Category Archives: Theater

Desiree Marshall: F*ck Facebook

You know one of the things that I am beginning to admit to myself: I am finding a lot of activist and organizing happening in the US pretty boring and uninteresting. Most of what is really inspiring me is art–and I usually hate those kind of people. You know the people who want to circumvent any kind of political implications of their work by declaring it art. Or the artist who declare that art is going to save the world, and that a revolution can happen without some kind of challenge, indirect dismantling, or radical transformation of state power–and the art that is produced in a society is a direct outgrowth of it.

That said, I am finding myself more interested in the manner in which people are using creative forms to express ideas for audiences. As a result, I am entertaining ideas of getting back on stage in some way, shape or form, or exploring other kinds of writing–more long form, narrative, nonfiction or even fiction, as a method of creativity, political protest, and artistic endeavor.

I’ve posted some of that work here–Yolo Akili’s video work, Brontez Purnell’s growing from punk kid to full fledged performance artist, Awkward Black Girl, and now, another friend, Desiree Marshall (Awkward Black Girl isn’t a friend. But the others are.)

I’ve known Des for many years as our work as organizers and trainers in activist spaces. I was always impressed by her intellect, and the charisma she brought to political work. I’ve known she was also a spoken word artist, and always liked her work, but seeing her here, delivering this poem, “F*ck Facebook” made me see the incredible power she brings to her work as a performer, and her ability to command the audience’s attention. In addition, the piece itself, took me to some internal places about my own uses and experiences of facebook, of failed relationships, and I guess she commanded me, cynical me, away from my critical eye, even my eye as a friend of Des’ into the world of the piece itself. She had me. I loveit when an artist/ performer makes me want to perform again, and inspires me to step my own game up.

I think Des should write a whole show and take it on the road. There’s a space for her in the world, and the gift she has.

Watch and see.

What to See: 'Whore Works' Playing 6 More Shows in NYC

Instead of spending your hard-earned cash on the boys on the pole, in the back of HX, or on the now ill-fated Craigslist escort “Adult Services” ads, go see some Whore Works, playing at the Kraine Theater for 6 more shows.

WHORE WORKS features a male prostitute (played by Juan Michael Porter II, who also wrote the play) servicing several clients, (all played by Bryan Webster, far left) over the course of several vignettes that are by turns pulse-quickening, thought-provoking, hilarious and surreal. If you’re a prude, from the Family Research Council, or don’t like male nudity and simulated sex acts, as George Clinton once said — KEEP YO DEAD ASS HOME!

The play explores the dynamics of sex for pay, and what happens when feelings get caught in the trade–but this is no Pretty Woman. Bryan Webster’s work is some of the stongest and most engaging character work I’ve seen in a long time on stage for an actor playing multiple roles. Sex aside, Webster’s work is worth the price of admission.

Sugar Valley Theatricals
presents
Whore Works
a play by Juan Michael Porter II, directed by Patricia R. Floyd
with Bryan Webster & Juan Michael Porter II

Kraine Theater, 85 East 4th Street between 2nd & 3rd Avenues, New York

Thursday-Saturday, May 14, 15, and 16
Thursday-Saturday, May 21, 22, and 23
Thursday-Saturday, May 28, 29 and 30

All performances at 7:00 p.m.

Tickets $18 available by calling TheaterMania at 866-811-4111or online at www.whoreworks.com

Sharpton Turns the Church Out On "Gay Marriage" Focus

The Southern Voice reported today that Reverend Al Sharpton on Sunday in Atlanta called out Black church community on how much energy they put on the same-sex marriage issue, and little else about anything else in the Black community. Here’s what he said:

“It amazes me when I looked at California and saw churches that had nothing to say about police brutality, nothing to say when a young black boy was shot while he was wearing police handcuffs, nothing to say when the they overturned affirmative action, nothing to say when people were being delegated into poverty, yet they were organizing and mobilizing to stop consenting adults from choosing their life partners,” Sharpton told a packed audience on Jan. 11.

“There is something immoral and sick about using all of that power to not end brutality and poverty, but to break into people’s bedrooms and claim that God sent you,” Sharpton added.

(DAMN, THAT LAST LINE IS FIERCE!!!)

He spoke at Tabernacle Baptist Church, which was written about in the New York Times in 2007, because Rev. Dennis Meredith proclaimed the church open and accepting to the LGBT community, which meant much of his congregation went elsewhere. According to SOVO, Reverend Meredith has since come out as bisexual.

Sharpton goes onto speak more about the hypocrisy of minister who are often in the closet themselves, and preaching hatred of gays, as well as their lack of participation in racial & economic justice issues.

“I am tired of seeing ministers who will preach homophobia by day, and then after they’re preaching, when the lights are off they go cruising for trade…“We know you’re not preaching the Bible, because if you were preaching the Bible we would have heard from you…We would have heard from you when people were starving in California, when they deregulated the economy and crashed Wall Street you had nothing to say. When [alleged Ponzi schemer Bernie] Madoff made off with the money, you had nothing to say. When Bush took us to war chasing weapons of mass destruction that weren’t there you had nothing to say. … But all of a sudden when Proposition 8 came out you had so much to say, but since you stepped in the rain, we gonna step in the rain with you.

Let the church say Amen.

2008: Year of the Black Queer!

2008 is the year of the Black Queer!

OK. That sounds really cheesy. But I was thinking about what my end of year blog entry would be, and while watching the finale of the Keyshia Cole reality show on BET, that Black Queer folks have been extremely visible in a myriad of ways over the last year.

Reality TV

Black queers have been most visible in the realm of reality TV. While the First Housewives of Atlanta was the third (and most watched) of the series on Bravo, it also had the most recurring Black gay men and transwomen and otherwise gender nonconforming folks of any of the three shows. Dwight Eubanks, ATL Celebrity Hairstylist and “gay husband” to NeNe, was on the show regularly, and seemed most often to be the voice of reason in the midst of all the drama. Similary, On Keyshia Cole’s show, her sister Neffe’s good friend and hairstylist Darrell was on the show regularly. Though their sexuality was never really discussed (though Dwight and NeNe had an interesting exchange about gender on the show), it was interesting to see such Black gay men (especially who were very gender noncomforming) on popular television. Also, Laverne Cox, the Black transwoman was a contestant on P. Diddy’s I Want to Work for Diddy show. She left about halfway through the show, and many things happened that were transphobic in nature, she wasn’t tragic and the show showed some level of growth in some other folks on the show who were clearly originally very uncomfortable with her presence.

Wendy Wiliams

So Wendy is not queer, but the queen of gossip radio’s 5 week pilot-run in several major cities brought Black gay culture to the mainstream in ways that the unsuspecting hetero may not realize. Her signature “How You Doin?” phrase has for years been a a way to signify Black queer culture with her radio listeners, as well as other phrases that she is beginning to popularize that come from Black gay culture like “Alright” and “The Girls Are Sitting” and “What’s the Tea?” Much like Beyonce’s continued use of Black queer culture for inspiration in videos like “Single Ladies” (the choreography is ripped from the pageant scene in Black southern queer bars and clubs), Wendy continues to bring Black gayness to the masses.

Noah’s Arc

Speaking of Tea, Noah’s Arc, the Black gay television series produced by LOGO (MTV Networks), made its way to the silver screen and opened to stunning per-seat sales at the box office in the 5 cities where it screened. This little Black gay movie became the buzz of the industry that never thought a film with Black gay characters not as buffoons (though it is a very soap-opera ish) as the leading characters could ever do well at the box office.

Politics

Not only did Keith Boykin and Jasmyne Cannick both become regularly called-upon pundits on CNN this year, mostly due to Paula Zahn’s now cancelled show, but because several political stories, Black LGBT became very central to of the framing of “gay issues” this year in a way we haven’t been. When Obama choose “ex-gay movement” mega church minister Donnie McClurkin to lead an event in South Carolina ahead of the primary, Black gays were most prominent in voicing our opposition. More recently, when white gays like sex columnist Dan Savage launched into many racist tirades to “Blame the Blacks” for the passage of Prop 8 in California, Black LGBT folk became somewhat prominent in the discussion. Race issues in the LGBT community are not new, but because of a number of popular Bloggers, writers and activists like Herndon Davis, Kai Wright, Jasmyne Cannick, Rod 2.0 and yours truly, there was an immediate and very public backlash from Black LGBT folks about Prop 8, and racism in the LGBT community. In fact when interviewing the back-peddling Savage, Steven Colbert even talked about Black gay people, specifically. In the 1970s-1990s, much of the response to racism in the community was documented by organizations and writers like Barbara Smith and Essex Hemphill, but it would be years before their works would be published and mass distributed. White queers who bought into the hype abot Black voters in California (I think) were quite taken aback by the Black queers who voiced our opposition to their racism in immediate writings, op-eds, blog posts, and TV/radio interviews.

Though there was lots of sad news this year in the murders of several people in our community as well. There were a couple victories– new trials for several of the New Jersey 4, and a recent high court decision in Uganda ruled in favor of lesbian activists that had been arrested and assaulted by police.

See you in 2009!

RIP Eartha Kitt

Most people my age remember Eartha Kitt most fondly for her role as “Lady Eloise” in the early 1990s flick, Boomerang, for which she and Grace Jones, steal the show. I was never a huge Eartha fan, but she’s always been an inspiration to me. I am always fascinated by people who are subjected to various personal hardships–poverty, violence, — politicize those experiences, and re-make themselves, both because of and in spite of the histories that would normally dictate a different kind of life. It’s not to support the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” bullshit, but for people who still understand the larger political circumstances that created the conditions they’d be forced to endure, what is it about them that makes them make very different choices, sometimes the most improbable choices?

Earth Kitt was born in 1927 on a cotton farm in South Carolina. She was the product of rape, the daughter of a 14 year old Black/Cherokee teen and the son of the white landowner (he beat the definition slaveowner by a few decades). She was raised by her aunt, but after sufferring from various forms of abuse by a family her aunt sent her to “work” for, or what Kitt described “given away for slavery.” She often described that she got that famous growl from literally having to fight for food as a child. She thought her aunt was her mother, until she was sent to live with her mother in NYC after the aunt’s death.

Besides studying dance with Katherine Dunham, working with Orson Welles, and becoming Catwoman on the first Batman television series, Eartha Kitt was, like many Black artists of her time, blacklisted. In the 1960’s she was doing work to highlight the plight faced by Black youth in Watts (after the infamous Watts riots), and she was asked by then First Lady Ladybird Johnson to a White House event. In a conversation, Kitt told Johnson how against the Vietnam War she was, and the great architect of the modern Civil Rights Movement (according to Senator Hillary Clinton), President Lyndon B. Johnson, personally worked to ensure Kitt would not be able to work for at least 6 years.

But Eartha would resurface, and remain relevant until her very last breath, which unfortunately for us, was on Christmas day this year, at age 81. She will be remembered as a true triple-threat, and for being a Black woman who pushed a very overt and complex sexuality and sexual identity both in her youth and in her old age–a rarity in popular culture, where sexuality is rampant but is often very two-dimensional. Wanna know more? She wrote three (count em!) autobiographiesThursday’s Child (1956), Alone with Me (1976), and I’m Still Here: Confessions of a Sex Kitten (1989).

Here’s a television biography from a decade ago that is pretty interesting:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XveTAMldFr4]

Here’s a BBC tribute:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vfTsYCOQ7Ak&feature=related]

Guest Blog: Why NYC Needs Fire!

Why New York City Needs Fire
by Andre Lancaster

“Who needs a rebel if they are dead?”
from Lenelle Moise’s Expatriate, Culture Project

If Expatriate were only a play about the tragic love story between two black women, one gay and one straight, I would have walked out of the performance moved but not changed.  Good theatre should change you I’ve always thought..  Thankfully, Expatriate hit the spot.   At its core the play puts forth a powerful, cautionary story of the plight of young and terribly gifted artists who love and live as passionately as their art evokes.  Think: Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Essex Hemphill, and Heath Ledger.

What also made Expatriate especially poignant was its fresh choice of who would carry the story: a Black queer protagonist.  In a year of hope filled multi-racial politics and the Tony Award winning musical, In The Heights, this being viewed as “fresh” may fall on deaf ears.

I could not disagree more.

Before I digress too much into Expatriate (go see it), let me directly address this article’s title and why New York City desperately needs fire.  Disney, Starbucks, and the Post-Giuliani Police State are three reasons that come quickly to mind.  A once unwieldy metropolis known for its insomnia and spontaneity is now overrun with quality of life laws and chain stores.

And for the comic book fans out there, yes, the title is also a not too subtle reference at the imagined hero of DC Comic’s City of Metropolis.  In Lois Lane’s “Why the world doesn’t need Superman,” she writes:

“People have always longed for God… We wait for our savior’s return though it will never happen and we realize it was better had he never come at all.”

Ultimately, Lois Lane did revisit her article’s title and the urgency for a hero after Superman saved the world from evil in 2007’s Superman Returns.  Hollywood’s messiah complex notwithstanding, the case study is still very apropos.  New York City needs not one hero, but many sheroes and heroes.  We need a burning enthusiasm for new stories from new perspectives; theatre that pays a living wage for all working theatre artists; a civic responsibility to produce culture instead of a nationalist fervor to wage war; and an audience hungry to be challenged and mindlessly entertained.  And yeah, give us health care too!

These are some of the elements that make up our fire and it will, can, and in some ways already has brought new passion to theatre in New York City.   Already movements are taking shape. The Code Committee of the Actors’ Equity Association is considering updating its showcase code to reflect the reality of producing 99 seat or less theatre in the year 2008.  Off-Off Broadway producers are organizing and rebranding their work as Independent Theater.  This fire has come in the form of Mike Daisey’s How Theatre Failed America and, yes, sometimes it will come in the form of a Black queer protagonist not unlike seen in Lenelle Moise’s Expatriate.

What will complicate our efforts will be when fire is misunderstood, ignored or beholden to the aged worldviews that we seek to set ablaze.  Case in point:  Part of my work at Freedom Train, a political theatre company based in Brooklyn, is to promote plays with Black queer protagonists to other producers.  I have found that I have more success in presenting our plays not as Black queer plays (read: token) but as plays that speak to universal experiences.  However, once these plays leave our utopia, we inevitably lose control over how they are presented.  So while last year’s Freedom Train developed play, Nick Mwaluko’s Are Women Human?, was presented to our audience as a story of a person’s freedom for acceptance and love, it could very well be read as a thoughtful, but inappropriate work for another theatre’s audience.  It is in fact a play about a Black transgender person and their audience is, well, white.

Many will read this article and miss the point entirely.  They will cite show after show that has a Black lead or theatres that produce non-linear work, or even the rare company that pays its actors and stagehands as much as it pays its development staff.  Really now?

Fire is an undeniable, natural element that creates fertile ground for new growth.  To not be in constant desire for fire is (boring and) against nature.  Openness is the oxygen to our fire — let it burn.

Andre Lancaster is the Artistic & Managing Director of Freedom Train Productions.  Freedom Train Productions’ Fire! New Play Festival is set to open on August 6th at South Oxford Space in Fort Greene. More information: www.freedomtrainproductions.org.

Lenelle Moise’s Expatriate is showing at Culture Project in Soho through August 3rd.  More information: www.cultureproject.org.

Judith Jamison to Retire from Ailey in 2011

Judith Jamison, principal dancer-turned choreographer, just announced her plans to retire as Artistic Director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 2011. Jamison first joined the company in 1965.

Jamison, and Ailey’s choreography, is the thing that made me decide to start taking modern and jazz dance classes when I was young and saw a PBS special and was mesmorized by the classic “Revelations” (betcha didn’t know I started taking dance at age 7 did ya?).

After Ailey died of AIDS in 1989, Jamison took over leadership of the company and helped it grow into a major dance institution. He’s one of my heroes, and and so is she. Here’s to your much deserved rest, Ms. Jamison!