Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Essential Theatre offers 20% off on tixs to "A Rose Among Thorns"

E-patrons who purchase tickets for "A Rose Among Thorns", a Tribute to Rosa Parks on Brown Paper Tickets through September 7th will receive a 20% discount off regular price! Act now! Use code Celebration55.

Please click the post's title to save money and to learn more about the play.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Congratulations to Terrence Spivey, Artistic Director of Karamu House Theatre

Terrence Spivey

Karamu House Theatre Artistic Director Terrence Spivey was given a Proclamation from Cleveland Mayor Frank G. Jackson and a Resolution from Councilwoman Mamie Mitchell on Thursday, August, 25, 2011. To watch a slide show of the presentation, please click here.

Legendary actor Robert Hooks offers up congratulations too:


Congratulations on being honored for your dedication and hard work at Karamu House. What a privileged you must feel to be apart of the true cultural and community history that Karamu has provided for the city of Cleveland over so many decades.

I recall in the early sixties- while starring in Leroi Jones' "Dutchman" being visited backstage at the Cherry Lane Theatre by the great poet laureate Langston Hughes- who spoke in such glowing terms about Karamu and how it was so important in his beginnings as a playwright. Through the years I've had the pleasure of knowing and performing with many Karamu alumni such as Ivan Dixon- Robert Guillaume- Clayton Corbin- Beverly Todd- Al Fann- Buddy Butler and many more from your classic Karamu House.

I also had the privilege of meeting both the Jelliffes (Karamu's founders) while visiting Karamu with the Broadway company of "A Taste Of Honey" in the sixties. All this inspiration- years before I co-founded another great theatre institution "The Negro Ensemble Company."

Cultural institutions like Karamu and the NEC have led the way in America's communities for so many creative artists in all areas of legitimate theatre.

To learn more about The Karamu House Theatre, please click the post's title.

Barbara K. Asare-Bediako's BAD MEDICINE reading at JFK Center for the Performing Arts 3/3 (Washington,DC)

To learn more about The Essential Theatre, please click the post's title.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

AAPEX Interview: Rita Gardner

Interview by Jaz Dorsey

When I was a kid - with NO thought of a career in the theatre - I went to a production of THE FANTASTICKS at a small community theatre in a small town just west of Wilmington, North Carolina. The thrust stage was surrounded on 3 sides by some very steep seating but the theatre really was small and we sat in the top row, hovering over the "world of the play" and almost literally floating on the music. On the stage there was nothing but a piano, and the way the play exploded into this intimate space was like shaking a snow globe. I learned more about theatre from that one night than I did from any course or seminar I have ever taken, but the lesson wasn't really driven home until about 5 years later when I found myself unexpectedly apprenticed to set designer Rick Pike, who, in one of those magic moments that you can have only with a mentor, made me see that what you really need to create the "world of a play"on a stage is:

the right actors doing the right things in the right costumes.

Needless to say, THE FANTASTICKS was where we started. Years later, when I sat down to write my own musicals - especially CAFE ESCARGOT - I was equipped with the playwright's most invaluable tool, the insight needed to write a play which could actually be produced - all because of that seminal experience of seeing THE FANTASTICKS.

Beyond that, THE FANTASTICKS is as much a part of the spirit of the 60's as Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and The Beatles and I've been very nostalgic for the 60's and wanting to share the energy and message of that time with a generation which is young enough to be my grand kids.

So I was seriously thrilled to suddenly find myself dialoging in cyberspace with actress Rita Gardner, who originated the role of the girl, Luisa.

Rita is getting ready for her one woman show TRY TO REMEMBER: A LOOK BACK AT OFF BROADWAY and if I did have grand kids, I would so be taking them to see this show. I know she's busy but I asked her to share with us her journey to this show and this is what she has to say:

What role did theatre and the arts play in your childhood and upbringing?
I really had very little choice. My folks heard me singing around the apartment and took me in, at age 5, for an audition for a radio program. I got the job! My first audition! I was hooked.

Tell us about your own evolution as an artist.
Over the years I've had the chance to work with many of the finest people in the business, and learn so much from them. It's impossible to just pick out one or two, because when you've worked with actors like Robert Preston, Cicely Tyson, directors like Michael Kidd, Bob Fosse, and had teachers like Herbert Berghoff and Uta Hagen, you realize how lucky you've been, and it's difficult to attribute any one insight to any one influence.

What inspired you to create this show, TRY TO REMEMBER?
Several years ago, thinking about the approaching 50th anniversary of the opening of THE FANTASTICKS, Alex, Barry, and I began to reflect on the concept of Off-Broadway as a whole, and of how it has changed theatre. Since I was one of the very first "pioneers," and since THE FANTASTICKS has become so emblematic of the medium, it seemed only natural to place that show at the center of things.

How would you, personally, define "cabaret"?
I would define cabaret as an evening of songs and chatter- usually without any specific theme - more of a shifting set of moods.

Treat yourself to a look at Rita's career and the wonderful cuts from her cd at www.ritagardner. com To get there, just click the post's title.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Playwright Owa Jackson on "The Myth Makers"

Owa Jackson


What is the reality of wealth and success in the current world system? It seems to my mind, the acquisition of more things and an accumulation of more debt. In this way people feel completely inundated with their material property, actually drowning so-to-speak in what they do have or drowning in the desires for what they don’t have. All of this swept away by the sea of death that renders all such desires, worthless at the end of the day. No matter how much one seems to acquire, somehow it’s not enough and one may feel completely un- whole in their souls. This belief is so acute that there exist possibilities for murder and mayhem even between family members as a result. In fact, this appears to suffer a soul sickness of sort at the root of many social and material addictions, personality disorders and other ill mental affects. This spiritual disorder seems to manifest itself in rich and poor alike. The end result is a murderous competition of a culture of more in direct proportion to one’s ability to acquire more.

The rich and powerful destroy in their activities to gain more. The poor and displaced destroy in their activities to gain more. It is a highly competitive systemic society motion where sports arenas are the focal point of mass angst displayed and expressed in this culturally approved phenomenon of winning the prize—more. The wealthy class may own twenty cars. The middle class may own two cars and the poor may own one car, but no one has enough cars. In this system of things one must have more. Is this a mindset carryover from the developmental hunter/gatherer periods of human existence? Only more sophisticated now in our attainments; now that we have engaged a social contract of arrogant and stubborn naïveté in consideration of a mythic order termed sovereign governance and national states, grouping into sphere of interest and power.

There still appears no matter how modern or primitive a society, there exists a tribal mindset despite the idealized complexity or simplicity of that state and its society. In this social constellation of societal sets, the social grouping into larger tribal associations create social, national and international antagonisms; hence, the NATO alliance or the assignation of so-called Third World countries. These systems can also be categorized or assembled on the basis of race, economic or social stratifications or in any combinations of these elemental (resources) units making up the whole. The elements not available become the desired and sought after parts in the pursuit of acquisition of more. Once having gained the parts sought after, the search is on for more parts in the pursuit of progress. This process is mindful of the never ending jungle existence of the hungry animal’s search for food and shelter; only, it’s a search not as a result of instinctual drives. But rather by sentient beings, with complex psychological issues of creature comfort; usually directed by concealed mental trauma, real or artificially induced by social engineering and political mechanizations.

The role and existence of the so-called African-American or Black person is a critical one in this hierarchy of systemic desires in currently the most powerful nation state in human history, America. The so-called Black man and woman are in a socially designed state of attenuated psychological manipulation in a mythic matrix of conflicting desires that can never be satiated in a carrot on a stick diversion from the really important issues of existence. The first of these diversionary issues is one of “identity.” The racial group as a result of trauma based mind control programming, has is hard drive completely erased; and a new program installed in which the subject has no direct involvement in its choice of motive inclinations. As a result of this mental operation, this particular group has no control over its individual or group destiny. They remain in constant controversy and flux, concerning its approval ratings, by a system of ranking they lack the power of input and adjustment. Instead, entrapped in a never ending circle of frustrating false starts that usually leads to a dead-end social climbing experience whose consequences more often then not, devolves into a complete detachment into the upper reaches of a societal system which demands compete devotion to its ideals or a level of hopeless poverty dependent upon the graciousness of the entitlement systems of the dole; this condition, typically perpetuates a life of indolence and indulgence. The end product is a social dis-connect between the communal strata of universally shared life. This mental condition of identity loss is a generational discourse and emotional fiat that prevents a true organizational proviso for corrective actions by those personally and collectively affected.

Is there a solution to this problem and its attendant issues? Yes.

It must first be understood that “our “ Identity is myth, manufactured by Myth Makers, that the so-called Blacks living in America are uniquely different from Africans and other so-called Blacks in the World’s Diaspora. This position concerning the issue of identity must be a critical understand and awareness; for without it, there can be no useful metaphases at the cellular level and forward movement from the mind control system employed in the self-perpetuating management of our irrational milieu and its auto-response to the external stimuli of the New World Social Order under a One World Government. This process is coming as a result of immutable conditions as part of a universal progression. However, this does not mean it is something to be feared. Why? Because, all governments are systems of order out of chaos; the difference for those who wish to make personal choices is deeply rooted in the awareness and understanding that we are mis-informed as to the nature of ourselves.

The first step in altering the cerebral connections of our psychic connection to the Patriarchal Matrix of left brain thinking; it is necessary to reduce and finally, eliminate the cycles of psychological, emotional and physical stress brought about by attempting to function by the standards of the conventional thinking of the current world order.

If we understand that we were once aboriginal natives who were lawful captives by a society composed of the most advanced genetic scientist in the history of the world. These scientists rearranged our major DNA program structure through a very formalistic system of mind control programming, generally called “institutionalized slavery.” We were designed and named just as easily as a chemical product is developed in a manufacturers’ laboratory and production plant. As a result we have about as much consciousness as a box of spaghetti that is opened, emptied into a pot of boiling water, cooked and then eaten by someone. A complete cycle of function has been achieved. The superficial purpose is a function of a product. The product has been rendered obsolete by the Industrial Revolution and results in the product being placed on the sidelines. However, there is a Higher Purpose that Supersedes the lower functions of the current settings. What makes this a situation of transmutation (as opposed to a static box of pasta) is the capacity for a conversation of possibility. There is in what is generally regarded as an End Time a major inter-galactic transformation, time warp change, historical transference, intuitional recalibration, spiritual awareness, planetary shift and social meaning as metaphor for living. This process will overcome all evil as currently construed. The power relationships will re-organize themselves in a manner that is honest and loving despite the outward appearances of terror, war and destitution.

What does this mean?

Meditation is very important to the stability of the mind’s perception and ability to improve the electromagnetic field of her or his environment(s). This is a very important point. The need to slow down the cellular and protoplasmic layers of existence in a fast changing world that will otherwise seem destructive, dangerous and damaging. The greatest obstacle to what is currently happening and coming is FEAR and feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.

We cannot afford fear anymore to govern our emotional and intellectual comprehension of the world that resonates around us. We must positively and resolutely grasp the truth that racial and ethnic identity is a falsehood useful only for the separation of things from the unifying bond of love. To seek these kinds of identity is to engage an endless trap from which there can be no escape. It is a black box theater creating dramas of enmity and conflicts between opposing entities that can never be resolved by intellectual models of species, race and ethnicity. This historical condition inhibits the confluence of true freedom, justice and equality in a world gone mad with its compartmentalized sense of self.

The most important first step is to LISTEN and ask QUESTIONS based on two principles: LOVE all living things and the DECISION made upon the harmony of knowing that substance is to be shared in harmony by all beings animate and inanimate. To choose any other path is to continue down the road of self-destruction and that mistaken direction taken by others. To allow others to insist on race based identity is to pay Pimps to do a job that cannot be completed successfully while paying them salaries in the coinage of our future. The evils and hurt of the past centuries are weighted on all societies who at one time or another engaged in mandated bondage or slavery. All have committed this evil. Now is the time for a clear understanding and unconfused declaration: There is but one race, the human race.

Mankind cannot expect to solve the immense problems of its existence or reach the stars as separate and distinct racial sets. But as a federation of concerted human efforts, these issues can be addressed and usefully unraveled. There is a new Age approaching of Harmonious Inclusion where all things are possible.

More to be revealed.


Bronx, NY

August 24, 2011

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Ella Joyce's A ROSE AMONG THORNS opens 9/21 (Washington, DC)

Please click the post's title to visit The Essential Theatre's website.

AAPEX Interview: Dr. Mary Weems

Dr. Mary Weems

One of the most compelling scripts to come across my desk in recent months is a play called MEAT by Dr. Mary Weems , Assistant Professor in the Department of Education and Allied Studies at John Carroll University in University Heights, Ohio.

MEAT, which received a reading at this year's National Black Theatre Festival, deals with the career of Cleveland serial killer Anthony Sowell who, over a three year period, claimed the lives of 11 women. The victims are evoked by a trio of women who reference the three witches in MACBETH, and the play's structure is intense and visceral.

On another note, Weems is also the author of AT LAST, a revue of monologues and songs recalling the lives of such American legends as Zora Neal Hurston, Billie Holiday, Etta James, Bessie Smith and others.

I asked Dr. Weems to tell us something about herself and her work and this is what she has to say:

What role did theatre and the arts play in your childhood and upbringing?
I first experienced plays as a reader. I only went to see live plays (for the most part at Karamu) when we went on a field trip at whatever school I was attending until I became an adult, but the arts have always been part of my life. I grew up po’ during segregation (then integration) and living in all Black neighborhoods back then meant visual art, live music, song and dance was part of what was happening—since we all had to live together this included artists, many who probably worked in the Black clubs, restaurants, and bars not far from where we lived. My grandfather used to belong to a band and played guitar, my grandmother and mother loved to draw, various relatives sang in the choir etc. Also, visits to the Cleveland Museum of Art were free.
Tell us about your own evolution as an artist.
I started writing in a Black and White composition notebook I kept in an Amazon puzzle box my grandmother gave me when I was thirteen to overcome low self-esteem and to get to know myself. For most of my young life I didn’t share what I wrote with anyone but my grandmother who used to tell me she didn’t understand it but knew it was good. This lack of exposure, study, guidance, etc. meant my work didn’t grow. When I was in my early 30s, I left a lower level corporate position when the company I’d worked for almost thirteen years reorganized, and got serious about college. I took a class with a native Irish poet and something in the vibe between us encouraged me to show her some of my poems. The following week she kept me in her office for over an hour discussing my work, pointing out that I had my own poetic voice and asking “Now what are you going to do with it?” This question led to a re-assessment of my life goals. I was on my way to law school, but when I considered the possibility of actually doing what I love (writing, performing, teaching) for a living I shifted gears and pursued a Masters in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing, followed by a Ph.D. in Education. My work began to grow as soon as I added the additional layers of pertinent college classes, workshops, editing, open mike readings in the community and publication to the extensive reading and writing I’d been doing almost twenty years by then. In terms of evolution much of my published and/or performed work has been as a poet and/or artist-scholar, but I think my recent work as a playwright reflects the most growth I’ve had in a relatively short period of time in my career. In terms of people I’ve worked with, I’d like to thank fellow playwright Sandra Perlman, the only instructor I had in this genre, my friend and favorite director Tony Sias, MFA, the Director of Theatre and Fine Arts for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, Michael Oatman for encouraging me to get my plays out into the world and Black Poetic. Beyond what I’ve learned and continue to learn from each of them, don’t ask me to articulate the ‘why’ of this evolution, I have no idea—I just pray it keeps coming.
As a playwright, you tackle some pretty tough subjects in such plays as MEAT and DUNKING. Why do you go to these dark and disturbing places?
I don’t intentionally go anyplace. Places, personal experiences, incidents, tragedies, moments, lines take me and my job is to get what’s coming through me down on the page as quickly as possible. When I’m inspired to write I feel as if I’m filling up with words. What I write about usually involves the human condition or what happens to me and others I encounter or imagine between birth and goodbye and there’s usually a sense of the complexity involved in living day-to-day, which always includes drama of some kind. When you’ve lived through decades as an adult language artist, you have a lot to draw from in terms of both knowledge and experience, and I’ve always been most interested in writing about things that have some kind of social, cultural and/or political bent. Beyond that writing is a more spiritual, organic process for me.
What is your take on Cleveland as a theatre town?
I think regional, local and community theatres here are accomplishing small miracles given the economy and the declining audience for live theater nationally. As someone who thinks giving local artists places to do their work should be part of each theatre’s game plan, I’m especially excited by the Cleveland Public Theatre’s Ingenuity Festival, the Cleveland Playhouse’s FusionFest, Dobama Theatre's GYM, and Terrence Spivey, Artistic Director of Karamu’s commitment to featuring the work of local playwrights and other artists. Cleveland’s blessed to have a committed theatre community including (not trying to leave anyone out) The Beck Center, and the Ensemble and East Cleveland Theatres.

Interview by Jaz Dorsey.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Hershell Norwood's BILLIE'S BLUES opens 9/19 (Nashville)

Billie Holiday's voice was the St. George that slew the dragon of segregation in the US, and the horse she rode in on was Barney Josephson, a Jewish shoe salesman from Trenton, New Jersey, who had a passion for jazz.

In December 1938, Josephson opened a club in Greenwich Village called CAFE SOCIETY - irreverently known as "The Wrong Place for the Right People." CAFE SOCIETY was the first integrated night club in the United States - in fact, it may be the first and most profound example of integration in our country - and it was certainly a testament to the power of music, because jazz was the first thing to bring the races together in this country - in a good way!

Playwright Hershell Norwood has written a new play about Billie Holiday - BILLIE'S BLUES - which focuses on this particular moment in our history, a moment when Billie's mother could go to hear her sing and when Billie and her band could step off the stage and sit at a table having drinks with white folks.

On Monday, September 19, The African American Playwrights' Exchange, in partnership with Metro Nashville Parks Theatre Department's New Play Reading Series, invites you to join us at The Looby Theatre at 2301 Rosa Parks Blvd.37228 for a Nashville reading of BILLIE'S BLUES, directed by Courtney McClellan and starring Vilia Steele, Dara Talibah, Jonah Kraut, Max Desir, Dominique Howse and Julie Ness, with special guest artists Perlie Dunn and Elan Crawford, and hosted by Helen "Olaketi" Shute-Pettaway. Dr. Jamie Cutler will costume.

AAPEX is honored that BILLIE'S BLUES is serving as the kick off of the brand new "Play Reading Series" through Metro Nashville Parks' Theater Department.

"We would like to offer one new play reading each month," says Carolyn German, who heads up the Theater Department, and who started the program, "because readings are so vital to the process and it's a great way to share the process with the community."

The reading is free to the public. Reservations may be made at or by phone at 615-915-0891.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

AAPEX Recommended Reading: The Science of Acting by Sam Kogan

The Science of Acting
by Sam Kogan, Routledge 2010.

Recommended by The African American Playwrights Exchange

Please click post's title to learn more and to purchase on

Saturday, August 20, 2011

AAPEX Interview: Mario Farwell

Mario Farwell

What role did theatre and the arts play in your childhood and upbringing?

My childhood was filled with many wonderful experiences that fed my imagination and nurtured me artistically. I was a sickly child growing up, tending to be shy and introverted. As a coping mechanism, I developed a world of make believe which transcended the segregation of the fifties, my family's poor economic circumstance, and my feelings of being different. I created the most amazing castles from sticks and rocks, or made a beautiful mud pie -- fit for a king, or plant beans in a vacant lot and make-believe I was a Kansas farmer.

My mother was very influential in my creative development. She loved to work with her hands sewing, doing hair and arts and crafts, but would always take time to read to me and my brothers. We would gather on her bed and listen to her read fairy tales, Aesop’s Fables and more. She also took us to the Municipal Opera (“The Muny”), an outdoor summer theatre in Forest Park (site of the 1904 World’s Fair). Every summer we saw many of the popular musicals of the day – together, as a family.

Several things stand out in my theatre development. Once, we went to Tijuana and my mother bought me two puppets. I loved those puppets and played with the constantly. I would make up elaborate stories of heroes, villains, and damsels in distress. Puppetry certainly enhanced my wild imagination! My fourth-grade teacher also was very influential to my creative development. He brought classical music and opera to our inner city classroom for us to experience. Most of my classmates were bored, but the music enthralled me. It was the first time I heard the Opera “Carmen”, by Bizet. It was amazing.

Tell us about your own evolution as an artist.

I've always taken the approach to writing that says the more you know about other artistic disciplines; the better you will understand your chosen discipline. I've pursued formal training in dance, photography, music, painting and theatre; and, these various artistic disciplines have broadened me as a playwright.

I wrote my first play in junior high school. It was the typical droll example of the adolescent mind striking out at the injustices of the world at large. In high school, I was peripherally involved in theatre. My father frowned on the arts; he thought being in the theatre was for sissies. When I decided I was going to major in theatre, he gave me an ultimatum: find a practical career or he wouldn’t pay for college. I defied his wishes, and went on to major in theatre at the University of Missouri in Kansas City. There I studied theatre; began dance classes (and fell in love with ballet) and pursued a dance career with great zeal. I dreamed of one day dancing with the New York City ballet. After graduation, I packed by bags and moved to New York. I was going to be an overnight sensation; instead, I was schooled in life and hard knocks. I struggled and I starved. I continued taking dance classes, did some cattle calls, and got involved in all sorts of diversions. No matter how far I strayed from theatre, though, it always seemed to call me back. I eventually returned to writing by collaborating on a children’s musical. I wrote the book and lyrics and a friend/composer wrote the music. Over the years the small children's musical has morphed into the full-length musical “Starfest.” During this same period, I wrote another musical based on the life of “Joan of Arc.” The process of writing two musicals taught me persistence, the art of collaboration, and the beauty and power of dramatic structure.

My restless heart has taken me from New York City, to San Diego, across the ocean to London and now I’m firmly rooted in St. Louis again. Someone once said the best way to be an artist is to go out and live life. I’ve done just that, and my life has ended up on the pages of “Life Among the Trees,” “The Last Day's of Cafe Cafe”, “The Seamstress of St. Francis Street,” “Icarus Wing,” "The Healing of Joey Padowaski” and “You Know I Can’t Eat Buffalo Meat When There’s a Terrorist on the Loose.”

I’ve discovered over the many years of writing plays, and numerous other artistic projects, that I’m always chasing after that transcending moment when magic happens on stage; the dark shadows of life are illuminated, we’re able to laugh at the foibles of others we see in ourselves, and soar on the joy of being transported to another world. I strive to create these moments whenever I tackle a new project.

Tell us about the founding and the mission of The St. Louis Writers Group.

The St. Louis Writers’ Group is a group of like-minded scriptwriters who meet twice a month to help each other develop their scripts. We have no membership fees, no teachers, and no pressure to attend meetings. We are a family of artists helping each other perfect our scripts and writing craft. The group evolved out of my frustration in not having a regular venue to have my plays read and discussed. I approached the owner of a local coffee shop and asked him if I could do a reading of one my plays; he agreed and that was the beginning of the St. Louis Writers’ Group. I invited some other writers to attend the first reading, and they liked the venue and the atmosphere so much, they asked if they could have their plays read at the coffee shop. I agreed, and arranged more readings at the coffee shop, and the writers and scripts kept coming week after week.

One day, I realized the St. Louis Writers’ Group had a life of its own and needed legitimacy. First Run Theatre, is a local theatre company where I was closely involved and I approached them with the idea of becoming part of their organization. They agreed and the St. Louis Writers’ Group is now under the umbrella of First Run Theatre and has been going strong for the past six years.

During our short history, hundreds of writers, actor, directors, and other theatre professionals, have participated in our script developmental process. Many of the plays developed at the St. Louis Writers’ Group have gone on to full productions in St. Louis and across the country. One of our plays was produced in Ghana, Africa. The St. Louis Writers’ Group meets twice a month. The first Monday of the month we read complete scripts, and we workshop script in various stages of development on the third Monday of the month.

What are your thoughts on St. Louis as a theatre town?

There is a very large and diverse theatre scene happening in St. Louis. Although I don’t see nearly as much theatre as I would like, much of what I see is good and professionally executed. My only pet peeve with St. Louis theatre is there is so little original theatre done in the town.

To learn about Mario and his work, please click the post's title to visit his website.

Jaz Dorsey

Thursday, August 18, 2011

AAPEX Interview: Valerie S. Hart

"Tumbling Woman" by Eric Fischl

When I was an undergraduate at Chapel Hill, I took a course in the Philosophy of Art. Our final assignment was to write a paper on the topic "What is Art?" I got an A on the paper, but that kind of bothered me because I felt that I really had no idea about what art was - and the question nagged at me until, in graduate school, I read a book titled MAN'S RAGE FOR CHAOS by Philosopher Morse Peckham. The subtitle of Peckham's book - Biology, Behavior and the Arts - points clearly to his thesis: Art, like all human activity, has it's roots and purpose in biology. Which lead me to formulate my own thesis - Art is the DNA of species memory. Nothing has ever come along to illustrate this thesis better than Valerie S. Hart's thought provoking new play RISING & FALLING, the current offering of Rhubarb Theater Company at The Darkhorse Theatre, directed by Trish Crist. As we approach the 10th anniversary of 9/11, Hart looks back at the role that a work of art played in the commemoration and controversy of the aftermath of the attack on The World Trade Center. At the center of the play is a bronze nude statue of a young girl falling backwards, representing those people who jumped and/or fell from the burning towers. The actual statue, by artist Eric Fischl, was placed in Rockefeller Center, but was shortly draped over and then removed because some found it offensive and felt that the artist was capitalizing on the tragedy. Hart fictionalizes this piece of history with her own work of art in which the emotional impact of the statue and it's controversy resonates in the lives of three characters - the artist who creates the statue, a mother who believes that the statue is of her daughter who died in the destruction, and a Native American construction worker who was one of the workers who built the Towers -which he and his co-workers thought were indestructible and which he refers to as "American Pyramids" - forgetting and realizing that pyramids were tombs. As the statue moves into the realm of its own mythology, Hart reaches back through the centuries to two other iconic female figures whose stories of sacrifice have endured through the ages, but raising the question - can we view the lives lost in 9/11 as sacrifice and as examples of heroism? How do we remember 9/11? What, if anything, did it mean and, above all, what role will art play in keeping 9/11 locked in the DNA spiral of species memory? Looking to understand what inspired the author to write this play, I asked Valerie to share with us something about herself and the inspiration behind RISING & FALLING. This is what she has to say:

1. What role did theatre and the arts play in your childhood and upbringing? Both of my parents performed music professionally. My mother sang for weddings and funerals. She could (and I believe still can) clearly nail the full octave above high C. My father played guitar, ukulele and banjo and was in a jazz combo while in college. He also painted. And they both love literature and film. So there were always visual arts, books and music in my house. The very first record albums I was given as my own property (I think I was in 3rd grade) were "The Monkees" and Bruno Walter conducting Beethoven's Fifth Symphony with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra. Regarding theater, a seminal event was going to Philadelphia with my family in the 70's for the first touring production of Sweeney Todd. That was the most amazing thing I'd ever heard and seen at that point. Until then theatre, and musical theatre especially, felt like some fun and beautiful artifice (aka Rogers & Hammerstein) . Suddenly musical theatre was real, visceral, relevant, even if the story was from eighteenth century England.

2. Tell us about your own evolution as an artist.
I wrote poetry in high school and was drilled in criticism. But I loved science as well and sort of abandoned creative writing while ambling along in the biological sciences. Then in my mid-thirties I was in a place where I had access to lots of visual artists as friends, teachers and mentors so I tried my hand at painting and sculpture. Sculpture is this absorbing occupation of problem solving: how to get to idea X while taming gravity, making a hard material look soft, spending as little budget as possible on something that is taller and weighs more than you, etc. It is challenging, stimulating and always different. But in the end I seem to return like a pigeon to words on a page. In 2004 I decided to make a real commitment to poetry, drama and fiction and matriculated at SF State for a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. I had amazing colleagues and teachers there. My whole world opened up to all this information (like Dramaturgy) and the larger role of art as a way to understand both my own inner world and that around me.

3. What inspired RISING AND FALLING?
Because of my interest in sculpture I had for many years been interested in controversy around public art and art in public places. So I had read about the 2002 controversy around Eric Fischl and his sculpture Tumbling Woman. I could certainly understand that the piece would upset people who, for whatever reason, weren't ready to deal with a large bronze figure regardless of its rendering. But the controversy quickly became very personal, about him and what authority he had to address the issue. That incensed me because his intention was one of generosity and there seemed little recognition of that. And how were we supposed to integrate that awful event if we couldn't even permit this piece of his? The whole incident also seemed like a parable about the zeitgeist of lockstep denial the whole country was gripped in then; our rage to punish overwhelming our basic laws of freedom and civil, thoughtful discourse about what happened and why. So I started exploring more this sacrificial role that artists frequently find themselves in as well as the various genres of memorial art and other related topics. Then in 2006 I had a final project in my Dramaturgy class: create and present an original piece of theatre which is generated in some fashion other than the classic writer-with-the-blank-sheet-of- paper approach. In response to that prompt I wrote a one-act play about the removal of Fischl's statue and a woman who disagreed with that decision. In the exercise I was purposely exploring both impulse & process by creating a piece that was a collage and a collision of all those publicly available found materials with my own, very unformed impulses of sadness, loss, shock, etc., swirling around both 9/11, and the mistreatment of Fischl and his work. That first draft was very raw and quite different from the final version that Rhubarb Theater Company has mounted; but the idea of what it was like for someone who loved the statue to see it removed is still in the play and central to the overall narrative.

4. What is the significance of the character Iphigenia in the play?
Iphigenia is sacrificed as a teenager by her own father so that the Greek army may proceed to war. So for me she presents our cultural heritage of how we call on individuals (aka soldiers, nurses and doctors, etc. of every service and conflict) to make dear sacrifices in the name of national and political goals. Such actual decisions are usually shown with all the large words packed around them, words like duty, glory, honor. These are all concepts that mainly have meaning for the individual in relation to the group served. But the decisions to make those sacrifices and give that service are very personal, individual ones. My hope is that she shows both of those impulses.

For more information and reservations please contact rhubarbnashville@ or call 615-397-7820. Photos and schedule info may be found on Rhubarb Theater Company's Facebook page: http://on.fb. me/RhubarbTC

Jaz Dorsey

Friday, August 12, 2011

AAPEX Interview: Tamilla Woodard & The Internationalists

Tamilla Woodard
Interview by Jaz Dorsey

Thanks to the miracle of the Internet and a really outstanding yahoo group called NoPassport, I stumbled upon a fascinating organization called THE INTERNATIONALISTS, co-founded by NYC based visionary Tamilla Woodard. I asked Tamilla to tell us something about herself and the mission of THE INTERNATIONALISTS and this is what she has to say:

What role did theatre and the arts play in your childhood and upbringing?

I went to a great elementary school -- an Episcopal private school in the middle of the third ward of Houston Texas. It was an anomaly. There we did a winter play-- basically a Christmas pageant and a spring musical. I was ALWAYS in the shows. I looked forward to winter from the time summer was over and to spring as soon as Valentines cards had been scribbled and stuffed into those tiny envelopes. I could not wait to start my play practice. I always coveted the lead pretty girl role. But alas, I was really tall, really ungraceful with giant glasses and a pressed pony tail sticking out from the side of my head. Dorothy would go to the lighter skinned girl with long silky hair. I was to be the Tin Man. But no matter. It was a play and I was in it! I sang and danced my heart out every time. Once I fell off the stage--about 5 feet to the ground. Stunned but still alive, I keep singing and moving. I got a standing ovation that night. I'll never forget it. That is the day I credit as setting my path. Either it was some sort of resulting and still undiagnosed brain damage or the sheer thrill of the adulation! All that to say, school was my introduction to theatre. From there I found my way to a special arts high school, community drama lessons in the summers, the very rare trips to see live theatre. My family wasn't into going to see plays but they were happy to support my growing passion. Especially because, well, there were far worse things I could be doing with my time, especially in my neighborhood.

Tell us about your own evolution as an artist.

The theatre seemed always to be the road for me. As soon as I learned it could actually be a life, I found every way I could to make myself ready for the profession. High School for the Performing and Visual Arts then Carnegie Mellon University, then the road trip to NYC to really do this thing. At that time I think conservatories were really training actors for regional theatre. I was always a "good student". What I have since learned is that a good student makes for a terrible artist. As an actor I found myself feeling like a servant to other peoples' art- the playwright's play, the directors concept etc...

I had a real hunger to break my training, to find a way to a more free and authentic expression of myself as an artist and to a more satisfying experience in the theatre in general. So I went to Grad school. LOL! Seems contradictory, sure, but I chose Yale School of Drama because I thought the structure and program offered me a way to rebirth myself as an artist. Its hard long hours but its not boot camp. You are sort of sent to the store of theatre and you spend three years shopping, testing, trying on things. I always say about grad school that I needed to make a cocoon for myself -- away from critique-- so I could grow my butterfly wings and fly. It was one of the best choices I made in my career. It helped me forge a different path, a more fulfilling journey. I started to seriously direct there. I became the first actor to be the artistic director of the cabaret. I learned to run a theatre, to inspire other artists, to hold a vision and to share my love with an audience. And something that has been a hallmark of my career post grad school is the practice of collaboration. I learned to work in parallel with other artists, without hierarchy. That was the most satisfying experience. Its how I work now. Everyone who is in the room is there because they have something critical to
the realization of our work together. Everyone has equal talent and value. Different talents for sure but equally of value.

From there my approach to creating for the theatre was just that-- as a creator- a generator-- a collaborator-not a servant. I have enormous fears, huge doubts daily. But I keep moving, keep working, keep failing, keep succeeding, keep dreaming-- some ideas are brilliant (like the one I'm engaged in right now!) and some are...not so good. I read alot. I take from other art forms - I love the museum. I can think there. I love dance - though I don't see enough - because I want my work to be physical, dynamic, emotional, subconscious, apprehensive. I love the way I feel watching dance. I don't think. I feel.

Tell us about the founding and mission of THE INTERNATIONALISTS.

At the Lincoln Center Directors Lab, I was surrounded by more international artists than I had ever come in contact with, from everywhere, and folks views and practices were DIFFERENT! I wanted to learn why, how. I wanted more exposure to other ways of thinking about the theatre. I saw such exciting results. I had amazing conversations. I wanted to trade work, ideas and experiences. The Internationalists was born out of that desire.

As it happened, two separate groups - me and Doug Howe - were quietly talking to folks about forming a network of international artists. One day word reached both groups. A meeting was set, everyone who wanted to showed up and we went from there. We put on the table -- or in that case the grass of Central Park - what we were all interested in this network being, doing, and then we set about making a cohesive mission. Its a cooperative in the truest sense. Sometimes it take a long time to get decisions made because everyone has a voice, but the partnerships, observation opportunities and collaborations that have been possible BECAUSE of the cooperative are magnificent and fulfilling. Its been the continuation of my education and growth as an artist. We are a smaller group than we started with. The core group of artists now is the group that has the time, energy and desire for The Internationalists to grow and succeed. This present group is really dedicated. We argue and love each other from one moment to the next just like the larger dysfunctional family that is the theatre.

What took you to Queretaro, Mexico?

I went to Queretaro Mexico in July to launch Hotel Project with Internationalists Ana Margineanu and in partnership with Alfonso Caracamo and Mariana Hartasanchez, two amazing Mexican theatre artists and their independent companies.The Hotel Project is essentiallly a way to make intensive international exchange among theatre makers anyway in the world. I asked Ana to accompany me on a exploratory trip to Mexico City some months before to build some partnerships and investigate the theatre scene. I also really wanted her to meet the extraordinary artists I'd become acquainted with over the last 4 years as a result of my involvement with the Lark's US/Mexico Exchange.

On that visit, Mariana invited us to come to Queretaro to try out this crazy idea Ana had brought to the company months ago and which we couldn't find resources for in the states. Mariana made her company of artists and producers - in fact her whole theatrical community - available to us. Ana and I were able to work out the details of the execution of the piece and hone the concept with Alfonso and Mariana. Without the generosity and spirit of both Seres Comunes and Mariana's company Sabindijas de Palacio, we would not have been able to do this. This was the essence of collaboration and exchange. Now that it's launched we have an invitation to come back to Mexico to create a Hotel Project again in at least 3 other cities. We are also looking for a hotel here in NYC (if anybody has any leads!) and of course want to bring it to other cities nationally and internationally. There's a great short video and some photos of the project in Queretaro on the Internationalists website at or on my website at
To learn more about The Internationalists, please click the post's title.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

AAPEX Update: Norwood's BILLIE'S BLUES opens 9/19 Nashville's MPD of Theatre's New Play Reading Series

Hershell Norwood

AAPEX has been invited to kick-off the Nashville Metro Parks Department of Theatre's New Play Reading Series with our reading of Billie's Blues-- Hershell Norwood's new play about Billie Holiday.
September 19, 2011
Looby Theatre

Featuring a cast of Nashville's finest actors -
Villia Steele, Dara Talibah, Jonah Kraut, Max Desire, Dominique Howse
and introducing Julie Ness.
Special guest artist Perlie Dunn as Bessie Smith.
Narration by Elan Crawford.
Directed by Jaz Dorsey.

Due to some spicy language, this event is recommended for folks 18 and older.

If you can't make the reading but would be interested in reading the script,
contact Jaz Dorsey at jazmn47@aol. com or by phone at 615-915-0891.

Come to Nashville and Go to the Theatre!

To learn more about the play, please click the post's title.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Working Theatre: Broadway at TPAC (Nashville)

The Working Theatre: Broadway at TPAC

When I'm dancing at the Shubert Theatre
I'm dancing on Broadway
And when I'm singing at the Shubert Theatre
I'm singing on Broadway
But when I'm dancing on Deaderick Street
I'm still dancing on my Broadway feet -
We're doing Broadway
Where ever we go!
Lyrics from "WE CAN DO BROADWAY" by Jaz Dorsey

Nashville is fortunate to be one among those US cities which hosts national touring companies of Broadway plays. For the cost of 2 tickets to a Broadway show (one if you're going to see SPIDERMAN!), the TPAC Broadway series offers six of the most popular shows of recent seasons.

The 2011 - 2012 season is especially exciting, opening with the Tony award winning BLAST (September 27 - October 2) - a tribute to the marching brass band. Next is another Tony winner which hits close to home - MEMPHIS (November 15 - 20) - a story of the power of music set in the 1950s.

For those of us born way back in the last millennium, the rest of the season should provide as much nostalgia as entertainment.

In January, those of us who grew up in the golden age of television can really bond with our grand kids when THE ADAMS FAMILY (January 3 - 8 ) comes to town. And then, from the golden age of Broadway, the enchanting Rodgers & Hammerstein musical SOUTH PACIFIC (February 7 - 12).

The season ends with two more fantastic family shows - MARY POPPINS (March 20 - 25) and RAIN: A TRIBUTE TO THE BEATLES. Thanks to Nashville's own homegrown group THE WANNABEATLES, we've been getting our appetites whetted around here for as much Beatles music as we can get.

In addition to the regular season, two special Tony award winners are headed back to TPAC - just in time for Halloween, WICKED (October 19 - November 6) and in January, when you could use a good laugh, SPAMALOT based on Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

The Broadway tours perform in TPAC's fabulous Jackson Hall, easily comparable to any theatre on the Great White Way. At the helm on performance nights is House Manager Rebecca Nichols, who tells me that Jackson Hall has a maximum seating capacity of 2,472 and that the average staff for a performance includes 2 floor managers, 19 ushers and 12 volunteers to greet audiences and get them to their seats.

From 1990 - 1997 I was fortunate enough to work as production manager for an NYC based touring theatre company, which has left me with a great respect for all those theatre workers who take shows on the road. I think that knowing what the touring actors life is like would add greatly to everyone's appreciation of these shows. As it just so happens, my friend, actress/dramaturg Debra Cardona, is out with the national touring company of MARY POPPINS, so I asked her to fill us in and this is what she had to say:

"Load in day is never attended by the actors. It is crew only. All of the MARY POPPINS show — and that includes sets, lights, costumes, wigs, makeup, and merchandise — take up 15 trucks. Load-out takes all night, and once the trucks arrive at the new theater, load-in takes about 24 hours. It is an incredible endeavor by our crew, and I marvel how they get through it every time and still have the strength to run the show that evening. There is a great video on YouTube put out by Clark Transfer, the major theatrical trucking company in the United States.

Before we open at each venue, we have a four-hour tech rehearsal, going over set moves and quick changes with the new local crews, as well as doing a sound check with the orchestra. We don't get through the whole show, only parts of it. So the first performance is a new experience for everyone involved. We are all getting used to the new theater, the new orchestra, as well as the new crew and dressers — and they are all getting used to working with us. After about 2 or 3 shows, everyone settles into a performance rhythm and things go fairly smoothly.

I personally departed on the tour on March 15, 2010. The show itself went into rehearsals in January of 2009. This is its third year on the road, and I have been with it for just about a year and four months.

Including the 4 children (there are two sets that play Jane and Michael Banks), there are about 36 other actors, 4 stage managers, 2 company managers, 2 wig stylists, 2 wardrobe supervisors, 1 makeup artist, 6 musicians that travel with us (the rest of the orchestra are hired locally at each venue), a tutor and a child wrangler, and approximately 10 traveling crew members (the rest, like the orchestra, are hired locally at each venue). Additional hair and wardrobe personnel are hired at each venue. Also, each child travels with a parent or guardian. And I haven't even counted the dogs that travel with their owners on tour!"

Thanks, Debra!

Come to Nashville and Go to the Theatre!

To order tickets, please click the post's title.

Jaz Dorsey
Nashville, Tennessee

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Red Tails: the Tuskegee Airmen are coming to a theater near you thanks to George Lucas

Any retelling of this story is good, even if it's Star Wars meets World War II.