when I - a very Caucasian Southern white boy - got a wild hair and started The African American Playwrights Exchange. Two days after the "founding email" went out, 30 writers had joined the network. I have spent the last 5 years reading plays by these American writers that go back to the 70s. I have dialogued with over 250 writers and read more scripts than any sane person would allow themselves to read - and believe me, I can tell you a few things about aesthetic tension in our country today.

It's still about suppressing valuable art because we can't free ourselves from the spell of racial profiling.

If I could pick one play from the many that I have read which exemplifies what I am getting at, it would be THE CHITTLIN THIEF by Mike Oatman, resident playwright at Karamu House in Cleveland, Ohio.

In his play, Oatman postulates a protagonist who is African American and American upper class. Dude works for a marketing firm and the firm has acquired a new client who happens to be a gangsta rapper. The firm's owner just assumes that our hero, being Negro, is the appropriate staff member to rep the rapper. The scene between the exec and the artist is one of the most hysterical observations on who we think we are ever written.

On the same page with THE CHITTLIN THIEF is Nathan Ross Freeman's award winning play HANNAH ELIAS, which was commissioned by Nathan's friend and colleague, Johnnie Blue Gardner - an amazing collaboration that has resulted in a masterpiece.

Why has Hannah's story not been told - by which I mean, why has Nathan's play not been produced. Is it because it's a "black" story? (It's not - Hannah was 1/2 American Indian - but we're still living in a "one drop" mentality.)

reviews for us the absurd struggle of the African American dramatist as it manifested - but definitely not statically - in the dialectic between propaganda and art. That's aesthetic tension.

Let's face it folks - America is still afraid of Negros.

And that's aesthetic tension.

Can we live with it?

Come to Nashville and Go to the Theatre!

Jaz Dorsey
The African American Playwritghts Exchange
Nashville, Tennessee

Monday, May 21, 2012

Jaz Dorsey on Writing Political Literature

This essay is dedicated to Owa.

The African American Playwrights Exchange > The GONNE/YEATS Institute for Political Literature

Since starting AAPEX in 2007, I have spent 5 years in a state of advocacy re: those playwrights whose work strikes me as most meritorious. I have done a lot of writing but never saw it as anything more than a tool. However, I am something of a wise ass and, subtle or not, my writing constitutes an attack on the socio-economic psyche and politics of the American theatre.

I was already on a warpath before AAPEX opened a whole new can of worms, but in those days we didn't have the miracle of cyberspace and since one group I was railing against the most strongly were the editors who control the theatrical press - and critics - I didn't make friends and there wasn't much chance of my getting published.

But once Dave Copeland set up the AAPEX blog, that changed 180 degrees.

Still the writing was basically utilitarian, even when Penny Landau set up the Nashville Notes column on Nite Life Exchange. But when Adam Leipzig asked me to contribute to Cultural Weekly and then I got such cool feedback to the first piece, TALKING WITH OWA,I finally said to myself - "self, if you are nothing else, you are a writer."

Before this came down on me, I was a playwright and a lyricist, but both of those ultimately do not exist until they are performed before an audience, and, like most of us, I was really addicted to those two things - performers and audience. It really never occurred to me that I could reach people or be satisfied with reaching people in print. I craved the intercessor of the actor or the singer.

But print has changed and I am being dragged back in my own psyche to when my fascination was with Vonnegut and not with Brecht. Suddenly I prefer a good book to an evening in the theatre, a conversation with a librarian to an audition with an actor, or a few moments alone with my own piano to trying to even find a piano you can play here in Music City, USA.

Suddenly I am asking myself - what can I write OTHER than plays and is it worth writing that kind of thing anymore? Are there new lives for poetry and novels in the libraries of cyberspace.

Of course, anything I might write right now would still most likely reflect my obsession with the theatre and the role it needs to play in people's lives - but American's, most of them, don't even know what "theatre" is, and they are the ones I want to reach, not the elitist grant writing bigots who have their fangs into our art. The Meudsas, I call them.

Then I discovered Maud Gonne & W. B Yeats and the Irish Renaissance.

I put it this way- Maud first - because for me Maud leads this army, but Yeats is the flag that she waved and she forged a nationalist in him that I don't think would necessarily have been his destiny if he had not become mesmerized by Maud Gonne. In fact, I suspect that young Yeats' romantic fantasy would have been to follow in the footsteps of other Anglo Irish writers such as Shaw and Oscar Wilde and become a part of the London literati, much like some young American writer from El Paso would want to move to New York and become a "New York" writer.

Maud brought him to his knees and made him sing of Ireland for her.

In the scheme of things, in the UK, Dublin was to London what Birmingham, Alabama is to The Big Apple even today. Small, provincial...


The birthplace of one of the most profound civil rights actions in the evolution of democracy. Some call Maud the St. Joan of Ireland. I call her the Martin Luther King.

In their mythic relationship, Gonne and Yeats were the Mars and Apollo of Ireland - or you may see Maud more as a Valkyrie - Brunhilde. But if we're going Greek, woman notwithstanding, Maud Gonne was a god of war, a jihadist in her own right.

This was a time of voracious writers - the Victorians wrote like crazy - so all of their political fury flamed into not only plays and poems but letters and speeches, and these were the weapons of their revolution.

And all of this because Yeats had a boner for Maud that he couldn't shake (no pun intended) - which is something that I can identify with - and in fact one of my political fights is for a world where men can live in harmony with their penises. I mean, we have the Vagina Monologues, but the vaginas are not the ones causing all of the trouble, right? Where's the play about the penis? Thank God for Charlie Sheen and the writers of TWO AND A HALF MEN.

I have a stack of plays by AAPEX writers that could change the world but while these wonderful plays may indeed have profound consequences if and when they do get produced, for the moment I think that playwrights need to stop writing plays and write in other genres - and aim for their targets more directly via the revolutionary conduit of the internet.

What do you think?

Jaz Dorsey
The GONNE/YEATS Institute for Political Literature

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Stage Experiment

After over 30 years of producing new play readings and doing developmental work on hundreds of scripts, I have unveiled what I believe is the stumbling block in the road to success for playwrights.

What are we calling a stage and what stages are we writing for?

I was very blessed to have as my mentor a set designer, Richard Thomas Pike, who taught me the secret to brilliant theatre. Don't expect me to share it; it's a secret, but it has to do with set design.

And of course it has something to do with Shakespeare. And Moliere. And Chekov. And Brecht.

The Stage Experiment

Jaz Dorsey

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Ralph William Boone Tonight! (NYC)

Ralph William Boone

Friday, May 18, 2012

Red Harlem Readers

Artists and Money (from Cultural Weekly)

Jamie Dimon

Why are artists embarrassed
about getting money but
Jamie Dimon isn't?

By Adam Leipzig
After losing a couple of billion dollars last week with another derivative trading scheme, and apologizing (“This should never have happened”), JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon accepted his $23 million annual pay package on Wednesday.

Bankers never have difficulty taking remuneration.

Artists, on the other hand, can’t wait to apologize when they ask for cash. “Maybe my painting’s priced too high.” “Is it OK to charge $20 for my CD?” “Really, I’d be happy if someone just read my poems – they can have them for free.”

That’s verbatim dialogue from people in my workshops.

Well, my creative friends, it’s time for an attitude adjustment.


To continue reading, please click the post's title.

From AL. I feel strongly about this and I would appreciate you sharing it with people who will share, post Facebook, +1, Tweet and otherwise help share and get it out there.

Writing Contest (Deadline: May 30th)

Cultural Weekly is offering a writing contest. Your assignment? Write a new thousand-word-or-less story with one or more of the characters and/or story elements from Neil LaBute’s new, 1,000-word short story,“Across the Universe.” To learn more, please click the post's title.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

AAPEX Interview: Linda James-Johnson

Linda Johnson

While actors, directors and playwrights may be plentiful, a good choreographer is hard to find, which was why I was pretty psyched to connect with Linda James Johnson, a native of NYC who is now down in Atlanta, Ga. Figuring other folks would like to know a good choreographer, I asked Linda - what's up with you? Here's what she has to say for - and about - herself.
Jaz Dorsey

Theater and the Arts played a very very significant part in my childhood. At the age of 8, I was enrolled in dance, singing, piano, and sewing lessons. My life was filled with creative activities, and I loved every moment of it. My parents always said that they wanted to expose me to the things they were not exposed to.

My evolution as an artist? I knew by the time I was 13 that this was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Usually around that time of your life, folks are always asking you what do you want to be when you grow up. I always said either a dancer or an entertainer. But I was always discouraged. "We mean what do you want to do to make a living?" My answer was always the same: I want to be a dancer or entertainer. I tried to convince my parents that I wanted to go to the High School of Performing Arts in NY. They said No. I even had my dance teacher (the late great Bernice Johnson) speak to my parents to let them know. Attending this school would mean that my academics would have to be up to A, or B average. My parents would not even consider it! "No performing arts school for my daughter!" It was all about the academics. So off to a public high school I went.

I thought, OK when I graduate from High School, I'll go to Howard University where Debbie Allen went and they have a great arts
program. Again the answer was No. "You're going to school in NY."

So I went to Queens College. I started out majoring in Math. My third year in I saw this Dance Company - Fred Benjamin Dance Co. - perform at my school. After the performance, I immediately went to my guidance counselor, and changed my major to theater/dance. I graduated from school in 1977 and started hitting the pavement.

I actually started choreographing in College, but I knew then I really wanted to perform, so I focused all my energies on performing. I figured I could always teach and choreograph in my later years. I had a strong desire to perform at 22yrs of age. As I continued to perform, I gradually became interested in the entire productions and started looking at the production a little differently. After about 10 years of performing, I began to assist different Choreographers and Directors. I Liked it and then Loved it! So Here I AM!

Once I read over a piece, I identify the era and the music and dance style of the era, then apply that in designing and developing the choreography. Then there are:

Dancers that sing
Actors that move
Singers that dance
Singers that move

So after the audition process, I see what I'm working with and, based on the performers' fortés, bring out their best through choreography.

My process is simple: Follow your dream-- and Study! Study! Study! Learn All You Can About Your Profession/Business!

Why Atlanta? I'm born and raised in NY, lived there for almost 50 years. Atlanta is close enough to NY for me to return when I need to for work and it also affords me the opportunity to live in an environment in which I can comfortably exist and artistically create!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Controversial Streetcar with Blair Underwood and Nicole Ari Parker

Nicole Ari Parker and Blair Underwood on MSNBC

With regard to the "Nay Sayers," like the New Yorker theater critic, John Lahr, that asked Santa Clause, last Christmas, to bring him no more "Infernal all black cast productions of Tennessee Williams' plays, unless he can have his equal in 'FOLLY'; an all white production of an August Wilson play!"

"FOLLY," really?! We have been having such an AMAZING run, playing to full houses, standing ovations EVERY night, since the very first preview. Our run on Broadway was just extended another month until August 19th & all systems are go for us to take the production to London in Oct. Though 90% of the reviews have been positive...(we are, after all critiquing an art form & everyone is entitled to their own opinions), it is the commentaries from the likes of John Lahr (theater critic for The New Yorker magazine) & racist rants from New York Times critic Ben Brantley masquerading as a "review," where you realize that they are not even remotely interested in reviewing or critiquing the work and/or artistry upon the stage. The so-called guardian Elite of the New York theater world, would rather take a position of condescension & dismissal when people of color have the "audacity" to take on the extraordinary, beautiful work of Tennessee Williams. Once you know your history and know that there was indeed a culture of people (in the 1700s), endemic to Louisiana called the "gens de colour libre," or "free people of color," and that these people owned plantations & some actually owned their own slaves, there is no basis to dismiss the backstory of our Dubois sisters who hail from their family owned plantation called Belle Reeve. Or to dismiss the part of the story where Blanche Dubois pines for an oil millionaire called Shep Huntleigh. If these dismissive Nay Sayers knew their history, they would know that there were a number of black people that owned oil wells in the 30s & 40s. These are three actual black millionaires in the deep south of the 1930s & 40s that serve as prototypes for Shep Huntleigh: Lee Wilder Thomas, William Madison McDonald, and Joseph Jacob Simmons.

The headline from this conversation is: BLACK FOLKS, STAY IN YOUR PLACE!

As long as we stay in our place & do only the great "Black" classics, like "Fences," "Porgy & Bess," "A Raisin In The Sun," etc., your artistry will be lauded & touted, (as it should be), but if you dare step into the deified realm of Tennessee Williams, expect profound resistance & resentment. This is evident not only in our production but in "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof," produced by the same producers Stephen Byrd & Alia Jones in 2008 with an all-black cast. Incidentally, with the same dismissive climate, "Cat" prevailed & became the highest grossing "play" (not musical) of the year!

I saw the production & the work was stellar. "Cat" boasted three previous Tony Award "winners;" James Earl Jones, Phylicia Rashad & Anika Noni Rose, but the reviews were blistering & the entire company, cast & crew were completely ignored & shut out of a single Tony nomination, the highest honor in the world of Broadway. Ironically, so were we, save a deserved Tony nomination for Paul Tazewell's costumes. Though the costumes are terrific, are you telling me that when you come to see our play the ONLY thing you are left with is how amazing the costumes are?Dismissal & condescension.

Once again, you realize that the "resistance" and "resentment" is not based on the work. We are not being judged based on the work. It is the "power of the idea," that seems to unnerve the "elite;" the idea that people of color could produce & perform Tennessee Williams and do it well. The beauty in all of this is that when an idea's time has come it cannot & will not be ignored!

Nicole & I decided to make a concerted effort to expose John Lahr & other's ignorance with regard to people of color doing Tennessee Williams. We did an interview on MSNBC on Thursday with the brilliant Michael Eric Dyson. The response & buzz has been phenomenal. Feel free to send the video viral if you like. Thanks much.

To watch the MSNBC interview where Blair Underwood and Nicole Ari Parker address John Lahr's remarks, please click the post's title.

Donna Walker-Kuhne
718 757 6206

The Nashville Dramaturgy Project

Announcing the formal establishment of The Nashville Dramaturgy Project, May 12, 2012.

Divisions of The Nashville Dramaturgy Project are

SWT - The Southern Writers' Theatre - established 2002.
AAPEX - The African American Playwrights Exchange - established 2007
F.L.A.G. - The Foreign Language Acting Group - established 2009
STN - The Singers' Theatre of Nashville - to debut Feb. 2013

The Nashville Dramaturgy Project is also proud to be a partner of TEAM IRELAND.

The mission of The Nashville Dramaturgy Project is to explore the role of the dramaturg at the urban level.

Jaz Dorsey
Artistic Director
The Nashville Dramaturgy Project

Theatre Science? AAPEX Recommended Reading

If one were to study theatre at the university level in Germany, one would study "theatrewissenschaft" - "wissenschaft" being the German word for "science." In fact - probably comes as no surprise - the Germans view all areas of study as sciences and, in fact, there is - has to be - a science to everything, though this may be an uncomfortable thought for Americans, where science and art are basically viewed as antithetical.

No work addresses the subject better than MAN'S RAGE FOR CHAOS: BIOLOGY, BEHAVIOR AND THE ARTS by 20th century philosopher Morse Peckham - well worth a read.

Jaz Dorsey
The Nashville Dramaturgy Project

Vote to save the Apollo Theatre

Time is running out. Click here to vote to save the legendary Apollo Theatre in Harlem. Register, and scroll down the list of NYC venues fighting to get money for renovations till you get to the Apollo Theatre. Right now it ranks #16 (2% of the votes).

AAPEX Interview: Michael Aman

Michael Aman

What role did theatre and the arts play in your childhood and upbringing?
I grew up on a farm in upstate New York with 5 brothers and sisters. My mother played the piano and my father had a tendency to sing everything “We’re coming to a stop sign. Look at that cow.” There was no special thrust on my parents’ part to expose us to art. It just happened. Spontaneously, we’d go to an outdoor concert, travel to Art Park outside of Buffalo, whatever was free or cheap to drag their brood to. My love for theatre started when my older brother was forced to audition for the role of the boy in Bye Bye Birdie when he was in high school. (He was short and they needed someone small.) He didn’t get in, but we went to see it and I was smitten with the magic. Soon thereafter, I spent every moment I could on listening to showtunes and reading plays that I would find in the local library – a great free source of entertainment when you have 6 kids. I stumbled into writing first writing poetry as an undergraduate. Later, I became a music teacher for a small Catholic school and needed a performance piece for my 4th and 5th graders – so I wrote them a show. That’s how I got into this very odd business.

Tell us about your own evolution as an artist.
I started writing children’s plays and musicals. I was afraid to write. “I can’t do that. That’s something that special people do.” But a friend saw my children’s shows and encouraged me. I joined the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop in the early 90s and realized with some trepidation that I wanted to write plays as well. I started out by writing one act plays. I was (and am) drawn to themes that illuminate the complexity of who we are. My one-act Keys – my first play – is about a father having to dress his severely mentally handicapped son for the funeral of the young man’s mother. My first full-length (The Tool Shed) examines society’s reluctance to allow for anyone to change – specifically regarding Meghan’s Law. I love the challenge of getting into the mind of complex characters and puzzling out how to dramatize them – “How can I make a musical of Bonnie and Clyde and have the audience care about these murderers?” The result of that question was The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde. I’m presently doing research on Margaret Sanger – again a complex historical figure.

What inspired you to write THE UNBLEACHED AMERICAN?
When I was working on my Ph.D. in theatre I focused on 19th century African American theatre and the performance of race. I am also passionate about the history of the American Musical Comedy. And when I started reading about Ernest Hogan, a man who was profoundly influential in both of those realms, I was dumbfounded that he is essentially overlooked in history. Here was a man who was once considered the funniest man in the world and he is all but forgotten today. And like many of the brilliant African American comedians in the early 20th century, he died tragically young (Bob Cole, George Walker, etc.). I wanted to write a play of language and contrasts. The language of The Unbleached American is that of two highly sophisticated wits who would have been judged at the time by the plethora of stereotypes. Even in hindsight, most people today would judge an African American man from the rural south and a poor Irish American woman through the plate glass of stereotypes. I wanted to show two people who can utilize these stereotypes when they want, but are able to reveal their true selves as well. As far as the contrasts, I am drawn to the meeting of opposites, and this play is chock full of them: rich/poor; black/white; healthy/dying; male/female. The two characters of the piece are complex, funny and rich in their passions – but Sharon, Ernest’s Irish American nurse, would have been considered on the lowest rung of the social ladder, and Ernest, as an African American – despite his wealth – would have been not much better off than Sharon. The challenge for me was to write a convincing piece in which we really believe these two people fall in love over the course of the four scenes.

What is your personal mission as a playwright?
I seek out challenges. I don’t like doing the same thing twice. As for a mission? I guess it’s to take audiences on an emotional journey using the medium of theatre – which is a medium of language and structure, unlike film which is a medium of image and realism. I feel that as a playwright, it is my job to listen carefully to the voices of characters and to try to capture those voices as they work out conflicts in pursuit of their wants. Whether I’m writing a lyric, the book to a musical, a sex comedy, or a drama, the tools are basically the same: stay honest to the character and don’t compromise. It’s about problem solving. I try to avoid shortcuts (imperfect rhymes in lyrics, a character has to leave the room to answer a phone call so that we can hear the other two characters talk without the other one around, a less-than-plausible coincidence that neatly ties things up). But a mission? I guess I want you to feel something.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

2012 AAPEX Angel Awards


AAPEX is proud to announce the
2012 AAPEX Angel Awards.

Peter Lawson Jones
Artist of the Year
for a career that defines the term
"Renaissance Man"

William Jenkins
Emerging Producer Award
for his reading of Nine Days in the Sun

Petronia Paley
Best Director Award
for being the playwright's advocate

Best African American Theatre
for offering a playwright-friendly venue

Courtney McClellan
Alexis Lherisson
MVP Award
for launching the Looby Reading Series

Helen "Olaketi" Shute Pettaway
MVP Award
for grounding our work in Nashville

Masterpiece Awards

Hannah Elias
Nathan Ross Freeman

Nine Days in the Sun
Mark Clayton Southers


2012 Best New Plays

Host of Sparrows
Sarita Moore
with her collaborator
Justin Scribner

Marie Laveau
Jamal Williams

The Unbleached American
Michael Aman

The Effective Playwright Award
Mark Clayton Southers
Nine Days in the Sun

Best Playwrights Group

Saturday, May 5, 2012

2012 Atlanta Black Theatre Festival (Submission Deadline June 15th)

We are currently accepting submissions for the Atlanta Black Theatre Festival. You don't have to be black, just have one involved in your play! For more information, please click the post's title.