When we speak the word “life,” it must be understood we are not referring to life as we know it from its surface of fact, but to that fragile, fluctuating center which forms never reach. And if there is still one hellish, truly accursed thing in our time, it is our artistic dallying with forms, instead of being like victims burnt at the stake, signaling through the flames. — Antonin Artaud*
Film Maudit is here. Inspired by Jean Cocteau and presented by Highways, the second iteration of the festival of “outré” films brings together dozens of features and shorts for free streaming.
One of this year’s highlights is Adam Soch’s immersive documentary REZA ABDOH—THEATRE VISIONARY, a view from inside the transgressive work of the late, great theater provocateur, creator of such spectacles as The Hip-Hop Waltz of Eurydice, Bogeyman, The Law of Remains, Father Was a Peculiar Man, Minamata, Tight Right White, and Quotations From a Ruined City.
Featuring extensive documentary footage of Abdoh’s rehearsals and produced work at the Los Angeles TheaterCenter, the Long Beach Opera, New York’s Diplomat Hotel, and the streets of the Meatpacking District, the film includes interviews with the actors, artists, friends, and advocates in his circle: Alan Mandell, Tony Torn, Ken Roht, Tom Pearl, Tom Fitzpatrick, Jacqueline Gregg, Juliana Francis-Kelly, Peter Jacobs, Edwin Gerard, Diane White, Elsbeth M. Collins, Morgan Jenness, Bill Bushnell, AnneHamburger, Peter Sellars, NormanFrisch, Daniel Mufson, Sylvie Drake, Sandy Cleary, David Schweizer, Tal Yarden, Sabrina Artel, Anita Durst, Alix Hester, John Jahnke, Laurel Meade, Alyson Campbell, his mother Homa Oboodi, and his brothers Sardar and Salar Abdoh.
LAZARUS was one of the last things dad created before he died. I know he was incredibly excited about it: working with new people in a new medium. His favorite place to be. As tired as he was, he was clearly loving it! The original London production will be streaming in January. — Duncan Jones
David Bowie and Enda Walsh’s LAZARUS—directed by Ivo van Hove—will stream this month for three days only, marking Bowie’s birthday and the fifth anniversary of his death. See link below to find your location, date, and time.
Michigan Water taste like sherry wine, mean sherry wine Mississippi Water taste like turpentine
For the over 100,000 Black people who migrated to Chicago from the Deep South during the first twenty years of the twentieth century, the waters of Lake Michigan must have felt intoxicating indeed. But as Jelly Roll warned, those waters turned brutally mean the summer of 1919, when a 17-year-old Black boy went swimming and inadvertently crossed an invisible line of racial demarcation. He was attacked and drowned.
When no arrests were made for the young boy’s death, Black people took to the street in protest. During the ensuing confrontations, a white mob stormed Bronzeville, Chicago’s Black neighborhood. Five days later, thirty-seven were dead, 536 injured, and over a thousand left homeless.
The film MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM is set during the summer of 1927. As the same racial embers which erupted eight years earlier continue to simmer, enter a different kind of explosion, but no less stinging or socially significant. Enter singer-songwriter-showbiz entrepreneur, the legendary Ma Rainey, a Black woman from Columbus, Georgia, who is used to obeying nobody’s rules but her own.
Rainey, aka “The Mother of the Blues,” has come north for a one-day recording session. Included in her entourage is her nephew Sylvester, her newest girlfriend Dussie Mae, and band members Toledo, Slow Drag, Cutler and Levee.
Ma Rainey, as crafted by playwright August Wilson, breaks a number of rules, including those of Wilson himself. She is the only character in August’s magnificent ten play cycle chronicling the African American existence during the twentieth century who is based on a real person. She is also the only LGBTQ character, as was Ma, an out lesbian who in her song “Prove It On Me,” unabashedly proclaims—
Went out last night with a crowd of my friends Must have been women cause I don’t like men.
Equally unique about the play, which premiered on Broadway in 1984, is that it’s the only play in the cycle which is not set in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, the famed black neighborhood where Wilson spent his formative years.
But the one quality the piece shares with the rest of his work is its stunning language; language which is as exalted as it is visceral and raw.
As the characters in MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM sermonize, philosophize, talk shit, confront and condemn, their cascading words become a symphonic composition which celebrates the pain, joy and wonder of being Black, human and alive.
In as much as Ma Rainey, the historical figure, was a trailblazer, by 1927 the world was starting to leave her behind. Bessie Smith, Ma’s protege and alleged former lover, had eclipsed her in record sales and popularity. And each week the Duke Ellington Orchestra could be heard on the radio, live from The Cotton Club; the modernity of Ellington’s harmonics, the polar opposite of Ma Rainey and her jug band blues.
Levee, Ma’s cornet player, who has his own musical sound and vision of the future, sees his time in Chicago as a chance to break free of the strictures which have kept Black performers/artists from having the creative careers they deserve.
Will Levee have a future full of promise and possibility, or will the demons of his past and ours as a country keep him and us from moving forward, unencumbered and free?
The blues as an art form has always struck me as having the power to transform the paradoxical (faith vs despair, anguish vs desire) into a balm for the hopeful heart. Or to quote Ma Rainey:
“The blues helps you get out of bed in the morning. You get up knowing you ain’t alone. There’s something else in the world. Something’s been added by that song.”*
We come together as a community of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) theatermakers, in the legacy of August Wilson’s “The Ground on Which I Stand,” to let you know exactly what ground we stand on in the wake of our nation’s civic unrest.
We see you. We have always seen you. We have watched you pretend not to see us.
We have watched you un-challenge your white privilege, inviting us to traffic in the very racism and patriarchy that festers in our bodies, while we protest against it on your stages. We see you.
We have watched you program play after play, written, directed, cast, choreographed, designed, acted, dramaturged, and produced by your rosters of white theatermakers for white audiences, while relegating a token, if any, slot for a BIPOC play. We see you.
We have watched you amplify our voices when we are heralded by the press, but refuse to defend our aesthetic when we are not, allowing our livelihoods to be destroyed by a monolithic and racist critical culture. We see you.
We have watched you inadequately compare us to each other, allowing the failure of entire productions to be attributed to decisions you forced upon us for the comfort of your theater’s white patrons. Meanwhile, you continue to deprioritize the broadening of your audiences by building NO relationship with our communities. We see you.
We have watched you harm your BIPOC staff members, asking us to do your emotional labor by writing your Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion statements. When we demanded you live up to your own creeds, you cowered behind old racist laments of feeling threatened, and then discarded us along with the values you claim to uphold. We see you.
We have watched you discredit the contributions of BIPOC theatres, only to co-opt and annex our work, our scholars, our talent, and our funding. We see you.
We have watched you turn a blind eye as unions refuse to confront their racism and integrate their ranks, muting the authenticity of our culture and only reserving space for us to shine out front on your stages but never behind them. We see you.
We have watched you dangle opportunities like carrots before emerging BIPOC artists, using the power of development, production, and awards to quiet us into obedience at the expense of our art and integrity. We see you.
We have watched you use our BIPOC faces on your brochures, asking us to politely shuffle at your galas, talkbacks, panels, board meetings, and donor dinners, in rooms full of white faces, without being willing to defend the sanctity of our bodies beyond the stages you make us jump through hoops to be considered for. We see you.
We have watched you hustle for local, federal, foundation and private funding on our backs, only to redirect the funds into general operating accounts to cover your deficits from years of fiscal mismanagement. We see you.
We have watched you hire the first BIPOC artists in executive leadership, only to undermine our innovations and vision of creating equitable institutions, by suffocating our efforts with your fear, inadequacy, and mediocrity. We see you.
We have watched you attend one “undoing racism workshop,” espousing to funders you are doing the work, without any changes to your programming or leadership. You’ve been unwilling to even say the words “anti-racism” to your boards out of fear of them divesting from your institutions, prioritizing their privilege over our safety. We see you.
We have watched you promote anti-Blackness again and again. We see you.
We have watched you say things like, “I may be white, but I’m a woman.” Or, “I may be white, but I’m gay.” As if oppression isn’t multi-layered. We see you.
We have watched you exploit us, shame us, diminish us, and exclude us. We see you.
We have always seen you. And now you will see us. We stand on this ground as BIPOC theatermakers, multi-generational, at varied stages in our careers, but fiercely in love with the Theater. Too much to continue it under abuse. We will wrap the least privileged among us in protection, and fearlessly share our many truths. About theatres, executive leaders, critics, casting directors, agents, unions, commercial producers, universities, and training programs. You are all a part of this house of cards built on white fragility and supremacy. And this is a house that will not stand.