Late Nite season is here again. Those that don’t know, the Late Nite Series was created by Laurie Carlos as an experimental stage for artists to share everything from fine-tuned work to works in development, from solo musings to full band sets. I co-curate the Series with her each year. The great thing about the Late Nite Series is that it’s such a unique blend of disciplines, all in one evening. You don’t always know what you’re gonna get at Late Nite, which is part of the excitement, but you can be assured that it will be a one-of-a-kind show by some of the best artists in their field, both in terms of the headliners and the Twin Cities artists. There is singer, gina Breedlove, who has shared the stage with Harry Belafonte, and was in the Broadway production of the Lion King. Ainsley Burrows is one of the best spoken word artists working with music today, and has appeared on BET, performed for MTV, opened for artists such as Toots + the Maytals, Capleton, Third World, in addition to traveling internationally. Stacey Karen Robinson is creating a buzz in the theatre scene in NY, both as a playwright and an actress, and is the recipient of a BRIO Award in Playwriting. You won’t get a headlining series like that anywhere else in the Twin Cities. To top it off, these New York based artists are paired with Twin Cities artists that put on great shows in and of themselves, including premier hip hop and spoken word artist, Truthmaze; singer songwriter Ashley Gold; vocal and theatre experimentalist Mankwe Ndosi; actress and playwright Signe Harriday; Hmong hip hop dance crew Floor Tribe; performance artist Amy Salloway; choreographer Julie Warder; theatre artist Anton Jones; videomaker and performance artist Juma B. Essie; and singer Love Nyala. This is just to name some of the artists appearing in the series. The performances are rounded out by DJs Stage One and DJO.
e.g. bailey: Behind the scenes with the spoken word innovator
By Rebecca McDonald (B Fresh), City Pages
The Twin Cities would not be the same without e.g. bailey. Even if you’ve never met him, you’ve most likely heard his voice on the radio, experienced one of his many theatrical productions or concerts and albums he has produced through Tru Ruts Endeavors/Speakeasy Records. He is co-owner of these organizations with his wife, Sha Cage, another staple poet in the community. There is never a lack of excitement in e.g.’s life, so Gimme Noise went behind the scenes to share in his journey to the release of his debut full-length album American Afrikan this past Saturday (pics here).
Gimme Noise: What has your journey in the Twin Cities poet’s scene been like since you moved here many years ago?
e.g. bailey: You end up in a place by circumstance and sometimes you realize that it was where you were meant to be. I had been here once as a kid but only remembered that after I had moved here. Like any good romantic, I was following my heart across the Midwest, and ended up in Fargo then Minneapolis. I dove into acting classes, worked in a warehouse and debated the eternal question of ‘L.A. or not L.A.’ and a job working for Prince sealed the deal. Prince had just released a book of poetry, so I used it as an excuse to start an open mic at the New Power Generation store. It was my first connection with the poetry scene here. All kinds of folks used to come through. It was a Prince store so there were some wild moments, but I met some folks I’d later work with in the spoken word community, like Anika and Yolanda ‘Right On’ Jackson.
Finally, I had to make a decision. I could keep making Prince the best artist he could be (which obviously he didn’t need much help with) or be the artist I needed to be. So I resigned, paid two months rent, and by a stroke of luck ended up with Sirius B. It’s a long story since then but that connection with Sirius B has made all the difference in doing what I do now. I connected with with folks like J. Otis Powell!, Ani Sabare, Rene Ford, Carolyn Holbrook (S.A.S.E.), Patrick Scully, and organizations like the Walker Art Center, Pillsbury, and Intermedia Arts. I couldn’t have found a better community to be doing art. I was embraced beyond what I could have imagined. Without it I probably would have L.A. or busted. And I’m not sure I would being doing spoken word.
GN: Describe your new project, “American Afrikan,” which you celebrated the release of on Saturday?
eg: ‘American Afrikan’ is a historical and symbolic experience of being an Afrikan in America, using the medium of spoken word. Sometimes I use spoken word to create non-linear narratives, like I did with ‘Blues for Nina,’ a spoken word theatre piece about Nina Simone; or the 20 minute short film ‘village blues’ about returning to Afrika; or ‘Patriot Acts,’ merging the different disciplines of theatre, dance and film with spoken word to present post-9/11 views of America. I am always looking at ways to push the boundaries of spoken word, and trying to innovate the art form. With this project, I wanted to see if it was possible to create a spoken word album that would present the many different forms of spoken word, and ways of experiencing spoken word, but still be able to engage the audience in some kind of a story.
GN: Why is this project special to you and others who performed with you on Saturday?
eg: I’ve fallen in love with this project the way you fall in love with your first child. You’re just amazed at how it has grown from a little seed of an idea. It’s so much a part of you but at the same time it becomes something larger than you. It’s a tribute not only to this amazing tradition of spoken word and the artists that laid the foundation, like Baraka, the Last Poets, Ginsberg, but also a tribute to my family and my history. That’s why you see images of my family throughout, and hear their voices on the album. And why it’s dedicated to my brother who died while I was making the album. I also wanted to celebrate the abundance of Afrikan talent in the community, and tell our story through this medium which is part of our griot tradition. I received a call yesterday from one of the artists, and after hearing the album, thanked me for creating it. You can’t ask for anything more special than that.
GN: You are very well known nationally and travel frequently with your poetry. In comparison to other cities, what have you seen as a unique element of the Twin Cities scene?
eg: I’ve said for years that the spoken word community in Minnesota is one of the top five in the nation. Though we’re relatively small and haven’t received the kind of attention other communities have, it is one of richest, most diverse and innovative spoken word communities in the country. I’ve also always felt that we’re one of the most musical spoken word communities because of our close relationship with the music scene here. A number of artists have explored and are exploring spoken word with music, but we have a long history of spoken word bands and collectives here from Ancestor Energy to NOW! to Arkology to Poet Tree to Trektah Beam Express to FIRE. We’ve also frequently merged it with performance art and theatre. That’s why it’s possible to make an album like this. Without all those experiences working with musicians, and experiments with different disciplines it wouldn’t be possible to synthesize all of it. I think that Minnesota is finally starting to get the respect it deserves in spoken word, especially with how well the Slam community is doing and winning the National Poetry Slam [this past year]. It shows that we haven’t just been paying lip service to the talent here.
GN: What advice do you have for artists who want to be career artists, to pursue their dreams in music/poetry?
eg: Create your art and don’t be deterred, even if you don’t get the response or support at first. But make sure you love what you do. The career will come, for better or for worse. Sometimes it’s not what we dream it to be. I thought I would be more of an actor or a writer. I never expected to be a spoken word artist. It’s just something I always loved, poetry with music, even when I was in high school listening to Jim Morrison, then discovering the Last Poets, then the Beats, then Amiri and so on. I didn’t know it was actually still being done, that you could do it as a career, or even that it was called spoken word. That was much later, after I had already fallen in love with it. Stick with what you do, if it’s meant to be your work, it will happen. If it’s not, you’ll still be rewarded by doing it.
Originally posted on City Pages on 24 February 2010.
What: Sai Werd Ink Presents…
Poetic Assassins Eliminating Oppression One Ink Shell at a Time
When: Friday and Saturday April 24th + 25th 7:00 pm
Where:Old Arizona Theatre 28th and Nicollet Ave (Free Parking in lot across street)
Directed by Sha Cage and eg bailey
Sai Werd Ink artists Poetic Assassins enter the second season of their hip hop theatre production “Eliminating Oppression One Ink Shell at a Time” at the historic Old Arizona Theatre. The Poetic Assassins are winners of the 20009 VERVE grant and are a dynamic spoken word duo dedicated to creating positive change in the community. The play follows the two as they use their words to “assassinate” the evils in the world such as: homophobia, racism, sexism, gender roles, prison industrial complex just to name a few. It is followed by a rhyme and reason session were the audience is invited to ask questions of the artists and engage in dialogue about the complex issues presented during the play. Featuring Verse, B.U.G.S., Crystal Ruiz, Adrian Waters, Jake Virden.
This production runs for one weekend only. Tickets are available at the door. Recommended for audiences 13+ due to language and content.
photo by B Fresh Photography
Liberian-American Spoken-Word Artist is Home at Last
Justin Schell , Contributing Writer
His struggle to fit in America is not unlike that of many African immigrants. He attributes his success as an award-winning multidisciplinary artist and producer to this struggle of finding a home away from home.
bailey, who was born in Saclepea, Liberia, is the son of a white Peace Corps volunteer and a Liberian mother. His father, bailey says, “threw a dart, hit Liberia, and that’s where he got stationed.” His mother gave birth to him near the end of his father’s second term; and his parents lost touch after his father’s return to America.
Even as a child he loved music and theater: two memories stand out in particular from his life in Liberia.
“There was a record store and a movie theater,” he says. “I would spend hours in the record store listening to whatever they were playing.”
The owner of the mud-constructed movie theater, however, wasn’t particularly keen on offering free entertainment to they young movie revelers. “We would either sneak into the movie theater or we would drill holes in the side to watch the movie.” After the owner realized this, he would take blindingly-hot Liberian red peppers, soak them in water, and put the mixture in a spray bottle, and spray into the holes to temporarily prevent onlookers from watching the film without paying. “It would be this constant game of trying to outwit [him], as soon as you saw a shadow coming.”
One day, another Peace Corps volunteer came to his village and, after getting to know him, expressed interest in adopting him. Instead it was his father who ended up adopting the 10-year-old Bailey after she sought out his father through the Peace Corps database.
After landing in Chicago, he was driven to his new home in Crystal Lake, an hour-and-a-half from Chicago. There was a parade the day he arrived, with money thrown from the floats.
“I thought it was a parade for me!” he says with a laugh. “The next day, I wake up, I’m like ‘Ok, when are we going to the parade and when can we get more money?’ That was the start of my life in the US.”
Reality soon set in for bailey as he learned that life in America was not rosy for a new immigrant, “It was a struggle of trying to adapt and trying to fit in. Trying to figure out who I am and not fitting into any place, I always felt like I was running, that I couldn’t stop moving.”
Until he moved to Minneapolis, when he felt, “Ok, I can stop running now.”
bailey’s first connection to Minneapolis came not through the city itself, but through one of its most famous musicians. “I discovered Prince in [Crystal Lake’s] record store. I think it was “Little Red Corvette.” My ears just perked up, trying to find out who this person was, and I proceeded to get everything that he put out.”
After moving to Minneapolis, he started performing solo and with a number of music groups, and worked in the retail division of Prince’s famed Paisley Park complex, gaining crucial experience to navigate the shady mazes of the music industry when he formed Trú Rúts and its record label, Speakeasy Records.
He had a life-changing experience on a trip to the country of his birth after being gone for nearly 20 years. He returned to Liberia in 1999 as part of a four-month trip to Africa, the Middle East and East Asia. The trip, while crucial to his development as an artist as well as a person, was not what he expected.
“I realized that I could go back, but I could never live back home. I’d been away too long to be able to go back home and do what I’m supposed to do.”
An overwhelming and inane sense of homelessness hit him, he says, “going home displaces you. You’re no longer at home in either place. Home is what I had to create.”
Thus homelessness and travel inform all of bailey’s work, which symbolically channels his own experience through the larger histories of the African Diaspora. His album American African, scheduled for release in April, will appropriately feature a host of both American Africans and African Americans, including M.anifest, DJ Stage One, Mankwe Ndosi, IBé, and other international artists, including Germany’s Starskie and Dubai’s Abstrakt Collision.
“It’s a testament to where African Americans and American Africans are,” he says, encompassing the multitude of African, African American, and American African perspectives. “I want to avoid the idea of a monolithic Africa as much as possible.”
The first single off of American African, “America,” is a wide-ranging vision of the post-9/11 America that many immigrants find themselves in.
“America, I miss you,” bailey intones at its opening. He delivers his words atop a bed of rolling drums and cymbals, electric bass, disorienting electronic sounds, and wailing saxophone. From Katrina to Guantanamo, Hollywood to Baghdad, the poem subtly welds together the long histories of racism and murder that stain America’s past, yet without completely destroying the hope of something better. In the end, the music dies away as bailey softly, powerfully, declares “We’re waiting for your resurrection.”
bailey has an ambitious plan to release three more albums in 2009 that have been at various stages of completion throughout his work with Trú Rúts. Yet completion always breeds the start of something new, whether it be the release of new albums from other artists in the Trú Rúts family such as Quilombolas, TruthMaze, or El Guante. Or the birth of his first child with his wife Shá Cage.
Even though e.g. bailey has settled in one place after a long journey, his creative activity and poetic journeys show no signs of slowing down.
e.g bailey has produced “No Longer at Ease” (play), an adaption from the Chinua Achebe’s novel for the Pangea World Theatre in May 2001; “Village Blues” (film); and “Words Will Heal the Wound”, a spoken word radio series celebrating the diverse poetic traditions in Minnesota.
He received the Sarah Lawrence College International Film Festival (2001) Experimental Film award for Village Blues; the NFCB (National Federation of Community Broadcasters) award for Write On RaDio!; and the Worldstaff Houston International Festival (1999) Experimental Film award for Village Blues.
e.g. bailey + Shá Cage interview each other about the work they do.
SHÁ: Alan Berks called and wants us to write something on the function of the performing arts. I’m thinking maybe we interview each other. Talk about some of our ideas on theater, spoken word, and art in general.
E.G.: I’m down. I think that’d be an interesting process. Some of our best ideas come out of conversations. Where do you want to start?
SHÁ: Well… Why do we do what we do?
E.G.: For me, it’s easy. It’s as necessary as breathing. That’s on the personal level. I know that regardless of the obstacle, no matter how bleak the prospects, if I can create or facilitate art, I know I can endure almost anything. It is my daily bread. It is a life, a way to witness and endure. I find it as valuable and necessary as any other field of labor.
SHÁ: A couple of months ago I was invited to give a small lecture to a group of students, all aspiring to become artists. I found it difficult to articulate why I chose this particular path of performing arts or why and how one gets into it. Although I’m sure I’ll hate myself later for saying this, I told them, “It just happens.” The “it” that nudges you on the shoulder one day and demands that you tear off from whatever classical theater track you may have been on because something essential to the dialogue of art and humanity seems to be missing. That’s the purpose it serves for me. This—spoken word plus hip hop theater—is my weapon of choice.
E.G.: I feel like I came late to art. I fell in love with reading, with literature. Not knowing the language when I first came to the U.S. from Liberia, my first responsibility was to learn the language. So, for me, I came to art not for art’s sake but out of necessity. I had to learn how to read. I had to learn the language, learn how this country worked. Once I started learning I fell in love with the art, and eventually it was all I wanted to do.
I didn’t feel strong enough to perform my own work for some time. I disguised myself as an artist. I wrote under assumed names. Let other people perform my work. I didn’t feel I had a voice yet, much less an understanding of performance. I only performed when forced or among very close friends. I eventually stumbled into acting, but it was all play until the end of college when I knew that I didn’t want to be anything but an artist—ideally a writer, but really any field would have been fine with me.
It wasn’t until I came to Minneapolis and started working with the performance group Sirius B under the training of the Hittite Empire that I really began to understand how a person’s art could serve his or her community. That’s when I really started to understand how I could put into practice what I had been studying and reading. I also began to understand why I got a buzz when I read Gordon Parks‘ A Choice of Weapon or what Amiri Baraka was talking about in Raise Race Rays Raze: Creating work that spoke to your community, about your community. What is the community suffering from or missing? Your work needs to address that. It was that work and that training that was instilled in us.
It’s art as necessity rather than art as commerce or art as entertainment. Don’t get me wrong, I think your art can be entertaining without it having to be entertainment. I think socially conscious artist or activist artists, artists that are saying something—or whatever you want to call them—they get pegged with being boring or too serious. You have to mix the message with the medium, but you also have to have fun.
SHÁ: Right. It’s like that Emma Goldman quote, “If I can’t dance, then I don’t want to be part of your revolution.” Most of the time people just want to dance and not do the work. They think change just happens. You have to work for it, but at the same time, you have to enjoy yourself too. Which is the beauty of community-based performing arts. It’s ever-changing and always fresh. There’s an urgency to it that comes directly from what your community is dealing with, working through, and processing (both politically and socially) at the time. It keeps you on your toes and regardless of how serious the subject matter—or how deep you are in it—it also demands that you have a sense of humor.
Most of the ideas I get for plays and experimental performance projects are triggered from everyday happenings and bits of conversations. I might be at a town hall meeting at Sabathani or attending a school performance or standing in a crowd of thousands outside the Xcel Center in St. Paul as Obama gives a speech… The list goes on. There’s always been more of a sense of responsibility rather than satisfaction in the work I create for my community. There’s a campaign on the north side called Don’t Shoot… I Want to Live, which is a response to the staggering amount of shootings and senseless killing of African-American men. I was asked to create a performance art piece around this theme that speaks to the mothers and families who had lost their sons to violence. To know that your art is, in a way, “essential” means a lot.
It’s the check that doesn’t come in the mail. It’s rewarding beyond words.
E.G.: It reminds me of how Sirius B’s Monday Morning Body Count was created. One day I was having a conversation with Rene Ford, Ani Sabare, and a few other folks. And Rene was asking if I had heard from Marcus [Bracey, a.k.a. Messiah], Kurt [Washington, a.k.a. Bro'Sun] or Slim [a.k.a. St. Paul Slim]. I hadn’t. He told me that I needed to be sure that I called them on Mondays to make sure they were okay, to make sure that they had survived the weekend. This was 1996 when Minneapolis set a record with the number of homicides, most of them black men. He said that it was our responsibility as part of a community—whether the general community or the community that had been created through Sirius B—to look out for each other, to take care of each other. That conversation transformed into the idea of Monday Morning Body Count, making sure your community is still safe but also taking a toll, who had passed, acknowledging and recognizing them. What was their story and why? One morning shortly after that, I woke up, grabbed my minicassette recorder and spoke a majority of the stories that would become the performance piece. They all came to me in a flush. This happens to me often, a number of pieces will come fully embodied.
And also because I see performance art as a ground for experimentation. Where, like poetry and music, you have the most freedom to experiment with form and the juxtaposition of forms. As you mentioned there is the classical, or traditional, theater but that doesn’t always allow you, or easily allow you, to break or transform the form. Part of the reason it is classical or traditional is that it is in that prescribed form. Whereas performance art, in many ways, the core rule is freedom, openness, the lack of prescribed form. The form takes shape out of the story you’re compelled to tell.
The intention was not only to tell these stories but to use the work as a communal ritual to actively free the spirits that were trapped in the space between worlds until they were named and released. At the end of the performance each night, we named all the victims. It needed that release. We needed that release. Without it, it would have just been another play, just another form of “entertainment.”
Earlier I was talking about tradition and culture. Sometimes I feel like my engagement with culture is more conscious, or conscientious. Perhaps because I was separated from my culture so early and for so long. What I find fascinating about your work is that it’s so deeply rooted in the South. It seems so effortless. Do you consciously incorporate these elements into your work? Or is it just part of the fiber of the way you write and what you write?
SHÁ: I’d say the answer to that is both. Home for me is in the rural South—Natchez, Mississippi. It’s one of the smallest, poorest cities in the United States, but unique in its ability to retain a large percentage of its Africanisms, norms and practices as an African-American culture. The region represents a distinct fabric of people, relations, and a tangible texture that is so ingrained in my writing, my rhythm and even my way of seeing the world, that more often than not, that flavor is unintentional. Other times it’s very much a choice spearheaded with a particular focus or issue I’ve decided to confront. For years I’ve attempted in my work to produce art that talks about the ugly and the pretty of who we are, and that places value on women, elders, and ourselves. Works that are unafraid to openly and proudly retell those private stories our aunties and grandmamas shared with us. I’m particularly interested in poetry that somehow manages to challenge and criticize, holding a mirror up to our faces, while at the same time, uplifts.
My grandmother was the matriarch of the family. She was mother of fourteen children, and the central character that held the numerous parts of our history together. With her passing, I felt an immediacy to carry that tongue forward
I feel there is a rawness that is unabashedly honest that has emerged in this art form [spoken word plus hip hop theater]. That is what is most intriguing to me because, in many ways, that raw honesty is the essence of what art is intended to do. To not second guess or censor itself. These young kids and seasoned griots that have decided to own this art form take an extraordinary risk in this, and their communities rally around them because, despite popular belief and, even in cities that have the highest per capita amount of theater in the nation and every month a new company is developed, there are still key voices, stories, and histories that are not being told. There are masses of people, often those marginalized, who feel theater is not for them because it simply doesn’t speak to them or about them or what they know as life. But the performing arts can allow for those voices to be ushered in—many times on shoestring budgets, sometimes in church houses, or community centers, performed by a combination of trained and untrained actors. That’s my inspiration.
But how do you know your voice is important to the larger artistic conversation?
E.G.: I know I may not be as well-known as some of my peers in this art form, but I believe my work will stand the test of time. It may only be known to a few, or my immediate community, but I believe it influences those around me, those that engage with it. And also I believe it embodies and advances the art form. These are the things I focus on. There is a proverb that says, “The greatest master is not one with the largest flock but he who creates the most masters.” That is part of my personal artistic philosophy. It’s never been a popularity contest for me. I’ve had numerous opportunities to be in front of hundreds and thousands of people, sometimes I’ve taken those opportunities and other times I’ve opted out, giving other folks the opportunity. Part of my work, and where it may have the most influence, is creating the space for others to find and share their voice.
In the end, that may be my largest contribution to the art form, to the community, and perhaps to the larger artistic conversation. I think my work also strives to spread understanding of the art form, studying and articulating the history of it, teaching it to the next generation, supporting those that have a love for it. All this takes time, time that sometimes I wish I could invest more into my own personal work. But I feel compelled to do both. It makes my life very hectic, and constantly busy, but it’s essential to me because if the art form does not continue, does not flourish, does not evolve then what was the point of practicing it. I never wanted to see it just be a fad. So I’ve often said that my work may be for two to five generations down the line.
I think of Larry Neal and Dudley Randall. Neal helped to create the Black Arts Movement with Baraka, and also co-edited Black Fire. Randall—a quiet, unassuming figure—edited the Black Poets, one of my literary bibles, and was the founder of Broadside Press. Both were artists themselves, creating work not widely known, but the power and influence of their work is immeasurable. There would not be spoken word and hip hop, without the Black Arts Movement. Many poets, and works, would have remained unknown with out their efforts.
And I think lastly, I fell in love with art because it saved my life. It taught me how to read and understand the world, how to articulate how I saw this world, and gave me the tools to tell stories, mine and others. I decided early on in my artistic life, that if I could affect or change even just one person’s life the way all the artists I engaged with changed mine, then I will have accomplished my goal with art. Because I know that I have done this, from what those that have been affected have told me, anything else that I accomplish with my art is just icing on the cake.
SHÁ: Well that’s as good as place as any to stop.
Posted on MinnesotaPlaylist.com
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
“Patriot Acts” will open minds to new possibilities
by Lydia Howell
Theater for the 21st century is being born, with Pangea World Theater as midwife. The “Bridges Project” unites different artistic mediums—spoken-word, filmmaking, music, dance and theater—in fresh collaborations. “Patriot Acts,” made by 22 diverse artists (both local and international), crescendos beyond convention to take on today’s crucial post-9/11 issues.
“The theme is freedom, drawn from conversations about the world we live in and where our voices are in the dialogue and where they aren’t,” says co-curator/actor Sha Cage, best known as co-creator of Mama Mosaic, the TC women of color theater group.
“All we knew is we were going on a journey and we’d meet fellow travelers. We’d break bread together, have dialogue. The project would be fragments of—artifacts from—that journey,” Cage’s co-curator and director e.g. bailey elaborates.
Cage and bailey spent time in Europe engaging in political and creative dialogues, bringing back insights and artists’ work for “Patriot Acts.”
A rehearsal of “Patriot Acts” is an exhilarating evolution: Drea Reynolds’ resonant singing; Amanda Furches’ stark dance; Cage as the Statue of Liberty carrying a flag-covered baby; TC hip-hop icon Truthmaze riffing with videotaped Leeds, England, poet Swan; exhilarating poetry performed choral-style. “Characters” range from BBC reporters and the latest racially-profiled people labeled “terrorists” to historical figures like Harriet Tubman and a 15-year-old African-American girl, Kismet.
“Aesthetically it’s like jazz. Group improvisation. Process is the thing itself,” said “Bridges” curator J. Otis Powell, as he explains the “open space” philosophy “Patriot Acts” emerges from.
“The conversation around war—those three letters—is broader than the United States. Being in Bosnia, talking about the effects of war still happening: separation of families, lost neighbors—it’s visceral,” Cage says. “Talking with artists about how they continue their art during war and other subversive ways we might employ here.”
“How is someone in London, Paris, Belgrade dealing with all these issues?” bailey says, as he explains the aims of what he calls “transcontinental collaboration.” “We were pointed to not like the French—but, what are French people on the street talking about? What we see of Americans presented in the media, we know that’s not us!”
“Patriot Acts” is rebellious art that dares to cross artificial boundaries made by traditional theater and the growing national security apparatus. These artists liberate the term “freedom” from being a pro-war slogan to becoming unleashed creative expression and vigorous dissent. Artistic firepower of this magnitude could be both the mightiest weapon against violence and the transformative means towards reconciliation.
$12. Mon-Wed. Nov. 7 to 9, 7:30 p.m. Varsity Theater, 3808–4th St. SE, Dinkytown, Mpls. 612-203-1088.
Originally posted on Pulse of the Twin Cities.
For more information contact:
SASE: The Write Place
SASE: The Write Place celebrates its tenth anniversary with authors, living and dead
On Thursday, October 30th, the night before Halloween, SASE: The Write Place will begin a year-long celebration of its 10th anniversary.
The first event, ‘As Channeled Through…’, promises to be a unique fundraiser, featuring conversations with Emily Dickinson, June Jordan, Larry Neal and Ayn Rand, three authors who passed on, leaving America with its incredible literary legacy. (See attached sheet for biographical information.)
The event will take place at the American Swedish Institute from 6:00 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. with hors díoeurves, cash bar, a silent auction, mystical Tarot readings by Jan Miller and music provided by deejay, Del Dilla. There is a suggested donation of $25 and up.
At 6:30, America’s most loved poet, Emily Dickinson will be ‘channeled’ through Dickinson scholars, Eleanor Heginbotham and Erika Scheurer.
At 7:15, June Jordan and Larry Neal, celebrated authors from the Black Arts Movement will be ‘channeled’ through multi-disciplinary artists/Black Arts Movement Scholars, e.g. bailey and Sha Cage.
At 8:00, objectivist author, Ayn Rand will be ‘channeled’ through performance artist, Joan Calof and storyteller, Carla Vogel.
The American Swedish Institute is located at 2600 Park Avenue, Minneapolis, MN. Off-street parking is available on the south side of the building. Additional parking can be found on Park Avenue and surrounding streets.
Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) is America’s best-known female poet and was one of the foremost authors in American literature. She lived a very private life and only ten of her poems were published in her lifetime. After her death, 1700 poems, which she had bound into booklets, were discovered.
Eleanor Heginbotham, a Professor of English at Concordia University Saint Paul, is the author of Reading the Fascicles of Emily Dickinson: Dwelling in Possibilities (Ohio State University Press,). She is current President of the Minnesota Chapter of the Fulbright Association. Before her arrival in Saint Paul, she taught in Liberia, Vietnam, Indonesia, and for many years in Washington, D. C., her other home. She has been a Board member of the Emily Dickinson International Society. She currently serves on the Cedar Exchange Board and on the Program Committee for the Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library. She co-chaired the Fitzgerald International Conference in 2002 and, in earlier years, with Erika Scheurer, the Dickinson Conference, “To Make a Prairie: Emily Dickinson and the Imagination.”
Erika Scheurer is an Associate Professor of English at the University of St. Thomas-St. Paul where she has taught undergraduate writing, literature, and writing theory and graduate seminars in Emily Dickinson for ten years. She has delivered academic papers in her two research specialties—Emily Dickinson studies and composition theory and pedagogy–publishing articles in the Emily Dickinson Journal and the Emily Dickinson International Society Bulletin as well as in various composition journals. Her research focuses on the concept of rhetorical voice in Dickinson’s poems and letters and on the poet’s early education in the area of composition. With Eleanor Heginbotham, Scheurer is the co-chair of the Minnesota Chapter of the Emily Dickinson International Society and together they have organized many Dickinson-related gatherings. She currently serves as the Membership Chair of the Emily Dickinson International Society.
June Jordan (1936-2002) is best known for her poetry, which has been noted for its range of emotions. She was also a significant contributor to children’s literature. In addition, she published novels, plays, essays, Poetry for the People, A Blueprint for the Revolution and a memoir, Soldier: a Poet’s Child.
Larry Neal (1937-1981) was one of the most influential scholars, authors and philosophers of the Black Arts Movement. He is best known for his work with Liberator Magazine, Negro Digest and Black World and for co-editing Black Fire, a collection of theory, poetry and prose by writers of the Black Arts Movement, with Amiri Baraka.
e.g. bailey is an actor, spoken word artist, film maker, playwright and producer. The ultimate collaborator, he has co-founded and co-produced many productions and organizations including Write On RaDio!, @rkology, a spoken word and music collective, the MN Spoken Word Association, the first spoken word conference, Singers of Daybreak, blues for nina: a poetic interpretation of the life and music of nina simone, for SASE: The Write Place and the Twin Cities Black Film Festival. He was commissioned by Pangea World Theater to adapt Chinua Achebe’s novel No Longer at Ease to the stage and produces Words Will Heal the Wound: a celebration of community through poetry. For info, visit www.truruts.com.
Shá Cage is Development Director of The MN Spoken Word Association and is founding and co-Managing Director of female theater collective, MaMa mOsAiC. She is a company member of Pillsbury House and Pangea World Theaters and has worked with a wide variety of area theaters. She is co-writer (with MaMa mOsAiC) of Making Medea, The Bi Show and multimedia piece, and The Menstruation Project; also Penumbra Theater’s Conflama. Her awards include 2003 Jerome/Playwrights’ Center Many Voices residency, administered by the Playwright Center, a 2003 Forecast Public Arts Grant and a SASE/Jerome writer’s award for her poetry. For more information about Shá, visit www.truruts.com.
Ayn Rand (Alissa Zinovievna Rosenbaum) (1905-1982) is best known as the author of the epic Atlas Shrugged. She also authored The Fountainhead, We The Living, and Anthem. But she was also an influential intellectual, inspiring thousands of people to study and follow her philosophy of objectivism.
Joan Calof is a playwright and performance artist who has performed at many venues including the Minnesota History Center, the Playwrights’ Center, Patrick’s Cabaret, and four Fringe festivals, to favorable reviews in the StarTribune and City Pages. She was selected by the Playwrights’ Center for a Jones Commission, and was twice selected as an Associate Member. Her work has also been published, including an anthology of scenes for mature actors entitled A Grand Entrance.
Carla Vogel is a writer and storyteller. She specializes in Jewish/Yiddish folklore, performing locally nationally. Presently she works with Kairos, an intergenerational dance group, and the Bridges Program at the Children’s theater. She is co-founder of the Wild Yam Cabaret and Chutzpah Café.
“No Longer at Ease” begins with a seemingly endless frenzy of blessing. Obi Okonkwo is being sent from his home in Nigeria to England to become educated. His relatives and friends, who are paying his way, praise him, embrace him and pour protective chants over every inch of his being. Obi stands rigidly in his smokestack-gray European suit, a swirl of dancing, clapping Afrikaans encircling him, all dressed in the colors of sunrise. Some new creature is being born amid this glorious cacophony: not quite African any longer, not quite European, ever. Nigeria is at the dawn of independence from Britain, and Obi is the image of that new day. But, bit by bit over the next two hours onstage, Obi’s life splinters, then cracks, then shatters.
e.g. bailey’s adaptation of Nigerian author Chinua Achebe’s novel is a big-hearted, thrilling theatrical experience. Pangea World Theater’s production, directed by Dipankar Mukherjee, is sonically and visually overcrowded, and the acting is often underpolished. But the sheer force of bailey’s — and Achebe’s — storytelling, the emotional commitment of the actors and the power of luminous ideas leaping up from the text like solar flares coalesce into an extraordinary evening of theater.
Obi’s story may be specifically Nigerian in context, but it is universal in content. As he becomes educated and moves out into the world, he takes up residence in the rift between modern Western culture and ancient tribal values. Is he becoming absorbed into — or possessed by — the European mind? Or is he rightfully shedding outdated tribal customs? He falls in love with an educated woman who, it turns out, carries a generations-old ancestral curse. Marrying her would bring shame not only to his living family, but also to generations of his children not yet born. For him, this is nonsense; but for his family, it is unquestionable truth.
The beauty of Pangea’s production is in its evenhanded depiction of these burning dilemmas. A story that could become an easy harangue about white people, Europe, Christianity and colonialism becomes instead an intricate, magnetic dance of energies — social, political, religious, ethical and personal.
In the role of Obi, James Young II moves through the play like a single powerful muscle flexing and contracting again and again. As Clara, Obi’s cursed fiancee, marie-francoise theodore fills her character with a modern sexiness and ancient torment. Ronnell Wheeler’s ebullient African dance at the top of act two is a joyful highlight.
Mukherjee likes to direct the living daylights out of a show. Drums pound from above; actors hum and click their teeth and wave their arms in vaguely ritualistic motions; lights undulate across long banners hung from the ceiling, each painted with Seitu Jones’ symbolic visions.
Sometimes it’s all gorgeous, but too often, you feel you need to hack your way through the jungle of theatrics to make your way to the play. Still, it’s stimulating theater.
Jaime Meyer is a local free-lance reviewer. Originally printed in Saint Paul Pioneer Press.
Chinua Achebe is a titan of African literature who lives a quiet life in upstate New York.
Pangea World Theater is a small, ambitious Minneapolis company interested in humanitarian issues. Somehow, the two connected; Pangea will produce the world premiere of the stage adaptation of “No Longer at Ease,” Achebe’s landmark 1960 novel about the conflict between tradition and modernity.
For Pangea, which has staged such heavyweights as “Ajax,” “Rashomon” and Athol Fugard’s “Playland,” this is another opportunity to tackle a world classic.
“No Longer at Ease” is a milestone in the history of literature, and producing it makes us a little nervous,” said Pangea literary manager as she broke from a pre-rehearsal circle in Waring Jones Theater at the Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis, where the play opens today. “We want to stage it with clarity, so that we can honor its achievement and bring some of its points into sharp, dramatic focus.”
“No Longer at Ease” is the second Achebe book to bring wide recognition to African literature. The main character in “Ease,” Obi Okonkwo, is a grandson of the protagonist in Achebe’s 1958 debut, “Things Fall Apart.”
Set on the eve of Nigeria’s independence from Britain, “Ease” revolves around Obi, a young man whose Ibo people have raised money to send him to school in England. After completing his education — he becomes a poet instead of, say, an engineer — he has returned, full of idealism. He is eager to help usher Nigeria into a new era.
Obi confronts the deep-seated traditions of his countrymen. His mother would rather commit suicide than permit him to marry the woman he loves, who is from a class of untouchables. The ethically and morally upright Obi eventually succumbs to the things he condemns: He takes a bribe and is arrested.
Securing the rights to stage this world premiere was the easy part for Pangea’s creative team. Through a mutual friend, the company got in touch with Achebe, a professor at Bard College in New York. Natarajan then made contact with Achebe’s agent in London.
FINDING THE FOCUS
The hard work was narrowing a sprawling, epic novel for the stage. E.G. Bailey, who adapted the book, and director Dipankar Mukherjee use 11 actors, many in a chorus, to play all the parts.
Bailey, a Liberian-born poet, playwright and performance artist, had other challenges while working on “Ease.” Shortly after he did a first draft of the play in June 1999, he returned to his homeland for the first time since his youth.
“The big danger for me was not making this my own story,” he said during a rehearsal break. “This is really a story of change and tradition. Obi went away to school, like I did. He owes something to the community. He wants to bring enlightenment, but he has too little appreciation for tradition.”
Bailey and Mukherjee brought in leaders of Twin Cities Nigerian organizations to work on accents and to talk about the play’s themes. The Pangea creative team discovered many complexities; for example, the bribery that is so pervasive in the book and in much of contemporary Africa is rooted in a benign traditional practice of gift exchange.
Bailey and Mukherjee also delved into the conflict of values that Obi embodies. Because of his English upbringing, Obi sees bribery as more of a crime than abortion. When his girlfriend — the same one his mother has forbidden him to marry — becomes pregnant, he seeks money for an abortion.
In traditional Ibo culture, to have an abortion is to undo your chi, or spirit, Bailey said. “That is the worst thing you could do, killing your soul,” he continued. “Obi cannot see that. He is a good man, full of righteous, ethical fire. And the things he wants to change will change. But not on his timetable.”
The play’s conflicts have universal applications, Mukherjee said. “We’re talking about Nigeria as much as India,” he said. “In both cases, different mini-states were forged together into a nation, and the traditional values continue to clash with the legacy of colonialism and the possibilities of the future.
“The brilliance of Achebe is that we can see our own struggles here as we try to find a progressive vision of how to live. We want to stay true to his broad vision and ours.”
What: Adapted from Chinua Achebe’s novel by E.G. Bailey. Directed by Dipankar Mukherjee.
When: Opens 7:30 p.m. today. Runs 7:30 p.m. Thu.-Sun. Thru May 27.
Where: Waring Jones Theater, Playwrights’ Center, 2301 E. Franklin Av., Mpls.
Tickets: $14-$16. 612-343-3390.