June 29, 2007
when i was last here i realised that although i post about working in theatre and with young people through the arts (archives will attest, i hope) i’ve never explained how i started (except in my initial junction interview); lilliput theatre’s annual show has become a rite of passage for young trinbagonian performers- i learned much of what i do in the green front studio @ caribbean school of dance (another rite of passage for so many)- i remember we felt so big.
lilliput taught me who i wanted to be (full disclaimer: i’ve posted about this before, elsewhere, so here+now is an epilogue). but when i started, lying on the ground late saturday mornings, breathing in+out on john’s command and wondering if this really had anything to do with acting, i had no idea i’d become a professional stage manager/technician/actor/dancer/writer/director/teacher- i just knew the stuff the drama class was doing while i waited to get picked up from ballet was fun. writing soon followed, for my 1st lilliput show- john’s idea- and i was where i belonged.
since then, my constant goal is to offer young people the inspiration and resources that were given to me. caribbean school of dance was the foundation- i still tell students who ask that i started as a dancer and it’s served me well- but lilliput was where i became myself. the 2 are inseparable from who i am and what i do (also inseparable from who i am) and with my family’s support are the root of every positive vibe i put out into our world.
i may not be as financially rewarded as some but i absolutely love what i do- i get to create art and feel like i make some difference in the minds and lives of our youth-and i wouldn’t be here without caribbean school of dance and lilliput theatre always respecting me as a viable artist regardless of my age (for real, 2nd paragraph “disclaimer” link). i just hope that the work i do now inspires youths to do something valuable with their lives and pass it on to future minds.
are you doing what you love? who taught you? who inspires you? how do you give back?
June 26, 2007
i came by to say something about the stephen+damian “jr.gong” marley show, the manu chao show and the machel show, and in catching up here, read something else that made me realise i have been remiss and must remedy it. but 1st: the marleys were so good!i wish it were a different venue- something outside and anything bigger would’ve been nice (although they’d just sell proportionately more tickets, so ‘bigger’s niceness is contingent on fulfilling ‘outside’)- and my other minor complaint is that stephen+jr.gong should do more of their own material. we lucky to hear them perform their father’s work, but some of us were looking forward to tracks off welcome to jamrock (and previous albums) and mind control and felt a lot of excellent tunes were overlooked. their energy+vibes were exactly what i was looking for, though. real nice show.
my only other complaint isn’t about the show but the audience. and this is why i stopped clubbing in dc- i don’t like partying with americans. they just come out on a different head from how we approach feteing and i don’t like the vibes. their intent is to “get fucked up”, and american men can be so unmannerly and overly aggressive in how they ask for a dance or name or whatever, plus they never understand a dance is just a dance- i actually had a man grab me hard enough to rip open my jeans in a dc club once. not worth it for a small wine (too small @ that, with last call and such bullshit).
the crowd @ the marleys was packed tight, with attitude, and i found myself pushed closer to fighting than i been in years. i had to wonder how the crowd squeezing us could be having such an (apparently) different experience of the show, but the marleys were too good to let that stop me from enjoying myself.
then we just did manu chao and machel montano, same day- we wanted to see manu for awhile and he happened to be here dc carnival weekend. the only thing i was pressed about for carnival was machel’s alternative concept, so i couldn’t let the long day (dance @ 11.30am, manu @ 5.30pm, machel @ 2.30am) or distance between shows (we left manu, drove straight, got to machel just after 1am) stop me. it was all worth it too, except for 1 complaint: neither manu nor machel brought their horn sections. since 1 band came from spain and the other from trinidad+tobago but neither with the horns used so amply throughout their recorded music and local live performances, i can only assume it’s considered an unjustifiable expense for international gigs. but we music lovers would’ve loved them even more if they brought their fullest sound. both shows were wonderful, but i missed the horns, accordion player and 2nd vocalist, and horns and winer girls, respectively. i was glad i knew the music well enough to hear the rest of it in my head, and that in spite of their sound-reduction, both acts delivered. i’m still a fan and want to see them both again. with horns.
ps: necessary follow-up mentioned in 1st paragraph sooncome…
May 8, 2007
in spite of being an actor, i hate makeup. i only ever wear it onstage and even then, it’s minimal, unless i can avoid it altogether. so when i ran into afrobella (sidebar) i checked it out because i know her from highschool, but didn’t expect to become a regular reader, since beauty products and cosmetics in general are not my thing and i don’t care enough to spend time reading about them. but my girl is excellent- the blog covers more than just products (music, interviews, organic remedies, things-trini) and i find myself reading every post, whether it’s about makeup or not. so when i decided to get caught up i went all the way back to her november 2006 archives because i didn’t want to miss anything- needless to say, she’s also very prolific, so i’ve been catching up on her blog for days. literally. and am only up to february…
but so worthwhile.
today i big-up and link this afrobella post (3months old, to the date) addressing an aspect of trini music that i’ve had a hard time explaining in dc- religious party music. after you read here, i suggest you take the time to watch all the videos she’s linked.
now i’m completely irreligious, myself. i’d call myself a lapsed catholic, but wouldn’t want to give my mother hope of my return to the church. so let’s say i don’t care about god(s)- i try to do the right thing and enjoy the gift of life, and assume that any deity in charge of shit will respect my good life in its aftermath, regardless of beliefs or lack thereof. so i don’t really think about anything but energy- cannot be created or destroyed but only changed from one form into another- sounds pretty omnipotent to me.
but trinis are a traditionally religious people, in the way that every post-slavery society i know of is, except that we’re more encompassing and don’t stick to variations on christianity because of our very mixed culture. much of the music i listen and dance to references jah, right alongside deities considered part of the orisa/shango/hindu/other canons because of our multireligious nature- the country gets public holidays for not just christmas, but divali, eid-ul-fitr, shouter baptist day, etc. and many of us celebrate them all. religious content is often heard in the dancehall to varying degrees, and the phenomenon afrobella mentions, of a whole crowd at a huge, loud concert with drinks in hands swaying to david rudder’s high mas in a seemingly religious experience is something i experienced (and still do) @ every rudder show i went to (and i went to every one i possibly could), every andre tanker show (not leaving out contraband who i hope to find still playing, in spite of our losing tanker), every time i heard ella andall’s voice live- it’s the closest i ever feel to any god of any sort, which brings me to the featured video in her post: isaac blackman.
isaac is the younger brother of sheldon blackman (also on left sidebar) and their family is near+dear to my heart- wife (claudette) and children of the late great ras shorty i, who left the carnality of soca to make music dedicated to jah.
i’m pausing for a second to apologise for any disjointedness in this post- i often forget how just thoughts of shorty bring tears, and i feel them rising (we lost him the same year that we lost lord kitchener and john isaacs) so i cannot vouch for the coherence of the rest of this post but it’s important to me to post it before tonight, which i’ll explain shortly, so i’ll come back tomorrow and fix anything that’s a mess.
in bishops, scrawn briefly called me ras shorty i because i’m short with glasses and dreadlocks, but that was well behind me by the time i met him. i actually met sheldon 1st and he took me home to piparo (in the bush, as we say- we’d also say “behind god back” but in this case it seems inappropriate) where i met the rest of the family (23 kids; i know about 10, i think) who immediately adopted me- ironically, i look like i could be part of their family; when i go anywhere with them, others assume that i am. they brought me home, fed me, let me sit in while they rehearsed and created music, and i became a fan+friend for life. i don’t know anybody like them (their family stage name is the love circle and most of the youths also make their own music- each of them sings hauntingly, writes and plays at least 1 instrument, some play many)- they’re beautiful, amazing, welcoming, strong, god-loving people and their almost-entirely-religious music (called jamoo, for jah music) is always on my favourites-list. i know every single lyric and sing along with them about god’s love and how important it is in their lives and i come so close to believing- the part of me that doesn’t cross the line into religious belief is still rewarded and made to feel loved as i dance. my lack of belief does nothing to dilute the impact the lyrics have, i never feel left out, and quite frankly, i’m happy to consider the music itself my religion. they’re so good live, too, i dance from start to stop. when i met isaac (the baby) he was making bamboo jewellery (which i still wear) as well as music, and way too cute for one still underage, but like i said, they’re all beautiful- if i could look like mom claudette after having that many children…but i digress- i’ve watched isaac grow into a confident and successful young man and his music has grown with him. the last time i saw him in trini my jaw dropped at how mannish he’d become while i was in dc, and i love knowing that he’s making a name for himself the way sheldon did (you should use the sidebar to listen to sheldon’s album- he’s incredible and deserves a post of his own) while being pleased to see him stay true to his roots- most of the people in that video are his family, and the black+white shirt you see in some shots is part of the jamoo clothing line started by older sister and bass player avion. (my jamoo dress is about 10years old, and still every time i wear it people ask where they can get one. while in parentheses, another aside: i noticed the name “rembunction” @ the bottom of the video screen and swear i saw my boy remy in the video, so big-up remy for working with the best and bringing our talent into the open for others to see/hear.)
there are few things that move me the way ras shorty i’s who god bless does, except perhaps hearing sheldon/love circle sing it, or mavis john sing it, or ataklan’s rapso remake featuring sheldon singing it…
i wanted to link afrobella’s post and throw in my few words about the idea that music can be religious and still be partied to because tonight i go to the stephen+damian “jr.gong” marley concert, where i will dance for personal deities.
the workers of iniquity
dig a pit for me
now they waiting for me to fall in
trying to take mih bread an butter
with lies and propaganda
but they foolin
they only foolin
i shall not be afraid of what man can do to me
man you see is only vanity
who god bless no man curse
he shall never hunger or thirst
who god bless no man shall ever curse
he shall be first…
who god bless, ras shorty i
ps: afrobella also mentions that david rudder is often considered the trini bob marley, which is true, but in keeping with the theme, i admit that i call him by his other title, the high priest of calypso/soca. the sound on the high mas video (her post) isn’t great, but i recommend listening to (if you can find) hallelujah, the ganges and the nile, the hammer, haiti, song for a lonely soul, calypso rising, 1990, another day in paradise, trini 2 de bone– and anything else he’s done- they’re not all jah-referential, but all amazing tunes.
and on that tip, anything by andre tanker (check out the youthful photo of him with that link) especially bassment party, forward home– actually, there’s way too many to list, but anything by tanker will make you dance and bring you closer to that supreme energy. trust.
(this post is also @ sweet trini’s urban folk tales, and all references to the sidebar are for that blog, not the junction blog)
remember how i said i was directing some youths? learning experience all around- those youths (age average, 6th-8th grade) damn near killed me, then turned around and told me they love me and i have to come back and direct them again next year. i just ran into one of the gremlins during tech-dinner with a few edward3 cast members (rosie, who it’s good to work with again, and a chick i was briefly in college with).
so, starting late (other schools cast it by december for an early march performance with christmas break in between) with only 6weeks total going into auditions, we originally called 2days of auditions- day1 for general auditions, day2 for conflicts and callbacks.
lesson #1: the audition process is indicative of how the whole production will operate, start to finish.
they said they usually did a “workshop” before auditions, where the auditor would help the determined analyse text and work on their pieces. i said it wasn’t necessary- i wanted to see how quickly they grasped the language on their own and how well they took direction, so i sent out sides on monday for semi-cold readings wednesday-thursday. anybody who didn’t take sides in advance got them when they arrived, and auditioned last so they had some prep time. i just used scenes from midsummer for auditions because i didn’t want to choose a play before i saw the talent pool, so i was simply looking for 22 students who looked like they could handle performing shakespeare for a healthy audience (the folger’s stage limit is 25, and we wanted offer the opportuntity to as many as possible, leaving room for musicians and/or stage crew).
lesson #2: at this age, in urban
america, the confident students seem to be white girls and black boys; overall, white boys and black girls made a poor showing @ auditions.
lesson #3: they are not professionals- if taking on a similar challenge, remember this detail and bring a camera to auditions (so glad i thought of it in advance) because they don’t have standard headshot/resumes so you have no other way to put faces to those names on the pages post-audition. also remember this lack of professionalism applies to timely progress, commitment, and similarly important parts of the process of creating theatre- not that i expect them to be professional @ their age+stage, i’m just saying to recognise the ramifications.
auditions took so much longer than i expected. we could’ve used another day, but couldn’t afford the time, which was the theme of the process.
i racked my brain trying to figure out what shakespeare worked with the audition fallout. i asked for suggestions on the audition form because i wanted to know what they were interested in, but the few who suggested all said midsummer, which i’d suspected since the reason i refused to do it is that every year, way too many @ the festival do- there’s nothing quite as lame as the day’s 4th mediocre half-hour cut of midsummer, featuring an overly-shrill helena-hermia-catfight delivered by non-professionals with no vocal variation, comic timing or real stage combat, no matter how much you like shakespeare or working with youths, or both. i wanted my students to do something different from the rest. i thought about richard3 and would’ve done it with more time, but it didn’t seem wise to try anything requiring too much backstory- 5weeks of rehearsal isn’t enough to explain the relationships and histories. thus, choices were narrowed to a comedy. then i realised the thing to do was the comedy with the right number of characters- i picked as you like it because it had so many characters in it’s simple plot.
i cut it to what i thought was a half-hour script (i’d thought we got 45minutes onstage, but no) which i was to find out too late, was not half-an-hour-long in their hands. i set up a rehearsal schedule, assigned roles, shifted some lines and characters to make best use of what i had, and started working through the text with them, making sure they understood every word, so they could deliver with verisimilitude.
lesson #4: no matter how many times you tell them to ask about anything they don’t understand, they won’t. and then, when you ask them what something means and they can’t tell you, they’ll promise to ask in future, but still won’t. they’re not that smart yet.
it was like pulling teeth. it took forever. i’d eased them up by breaking up rehearsal to only call those i’d need for a limited number of scenes each day, since we were starting @ the top and working our way through, in order, deconstructing language along the way. every day we didn’t get as far we should’ve because those gremlins were always late, in spite of the fact that they didn’t even have to change buildings to get to rehearsal after school, with time accomodation for lockers, bathroom and babble before they had to be ready. i also never had a single rehearsal with every cast member called, literally until the final rehearsal, on the day of the performance @ their school (day before the folger). they drove me to distraction.
lesson #5: do not assume that because they chose to audition for a play they must know that the point of being in a play is acting, and thus it doesn’t matter whether they like each other in real life or not.
lesson #6: do not assume that they can see far enough past who they like/hate this week to recognise that if they don’t come to rehearsal, they’ll be the ones onstage not knowing lines+blocking, and that when they don’t turn up others in their scenes can’t rehearse either.
i damn near killed some of them. repeatedly. there was a point when i genuinely believed that they wouldn’t be ready to go on, and cried. and that’s not even counting shit like the school having to go through dcps to get a ladder delivered to the premises to hang the backdrop for the performance @ the school, never getting it, and parents having to weight balls of twine and throw them up+over the grid to hang it from the corners without support so it never looked right; or facilities never cleaning up the broken glass offstage right, or the fact that of all the stage lights we only had lamps in a maximum of 7, and sometimes none at all- it was the worst.
but those youths was a best- i had a girl come and tell me she wanted to play jaques because she wanted the “all the world’s a stage…” monologue. i made her audition with it, and she rocked it, so i had a killer jaques (she was awarded for excellence in acting @ the folger)- plus, the youth i cast as touchstone because he had so much damn lip was so amazingly good that he shared the top award of the day with a little feste who looked to be barely 11 but delivered one of the best feste’s i’ve seen, making the day’s other, very good and noticeably older feste look slight by comparison, making me relieved that 2nd-best-feste distinguished herself by closing with such a sweet little a capella solo that everybody went home deservedly rewarded.
and apparently, my touchstone’s mom ran into the mistress of the revels smoking a cigarette outside and the mistress, knowing i’d directed one of the schools, asked who she was there to see, and was told “my boy markus; he’s playing tombstone”…
we had a ball, in spite of glitches like my silvius (dopey sweet, very smart, but seemingly dyslexic) missing an entrance and keeping us waiting for about a minute during the school performance because he thought he had time to go to the bathroom down the hall during a supposedly half-hour performance, then @ the folger, cracking the back of his head on the ground during his stage-fall and scaring the shit out of us, minutes before his mom arrived, late and having missed the whole performance because he ignored my advice to call parents during the break and let them know we’d be going on earlier than previously stated- he went down and just didn’t get back up, which made us all think he’d forgotten his line and was stalling- it took a minute to realise he wasn’t up because he couldn’t. i had to run up onstage and help him up but he insisted on finishing the show- grims got him an ice-pack and he got hugged+kissed and publicly lauded by the mistress and was everybody’s hero in the end, after nearly giving me a couple of low-grade heart-attacks.
they were so good @ the folger, after being so bad. but by the end of the process they were loving the daily warmup, which they’d hated when i instituted it to strengthen+loosen bodies+voices- reminding me if i left out anything (even pelvic isolations, which they’re usually way to embarrassed about @ that age), remembering that nobody goes to theatre to see ordinary people living ordinary lives, using correct stage vocabulary and etiquette, and plus, they somehow found much better manners than they had when i met them. some of them truly learned what actors’, directors’ and writers’ tools are and how to develop them.
i was really proud of all the work they did, their parents were thrilled to bits, and they all want to work with me again, so my standard concept worked: treat them like the young adults they are instead of like children, assume they can rather than can’t, and they’ll live up to the standard you set.
this post is also over @ my usual haunt.
February 22, 2007
aware that i talked the talk but am yet to deliver the corresponding walk, i’m thus providing a brief update in the interim- the youths are killing me but they think i’m a shakespeare goddess, yay. i’ve had no time- between directing them, my regular shakespeare gig, finishing the american shaolin prep for the radio station, starting edward3 rehearsals (wholly, in part, or not at all by william shakespeare, which provides an excuse to say “apocryphal” a lot, and my favourite direction ever, from banno: “you’re starbuck!” –battlestar galactica, not moby dick) picking up extra shifts to cover for when i’ll be away and figuring out how the ass to apply for a french visa- to interview nico, edit my noir again, or even write on the process of directing these 20-something youths- but i saw savion live and he was amazing, and rough magic and synetic’s silent macbeth were both wonderful in completely divergent ways (big-up shakespeare in washington).
today was classic- 2 shakespeare performances finishing just in time to snatch up the car from grims @ the theatre and fly to rehearse the youths, to run home with just enough time to switch out scripts and finally finish the food i’d bought on the run between shows that morning to get to rehearsal tonight. happy ash wednesday…although, sadly, i just realised it’s thursday- i’m just still on wednesday night’s homework…i wish i had a carnival hangover instead, but i wouldn’t trade any of these gigs…
January 23, 2007
i forgot to mention that i’m about to direct 25 middle-schoolers in a shakespearean production- we’re entered in the folger’s secondary school shakespeare festival and have another performance @ the school itself. they got a late start hiring a director and with auditions this wednesday, we perform on march 8. i haven’t even chosen a play yet because i’ve never worked with these kids before and have no idea what they’re ready for, but we’re trying to include both dance and live music elements.
on other days of this same 2-week festival i’ll be entertainment as part of the folger’s educational performing company, and a commentator(judge) who watches all the schools’ performances and gets to award prizes at the end of the day.
this while performing regularly with the folger’s educational company, rehearsing edward iii @ washington shakespeare company (when i fetched that link and saw the equus sidebar reviews i almost got sad remembering how much i loved that show)* and possibly still freelance-producing @ the radio station.
am i crazy?
perhaps…we’ll see. but then you’ll know what and what not to do. ent?
* i then remembered this morning, being recognised for the 1st time by a stranger who stopped me outside the radio station and asked “are you an actress?”, “sometimes…”, “i think i saw you in equus…”– a rare occasion; me lost for words).