Category Archives: Theater

Opera-Matic’s New Moon on the Lagoon

Opera-Matic's New Moon on the Lagoon


In this audio piece, I eavesdrop on rehearsals for Opera-matic’s very cool New Moon on the Lagoon, an “evening lullaby parade”, featuring a 15 foot tall giant moon that will be lit up from within by projections of facial expressions.

It’ll be happening Friday May 10th and 11th, 2013 at the Humboldt Park Lagoon in Chicago. For more info, visit: opera-matic.org/upcoming-events/

This piece originally aired on Reclaimed Soul on Vocalo. Reclaimed Soul features music spun on original vinyl records, and stories of people making our world better (artistically, economically, etc) with old materials.

You can tune in to Reclaimed Soul live at 8pm CST on vocalo.org, 89.5fm (NWI/CHI) and 90.7fm (CHI)

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Opportunity Please Knock Chorus: oscar brown, jr.’s collaboration with the blackstone rangers

In 1967, members of the Blackstone Rangers, a notorious Gang in Chicago, collaborated with singer/composer/playwright/activist Oscar Brown Jr. to create a Musical Revue called “Opportunity Please Knock”. About eight thousand people went to the show during the first weeks of performance (at Chicago’s First Presbyterian Church). Photos in this post are from that first run. The show gave exposure to various teens that had ample talent, but little opportunity.

Oscar Brown Jr., said in a 1996 interview with Rick Wojcik:

I made contact with the Blackstone Rangers, and we began talkin’ to them about some alternative activity to what they were doin’, which was basically gang-bangin’ and terrorizing the neighborhood… The fact that there was this gang presence was bad for business and that’s one of the reasons that I contacted gangs- could we do something for them that would stop them from steppin’ on my hustle! I said we’d do a show for ’em, but they said, “well, we got some talent, can we be in the show?” We wound up doin’ a show called Opportunity, Please Knock, which really changed my life, basically, because it let me see that there was this enormous talent in the black community. This is where all the dances came from; this is where all the popular music comes from; so I began to really concentrate on that. Opportunity Please Knock ran for a little while, with those kids being on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.

The gang’s involvement seems to counter the completely negative impact that most people assume gangs have on communities. The contradiction was  fleshed out in a 1969 article published in “The Alantic”:

Since the emergence of the Ranger Nation, individual members have been charged with murder, robbery, rape, knifings, extortion of South Side merchants, traffic in narcotics, extortion and intimidation of young children, forced gang membership, and a general history of outright violence, especially against the Disciples who never joined the Rangers. On the other hand, the Ranger Nation has been credited with keeping the South Side of Chicago “cool” during the summer of 1967 and the spring of 1968, following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. It has been said that they have kept drugs, alcoholics, prostitutes, and whites hunting for prostitutes out of their neighborhoods. They have also been credited with making genuine attempts to form lasting peace treaties between themselves and the Disciples in order to decrease the level of gang fighting on the South Side. They have been alternately praised and condemned by the national press, their community, the United States Senate, the local police, and Chicago youth organizations to such an extent that, if one depends on the news media for information, it is almost impossible to maintain a consistent opinion of the Blackstone Rangers.

James Alan McPherson, from “The Atlantic”, 1969

According to an August 1967 Ebony Magazine article about the Revue, Oscar Brown Jr. further stated:

These kids are angry because they’re being shot through the same grease their parents were shot through, and they understand that it’s impossible for a bootless man to pull himself up by his bootstraps. But they’re not too disillusioned to work hard-if they ever had and illusions at all. It is up to us to give them a better picture of reality.

Below is a record I found, released on Ramsey Lewis’ record label, called “All this Talk About Freedom” by the Opportunity Please Knock Chorus. It’s what led me to this story in the first place. It’s also the only audio documentation of this slice of Chicago History. It’s also pretty groovin’. Image below is of the Opportunity Please Knock Chorus.


Ladies Ring Shout: performance as a way to community

The Ladies Ring Shout as a Performance was born of a weekly workshop, dialoguing space, and “jam session” for women.

Participants talked, wrote and moved in the spirit of collaborative experimentation and explored what an urban feminine discourse looks and feels like. What are our notions of an Urban Feminine? What is her legacy to/for future women/humans? What defines the urban woman’s community?

LRS is comprised of three core members Felicia Holman, Abra Johnson and Meida McNeal, who proclaim:

Performance is our therapy, our catharsis, our way to community. Performance is the haven that welcomes us to rediscover our own value and worth.  Performance and expression bring our dormant, unsaid emotions to the surface and urge us to work them out within a community that not only bears witness, but also empathizes through experience.

Buy tickets here

Honey Pot Performance on Facebook


Passing Strange: a righteous afro-rock opera comes to Chicago!

 “Passing Strange“, the Tony-winning black rock-opera is righteous, and it’s being staged in Chicago featuring  local soul revivalists JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound… and my chica: LaNisa Frederick.  Amen.

Passing Strange is the coming-of-age story of “Youth” (Daniel Breaker), a kid growing up somewhere in LA in the seventies.  He is disillusioned because he doesn’t fit the common definition of blackness.  Floating above the city, getting high in his choir director’s blue Volkswagen beetle, “Youth” decides to uproot himself from everything he’s known in order to find home.

It takes a blurry, nomadic trek across Europe to realize some ultimate truths about where he fits in the world and whom he can count among his tribe.  Features a great live band (book and music by Stew and Heidi) and meaty writing that sometimes billows poetically like blood in water. For anyone who grew up not fitting in, then realized that they fit in perfectly, after all.  Jive on.  Below,  an excerpt from the Spike Lee-documented Broadway staging.

Passing Strange

Featuring JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound

Chicago Center for the Performing Arts (CCPA)

777 N. Green St., Chicago IL (Google Map)

APRIL 21 – MAY 29, 2011

Fridays & Saturdays @ 8pm
Sundays @ 7pm


In the Blood: susan lori parks’ remix of “scarlet letter” in chicago

 “My life’s my own fault. I know that. But the world don’t help.” — Hester La Negrita

“In the Blood”, the “bold re-imagining of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s masterpiece, The Scarlet Letter, embraces the yearning for love, family, and the price of moral absolutes” according to the UIC Performing Arts website. 

The rework centers on Hester La Negrita, an illiterate mother of five. She lives on the streets of a tough city neighborhood with her five children: Jabber, Bully, Trouble, Beauty and Baby. Her eldest son is teaching her to read and write, but she’s progressed only to the letter “A.”

Hester’s children bring her life-affirming comic moments, but she is held back by the adults who dominate her life: her ex-boyfriend, best friend, social worker, doctor and minister. Ultimately, she faces the cost of moral absolutes and the will of the community, represented by an ensemble. 
 “Blood”  is presented this month by UIC’s Department of Performing Arts.  Directed by Robert O’Hara and features local soul star Yaw.

Opening April 9, 7:30 Also April 10, 15, 16, 17 at 7:30 April 11, 14, 18 at 2:15

on UIC’s campus: 1040 W. Harrison St. MC-255.  Tickets range from $11 (UIC Students) to $16 (general admission).

Box office + (312)996-2939
e-mail theatre@uic.edu


Under the Spell of Red and Brown Water

Tarell Alvin McCraney’s “In the Red and Brown Water,” now playing at Steppenwolf’s Upstairs Theater, is an exercise in duality that lends itself to complete immersion, an exercise in which you’re left like a used bag of orange pekoe (feeling purposefully spent).

Reality blends with chorus-driven fantasy, magic with carnality, and comedy with tragedy in this heartfelt display.  Oya, the lead character, is played hauntingly by Alana Arenas.  Ms. Arenas, who I caught lunch with after the show (she likes bruschetta), is a whisper-quiet left hook: a spirit to be reckoned with (in life and on the stage). 

Set in a Louisiana Housing Project, “Water” is a story of a Golden Girl, and how one decision (made at the cusp of womanhood) sends her down a pathway to a more tarnished reality.  Ms. Arenas imbibes an undeniable warmth as Ora, chasing the shadows of potential, of love, and of dashed dreams of creation.  Also stand out in the play were  Jacqueline Willams and Steppenwolf ensemble members K. Todd Freeman and Ora Jones.

Part of the Brother/Sister Trilogy of Plays (all playing in repertory at Steppenwolf), In the Red Brown Water plays until May 23rd.  for more info, visit steppenwolf.org. Jive on!


Tofu Chitlin Circuit presents: Black Thang

THE SYNOPSIS:

“Black Thang” by Ato Essandoh is the story of Sam, a black man, and Mattie, a white woman, and what happens when their relationship progresses from merely a one-night stand to something more…but not without some controversy.

Meanwhile, Keisha (Mattie’s best friend), struggles to hold onto her relationship with her long-time boyfriend Omar, and Jerome (Sam’s best friend), tries to “school” him on the ins-and-outs of interracial dating.

THE CREATIVE TEAM:

Come chat with the innovative and emerging director Sydney Chatman and The Tofu Chitlin’ Circuit as they explore location specific productions with a twist: adding technology to enhance the theatrical experience and to create interactive theater.

This is a MUST-SEE two-day event that’s sure to have you wanting more!

THE SPECIFICS:

WHEN: FRIDAY & SATURDAY, JANUARY 29 & 3O, 2010

WHERE: IVAN/CARLSON STUDIOS 2224 W. FULTON Chicago, IL
60612

TIME: RECEPTION 7:00 p.m. CURTAIN 7:30 p.m.

DONATION: until JANUARY 28TH-$15; DAY OF SHOW-$20

about the Tofu Chitlin Circuit: The Tofu Chitlin’ Circuit is a theater conservatory located in the Bronzeville district of Chicago that seeks to push the boundaries of staged productions through technology and the integration of a variety of media in their works.

UPDATE: This show has been postponed.  Stay tuned for forthcoming dates and times!


Passing Strange: a righteous afro-rock opera

 

 “Passing Strange“, the Tony-nominated black rock-opera is righteous…. Amen.

Passing Strange is the coming-of-age story of “Youth” (Daniel Breaker), a kid growing up somewhere in LA in the seventies.  He is disillusioned because he doesn’t fit the common definition of blackness.  Floating above the city, getting high in his choir director’s blue Volkswagen beetle, “Youth” decides to uproot himself from everything he’s known in order to find home.

It takes a blurry, nomadic trek across Europe to realize some ultimate truths about where he fits in the world and whom he can count among his tribe.  Features a great live band (book and music by Stew and Heidi) and meaty writing that sometimes billows poetically like blood in water. For anyone who grew up not fitting in, then realized that they fit in perfectly, after all.  Jive on.  Below, from the Spike Lee-documented Broadway staging.

 


Ten Square: play that portrays ‘a different world’

ten square

In class recently, I played a piece of audio by Damali Ayo called “Living Flag” in which Ms. Ayo attempts to Panhandle for Reparations: collecting from whites, distributing her change to fellow Blacks.  You can listen to the piece here.

 At the culmination of the piece, I tried to convince my teenage students that the idea of Reparations for the Descendants of Slaves is not boring and really does effect them (as does the Lingering Scars of Slavery).  All but one are Black, all but two descendants of slaves.  Maybe I should take them on a fieldtrip…. 

In the world of Shepsu Aakhu’s play entitled “Ten Square” (showing now at Truman College), a grassroots Reparations Movement was ultimately successful, resulting in checks written to the descendants of slaves and the seeds for a new America were sown. Ten Square is one of the cities (the land located South of Roosevelt Road in present-day Chicago, walled off from greener North Chicago) that emerged in “New America”.  In the play, what develops is a Berlin Wall-style scenario, from which more than a few African-Americans have plotted their escape.  What follows is an oft-violent tale of one man trying to balance a boatload of obligations in a new gritty world.

“Ten Square” will be performed as a coproduction of the Pegasus Players and MPAACT Theatre Companies.  The show will go on at Truman College on Wilson Ave. (in view of the Wilson Stop on the CTA Red Line).

Truman College- O’Rourke Theatre
1145 West Wilson Avenue Chicago

Now Thru – Nov 22, 2009

Thurs-Saturday, showtime at 8pm, Sunday showtime is 3pm. Ticket Price ranges from $20–$25 

Tickets are available at: www.pegasusplayers.org or www.mpaact.org

more about Damali Ayo’s Living Flag

A woman sits cimagesCA75SKDIross-legged, panhandling on a busy city sidewalk. She takes money only from white folks, and gives it to blacks who pass by. Her sign reads: “200 Years of Slavery in the United States. Reparation payments accepted here.” damali ayo is a street performance artist. “I offer people a convenient opportunity to pay for the unpaid labor of African Americans,” she quips. The piece is part of her “living flag.”


Tofu Chitlin Circuit presents the Mac and Cheese Edition

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From the Tofu Chitlin Circuit: a Theater Conservatory based in Bronzeville:  A Panel Discussion featuring you…

Our October A La Carte features J. Nicole Brooks, playwright of “Fedra” at Lookingglass Theater and African-American Illusionist Walter King Jr. We’re talking about SPECTACLE. What is it? How does it work? Is it low-brow theater? Is it a cop-out to creating dramatic narratives?
We’ve asked Walter King Jr. to share his experience as an illusionist and how his “magic ” of theater creates a form of SPECTACLE. J. Nicole Brooks, company member and playwright of the highly anticipated “Fedra” at Lookingglass Theater will share in her experience with the company and their approach to creating SPECTACLE.
Join us:
Monday, October 26, 2009
The Digital Youth Network
1050 E 47th Street
Chicago, IL 60653
6:30-8:30 p.m.
Donation: $3
macaroni-cheese-