BLUES FOR BLACKS
Yesterday on a rainy day in April, I went to the Whitney with my sister to see "Blues for Smoke" and exhibition influenced By the history and musicality of the Blues. An interesting exhibition, it displayed how its influence can be seen in so many artistic disciplines. I dont get to see exhibitions often and when I do, I am one of the dorkier viewers who enjoys taking in every piece and installation. If there is music, scrawlings, dried fruit or anything, I enjoy the whole experience. I want to understand what motivated the curator or the artist to create, what they created. While, trying to squeeze into one of the audio installations, an older, white woman moved and covered her purse as I was trying to get to one of the headphones. My first reaction was to leave where she was because I dont want that sort of energy around me. I also was sort of struck by the irony of the situation, at an exhibit highlighting an African-American art form, here was a white woman consciously or unconsciously making me feel uncomfortable, for her comfort. The Whitney Museum, is located on the upper east side of manhattan, an area which I rarely if ever travel to,nearly a foreign land to me. The majority of people at the exhibition were non-blacks, and my sister commented as the tour guide was explaining aspects to of the "black art experience" to a group of older white patrons, it is sort of a surreal experience hearing yourself explained as other. There is no equivalant of where you hear white people explained as other, unless you are hanging out with a group of your friends after watching some ridiculous film.
I appreciate the Whitney for this exhibition, and the staff was a diverse group racially and intergenerational. It is also makes me angry, after a long day at work, looking forward to this exhibition before a rehearsal later that evening, that I would even have to encounter this..again..at an exhibit that was highlighting my OWN culture. There is no resolve in this piece, that woman will probably never have to account for her behavior and for me, the experience is not new just another to place in the "dont let that affect you pile". Also, this behavior is not exclusive to the "older white female", it is a behavior that crosses gender and age, unfortunately. You can experience it in the 'burg all the way to Staten Island. For myself, it makes me just want to avoid areas of where there is a majority white attendance, which is usually impossible but I am very aware of my surroundings and my time is calculated in those spaces. The situation is much more complicated than just "lets love each other", if i had needed CPR, i do not doubt that woman would have helped me. This is a deeper issue of honor and respect that is still very much lacking for my community in this country. A conversation and process that is still happening and unraveling. For now, beautiful exhibits like Blues for Smoke, is just that an artistic experience but not a political reality.
Journey from Pen to Paper
My journey to become a writer has been a long and circuitous one. I dont know if I ever would official give myself the title of writer exclusively but I definitely have been playing in the literary playground. My initial reason for joining this theater company was to explore directing and writing since I actively have been performing in since my return to New York ( hand to heart with extreme gratitude) When the project for came up in company meeting I shared absolutely no interest. I have never been into the Tudor's or the history of the monarchy.I was one of the few Americans who did not watch the Royal Wedding nor had even the slightest interest. Then when I noticed my name had been listed as a contributing writer to the project, I didnt resist. The process has been one of a collaborative, with the work being created in the rehearsal process, I am personally not a fan of that because of the lack of structure but since my experience is more limited in this area it was an opportunity for me to learn. During the process, I assumed me and my writing partner would just contribute maybe a paragraph or a suggestion here so it seemed benign enough. After a couple of weeks, one of the actors asked if and I had any text for them. Initally I was quite surprised, I had no idea I was expected to create actual dialogue. I was nervous, this was out of my realm of experience primarily burgeoning as a slam poet. I spoke to one of my acting buddies, who insisted that I take part in this project. My writing partner and I have had no previous working relationship, actually no relationship of any kind and we were expected to take this information that had been collected and create something from it. We had our intial meeting and we realized we really had no information. We talked about writing prompts and I lead the improv work in two rehearsals. Then we came back and miraculously we actual began to work together. For many who do this all the time, this is probably routine but for myself I was actually shocked how it all sort of came together in a slow unraveling. He is extremely laid back to my Native New York neurosis so, ( at least for me) it had made for an enjoyable writing experience. I know understand Richard Rogers only do one project alone, there is something great about collaborating with another, it makes you more confident in your own abilities, ironically enough. Also, it is very time consuming, each monolgue we have written takes time. Understanding the character, how they speak, thier experiences, thier influence and remaining consistent. When you have two people bringing that together, the time can just get eaten up. After almost 4 hours completing the first 3 of 7 monologues and thier death sentences, he sent them to the group for review. We were expecting notes, comments about why some things were omitted etc. That is the process of collaboration but when I recieved a video with pieces of text being moved and lines where speeches were supposed to be I was a little numb at first. Then nhe and I got together for the next 4 monologues and we have spent another 4 hours churning these out, I see another email from another part of the team and the lines are even in a more chaotic fashion, I am disturbed. All of a sudden a light went off in my head, I understand why writers have protection, now I understand intellectual property. To see the work you have spent hours on changed into something else entirely is difficult to witness. When you are not getiing financial compensation, it becomes almost pointless. Where the journey will take me from here, I dont know but it has been a true learning experience. My fellow sister and lover of words, Sophia suggested I put this experience on paper. It has been an unexpected my necessary journey in my development. Who would believe at this point in my life, I would still be learning new things but here we go again!
I was at a Bob Marley Tribute concert a couple of weeks ago at the House of Blues. A fellow actor peep hooked me up w/ a free ticket & a backstage pass. I had a sneaking feeling that this would probably bring out a majority white audience & lot of people who liken rastafari to weed & not any the political stance that led to the liberation of Jamaica from British rule. There was the usual suspects...the white hippies from yester year, the Rastafari elders w/natty dreads, the white frat boys, sistah's looking to show thier winding skills, the white women looking to explore thier Jungle fever & the blk man who are happy participants. Thier were several musicians who were all talented & brought thier version of the brillance that was Bob Marley to life on the stage. What was missing for me is the real reverence for the lyrics of what Bob Marley was writing. I saw people especially white couples who were grinding to the words of Jah, Love or Exodus. Young, white men singing "Irie" with drinks in thier hands coming from thier post at AIG. Black men who were just looking to get thier "packages" rubbed out on anyone's backside. Obviously, I understand it's a concert and people have to express themselves but I wondered when did roots reggae become a place for people to unleash thier inhibitions. When did the music of political liberation become reduced to frat boy excess? I am certain that dancehall ( which I am a fan of) is partly the culprit but also the commercialization of Bob Marley. He has become a cool product placement & the political commentary has gotten lost in everyone wanting to feel "Irie". Bob Marley literally risked his life in perserving the progress of Jamaica & speaking about the economic injustices that run rampant in the third world. His love songs were few, he used his prestige as a platform for political movement and commentary. He used his beauty & sexuality as a way to lure people to hear about the pain which is the everyday reality of many, many people. He enjoyed all the carnal & financial benefits of being a rock star but his private home was an open place & his religion was always at the forefront. He was a falliable man, especially in his emotional life but as a freedom fighter his vision was crystal clear & watching that audience at the House of Blues just brought sadness to my heart. I cant imagine that this was the legacy he wanted & how his birthday should be recognized. Again, there is no resolution just a commentary from a blk chick who lives in NYC.
An Actor/Director sharing her thoughts on creativity in this crazy metropolis, New Yawk Citay.