Friday, June 29, 2012

Harlem Dramaturgy Project, Part 6: Harlem's Sacred Texts & "The Unified Field Siri"

Harlem’s Sacred Texts
“The Unified Field Siri”

At the end of the Third World War, lightning was the only source of electricity. Cities were in ruins and mankind had once again become hunters and gathers. By the end of the first generation to survive the war, organized religion had bit the dust too and been replaced with new superstitions to comfort and explain the new reality. Hardly anyone read anymore and, most telling, sing. Smiles were seldom seen and a spiritual depression settled across the land.

Cosmically speaking, Earthlings were no fun anymore—except for a small group of people up in Harlem who were ancestors of the first generation survivors. They called themselves "Baptists" after the name on a sign they uncovered during the excavation of a large building. As they continued to dig, more things of an ancient past were found including a small scrap of yellowed paper that would become part of their “sacred texts.” It contained mysterious symbols no one could interpret and only one word: Jitterbug.

Another generation would have to live and die before the symbols could be understood. Thanks to one man’s curiosity which only grew deeper with each layer of the past he uncovered at the bottom of the building, the world would once again experience the joys of being human. That man would become known as “Jaz The Baptist.” He discovered that the building had once been a “church” for a forgotten religion which had been built upon an earlier structure called a “Lafayette.” In the deepest strata, objects were found that when blown or beaten would create sounds unlike anything heard following the war.

Jaz The Baptist also uncovered thousands of sheets of paper with more indecipherable markings accompanied with words like swinging, jazz, and up tempo. During that dig, they also found a book written by some ancient alchemist named “Laban” with more of the sacred markings above words like “Trucking,” “Suzy-Q,” and “Shorty George.” The pages were so old just handling them as gently as possible wasn’t enough to keep them from disintegrating in one’s hands. So to preserve them, the pages were carved into a large slab of broken concrete which, over time, became known as the “Lafayette Stone.” That book led to the rediscovery of “dancing” because “Laban The Great” (as he would become known) had devised a system of interchangeable symbols that could describe every dance known to man and those that were yet to come. Unfortunately they needed something called “music” to work. It was Jaz The Baptist who made the connection between the mechanical sound making devices and the thousands of sheets of paper with the strange markings and the symbols on the Lafayette Stone. This discovery now known as “The Unified Field Siri,” with siri, a South Indian Tamil word meaning “to smile” chosen to describe the reaction the interaction of music and dance brings to mankind.* In order to spread this wonderful new discovery as far and wide and as quickly as possible Jaz the Baptist recruited hundreds of followers of this new movement to transcribe the sacred texts. The Lafayettes, as these scribes would become known, worked tirelessly day and night to get “the Word” out and, thanks to their effort, music— specifically swing music— the Jitterbug, smiles, and laughter were returned to the world.

*That dig also unearthed a dictionary.

DC Copeland

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Half Price Tickets Tonight and Tomorrow Only! (Harlem)

7:30 PM
Wednesday, June 27th and
Thursday, June 28th


To learn more, please scroll down
to earlier posts below.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Harlem World Review: Accept “Except” LGBT NY

Tyree Young and Ceez Liive

From Harlem World by Walter Rutledge:
The Faison Firehouse Theater’s production of Accept “Except” LGBT NY began its two plus week run on Thursday June 21. The two-character play was written by Karimah and is directed by George Faison. It is based upon the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution and was first presented with a male cast. This new rendition keeps the initial premise of injustice for just “being” intact, but opens the message of tolerance and understanding to a new demographic.

To read more, please click here.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Jaz Dorsey in Concert, Sunday, July 22 (Nashville)

Jaz Dorsey in Concert

Sunday, July 22, 2:00 pm

The Celebrity Centre Nashville
at the corner of Chestnut and 8th Avenue South.

Composer Jaz Dorsey will play selections
from his off off Broadway hits
the off Broadway
showcase of NELLIE
and the film score-in-progress for

Free and open to the public.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Jitterbug Conspiracy

The Jitterbug Conspiracy

Or Who's dancing it now?

No one in Harlem that's for sure. The great black American city where it was born has abandoned the dance and allowed it to be co-opted by the white world.* With the publication of "Once Upon A Time In Harlem: A Jitterbug Romance" by AAPEX playwright D.C. Copeland, maybe the time has come to reclaim it through our schools and the stage.

from the book "Once Upon A Time In Harlem: A Jitterbug Romance"
by Jaz Dorsey
Founder of AAPEX

From 1990 - 1997 it was my honor to serve as the production manager for Biggs Rosati Productions in the NYC offices of The National Theatre of the Performing Arts, producing national tours of bi-lingual French and Spanish classics to high schools across the United States. From this experience, I know what a valuable role the theatre can play in education. Putting a script into the hands of young students, letting them rehearse and research the play, allows them to connect with language and history in a way that no other experience can provide.

There is no area of study that we need to focus on more than that which enhances our greater understanding of the contributions made by African Americans to our country's history and culture. D.C Copeland's award winning script ONCE UPON A TIME IN HARLEM: A Jitterbug Romance offers both students and their teachers a wonderful gateway into an era when American music, song and dance were elevated to genius by African American artists such as Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson to name just a few. Combining history with a fictional romantic storyline, this “radio” play edition is a condensed version of the longer 3-act play. Reimagining the play as a live radio broadcast from the 1930’s was pure genius since it takes a sprawling and expensive production and makes it producible by just about anyone who wants to take it on-- including schools and colleges. This process-- where students read the “radio” script out loud from their desks-- has been proven in many studies as a sure-fire way of getting them involved and remembering what they read. To help that effort, Copeland encourages teachers to “take it to the next level” by turning the reading into a multimedia event by offering free cued MP3 sound effects that can be downloaded from the play’s website-- an offer I hope all teachers will take him up on because the sound effects-- and using the suggested songs from that period-- help make the reading feel like a live radio broadcast from the past. Besides being just down right fun to do, this aural coloring goes hand-in-hand with the writing to bring the lives and times of that period and the memorable characters Copeland created to life and is worth the added effort.

Finally, because of its stand-up-and-cheer ending and uplifting message, ONCE UPON A TIME IN HARLEM: A Jitterbug Romance in any version, is a worthy addition to any theatre’s-- or school’s-- program and I look forward to hearing it “broadcast live” from every theatre and classroom across the land.

Jaz Dorsey,
Artistic Director, The Nashville Dramaturgy Project
Founder and Dramaturg,
African American Playwrights Exchange (AAPEX)

*Aside from The Harlem Swing Society which is made up a handful of Harlemites determined to save the dance-- compared to the time 80-years-ago when there were a handful of ballrooms all over Harlem-- including the legendary Savoy Ballroom with its twin bandstands and a block long sprung wooden floor that could hold 5,000 people any given night.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Please click image to enlarge.

DC Copeland's award-winning play Once Upon A Time In Harlem: A Jitterbug Romance is now available as an annotated play book. Based on the "radio" reading version, this book is perfect for students and actors because it includes definitions of period slang, historical facts, and a map to help them better understand the times and places of swinging 1930's Harlem. Copeland has made a cued special effects mp3 soundtrack available as a free download with each purchase from the play's website. The book will make a great edition to any college Black Studies program but it will also afford high school teachers an interactive and fun experience for their students by assigning parts and reading the play aloud in the classroom. The book will soon be released in an eBook format which offers a unique use of technology: when tapped, the annotations in the play "open up" automatically on the page that is being read without needing to go to the back of the book.

Once Upon A Time In Harlem: A Jitterbug Romance is available as a screenplay, a three-act full-length play, and a shortened "radio"/reading book.

To learn more about the dramaturgy behind the play, please click the Harlem Dramaturgy Project label below.

The radio reading version was first performed March 30, 2012 at the prestigious National Black Theatre in Harlem and directed by Petronia Paley.


To the short list of the coolest books I have ever read, I have to add THE MUSICAL THEATRE: A CELEBRATION by Alan J. Lerner.

Born in 1918, over the span of his lifetime, Lerner knew intimately the founders of the American musical. The stories he tells of such folks as Jerome Kern and Cole Porter are mostly first hand.

I came across his wonderful book while doing research for a workshop on writing musicals ("Finding Your Inner Musical") which I will give at The Nashville Songwriters Association on August 23rd. Of the many books I have read so far, this is the one from which I have learned the most.

Come to Nashville and Go to the Theatre.

And don't miss UMBRELLA by Steve Leslie and Len Cohen coming Upstairs @ Bongo Java.

Jaz Dorsey
The Nashville Dramaturgy Project

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Karimah's ACCEPT "EXCEPT" opens June 21st (HARLEM)

Please click images to enlarge.

To learn more about the Faison Firehouse Theatre,
please click the post's title.

Time is running out to experience 11 x 8-1/2 INCHES (Washington D.C.)

Please click to enlarge.

Our 9 p.m. show has sold out.

If you would like to get on the contact list for unclaimed seats or a possible second show please e-mail me.

Thanks for your support!


African-American Collective Theater (ACT)
& Reflections Media Group
Showcasing BLGBT Life & Culture since 1971

Monday, June 18, 2012

James Baldwin's THE AMEN CORNER to benefit the Rainey Institute TONIGHT! (Cleveland)

Please click to enlarge.

Family & Friends,

I have just completed three intensive, all-day rehearsals for this evening's staged reading of James Baldwin's The Amen Corner . . . and you don't want to miss it!

You don't want to miss it because it's simply great theatre. You don't want to miss it because some of the area's best acting and singing talent has been assembled on one stage (I'm not referring to yours truly, of course). You don't want to miss it because it's a benefit for one of the area's premiere youth serving institutions, the Rainey Institute. And you don't want to miss it because the reading is part of a national salute to African-American theatre tonight at 25 venues across the country.

So, check out the video I've forwarded and the attachment I've included. I do hope you can join us this evening.


Peter Lawson Jones

Friday, June 15, 2012

This is Modern-Day Griot Theatre Company’s final show of the season, so we’ve decided to end it with a bang! Modern-Day Griot Theatre Company is proud to announce the first annual presentation of In Our Home, our new experimental, interactive theatrical project. Please join us as we push the boundaries of storytelling in this intimate setting. Hope to see you there! Best, Pharah Jean-Philippe Founder/Artistic Director Modern-Day Griot Theatre Company presents In Our Home 5 Playwrights + 5 Rooms = 1 Dynamic Play Modern-Day Griot Theatre Company is proud to present In Our Home, our new experimental, interactive theatrical project. Playwrights of color probe the limits of intimacy in one act plays staged in the rooms of an actual Brooklyn home. In the Bedroom Love and Happiness written by Pharah Jean-Philippe Directed by Phil John The Garden of Nirvana written by Jamal Williams Directed by Pharah Jean-Philippe In the Second Bedroom Artistic Musings written by Loresa Lanceta Directed by Pharah Jean-Philippe In the Kitchen The Ring written by Mary McCallum Directed by Liza Bulos In the Bathroom Spiraling Into Place written by Tremane Nicholson Directed by Pharah Jean-Philippe In the Living Room After the Reception written by Mosi Singleton Directed by Evria Dechane Atwell Featured Actors: E.J. An, China Colston, Latia Kirby, Richard Kohn, Loressa Lanceta*, Simone Maubury, Regine Mont-Louis, Okema T. Moore, Ernest Perry, Brianna Seagraves, Marvin Telp , Colin Walker *Denotes members of Actors Equity Please join us for an unvarnished view of what happens behind closed doors. Performances will be held at a private home. Round-trip transportation to the home will be provided from South Oxford Space nightly at 6:45pm Space is limited, so RSVP is required. To reserve your place, please call 718-247-9417 or email us at To purchase tickets online, click here. Dates: June 23rd, 24th, 29th and 30th Tickets: $18 online; $25 at the door Pick-Up Location: The Lobby of South Oxford Space 138 South Oxford Street Brooklyn, NY 11217

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Harlem Dramaturgy Project, Part 5: Once Upon A Time In Harlem: A Jitterbug Romance

The Jolly Fellows, Herbert White, The Hoofers' Club
& the Jitterbug

Despite Jim Crow laws, Prohibition and the Depression, something magical was happening in Harlem in the 1930's and it was more than just the intellectual rise of the Harlem Renaissance. Something wonderful was going on below the radar of the intelligentsia. A street gang had become without any plan of its own the protector and champion of American "vernacular dancing," i.e., tap and swing.

The Jolly Fellows, was one of the toughest of a dozen "secret" street gangs in Harlem, i.e., they didn't emblazon the backs of their jackets with the names of their gang. But that's not to say you couldn't spot a Jolly Fellow on the streets of Harlem. Thanks to Herbert "Whitey" White, who

organized the gang in 1923, he instilled in his young members that they must at all times dress well and smell good. Described as a cross between a "penny-pinching Robin Hood and a hip Father Flannigan," White was a one-time prize fighter and a sergeant in World War I. He was also as much as 20-years older than most of the gang members who were for the most part "twenty-somethings" by the time my play takes place. To get accepted into the club, one of the initiation rights included walking into a store, punching the store owner and waiting to see what happens. Sometimes you went to jail, sometimes not. By the 1930's, membership had risen to over 600 (and I would suspect there were an equal number of store owners with black eyes, broken jaws, and concussions).

White wasn't a great dancer-- he was better at banging heads, intimidation, and entrepreneurship-- but because he loved great dancing, the Jolly Fellows (and their women's auxiliary the Jolly Flapperettes) became known as the dancer's gang. As the head bouncer at the world-famous Savoy Ballroom (a block long with a double-bandstand and a sprung wooden floor that could hold 5,000 people), his gang could dance as long as they wanted on a certain part of the floor called "Cats Corner." No one else could dance there. If for some reason a couple inadvertently

spent too much time "in the paint," it could mean a good beating (usually given through choreographed Charleston kicks). When it came to defending one's turf or a gang member's honor, it was done in the highest of the GQ style popularized by Edward G Robinson's gangster flicks: Jolly Fellows went to a fight wearing gloves, tight Chesterfields (see picture), and derbies. As a side note, besides not tolerating "coarse language," White also required that women were to be treated with "unfailing courtesy."

The Hoofers' Club
To get into the Hoofers' Club, you first had to enter the Comedy Club next door to the Lafayette Theatre on Seventh Ave ("Boulevard of Dreams") between 131st and 132nd Streets. The Comedy Club was a small storefront for a speakeasy and gambling house. It was also a favorite Jolly Fellows hangout. In an even smaller backroom, was the Hoofers' Club. It was big enough to hold an old, beat-up upright piano and a bench. The splintered wood floor is where men practiced tap dancing and new steps and routines came to life. Jazz Dance says this small backroom was the "unacknowledged headquarters for tap dancing" for nearly 40-years. Everyone who was anyone stopped by to dance including Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, the "Mayor of Harlem." There were only two rules: don't bother guys like Bojangles and John Bubbles with questions about how to do a certain step when they came in to dance and most importantly, don't copy another's steps. "Thou Shalt Not Copy Another's Steps-- Exactly" was the unwritten law. You could imitate anybody inside the "club"-- it was taken as a compliment-- but you couldn't do it professionally, i.e., in public and for pay. It's said when a new act opened at the Lafayette or the Lincoln, as soon as the doors opened, dancers rushed down to the first rows and "watched you like hawks and if you used any of their pet steps, they just stood right up in the theatre and told everybody about it at the top of their voices."

The Jitterbug
By the mid-30's Herbert White began using his entrepreneurial skills to tap into America's growing passion for swing dancing. The earliest version was revealed to the world in June of 1928 through a Jolly Fellow when a Fox Movietone News reporter asked legendary gang member-cum-dancer George "Shorty" Snowden what he was doing with his feet? Snowden never stopped dancing when he replied, "The Lindy." Credited with adding the "breakaway" to the dance so he could improvise steps, Snowden was preparing the world for the dance that was yet to come: the Jitterbug. It was born at the Savoy Ballroom because of the Jolly Fellows. By the time the dance got airborne through "air-steps," it had become known as the "Jitterbug," thanks to Herbert White and Cab Calloway's 1934 recording, Call of the Jitter Bug, which used the word in its earliest iteration as an adjective describing someone with the "delirium tremors" from drinking too much booze.

If you'd like to be a jitter bug,
First thing you must do is get a jug,
Put whiskey, wine and gin within,
And shake it all up and then begin.
Grab a cup and start to toss,
You are drinking jitter sauce!
Don't you worry, you just mug,
And then you'll be a jitter bug!

At the height of the dance's popularity, White was managing as many as seventy dancers and a dozen dance troupes with names like The Savoy Hoppers, The Jive-A-Dears, and his most famous, Whitey's Lindy Hoppers. That troupe (which at one time included Shorty George and his dancing partner Big Bea) toured the world including Paris with a gig at the Moulin Rouge. It also appeared in the Marx Bros movie A Day at the Races (1937) and Hellzapoppin'(1941).

Herbert White (center) and his
Whitey's Lindy Hoppers

You can see Shorty George and his dancing partner Big Bea dancing here.

By the time White died in the 1940's he was a rich man and the Jitterbug had conquered the world-- if only for a short time. By the time I took my play to Harlem this March for a reading at the National Black Theatre, 80-years after the fact proved problematic: finding just one African-American couple who could dance the Lindy (much less the amplified Jitterbug) was nearly impossible. By the early 60's dances like The Stroll and especially the Twist finally took Shorty Snowden's "breakaway" (whether he was aware of it or not, he was reaching back to his African roots where partner dancing was basically unheard of) and made it permanent. Now it appears the only people dancing the Jitterbug today are white people, that they have in fact co-opted the dance born in Harlem. This "retro swing" movement began in the early 80's and can be traced to California and disaffected punk rockers who were exploring swing music. Still if you search hard enough you will find people like Ryan Francois (a black Brit dancing with a white partner) and, as far as I can tell, one of the few African American groups still carrying on the tradition like The Harlem Swing Dance Society-- but who have few, if any, young members (it's interesting to note that a member of that group offers up this explanation for its skewed older demographic: when the great Harlem ballrooms finally closed, no one passed on the dance to their children). Of course, it also had a lot to do with the decline in swing bands and the advent of rock and the natural tendency of the next generation to want to "break away" from whatever it was their parents embraced.

As for Mr. Francois, this dance comes closest to the one I wrote for my main protagonist. Billy Rhythm, dancing under a Harlem street lamp, uses only his feet and body to express his love for Tharbis Jefferson as she leans out of her second story tenement window. When watching it, try to imagine just one guy dancing in this "Romeo and Juliet" moment because what I was trying to capture was the magic of Gene Kelly's memorable Singing in the Rain dance number and reimagining it without singing or music (or rain); stripping it down to its joyful heartfelt African influenced American core: tap dancing.

DC Copeland

You can follow this series by clicking the "Harlem Dramaturgy Project" in the Labels section below.
Jaz Dorsey

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Call for Plays

We are looking for original, well written and interesting work.

Please don’t be concerned with age, ethnicity or staging. We cover it all. One of our founding members, Danny Cistone, is an award winning set designer.

Please include character breakdown and synopsis with all submissions, and please send your scripts (hard copies ONLY) to:
Theatre 68
5419 W Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90027-6416

68 Cent Crew Theatre Company’s Artistic Director, Ronnie Marmo, is accepting new works, specifically one acts and full length plays for future productions.

68 Cent Crew Theatre Company is an established (10 years), award winning, 50-member company who resides in Theatre 68, a 99-seat equity waiver, proscenium stage theatre on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood, CA. We have worked with actors, directors and producers of the highest caliber, including Joe Mantegna, Sally Struthers, Leo Rossi, Robert Costanzo, Danny Nucci, James Madio, Tyler Christopher, Eva Longoria, Brian Austin Green, Vanessa Marcil, Michael Rooker, Bryan Callen and more.

We are a diverse company in all aspects: age, ethnicity and our play choices. We have done everything from a one man show Lenny Bruce is Back to a festival featuring “13 by Shanley” in repertory, by John Patrick Shanley, and others such as Knights of Mary Phagan, Bill W and Dr Bob, and What The Rabbi Saw.

For more information about our company:

Deadline: July 31st.

Call for Plays

Theatre Submissions: New Voices in Theater Reading Series (NVIT)

New Voices in Theater features the works of new (published and unpublished) playwrights of color. We provide playwrights with an opportunity to have their work produced as a staged reading in the Forte Green Brooklyn area. NVIT reading series offers actors, directors, writers and other artist the space to network and support that amazing work that is being created by emerging artist in New York and in various places around the country.

ActNow Foundation will be launching its annual New Voice in Theater Festival in 2012. Our reading series will serve as a way to generate a great selection of new/original plays to produce, as full-length productions, in our upcoming theater festivals.

NVIT Submission Information:
1. If you are a playwright and interested in having your work produced as a staged reading
2. If you are an actor and interested in be considered as an actor in our reading series and festival
3. If you are a director and interested in directing in our reading series
4. If you are interested in volunteering for our theater events (send info to email below)

Please submit your play /headshot and resume/ directing reel to:
ActNow Foundation
138 South Oxford Street
Suite C
Brooklyn, NY 11217
or send via email here.

If you have any questions please contact Kehinde Koyejo here.

Nu-Works 2012 Theatre Festival deadline reminder: August 3rd (Atlanta)

Don't Miss this Opportunity to a Lifetime. Submit your work to the Atlanta Nu-Works 2012 Theatre Festival Today!

Deadline for submission is Friday, August 3, 2012.

The Inaugural Atlanta Nu-Works Theatre Festival, a 3-day festival celebrating diversity through the Arts, will highlight emerging works and artists from around the world in Atlanta's theatrical epicenter, October 19 October 21, 2012.

Submission Categories:

Full-Length Plays

Short Plays

Children's Plays

SKool Daze Competition

"Just Scripted" Table Reading Series


We are looking for works in all genres; including pieces that incorporate movement, dance, and music. To be eligible to submit, each piece must address a social concern and highlight a person of color in one of four roles: Playwright, Director, Producer, or Lead Actor. This criterion is inapplicable to the Workshop Proposals. Playwrights of all skill levels are encouraged to submit. All chosen Full-length Plays, Short Plays, Children's Plays, and Scripts ("Just Scripted" Reading Series) will be required to submit a participation fee based on the size and location of the project.
Cash prizes will be offered to the top pieces in a series of categories.

The DreamCatcher Collective firmly believes in providing opportunities for emerging and veteran artists. This is why we've launched the Atlanta New Works Theatre Festival. It will provide an opportunity for all artists to grow and develop. Collectively! This festival is guaranteed to be exciting and provide a mind-blowing artistic experience to all people. Art has always been a tool of enlightenment, exploration, and change. Our mission is to bring together a diverse group of artists, experiences, and ideas in an attempt to collectively grow, expand, and evolve where at the end of this experience we all leave as better people. So whether you're a veteran, a novice; old or young; Republican or Democrat; Black, White, or Blue; male or female; gay or straight; Christian or Muslim; At this "table"(Festival) , there is space for you.


Application fees are $25, $20, $15, and Free***

Short Plays: Running time MUST NOT exceed 30 minutes in length.($25 submission fee)

Full-length Plays: Running time MUST NOT exceed 90 minutes in
length. ($20 submission fee)

Children's Plays: Plays written for High School, Middle School,and/or Elementary Students Running time MUST NOT exceed 60 minutes ($0 submission fee)

"Just Scripted" Reading Series: Running time MUST NOT exceed 90 minutes in length. ($15 submission fee)

Young Playwright: Plays written and submitted by Playwrights
under 18 years of age must submit proof of age ($0 submission fee)

SKool Daze Competition: Plays submitted for competition by High School Theatre Groups ($0 submission fee)

Workshops: Running time MUST NOT exceed 90 minutes in length. ($0 submission fee)

For more information or to submit your application, please go to www.Nu-Works. com.

If you have any questions, please contact the ANWTF Staff at info@nu-works. com

Deadline for all submissions (except "Skool Daze" competition) is Friday, August 3, 2012.

Deadline for "Skool Daze" competition is Friday, August 31, 2012.

Jaz Dorsey: Nashville Goes NUTTY for Theatre!

Nashville Goes Nutty
Whatever Happened to New Haven?

Observation on The Acting Industries in Nashville, Tennessee
by Jaz Dorsey, The Nashville Dramaturgy Project

It came as no surprise to me - and yet as a great surprise - when I learned that Jerry Lewis had chosen Music City USA to launch his Broadway bound stage version of THE NUTTY PROFESSOR with out of town tryouts like the ones they used to have in New Haven, at least as I remember it from all those Hollywood movies about the Broadway stage.

No surprise because I know as well as anyone the tremendous talent resources and fantastic audience base that Nashville has to offer the theatrical producer.

A surprise because, in choosing Nashville, Lewis and his collaborators bypassed such dynamic theatre cities as Chicago, Atlanta, Washington DC and, of course, LA.

It seems that a fellow named Mac Pirkle may have something to do with this. I don't know Mac but I know his legend and his long battle to establish Nashville as a birthing place for new American Musicals.

And, even if indirectly, it may reflect on Marjorie Halbert and the musical theatre training program at Belmont, because as Marjoire's young protegees graduate and move out into the workplace, I feel certain that when our colleagues across the US see Belmont University on the resumes of these brilliantly trained triple threats, an awareness that Nashville is becoming a front line training ground for the next generation of musical theatre artists is permeating this industry.

And it no doubt has a lot to do with TPAC - The Tennessee Performing Arts Center, located on Deaderick Street in downtown Nashville.

When I'm singing in the Shubert Theatre,
I'm singing on Broadway
And when I'm dancing in the Shubert Theatre,
I'm dancing on Broadway
But when I'm dancing on Deaderick Street,
I'm still dancing on my Broadway feet.
I can do Broadway where ever I go.

That's how I feel about it.

Come to Nashville and Go to the Theatre.

Jaz Dorsey
The Nashville Dramaturgy Project

Monday, June 11, 2012

Harlem Dramaturgy Project, Part 4: Once Upon A Time In Harlem: A Jitterbug Romance

Cab Calloway's Hi-De-Ho, 1934

When I started writing Once Upon A Time In Harlem: A Jitterbug Romance, I knew I wanted to include the Cotton Club but I couldn't decide on a year-- until I read Cab Calloway's autobiography, Of Minnie the Moocher and Me, and then it became a no-brainer: 1931, the year the Cotton Club built a show around him called Rhyth-mania. This was two years after replacing Duke Ellington and his band at the club when they went to Hollywood to make their first movie, an all-African American short called Black and Tan (1929). Cab was just 22-years old when he took up the Cotton Club baton. He got the gig thanks to Irving Mills, a white music agent and producer who broke down color barriers when he brought black and white bands together to rehearse and to make music for his company EMI. What I didn't know at that time when I started writing was just how original and dynamic a performer Calloway was. This was 30-years before where you can easily click onto a vintage piece of film from that by-gone era and see the man for yourself. As for me, seeing the video reinforces my conviction that I made the right decision. Aside from being the right age-- most of my characters are in their twenties since they're members of of a legendary gang called the Jolly Fellows-- he and my main characters Billy Rhythm and Tharbis Jefferson tap the zeitgeist of that era. Although the Duke was a genius, he was too intellectual and laid back for what I was trying to convey. Cab fulfilled that mission and more-- his Hep-Cat Dictionary helped me nail down the jive from that period.

The first thing that strikes you when watching the video is how handsome and charismatic Calloway was. The second thing, no one ever conducted a band like he did. He was a force to be reckoned with, channeling a daemon that filled his body and soul with uninhibited abandon. The video above shows Cab when he was about 26-years-old when he made a short for Irving Mills called Cab Calloway's Hi-De-Ho to promote his new record. Since it's nearly 80-years-old, it can be forgiven for its lameness and cliches but it does have a surreal element that makes it worth watching until the end. And although parts of it takes place at the Cotton Club, I doubt if it was actually filmed there (the club was much more claustrophobic inducing but it does accurately depict what a "high-yeller" Cotton Club "Tall, Tan & Terrific" showgirl looked like). Still, it gives those who have never seen Cab doing his thing a chance to see what "all the hubbub" was about back then surrounding this young band leader working out of a small mob-ran club in Harlem. Thanks to nightly nationwide live radio broadcasts, Cab and the Club's young Jewish songwriting team of Harold Arlen-- who would later write the music for The Wizard of Oz-- and Ted Koehler were selling records "like hotcakes" and transforming America and the world with the new sound of "Swing."

DC Copeland

You can follow this series by clicking the "Harlem Dramaturgy Project" in the Labels section below.
Jaz Dorsey

Sunday, June 10, 2012

eta Creative Arts theatre schedule for 2012-13 (Chicago)

Please click the post's title to visit the eta website.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Jaz Dorsey presents Chris Boardman's SO SHE LIVED (Nashville)

Please click image to enlarge.

AAPEX founder Jaz Dorsey presents Oscar nominee and 6-time Emmy winning composer Chris Boardman's play So She Lived at the Darkhorse Theatre in Nashville. Two nights only, June 15th and 16th at 7:30 PM. For more information, please click the post's title.

Red Harlem Readers

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Harlem Dramaturgy Project, Part 3: Once Upon A Time In Harlem: A Jitterbug Romance

The Tree of Hope
and the
Lafayette Theatre

They use to look like this:

Lafayette Theatre/Tree of Hope, Harlem, circa 1920's

That's the Tree of Hope in front of the legendary Lafayette Theatre up on 7th Ave at 132nd Street in Harlem.

This is what happened to the tree:

That plaque was put there in 1941 by Bill "Bojangles" Robinson (with the assistance of NYC mayor Fiorello LaGuardia) to mark the spot where the tree had been before it was chopped down to make room for the expansion of 7th Ave (the "Boulevard of Dreams") in 1934. Much of it was sold for firewood but some of it was sold as souvenirs to people who believed it would bring them luck.

Say what? Tradition had it that out-of-work performers would rub the tree for good luck in landing a gig. Everybody who was anybody at the beginning of their careers stopped by to rub the tree with this simple request, "Hope to get a gig." This included future luminaries such as Ethel Waters, Fletcher Henderson, and Eubie Blake. That's what my main character Billy Rhythm does when he returns to Harlem in my play Once Upon A Time In Harlem: A Jitterbug Romance.

As for the 1,223-seat Lafayette Theatre, it was the first theatre in NYC to desegregate when it opened in 1912 and remained that way for a very long time before all the NYC theatres desegregated. This meant that Harlemites could finally sit in the orchestra instead of just the balcony (disparagingly labeled "nigger heaven")-- the only seats they could sit in any NYC theater-- if they were allowed to buy tickets in the first place. Known as "the House Beautiful" because of its ornate Renaissance Revival architecture and interior, it was home to the Lafayette Players, one of the first African-American professional theatre troupes (1916).

In 1936, 20-year-old Orson Welles used the theatre in a reimagined Shakespeare's Macbeth set in Haiti. Because of its African American cast (the Federal Theatre Project's Negro Unit) and setting, it was labeled "Voodoo Macbeth." It sold out for 10-weeks before moving to Broadway followed by a national tour. This is what it looked like on opening night:

Orson Welles' Macbeth opening night
at the Lafayette Theatre, 1936.

It was said "10,000 people stood as close as they could to the theatre," jamming 7th Avenue for 10-blocks and "halting northbound traffic for more than an hour." The New York World Telegram reported that an integrated group of "Harlemites in ermine, orchids, and gardenias, Broadwayites in mufti" had filled every seat. Scalpers were getting $3.00 for a pair of 40-cent tickets. The New York Times reported the audience was "enthusiastic and noisy" and encouraged Macbeth's soliloquies.

In between performances by the Lafayette Players and such, the Lafayette showcased acts of all types and in this regard was the precursor of the Apollo Theatre (which until 1934 was called the "Hurtig & Seamon's New Burlesque Theater" and did not admit blacks. That changed in 1934 when Fiorello LaGuardia campaigned for mayor against burlesque and it reopened as a desegregated theatre with a new name: the 125th Street Apollo). Today the Apollo Theatre is home to what may be the only piece of the original "Tree of Hope" thanks to an enterprising visionary and performer named Ralph Cooper, Jr. He bought a 12" x 18" piece and brought it back to his dressing room at the Apollo where he had it sanded, shellacked and mounted to an iconic column. That night just before the first "Amateur Night at the Apollo" show began, it was placed stage right just outside the curtain so the audience could see it. Since then it's become de rigueur to touch the Tree of Hope for all Wednesday Amateur Night performers.

As for the Lafayette's fate, unlike so many of the famous landmarks of old Harlem-- the Cotton Club, the Savoy Ballroom, and more-- it's still with us but in 1990 it was "reimagined" as the Williams Institute C.M.E. Baptist Church to make it more "church-like." That's too bad because I think God would have been comfortable in the building as it was. Unfortunately, preservationists were too late and this is what we got, a very forbidding and unfriendly structure that appears to be barricading itself against the temptations of the outside world just beyond those massive walls and doors:

Williams Institute C.M.E. Baptist Church

To quote one of my favorite Harlem Renaissance poets, Countee Cullen--who apparently no one at the church was reading at the time of the transformation:

And what would I do in heaven, pray,
Me with my dancing feet,
And limbs like apple boughs that sway
When the gusty rain winds beat?
And how would I thrive in a Perfect place...
Where dancing be sin,
With not a man to love my face
Nor an arm to hold me in?”
--from She of the Dancing Feet Sings, 1926

I'm sure souls are being saved behind those closed doors, but what a loss for Harlem in terms of its history. I wonder what would have happened if the church had left the building alone. Do you think people would be lining up out front like they did back in the day for Macbeth; banging on the doors in hopes of getting in to get saved and closer to Jesus?

DC Copeland

You can follow this series by clicking the "Harlem Dramaturgy Project" in the Labels section below.
Jaz Dorsey

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Blackboard Reading Series: Final Night for 2012 (NYC)

The Final Community Night of 2012 is Monday, June 12, 2012 7:30pm

Community Nights have become a staple of Blackboard and set us apart from all the rest. Think of it as an open mic for playwrights.

PLAYWRIGHTS bring your pages / monologues / whatever you’ve been working on!

ACTORS bring yourselves!

ARRIVE EARLY to cast and be cast!

2012 is packed full of plays, so don’t miss the last time you’ll be able to bring your work this year!

$10 suggested Donation
~wine served~

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Harlem Dramaturgy Project: Digging deeper

Part Two
Once I started learning about the legendary people and places of Harlem for my play Once Upon A Time In Harlem: A Jitterbug Romance, it became important for me to keep track of them. I did this through index cards and by creating a map of Harlem, circa 1931.

Please click image to enlarge.

In retrospect, I wish I had included Manhattan in the map to pinpoint the locations of the gangland murders that are relevant to the play's story. Those actual addresses however are found in the play (as is the above map in the playbook). This is a process I used to keep the fictional aspects of the story plausible. As an example, when my main characters Billy Rhythm and Tharbis Jefferson are walking down Lenox Avenue in Harlem and see white gangsters from the Cotton Club taking hatchets and sledge hammers to the rival Plantation Club and then throwing the debris into a bonfire in the middle of the street, I wanted to see if it was plausible for them to have walked to the Harlem River within a reasonable amount of time for the next scene. I discovered it was. My research also found a secondary source-- a newspaper article written about that incident recalled in a book (my first source)-- that backs up the story. As an added bonus, that article gives a voice to the African American perspective of what happened, revealing an underlying resentment to the white gangsters and others who came into their community and opened businesses that would bar Harlemites at the door. That info is included in the annotations found in the playbook. The annotations are there for the actors and the readers to help them better understand the time, place and psychological make-up of the characters in the play. Like the final sentence on the back cover of the playbook, it helps remind everyone that "it all happened in an almost forgotten time in America's most mythic city: Harlem."

DC Copeland

You can follow this series by clicking the "Harlem Dramaturgy Project" in the Labels section below.
Jaz Dorsey