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Gem of the Ocean opens February 1, 2019

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About Me

Ayodele Nzinga, MFA, PhD "I am an artist trying to touch the world though the medium of creation. I create therefore I am. I am a theater director. I started out as an actress -- I still love the boards as much as I love my next breath. I am a poet. They call me WordSlanger. I founded The Lower Bottom Playaz, Inc a non-profit theater troupe based in Oakland CA. We were the troupe in the Yard for 13 years. We are now in residence at The Flight Deck in downtown Oakland. My art is particular. I am talking to you. I am listening to the universe. I am constantly in search of teachers. It is said when the student is ready the teacher appears. I will be grateful the rest of my life for meeting my current teacher, Master August Wilson. I met the master after his death, his affect on my life, knowing, and craft have been profound. I proudly walk with Wilson. I commune with his spirit. I am embiggened by his vision and I humbly pay juba. With the production of Radio Golf the tenth of the ten play Cycle; I proudly claim being the first director to direct the Cycle in chronological order and my troupe, The Lower Bottom Playaz, Inc are the first troupe of any size or stripe to ever enact the ritual of the Century Cycle in order. We stand on our art, our art stands on the graveyard at the bottom of the Atlantic ocean, we walk with the Bones and August Wilson. If you have seen us you know, we shine like new money." Nzinga 2016
2018: I walked into the ocean with August Wilson's spirit in 2010.   We walked through a century.    I came out of the ocean in 2016.    In 2019 I return to the City of Bones.  They know me there.


The Sad and Sorry Tale of Caesar Wilkes. (Radio Golf: Production notes #1)

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To understand the end one must have an appreciation for the beginning. So as I begin production of Radio Golf by August Wilson I am compelled to look back over the American Century Cycle to the beginning. I met Caesar Wilks in Gem of the Ocean, the year was 2009 for me, however it was the year of our lord nineteen hundred and four for Caesar and the people in the sanctuary at 1839 Wylie St. So begins this tale of many parts, which is in fact the exploration of a group of tales collectively called, The American Century Cycle.

When one sets out on a quest, which includes the enactment of a ritual, one expects to know more about the thing at the end. Imagine cresting the final hill to see the place you began come into view. It turns out that Wilson’s Cycle is circular. We end on the part of the battlefield on which we entered the fray. Here it is we will find our harvest, here is where we will become victorious in our perfect understanding, or here we lose the sense of the song Wilson has been trying to help us remember.

I played Aunt Ester Tyler in Gem of the Ocean. I learned not to be afraid to remember. Memory serves me now as I shape this tale of Caesar Wilks and invite it to inform my direction of the end of the ritual, Radio Golf, the final installment in The American Century Cycle. As stated, I met Caesar in 2009. I had seen him on a stage but did not recognize him as he was portrayed wrapped in buffoonery.  I have come to understand that Wilson is often thought to be more comforting if played for its inherent humor. Never having been overly concerned with making audiences comfortable; I think those productions do Wilson’s work a grave disservice. Which is not to say the inherent humor does not exist but the form employed by Wilson is tragic-comic, like life itself, both bitter and sweet. I think the comedy will attend to itself and is offered to allow breathing pockets within the drama.

"You die by how you live". August Wilson- Gem of the Ocean

“You die by how you live”. August Wilson Gem of the Ocean

So we come to the first Mr. Wilks, Caesar, Black Mary’s brother, the black law that violated the sanctuary of Aunt Ester the soul washer’s home at 1839 Wylie St, arrested Ester, and killed the underground railroad man Solly Two Kings. If ever a scoundrel was, he would be Caesar Wilkes, but like all things the story of how he became such a villain is the most interesting and instructive part of him.  How and why  did he become the man he became with so little grace and even less compassion? Was there another road open? In its smallest part this is a story of closed roads and taking the road that’s open but it’s more complicated  than mere convenience. One must give consideration to how one got to the road in the first place. Aunt Ester knew those kind of things but not everybody is ready to remember. Some people hold on tight to the pain they know. Caesar’s pain was his breakfast and dinner.

Caesar Wilks was born a striver with a desire to go as far in life as his wit and perseverance would take him. He was also born into poverty, draped in blackness, and found his life inconveniently placed in a hostile environment. That environment of hostility, his unforgivable blackness, and the pernicious poverty that permeated his lean existence formed a field of landmines in his life leaving little room for the long strides of a striver.



After the shootings he is taken to the County Farm where he recounts having to  “bust a couple of niggers upside the head for tryin’ to steal my food”.  Caesar set out to bring order to his confinement. He caught some fellow inmates who attempted to escape because he reasoned their escape did no one any good. “While they out there drinking and enjoying their freedom everybody else on half rations and got to make up their work.” He put down a riot by taking the leader of the uprising on one to one because he saw where a riot was “nothing but bad news.” His talent for beating down his fellow inmates in the workhouse got his sentence commuted, got him a gun and a badge, and saw him installed as the black law in charge of keeping order on the hill. After stewing in the bitterness of so many closed roads he found the path that was open to him.

Dressed in the respectability of his badge and gun Caesar returns to the bank and literally uses them as collateral to buy his first piece of property. Even this questionable advance is colored by the uproar caused by a white man selling him a ramshackle piece of property for three times its worth. He remarks, “They tried to kill him for selling to a Negro, he took the money and ran.”

Our striver has arrived, his arrival is darkened by his observation, ” Niggers got mad at me, said I must have thought I was a white man ’cause I got a hold of little something. They been mad with me every since. Everybody mad at me.”  He is speaking to his sister asking her to remember how steep his climb has been and how much it cost. His plea is the most elegant stating of how *”King Buzzards” are made I have ever encountered. But not elegant enough to garner forgiveness from his sister Black Mary. Some transgressions are forgivable. Black Mary disowned him for the murder of Solly Two Kings and the violation of the sanctuary offered at 1839 Wiley St. 1839 Wiley is the home of Aunt Ester the repository of memory that deserves her own paper. Suffice it now to say here that she is the voice, memory and soul of Africa singing here, on the other side the water uniting both sides. Some things are beyond forgiving or understanding but they have a story none the less. This is in part the story of King Buzzard walking in the strange land across the water.

adimu solly two kings gem 2010

Above-Solly Two Kings. (Adimu Madyun) Lower Bottom Playaz produced Gem of the Ocean in 2009 and again in 2010 as a part of The American Century Cycle Project, in Oakland CA

Below- Caesar and Black Mary from the 2010 production. Stanley Hunt and Niko Buchanan in rehearsal.


In part this story is one of hunger that resides in the soul. There is a human imperative to “become”. Where is the someone who dreams of being nothing?  It is in fact, the dream cooed over all babies, no less for  brown babies, the direction to become “something”, to become “somebody”.  In many parts of Africa there is the belief that individual personal destiny coincides with group harmony and prosperity. One has a destiny to fulfill, a purpose that is connected to the balance of the whole. Each individual must find and embody his/her purpose or the individual and the village around him falls into imbalance, lacks harmony, is unwell. Is there anyone who wants with all their heart to fail to find their place in life? Caesar’s actions are the actions of a man seeking personal fulfillment in the narrow confines of an oppressive society in which even his peers limit his ability to go forward in life. On one hand his progress in the face of such massive impediments must be viewed as a testament to his personal determination to “become someone”. One however must wonder at the cost and the affect of his relentless pursuit of” becoming.”

We come to know in Radio Golf that having secured his place in the world Caesar grew prosperous and founded Wilks Realty. His family became one of the most prominent families from the Hill District. The Hill District has been a major character in The American Century Cycle. We have spent all of our 100 year quest in this neighborhood with the exception of a short trip down route 66 to Chicago with Ma Rainey. The real estate of the Hill District has become emblematic of all once red lined, redeveloped ad- nauseam, now gentrified spaces for me. It is easy for me to see Oakland Ca in the telling of Wilson’s tales that emanate from the Hill. This contested space has been and continues in Radio Golf to be the battlefield for striving to become.

In Radio Golf we meet Harmond Wilks, our second Mr. Wilks, is the paternal grandson of our first Mr. Wilks.  He has benefited from his grandfather’s industriousness. He is a member of the Black elite. As the curtain rises, it is Harmond, Caesar’s grandson, who is busy with the business of redeveloping the Hill District.  His realty company is one of the largest Black owned businesses in town and he has invested heavily in a plan that depends on the area being declared blighted. Once the area which includes Aunt Ester’s now abandoned house is declared blighted with the use of minority tax incentives Harmond stands to make his green money even greener in rebuilding the once vibrant Hill. As you may recall we lost Aunt Ester in the ninth installment of the Century Cycle, King Hedley, II. We discover Harmond has unwittingly and not quite legally acquired the property located at 1839 Wiley St. It is slated for demolition. Caesar violated 1839 Wiley and now Harmond plans to demolish it.

Harmond, who is also running for Mayor has a dream of revitalizing the Hill. He wears the suit of a striver, whose desires for better, exceed his own personal needs. He is at heart a man of high moral fiber who envisions the change he dreams for the near dead Hill District as his legacy. But even in the most noble of dreams there is room for the whole of a story and when Harmond learns the history of 1839 Wiley St. he is forced to decide what is right and his struggle to stand in the light could cost him 100 years of hard-won progress.

In this work we consider the sins of the fathers, at what price assimilation, what real success looks like for those wrapped in unforgivable blackness, the path to redemption, the cost of traveling the only roads open and what the absence of Aunt Ester means in our lived realities as we continue our never-ending search for equity here in the strange land across the water.

This tale will continue as my production of Radio Golf continues, and my understanding of what the trip home, minus Aunt Ester means to me as a student of Wilson, a theater maker, and a human being wrapped most firmly in unforgivable blackness than has grown deeper in shade since beginning this quest with Wilson.

The Lower Bottom Playaz complete the chronological production of the American Century Cycle by August Wilson under the direction of Ayodele Nzinga, on December 18th, 2015. If you are interested in reading more about the Lower Bottom Playaz Inc, American Century Cycle Project, which began in 2010 please visit: www.TalesofIronandWater.com and explore the articles under the “Ghost of Wilson” tab. If you would like to join us for the historic closing production of the project visit: www.lowerbottomplayaz.com to purchase tickets for performances of Radio Golf.

Contact Ayodele Nzinga at wordslanger@gmail.com , conversations about August Wilson and The American Century Cycle warmly invited.




*”King Buzzard” a term attributed to African slave traders who trafficked slaves to Europeans during the great transgression of the Middle Passage the artery for the Transatlantic slave trade that bled Africans bound for slavery in America from West Africa. The legend of the Red Cloth says there will be no peace in this world or the next forKing Buzzard.




The Origins of African-American Culture – JStor

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions …. red cloth. But in another taleKing Buzzard, an African king, was condemned to travel alone through the world  …

African American Culture – Documents

documents.mx › Documents

Apr 10, 2015 – In Gomez’s words: “It is a study of their efforts to move from ethnicity…. In one set, Africans were tricked onto slave ships by Europeans offering them red cloth. But in another taleKing Buzzard, an African king, was condemned  …

[PDF]The Vile Trade – Carolina Academic Press

The vile trade : slavery and the slave trade in Africa / Abi Alabo. Derefaka … [et al.].…..length and breadth of Nigeria, where its impact in terms of awareness is im- …elsewhere dubbed the “red cloth” tales, a reference to the ubiquitous presence … “King Buzzard” story as the vehicles by which posterity would learn of African  …

Radio Golf By August Wilson (pre-production notes)

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King Hedley II written by August Wilson, is the 9th play in his American Century Cycle. Directed by Dr. Ayodele Nzinga and performed by The Lower Bottom Playaz, Inc; King Hedley II is currently on Broadway in Oakland, CA. at the Flight Deck, located at 1540 Broadway. Come see it and enjoy!

King Hedley II written by August Wilson, is the 9th play in his American Century Cycle. Directed by Dr. Ayodele Nzinga and performed by The Lower Bottom Playaz, Inc; King Hedley II is currently on Broadway in Oakland, CA. at the Flight Deck, located at 1540 Broadway. Come see it and enjoy!

The Lower Bottom Playaz, Inc (LBP), a small scrappy theater company in Oakland CA, are about to become a part of theater history.  They are in production for Radio Golf by August Wilson which will open on December 18, 2015 at The Flight Deck on Broadway. Radio Golf will be the tenth consecutive LBP production of Wilson’s crowning achievement, The American Century Cycle. LBP took up the mantle to become the first theater company to formally stage the entire Cycle  in 2010. With their production of Radio Golf they become that company.

Pre Production Notes

In the first installment of The American Century Cycle, Gem of the Ocean, we started out in the house at 1839 Wiley St., the house with the red door, Aunt Ester’s house.  It is fitting we should end our journey  here at Aunt Ester’s house as the battleground for Radio Golf, the final installment of the Cycle. Souls are still being washed on Wiley St, even though we lost Ester in King Hedley II, the ninth installment. By returning to Ester’s house we are making a circle back to where we started. I find that, and Master Wilson, most elegant.

We are about to do what we said we would do in 2010. It was such a big undertaking until I am not sure that anyone other than us realize how much we bit off. That we would be here, now, is nothing short of miraculous, and that’s the small of it — it has been such a blessing to those of us who stayed the course.  This is such a pregnant moment for me as a theater maker. It is bittersweet and filled with a quiet power. Everything is before us as a theater company and so much is behind us as a group of artist dedicated to a single purpose creating together for a sustained period of time. In this moment we can argue that we will save the house on Wiley St. which is slated for demolition as the curtain rises on Radio Golf.

We have reached the end of a mythical quest with Wilson as our cartographer we have traveled through time and consciousness by the completion of his elegant circular ritual we have arrived at our destination. We are home.  We have come ashore firmly dressed in a cosmology,  in possession of an epistemology, rooted so firmly in our soul that our arrival is only understandable in the context of remembering and going home. We have traveled from who we were, to who we wanted to be, by realizing we are enough.

We may yet save the house on Wiley St. . We know of a certainty we will build it again if it is torn down.   It’s a metaphor; we are the foundation of the house on Wiley St., if we can wrap ourselves around that, then, we know they can’t tear down the house, Aunt Ester is alive, the song is strong. We are that song. We are the children of the Diaspora, the fruit of the bones, without sanctuary in search of a resting place carrying the foundation of home within.  Thus we may still save the house. It’s all metaphor and the purest of truth.

Metaphor and symbolism are part and parcel of  the ritual offered by Wilson. We have learned to speak the language, to carefully read between the lines, and to connect the dots between Wilson’s history of the twentieth century to our lived realities here in the twenty first century.  Having learned the game it is my great pleasure to play with the master’s toys in his house at least once more.

We are mining the lessons and the message already. As usual, for us our real life becomes a part of each story. As we enter Pittsburgh’s Hill District in its final throes of being remade at the turn of the Century we are reminded of how much our hometown of Oakland has changed in the mere space of the five years since we began our Century Cycle Project.

We are no longer in the theater built for us. It no longer exist. Most of our theater troupe no longer lives in West Oakland where we started out. Most of us can’t afford to live in the area we dedicated ourselves to revitalizing with culture and self determination. Our neighborhood, once one of the poorest in America, has become one of the most expensive neighborhoods in California. Like the characters we met in Gem of the Ocean and Joe Turner has Come and Gone we are looking for home and opportunity in places we had not imagined as choices. Most of these places are in fact are not choices in the literal sense of the word.

To say the least our lived experiences leave us in a most interesting place as we begin production for the only installment of the Cycle told from the standpoint of potential developers, who happen to be Black. We are on slightly different terrain in this play. Usually our main focus is on common folk with lessons for all of us about complex issues. This time we focus on the hearts and minds of Dubois’s talented 10th. Our hero’s are very comfortable and upwardly mobile folk on a move. They are not suffering from a lack of resource or opportunity. Their poverty is of a different stripe. It allows us to look at a manifestation of trauma not well examined since Caesar Wilkes explains why he hunts Black people for a living in Gem of the Ocean. I have always thought that monologue was one of Wilson’s greatest gifts in the cycle.

In that monologue Caesar tells us how he lost his soul. He speaks in great candor about his journey as a striver and how he took the only road left open to him. Caesar figuratively murders freedom in Gem of the Ocean by killing Solly Two Kings. He violates the sanctuary of 1839 Wiley the home of Aunt Ester to do so. We still have time to unfurl the mystery of Black Mary, Caesar’s sister who we believe at this point joined the myth of Ester Tyler, who of course is symbolically much more than a 300 year old woman. We will return to this thought in later writings. But for now we do know somethings for a certainty,  in Radio Golf we come to know that Caesar Wilkes regrets where he found himself, and went to great lengths to make right his wrong. It is his act of contrition that sets the stage for Radio Golf.

Radio Golf offers space for a reexamination of wealth, legacy, and loyalty in the context of a marginalized people in a material culture.  It allows us to question what success looks like from multiple vantage points.  We are afforded a vehicle to examine our interconnectedness in a  way I hope makes audiences quietly uncomfortable in the consideration of  the simple truth: right is right and right don’t wrong nobody.

Radio Golf starring The Lower Bottom Playaz, directed by Ayodele Nzinga opens 12/18/15 in Oakland Ca. at The Flight Deck, 1540 Broadway. Ticket info on website:http://www.lowerbottomplayaz.com . Information :510-457-8999.

King Hedley, II Post Show Notes

koran streets as King HedleyKoran Streets as King Hedley, 9/2015 Oakland photo by TaSin Sabir

They say King Hedley II, is the darkest play in  the American Century Cycle by August Wilson. Dark with all its connotations is an interesting take. It is dark. Dark like black life, dark and heavy like the history of North America’s Nation within the Nation. Dark like a burn on a soul that won’t comprehend the enduring nature of the trauma initiated by the Transatlantic Transgression, the lived experience of chattel slavery, and its living legacy in its descendants.

If you want to know why things are the way they are you might consider Wilson a source of spiritual information. It is not history Wilson seeks to address rather  its the fullness of every-day-ness, the extraordinary complexity of the ordinary, the enduring and  universal struggle of North American Africans through the decades of the twentieth century to find the center that keeps shifting.

I have always invested Wilson with the ability to be in two times at once: the current moment is always made more clear by looking at his reference to a specific point in the past. I have come to understand that this is not so much a trick of Master Wilson as it is an intentional testament to what the “illusion” reveals; not a lot has changed at the core of North American African existence in North America in the last one hundred years. It is not Wilson’s ability to reside in multiple time frames but rather the unchanging nature of barriers to inclusion and the methods of exclusion perfected over time that we observe in Wilson’s Cycle.

Two Americas

Wilson’s work is important because it sets the two America’s side by side and offers a view of the center from off-center. The better to understand that there are two songs of Americas living side by side in dissonance. The song of America that echos in the world is one of democratic strength, stewardship, might and compassion. There is a moral note borne in its declaration of being a Christian nation that implies certain ethics are in play within greater society where progress is seen as both natural and inevitable. There is a public good and a standard by which this nation views itself.

Yet there are consistent anomalies like the persistent gap in wages and job attainment that exist between well qualified black applicants and their white counterparts. Disproportionate incarceration, as a result of  disproportionate contact with law enforcement and lack of access to competent legal representation is another point of observation as is the lack of correlation between education and employment prospects in emerging fields. Another would be the tenuousness of geographical community. Just as The Hill District  is a topic of contested space throughout Wilson’s Cycle the relationship with geography, community, space in which to thrive, and the concept of belonging have been and remain a troubling and complex point of reflection in considering tales of the two Americas.

There are multiple places where one can observe the great divide one could visit a court room, a hospital, a school,  a Fortune 500 company, a tech campus, or perhaps more telling pay attention on Sunday morning to who prays where. There are two Americas.  One has an infrastructure that helps to contain the other which stubbornly persist in refusing to be homogenized with a vigor equal to that which seeks to contain and.other it.

In Gem of the Ocean, Wilson introduces us to “The Mill”, the only source of employment, along with its blatant racism and overt hold overs from share cropping thefts of labor, by the end of Gem the mill has been burned by Two Kings.    Solly, a freedom fighter from the Underground Railroad, is murdered by Caesar the black lawman who tragically found a way to go forward against the obstacles he faced by siding with the system of containment in place. Caesar sees no way for the poor blacks to survive without the meager chance for subsistence offered by the mill. He predicts deeper poverty, the decline of morals fed by unmet need, the rise of criminality, and more as the result of the absence of even less than half a chance. Solly acts out of the philosophy espoused by Aunt Ester. “If the wheel is broke somebody got to fix it”. By burning the mill he forces some other way into reality. Some other way must be discovered even if it must be created.  The Nation buried within the Nation exist in search of the tools to fashion a way from what appears to be no way.

The Nation within the Nation is a push me pull me phenomenon. It is a place we are constricted to as well as a cosmological event we are joined in, feed, construct by our nurture, a place in the center of the whirlwind – the eye of the storm we stand in endeavoring to become. It is what we become that is in question.

The Black Lens 

Off center is an instructive view. It is a view of the center from outside. If the narrative of America from its center its a song of self, a kind of authorized autobiography that is carefully curated then, reading from the side lines gives us a less invested view, one that can afford to not be politically correct because  political correctness has never served it outside of the earshot of those invested from the center. Here we measure affect divorced from dressed up language of intention, the pig without the lipstick.

Where else can you get a comprehensible context of life as experienced by those behind the veil unless you step behind the veil  to bear witness its beating heart. It is a marvel left untold center stage in the drama of America. Wilson takes us into the cauldron of the lived existence of ordinary people to experience the compelling tragedy of reality meeting rhetoric in the brightness of  stage lights so that we can see the places where the peeling paint attempts to obscure a profound brokenness.

A Black lens is a view from the center of the Nation within the Nation. In its gaze, black life is the center of the universe aware of sitting in the belly, orbiting within an internal logic.

Enduring Trauma & Dark Cycles

Hedley is a view of enduring trauma unmitigated by substantive progress. It is a tale of barbed wire, blood rituals, and dying to go forward. It is the observation of the everyday chosen over the stories of exceptionalism that feed the sense of “real black life” as captured by Wilson. There is little room to argue the success of numerous North American Africans within greater society however they are the exception not the rule.  Nor is the rule the parade of mug shots and short walks in handcuffs that populate the evening news , rather the rule is reflected in Wilson’s parade of ordinary people struggling to find their way into the dream of American equity.

Wilson  harnesses the hope, the determined struggle, the callings and failings of  a tribe stranded in the process of transition wanting to “be” in the most literal sense while trying to become at the same time. The Cycle is replete with round unvarnished tales that reflect Wilson’s mastery of storytelling and offers a view of humanity obscured by  its lack of access to the stage of the American public sphere. In his tales from off-center he connects the hopes and desires of these dark spaces in the authorized biography of America to the shining ideals America uses to light its way.

Wilson lights the considerations of love, honor, duty, dignity, and the desire to thrive complexified by  invisible lives and dark history. He clears the stage for the articulation of how it is we sit behind the veil, the coldness born in the shadow of America’s song of itself, and the tragic rawness of sitting so long in the storm. His work is the storms song remembering itself , valuing itself, singing itself whole again.

The ever two-ness in which we sit and the blocked paths are the geography of  Wilson’s work in a figurative sense he demands we understand the distance Caesar Wilkes travels from murdering Solly Two Kings to remembering what he did not know what he had forgotten. We know something in him shifts when we reach Radio Golf, (the final installment in the Cycle), we discover he assumed the taxes on the sanctuary he violated in Gem of the Ocean, ( first installment),  1839 Wiley St, the home of Aunt Ester. Caesar’s tale of origin has always struck me as instructive. The lesson begins in the first installment.  Caesar becomes Caesar because there seems no other path to success in life and he is a striver with a hard-wired imperative to survive.  He becomes successful in the eyes of those beyond the pale at the cost of disconnecting from what placed him behind the veil and taking what he perceived as the only path open to success by becoming an overseer.   Yet he becomes steward to Aunt Esters sanctuary where the  blood memory of self as articulated by the mythic Ester guides dark travelers for a century that we know about.  In the distance of the cycle Caesar comes full circle and reaches some understanding with his song of self.   The Nation in the Nation is still traveling the road of Caesar’s logic trying to understand the cost of unsung, squandered, and lost songs of self. Wilson urges us to make it a consciousness interrogation and charges us with manifesting the fortitude to insist we be fully sung.

Resistance & Sacrifice

Resistance and sacrifice are implicit themes in all of Wilson’s work.  They are brought center stage in King Hedley,II as are love and honor all metered through the motif of blood.

What must North American Africans sacrifice to a be part and un-separated parcel of the American pubic sphere? What must be let go, what part of the self must be set adrift, amputated to find firm purchase in the public square of American consciousness?

The redundant reference to the song of self, the need for reconciliation between now and how it came to be, the recognition of the point of origin and coming into being Africans who are North Americans, the struggle endured in pursuit of belonging, and the cost of the journey are touchstones for Wilson’s retrospective of the twentieth century.

Wilson strongly suggest  that we have an innate “self” guided by a cosmology, an epistemology that resides so deeply in us we may have forgotten it but it has not forgotten us so it keeps itself alive in narrative personified in the water wise metaphor of Aunt Ester, traveling a line, emanating from the ocean anointing us as a new tribe here – ever African and American. Wilson embodies in theater pieces the lived experience of Du Bois’s theory of two-ness. The work gives flesh to the narrative of the  lived experience of being cast into seeking wholeness, looking for a song of self even if we don’t know what it is we are searching for,  and a textured consideration of what we are trying to reconcile. Wilson is the great interlocutor, interrogating our experience in the context of American progress, wanting us to claim our part of the story, to tell the truth to ourselves about what’s been lost, what can be gained here, and to do the work of conceiving how we go forward, who we will become. One of the central questions posed by Wilson’s work is what it cost to become American from the lens of those bound both willingly and without choice within the Nation in the Nation.


Wilson wants us to know that redemption is a necessity. He calls attention to the way in which we sit in the belly. He has cast us as our own redeemers. No one else is coming to right the wheel. It is our duty to find a way to harness the wind  if we want it to blow this way. If we want to sit on top of the mountain we must find the key. He wants us to know that we know. We know because we have lived the story-we were there. He wants us to remember — to connect events to one another, and to believe the story it tells when you stack one decade a top another. He wants us to be clear on what progress looks like. He wants us to recognize cycles, where we bent, where we were broken, and to create options where none seem to exist. He wants us to remember that we are able, we are enough, we were born with dignity and honor. He wants us to know that we have a duty to life itself, that duty is to live, living is not the same as surviving and he wants us to note that. He wants us to see ourselves as dignified in our struggle to create a way out of no way, to observe the ways in which we leave the path, and the cost of losing one’s self.  He wants us to be awake in our journey and to understand the things that bind us, the things that sustain us, and to value them appropriately. He wants us to celebrate the ordinary and accept it as the space in which extraordinary things can be achieved. He wants us to make our better, best. Redemption could come any day it does not require a special day. The day will be made special by the song we choose to sing.

Wilson as Redemption Song


We are wandering in the wilderness; all there is to save us is an unsung song of self. If you can’t imagine North America as a wilderness you have not experienced history from my perspective. My people were captured and sold into servitude by a savage country founded in violence stolen from the indigenous people they found living in what they named North America. They made a grave yard of the Atlantic Ocean in the process of the inhumane  transporting of millions of human beings bound for the most dehumanizing bondage the world has ever witnessed.

Once here they were stripped of semblance of humanity save that they claimed for themselves. They were for all intent obliterated, left unable to trace tribe, village, religion, language, or worldview. They were rewritten as property to be used in any manner seen fit. The concepts of honor, love, and duty were undone as were the institutions of marriage,childbearing, and by default family, all torn apart and set outside of the African– now slave, in a society that placed the slave outside of humanity.

If they ran they were hunted. If they resisted they were slaughtered. They were set afire, and hung from trees. They were caged, bartered, sold, raped, murdered, and considered no better than animals of the field.

Slavery ended and they were set free into nothing with nothing to make their way out of no way. This country has shook them from place to place in so called migrations which under closer scrutiny more resemble refugees fleeing.

Wilson’s work offers a view of the 20th Century in North America from the view of the descendants of cooks, mammy’s, share croppers, garbage men, waitresses, nail makers, steel workers, those that bent their backs to set the telephone poles in the ground and drive the railroad ties, the collective of America’s Blues people. These are their stories, this is their song of survival and the every present quest for equity in this land of equality where lynchings made their way into the new millennium and one can make a cogent case that slave catchers still exist with body cams in black and whites and they neither protect or serve us in the most literal sense.

Wilson places us center stage between the epic events of this countries history in our daily reality as ‘most human’ in search of honor and dignity. He credits us with the means for reinvention as borne by our achievements here and our legacy which stretches beyond the shores of this continent to embrace a highly developed sense of community, a view of god, a sense of worth, a cosmology, an epistemology, an artful aesthetic, and worldview that we managed to hold onto, albeit it in shreds. We are trying to remember who we are in a world that changes but manages to leave us standing in the rear of the line.

When we see our sense of continuity as a song emanating from the collective soul we can begin to grasp the enormity of Wilson’s gift to us. In his Cycle he has captured the essence of our blue black determination to thrive, our brokenness, our insistence on a share of what we built, our loving hearts, our patient longing, our twisted paths, the barbed wire, the places we leave the path, and wander into the dark, the places our light is made and the chance of wholeness waiting in remembering, claiming, and singing our song of self. It is a redemption song carved from the blues instructed by jazz and re imagined in hip hop, it is our beating heart saying I Am.

It has been a great honor to stage this work. I will be sorting the gifts it has offered up for the remainder of my life. I have been hugely influenced by Wilson and I am grateful. I invite you to join us as we finish our American Century Cycle Project. We are currently offering King Hedley, II at the Flight Deck through September 6th.

Hedley is a beautiful work for right now in North American inner cities. It offers a glimpse into the beginning of gun proliferation in urban spaces. The era of Reaganomics, Crack decimation, and inter-group violence have a sick relationship that continues to influence our quality of life. It’s a raw wake up call, a gun shot in the night, the site of a train wreck…sometimes you must go back to see now more clearly. King Hedley, II offers that chance in a dark, soaring, blues filled blood ritual of a play. You can’t miss it.


King Hedley, II – Blood on top of the mountain I


It’s 1985 and papers are full of drive by shootings. There is no work.  In the Hill District of Pittsburgh PA and across the nation people are trying to grow opportunity out of rocky soil. The times are violent on multiple levels. It’s a hard time to be born into and a hard time to raise a family or define it once it’s been busted asunder and not yet quite found its way back together.

King Hedley, II the unborn child of Ruby in Seven Guitars is a grown man who is trying to grow himself a life. The soil he has inherited is rocky and hard but its “him” he must make life out of what he has been given like Rose instructs Cory in Fences. You have no choice but to make life from what you have. How can you otherwise. As Lyons quotes Troy to Cory in reflecting upon Troy’s life, “You got to take the crooked with the straights”. Lyon’s reflection comes at the event of Troy’s death where we are given the image of him finally striking out and death claiming him. I note he lives on in Lyon’s carrying forth of his philosophy of life. You have to work with what you have but what if its not enough? Then, what to do?

King has crookeds he is trying to make straight. He is determined to put something in the world. Determination to strive demands you make what does not exsist. “If the wind don’t blow your way”, you must find a way to harness the wind. King like Floyd Barton before him in Seven Guitars, like Levee in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom carry the dark seed of desire to move forward in the world. They will create their own wind even if they are consumed in the vortex it creates. They are the will to go forward wrapped in steel. Marked in third grade as unruly King tries his best to live in a world that is too small for him. He can’t fit in so he must make it bigger. He wants to grow something so he plants a seed. He declares its right to live. He takes a chance even though he only has rocky ground. He tends and defends his seed hoping to grow wind that blows his way.

Even in his desire to grow something he travels with a Glock nine mm looking to murder a man. He feels he must in order to be in the world.  The world in which it can come down to me or him in a second and one transgression demands another, and then another. In a world where honor is spelled in blood and manhood is defined by who is left standing even if it cost chunks of your life. In this world being jailed and prison time are still common tales. Remember how Wilson bends time. Then is now. Now is then. Still refers to moving forward from Joe Turner has Come and Gone. King has done time for one murder. A man cut him and he eventually killed his assailant who he remembers as “simple ass Pernell, – a sneaky motherfucker”. Now Pernell’s cousin is stalling him because this world demands blood for blood. Blood is a theme in King Hedley, II.

Blood as life, as a lifeline, as honor, as currency to a better safer life, as the gift of life and as cause for death all play out in this blood play. King Hedley, II believes his father is Hedley, I. Floyd Barton who took his last chance trying to create opportunity for his life in Seven Guitars was murdered by Hedley, I, who takes him for the ghost of Buddy Bolden who he believes is bringing him his fathers money. Hedley kills Floyd with a machete. The machete is given to King along with the task to wipe the blood off of it. We wade in blood cycles trying to find a way to make something grow. King is a tragic figure worthy of Sophocles or Shakespeare. Is he sacrifice or the forerunner for the Messiah who will redeem us from the cycles of blood in which we as a people are drowning in as I write?

Ester dies in this play but as the Soothsayer (TruthSayer) Stool Pigeon says the door to her house has long been blocked and the path grown over. King says he was told she died of grief. Stool Pigeon confirms it, “died with her hand stuck to her head, in 366 years she ain’t seen nothing but grief, it all ganged up on her.” When Ester dies a terrible storm rises and lights go out as houses are blown down across the town and her black cat dies. We wait for the blood that will bring her back if she has not yet used up her nine lives.

The nation within the nation a black cat with nine lives landing on its feet after blood bath after blood bath, struggling on, praying, trying to plant, waiting for a rebirth of life big enough for dreams of thriving.  A hot dark slice of land with hard dirt full of rocks and pitfalls that end in blood is where King tries to grow life. I recognize this blasted landscape as being the geography of our lives. The systems with different rules, the set ups, the predictable downfalls, and the determination to go forward are familiar. The men we will meet here are men we know. Men waiting for opportunity, following the dream, making the dream, and killing the dream are all here waiting for us to overstand how they became who they are, to make us want them to find peace, for us to overstand the need for blood in blood out rituals, last chances, and dreaming anyway.

Come and see where it leads us.

King Hedley plays though September 6th at The Flight Deck in Oakland CA. Starring The Lower Bottom Playaz, Inc who are dedicated to staging the Century Cycle by August Wilson in chronological order. With King Hedley they open Season16.Continua: The American Century Cycle Project. Hedley is the 9 of a 10 play cycle also referred to as the Pittsburgh Cycle.

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The Lower Bottom Playaz poised to complete The American Century Cycle Project.

King Hedley II is the beginning of the end of The Lower Bottom Playaz, Inc., momentousAmerican Century Cycle Project. King Hedley is currently running at The Flight Deck on Broadway in Oakland CA. It opens The Playaz, main stage for Season16.Continua: The American Century Cycle Project and only leaves Radio Golf which will be main stage in December 2015 at The Flight Deck, concluding both Season 16 and The American Century Cycle Project.

Seven Guitars

The Playaz began production of The American century Cycle in 2010 after producing Gem of the Ocean in 2009 and falling into relationship with the spirit and intention of August Wilson, America’s greatest playwright living or dead. In 2010 I announced our intention to be the first company to ever fully stage the Cycle. In 2015, with Hedley up and running my troupe and I are poised on the edge of the completion of a ritual never fully enacted. We play for the Master in most humble gratitude for his generous blessings upon us as we have struggled to manifest this work. It has been a journey that has taken us places we could not have imagined and even more important it has brought us home.

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We are producing Hedley and Golf in our new house in uptown Oakland. The journey from our own out door theater in West Oakland to a residency in an indoor 100 seat black box in uptown has been a tumultuous journey full of pathos, falling to rise higher, refusing to fail, striving and daring to fly in the dark to find our light. We are going to be the first to formally stage the Cycle in chronological order. No other company has ever done so. The Green Room recordings were done after we started our journey with Wilson and they come as close to chronological production as anything ever done but they are recordings of readings. Some companies have staged all ten works in the order Wilson wrote them. No company has ever achieved what we are poised to accomplish.

"You die by how you live". August Wilson- Gem of the Ocean

“You die by how you live”. August Wilson- Gem of the Ocean

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In some ways its been a lonely journey. Not a lot of attention has been given our effort. We are a small company that started out as a Gypsy theater performing in non-traditional spaces including half way houses for reentry populations and shelters for the homeless.  A 100 seat outdoor theater was built for us in West Oakland where we did 13 Seasons of theater. We did Shakespearean adaptations, established the Shakespeare in the Hood series, toured Mack A Gangsta’s Tale to violence riddled areas of Oakland and Richmond, CA. We did an original work, Mama at Twilight: Death by Love that frankly examined the HIV growth in black communities by interrogating gendered roles and community taboos. We established our brand around telling stories that facilitated vitally important community discussion. We honed our craft and survived and very quietly became one of the greatest opportunity for black actors and theater makers in the East Bay. The community organization that partially funded our work stopped funding our productions mid way through our production of The Century Cycle and we became the only theater company to produce in The African American Museum and Library at Oakland CA. where we independently produced Fences. We then took up residency in The Flight Deck where we produced Two Trains Running and Jitney.


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An American Tale in Black, White and the Blues.

We are so very proud to reach the conclusion of our commitment to August Wilson who in many ways has guided our growth, instructed our direction, and renewed our commitment to our craft, our communities, and our selves. Wilson is the only work we have not felt a need to make site specific as is our habit. In Wilson we see ourselves and we see ourselves as part of the nation in the nation behind the veil in North America, and the universal nature of Wilson’s site specific Cycle (all the plays take place in the Hill Distinct of Pittsburgh PA with the exception of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom). We recognize and have come to overstand Wilson’s song of North America; its our lives, we have lived it, bled it, and learned to sing it with honor and dignity as we have walked with Wilson.

If you have seen our work you know we do Wilson with integrity and passion. If you have not a great theater experience is waiting for you. Join us at our new theater to be a part of our red carpet season as we conclude The Century Cycle Project.

gem of the ocean Wilson by Gayle 10535618_776084975746056_5093821033429427179_o 16 wood two trains hedley back email

Book tickets for King Hedley, II and Radio Golf today:  http://www.lowerbottomplayaz.com/box-office.php

Support us on Indigogo: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-american-century-cycle-project/x/173176#/story


 Eight of Ten:  Jitney, A Director's Note

I am mid way through the production of Jitney. Only 3 shows left. It's the second show of the cycle we have done at the Flight Deck in newly dubbed "Uptown", (used to be plain old downtown), Oakland.  This is our third production since leaving The Yard , (The Sister Thea) in the Bottoms. We started in the Bottoms and now we are Uptown -- we are a success story. What a story it is -- the making of art is often if not always as much a drama as the work itself. We are The Lower Bottom Playaz, we are Oakland's premiere North American African theater company and we have earned every accolade we have ever received.

We are that company Javier Reyes from Colored Ink called the Mc Gyver  troupe for our inventiveness and applied ingenuity. How else would a troupe with the motto, We create what we need from what we have been gifted" roll. We much like our art come from a place of struggle. We are more than entertainment. Our mission is to create community one story at a time. We have become very intentional in embodying our mission. We are serious artist.

We do not create art because it is easy. It is in fact very difficult. Art making in America is costly. We are not wealthy but we have something to say. We are artist out of a necessity -- we have found our purpose. We are gifted. We share the gifts we have been given.  We find a way to make art in spite of the difficulty. We make art as a way of being in the world, as a way of changing the world, as an act of resistance to narratives of lack, marginalization, and scarcity. We are abundantly gifted. We are boundless in our determination. We are dedicated to our craft.

Personally, I stay not because its easy, not because of material rewards, but because art is my calling. The stage is my podium -- I am talking to you. I have been gifted a talented cohort of artist to create with -- that in itself is a challenge. Sitting in a room of geniuses is not all you might think. Genius comes at a cost. And I demand more than mere genius. I am not fond of actors. I am in love with artist -- storytellers, musicians, alchemist who turn story into gospel, magicians who willingly disappear into a character in the name of the story unfolding to show us pain, beauty, horror, injustice,ugly truth, triumphant love and all the other myriad aspects of being. Try herding cats, harnessing fire in a bottle, or aiming a rainbow and you will come to understand what it is to sit in collaboration with genius. I have that privilege.

Yet this is not a cakewalk. It is a marathon in a smorgasbord with all the challenge you can stand .  I may have come to the table ready, but I have grown since I pulled up a chair. I have become very firmly who I say I am.  I am now capable of setting the table. I owe some of that to Wilson. I owe a great deal to the teachers who came to me before Wilson. I owe it to my horse eating great grand parents and the female lineage they bore who taught me how to strive. I owe it to the characters I recognize and have come to love and admire in the American Century Cycle. I owe it to the genius in the room with me trusting me to invoke Wilson properly.  I owe it to my ancestors who walked the path to give me the privilege to claim my gift as my birthright, as my ordained avocation, as my duty to life and nation. I owe it to my nation walking like a blind man in the dark surrounded by  enduring hostility and privilege in this nation divided smothered by the myth of the American dream. I owe it to myself for the struggle doing the American Century Cycle has been.

Doing Jitney was difficult. They are all difficult. I don't expect it will get any easier. Doing what is right, what one should do, what one must to live in the world with dignity in tact is not usually the easiest path. My path has rocks on it. I stay the path rocks and all. I have been called. I have answered. "The destination is worth the journey" as Wilson himself declared. The difficult journey has made me appreciate the lessons learned along the way. We should all know we pay for our lessons in life. With that in mind I am open to the lessons, paying the price for knowing, and determined to remember to remember. I am on the battlefield with Wilson.

With Jitney I claim our space. I mark this point in the journey like Wilson marked completing Jitney which was the eighth play of the ten which would become The American Century Cycle.  He had yet to write the bookends Gem of the Ocean and Radio Golf. This was a point of epiphany for Wilson.  He could see the whole spell. I sit in deep communion with him. I feel this point on the path viscerally. Seeing and knowing have become painful and I channel the pain through the production of art that illuminates the source, and the chance of deliverance from that pain.  I am praying with my hands moving, trying to help construct the healing I need -- the healing we all need. I have the advantage of having the whole spell writ out before me; nothing left but to perform the incantation. I am on verse eight of ten, shoulder to the grindstone, pushing the envelope, anticipating a blessing.

With my commitment to the American Century Cycle. the world I knew has fell apart as I walk the path. The producer and the theater we started with are in our rear view as is the neighborhood we moved into to do art that had the intention of being much more than entertainment. We were Griots coming home to tell the tale of falling forward into the American dream with our souls still in tact.  We had the idea that, if we worked to make it so, it would surely be. My home itself has become an emblematic battleground. Home and the idea of it had to be rethought, are still  being considered as I write. At this moment my only home is in the graveyard where the songs of my ancestors whisper to me -- stay the path. Wilson has blown so much away.

We were not wrong it has just not turned out the way we thought it would. That's okay. We have become fine dancers we have learned to change the steps when necessary but we refuse to leave the path. We are no longer sure where the path will take us. We have faith in our fate, we have surrendered to our destiny, we are doing what we must--sharing the gifts given. We are in alignment. We are the water that Ester speaks of in Gem of the Ocean, we are fluid, we have learned the necessity and rude contours of Diaspora.  None of it matters as much as the fact that this is exactly where we should be. Even the difficulty factor acknowledges we are at the top of a mountain.  Wilson and the ancestors stand there with us waiting for the song. The song must be sung the spell must be completed.

No one not even Wilson has enacted the spell in order. We will be the first. We are in a new theater. We produce our own work. We will finish this spell of a work and move on changed forever having walked with Wilson though the past to the point where Radio Golf ends. We will know more than we now know, and that will inform how we walk though the world carrying the song we have found in Wilson. I have learned a fair amount so far:

One must match walk with talk or become simply sound and fury.

If you pray with moving hands the path will clear.

One's song is the essence of one's being the inner light, the purpose, the soul force, it must be nurtured, it demands to be sung.

We have a duty to life.

We must remember.

If you drop the ball go back and pick it up.

Everything ain't always what it seem.

If you lose sight of your song you will suffer.

You were born free with dignity and everything.

Our stories are enough.

You can't pass the torch to the future and then insist on calling  the music it dances to.

We must consider doing what we have never done if we desire what we have never had.

The past is the key to the present you need it to see the path to the future clearly.

Trust what you know you know.

I am because we are.

If the wheel don't work somebody got to fix it -- it don't matter who it pains.

Right is right and right don't wrong nobody.

You got to tell the truth and stand in the light.

We are enough.

What I have learned is what feeds me now.   Finally we are getting feature stories. To all this I say yes. But as the SF Gate feature pointed out "we have been doing this with very little fanfare." Truth is fanfare cost. You need money for advertising and bells and whistles. We are so grassroots. I value paying artist. I know we eat and that heat and water cost even geniuses. It's nice to finally get reviewed. They say:

The actors capture the essence of their characters, and director Nzinga succeeds in providing the elements necessary to bring them together into a cohesive and unflinching portrayal. “Jitney” is an exceptional piece of theater, well played by this gifted group of artists." --Elizabeth Warnimont

Jitney is a must see. If you can, rush, run, fly downtown to the Flight Deck Theatre at 15th and Broadway, go pass the boarded up buildings from I Can't Breathe & Hands UP, Pants Up! and take a seat...

So the fanfare is coming.

But it's not what drives me. I am driven by what drove Wilson:  the urgency to hear the song . The need to complete the spell. This is my duty to life. If my art is my weapon I have chosen well with Wilson. We are on the battlefield in dark times when the song of self is our most potent magic. The world is poised for change. I can hear it in the people's getting up and taking to the street. The fight is not over. We have not forgotten being born free. We are all called to contribute to a better world. There are forces in place that like the way the wheel works its their job to guard the wheel. I am a Black Arts Movement artist. My art is my contribution to the battle to change what is into what needs to be.  I battle not against personalities but principalities,  this art is spiritual, its a leavening stone, it is resistance. I am emboldened with my hard earned lessons firmly rooting. I am fit for the battle. In the tradition of the Black Arts Movement art is ritual, it is political, it is my calling card for discourse, it is my intra-inter group interface with my humanity. I am teaching while I am learning. This song will be sung.





*The portrait of August Wilson at the top of the article is by James Gayles. It is for sale to support The August Wilson American Century Cycle Project undertaken by The Lower Bottom Playaz in 2010 to be completed in 2015. Inquires to: wordslanger@gmail.com

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The American Century Cycle


The American Century Cycle

October 13, 2014
The American Century Cycle


I am often asked why August Wilson? Why did I decide to direct the American Century Cycle? I am producing the America's greatest playwright's seminal work in its entirety. I will be the first director to do so in chronological order of the 100 hundred years covered in what is often referred to as the Century Cycle. The answer to the why of it for me is both mystical and practical. Wilson's work is a part of the progression of my artistic arc and because when the student is ready the teacher appears be the teacher living or dead.

Having intentionally placed an arts practice in a gentrifying community with a long history of being informed by art; as an artist who is also an activist I addressed the cyclical issues plaguing that community by the production and creation of art. I eventually moved intentionally into West Oakland after having lived there for periods in the past and after my arts practice found a place to live in community.

After adapting Shakespeare to make him relevant in a dissolving urban community and adapting James Baldwin and Lorraine Hansberry to make them matter in the current moment in Oakland; I saw a play set in the early 1900's in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania that helped me give voice to why I had come to West Oakland on purpose with  the purpose of holding an artistic dialog that I hoped might inform change making. This work required no adaptation to make it relevant. No change in site, not need to update it by including current issues, the work resonated across the country and the century.

The play was Gem of the Ocean by August Wilson. The angel who bought the ticket also  built the 100 seat outdoor theater in which my theater company enjoyed residence. He had an affinity for Shakespeare and Wilson. It would be years before I would make the personal connection. It was not a leap Wilson is America's Shakespeare. His work, like Shakespeare's, will continue to gain momentum and patronage as long as it is performed which I hope is a good long time. As Shakespeare painted a picture of the  European times in which he lived Wilson has painted a vivid portrait of the 20th Century in North America.

His chronicle of the 20th Century captures and synthesizes the North American African experience in America from emancipation through the current national wave of gentrification of urban centers.  All the plays save Ma Rainey's Black Bottom are set in Wilson's  home town community the Hill District in Pittsburgh, PA. The sole exception hints at something I knew when I chose West Oakland.  All urban spaces have similar challenges and the narratives of these places is carried in the lives of ordinary people struggling to make home in the shadow of institutional and embodied racism, economic inequity,  fear of personal safety under the spell of  the American Dream in hot pursuit of "freedom and dignity".  West Oakland is emblematic of all North American "red-lined communities" as is Wilson's Hill District.

They are distinct geographical places but if communities are viewed as more than land mass, if they are viewed as the collection of people who enliven the notion of  community, then the Hill District  and Oakland are very much the same place. When a people have a tenuous relationship with land ownership and are forced by circumstance to re-imagine what constitutes communal connection,  the concept of Diaspora makes the thought that a community is a collection of people  hold  greater resonance than the thought that a community is contained in a mere land mass. The concept of Diaspora is a necessary lens for a people that have had no resting place since the days of cotton and ocean voyages in the holds of ships.

These North American land masses and others with similar history are the sites North American Africans came to rest in after  fleeing oppression and in desperate search for opportunity. They are the geographical spaces where the American Dream failed us and we built in the face of that failure. They were home and places of containment in the same breath,  places where wounds inflicted by the public sphere wrapped in the authority of  law  festered. The resultant trauma does not become a  part of the permaculture it is transient, it is carried in the Diaspora, in racial memory predating birth, in communal consciousness, in the people.

America is two places. Its twoness is acknowledged most directly inside the nation in the nation. There is America writ large the home of the brave, with freedom, and justice for all. And there is the America of sundown towns, the America that dropped bombs on Black Wall Street in Oklahoma, the same America that burned and leveled the black section of Roseville Florida. These two geographical points stand out in a collection of black communities in North America that were destroyed by violent racist. The stories of some of those communities have died with the former residents. I am unsure how to synthesize these facts with the myth of America. I am most familiar with the nation that exist inside the nation the one that moves at the pleasure of America writ large in its presence and removed from that presence out of necessity keeps its own rhythm and itself. My America is the one that exist behind the veil. It is this America that is the topic of Wilson's American Century Cycle.

In Wilson's most important work he has digested the twentieth century and given it back to us in a way that makes the current moment very clear. He wants us to overstand how it is we are in these geographical places and how we might imagine embodying the truth of being"born free with dignity and everything." Place, family, dignity, love, trust, honor and pragmatic hope are recurrent themes in Wilson's work. In his attention to these themes we are also lead to explore their antithesis in North American reality. Wilson's work is aimed at the diaphanous veil that divides the two Americas bringing them into dialog though the eyes of those who have become proficient in moving though the world Janus faced. In my opinion Wilson is the most important American playwright of the 20th century.  His work, The American Century Cycle is the most expansive chronicle of American life in the history of American theater. His tale of America told from a view off center is the contextualization of my American song. It is the view from behind the veil. Wilson's America is the nation in the nation.  His view from off center affords a different vantage than the vantage afforded from the center of the public sphere. Wilson and I start from the same place. I have been walking in his shadow all along trying to understand and give voice to what he clearly overstands. My desire to help us understand how our now is at once a bitter travesty and a reason for hope and celebration is met in Wilson's epic voyage through  the 20th  century.

The Importance of August Wilson in American Theater

DuBois speaks of the duality of Negritude in North America and those of us who are conscious behind the veil know that our twoness has followed us through the twentieth century into the new millennium. We are caught in a facade within a facade even in this dubiously titled post-race era, in possession of a President with African blood, and a North American African wife. Even his historic presidency is fraught with duality; the highest office in the land has never been the recipient of such odious disrespect, yet those the most disrespectful also claim to be the most American. It seems race is still a major issue in this "post-race" era. It seems we can't language our race problem away. It remains onstage be it center or hovering in the wings it is a part of the story. Enter Wilson.

With a sweeping mastery of language he tells us a story laced with music, history, and folk wisdom as we travel though the history of America from the point of view of housekeepers, brick layers, musicians, soul washers, cooks, and impaired prophets. Wilson dances us through a century a decade at a time sampling the music, the dialect, the issues d'jour and the unending longing for honey in the land of milk and honey. Wilson shows us poverty along side wealth, hunger in souls to rival hunger in belly, the wealth in a song of self and other essential elements of our glorious humanity. He dresses our struggle in its Sunday best and sends it out to preach the gospel of us overcoming, failing, rallying, and soaring in the midst of obstacles and snares. Race travels better here than in our strained lived reality. But make no mistake it is center stage as it has been throughout the North American African experience in North America.

It begins with Aunt Ester, (Gem of the Ocean), washing weary souls who are in search of their songs. Most don't even know they are looking. She told us how to be  in a land where your song can get shook loose, she warns us everything ain't what it seem. We better understand the importance of our song as we search for the shiny man to find him in Herald Loomis, (Joe Turner's Come and Gone), once he is reunited with his song. Herald sends us the powerful message that we will have to learn to bleed for ourselves; we have to find wholeness. Ma Rainey lets women gain a limited access to the conversation that mostly turns around the trials of men yet can any tale of men be told without women, and remember Ester as mother to all. Ma Rainey allows us to consider the old and the new and how they cohabit and feed it other. The present is grown from the past. The future springs from the present. Sometimes the future fights with the past to be born. What becomes clearest is you must remember where you been to get to where you are going. It is important to remember. Wilson is big on memory. Boy Willie, (The Piano Lesson), weights the value of memory/legacy against the value of being able to invest in the present. His struggle illuminates our struggle to progress and to be rooted in memory/legacy. What does progress cost? Is it worth your song? Can you live in the world without your song. In Wilson's cosmology it is unlikely. Your song and your soul weigh the same neither should be for sale. Progress without these elemental pieces of self yield characters like Caesar, (Gem of the Ocean), who lives in a narrow space beneath the contempt white people have for him and the contempt he has for those that look like him. Levee, (Ma Rainey's Black Bottom), loses his mind when he discovers his song has been stolen and all he has is an empty promise. Floyd SchoolBoy Barton, (Seven Guitars), wants to barter his song for some comfort in his life. He does not want to live in a cold world. When all the ways seem blocked he makes his self a way out of no way. He takes a chance.  Although it works out to be his last chance we are encouraged to believe God was pleased by his effort. Floyd, like Herald Loomis, delivers himself.

Sankofa: Go Back to Go Forward

Wilson like Shakespeare is a teacher, a poet, a preacher, and a sooth-sayer. He is the master magician who bends time and memory to his service and invites us to understand the significance and the meaning of the trick. In his skillful movement decade after decade he shows us how time has stood still in the Nation in the Nation only the clothes and music have changed.

Fences is the fifth work in the ten-play cycle, as a work it serves to take us from the recent past into a more recognizable moment within the 100 year cycle. This particular work for me seats the cyclical issues and the baggage explored in each installment firmly in the wheelhouse of my life time. It is in Fences where we see the historical burden of twoness jump into modernity fully dressed dragging its historical context behind it. We come to the place where our separateness is no longer the letter of the law but racism continues as a primary factor of lived reality in the North America we live in, the America your parents and grandparents lived in. We begin to comprehend the narrowness of the gate for black men who seem only able to succeed in entertainment or sports. Wilson points out the pitfalls in music outside of your control in Ma Rainey. In Fences he turns us to the history of sports in this country. Allowing us to view today with a contextualized sense of how our relationship to these industries is made.

In Fences,  Troy Maxton has decided what paths are open and what paths are closed in life, and in his bitter disappointment he guards the boundaries of his son's dreams seeking to keep him safe from the cost of dreams that can't come true in a racist America. The tension between what has happened and what might happen  in an America that seems new to each unconnected generation is underlined. Father and son stand in place of past and future beating each other to make sense of the present. If Wilson's work is memory work he wants to help us understand the cost of reinventing the wheel with each generation. In Fences the idea of Aunt Ester who is the embodiment of African wisdom and our compass though this journey here, is carried in the character of Gabriel who is considered brain damaged (outside prevailing logic). He intercedes with St. Peter to open the gates of heaven for Troy, a man who tried the best he knew how to live and love with dignity and honor, but was found wanting by life. It is the artist son Lyons who remembers when Troy had a song and how tall that song made him. We are left to understand that the silencing of that song and the settling for living without it poisoned Troys spirit leaving him to wrestle with the certainty of death and never having fully lived. Viewing the cycle chronologically as whole cloth one could offer that Fences sets the last brick in the foundation of the cycle creating space for further conversation. Fences is also the production that marked the end of my producing work in West Oakland. At this juncture all funding for this work went away. In the middle of this play which marks the middle of the cycle I had to decide whether to continue.

2013 was a most challenging year. It was the year I discovered and began to consider forced migration in my life. The concepts of honor, duty, family, death,  place and home, were center for me personally.  And in fact where Wilson's work was about to lead me was in keeping with the events of where  I was in time and geographically. I knew West Oakland was gentrifying when I moved my practice here. The process was well under way at that time. It would occur to me later that my exodus from South Berkeley was also a forced migration related to gentrification. The latter half of the Century Cycle concerns has issues related to gentrification as an additional motif. At this point in my journey thorough the production of the cycle my black neighborhood has become a hipster destination. Traditional residents are fleeing in droves as a result of years of disinvestment, crime and horror stories exaggerating the crimes, because black boys are not just being incarcerated they are being murdered by police and each other.

The schools are underfunded and graduate fewer seniors each year. The law is oppressive and there have not been jobs for years and even in the face of gentrification there are still no jobs for those who live here beneath the federal poverty line. I clearly understand that our theater company is caught in this rip-tide I want to keep my practice here but we can't find the traction to stay where we want to be. No appeals to the city, newly enfranchised artsy folk, or the general public seem to be able to keep us in West Oakland.  I independently produced both Fences and the next work in the cycle Two Trains Running while trying to find a place for the oldest North American Theater troupe in Oakland to continue to produce theater. The August Wilson Center in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania is fighting to stay out of receivership and it could just be in my head, my heighten sense of awareness or a fact, that more Wilson is being produced since I committed to the production of the entire cycle in order. As a displaced artist in preparation for Jitney at a new venue in what's now called Uptown (used to be plain old downtown) Wilson continues to mentor me.

Master Wilson and the Willing Pupil

As  the community I tenuously continue to live in after my arts practice has moved uptown transforms I have begun to understand things I have never considered. Things like complex trauma, the lack of resting place for the marginalized, the significance and importance of your song, and above all the importance of memory in a prolonged struggle for equity. Without memory there is no recovery from complex trauma; if you can not remember being well how can you imagine it going forward. If you do not remember being wounded you may be wounded again.  Wilson connects song, memory, melting into the public sphere (if assimilation is even possible) in tension with being complete as is, as touch stones in the journey to reclaiming being "born free with dignity and everything."

Place and the unpacking of what belonging in America means or can mean inside the nation in the nation is big in the second half of the cycle. The work grapples with stratification within the race building on the variety of  past characters which include Caesar (Gem of the Ocean) who becomes a white man's nigger out of the need to survive. The self loathing he experiences as a result of his choice make him kill the savior/spirit of struggle Solly Two Kings who must be reborn in the spirit of Citizen the young wanderer who comes to Aunt Ester the soul washer to find purpose. Two Trains Running hits a new note with Memphis who finds it hard to remember after dropping the ball. It is Aunt Ester born 1619 who tells Memphis in 1969 that to go forward he must do what he has not done. He has to get right with his self. Young Sterling in Two Trains, represents the future, standing alone in the midst of examples of older men who did not run into the end zone, like Young Citizen in Gem he picks up the torch to carry us stumbling forward. In Two Trains the Hill District is being redeveloped in a way that resembles the redevelopment of West Oakland that cleared the space for BART and the Post Office. Thousands of people displaced for progress that took years to come  turning whole sections of a once vibrant community into a shadow of its former self. In Jitney a decade later the process continues as do Wilson's motifs. The old and the young, past and future, grappling to make sense of the current moment. We enter discussions of the passing of torches and the burden we pass to youth as we hobble them with staying inside the lines of what we conceive of as safety zones when in reality no progress can be made if we are only willing to do the things that we have already done. We are drawn to continue to consider how the past can inform the future without being perceived as standing in its way.

Having read the cycle I know whats to come including the death of Aunt Ester. I will stop with the play by play here and deal with the themes and metaphors in play in King Hedley and Radio Golf in the year I produce them and complete my walk with Wilson as my teacher. In truth there are things I can't know about those works until I produce them. I will not know how they correspond with lived reality until I live the process of producing the work. But my eyes and spirit are open I am listening.

By that time maybe I will understand what it means when Wilson decides it time for Ester to finally join the ancestors. I will know if it means she has cleared the path for the men darker than blue that Wilson so concerns his self with to become the redeemers or something less hopeful. As I take stock of the current moment which includes the Ferguson Uprising I know of a certainty the future of young black men is inextricably tied to the future of this country as is the continued forced migration of marginalized people.  I also know my apprenticeship with Wilson is sharpening my overstanding of where we are and helping me to conceive of what is necessary for us to continue to hope, to thrive, to continue forward motion in a battle to be free with dignity.

August Wilson is the American playwright who has harnessed the the twentieth century in a basket for out appreciation. He has divided it by decades so that we may ingest the elephant. It is rich and unusual fare offering a view of America not seen elsewhere on the American stage. It offers a frank view from off center showcasing the driving dream myth of America along side its grounded reality for people who hoed, planted, tended but have yet to harvest the fruit of the dream we have so religiously chased. Wilson offers us a glimpse at a whole served in units each whole unto them selves. If you have not discovered Wilson you have not yet understood what the American theater can offer or how rich and textured the unstoried life of America beyond the pale is and has ever been.



This article is an expansion of the article, The Importance of August Wilson in American Theater, originally published in 2013 on www.anzinga.com



Two Trains Running took off at The Flight Deck!

September 17, 2014
Two Trains Running took off at The Flight Deck!


Two Trains Running at The Flight Deck in Oakland

September 17, 2014
We did three sold out shows that ended in standing ovations. We are on the hunt for funding for Jitney. We are walking with Wilson. We will get home.

Two Trains Running: Lower Bottom Playaz Next Stop

September 17, 2014

so pacific logo 16 st train station west oaklandSeason 14 for the Lower Bottom Playaz starts with Two Trains Running by August Wilson. Wilson is one of America's finest playwrights, his work The American Century Cycle is his signature writ large on the American theaterscape. His unduplicated accomplishment is being paid homage by The Lower Bottom Playaz Inc., the premiere North American Theater Troupe, in Oakland CA . The Playaz are dedicated to the fully staged production of the entire Cycle in chronological order. No troupe on the planet has ever presented the entire Cycle in order of the decades represented. The Playaz are striving to be the first.

They crossed the half way mark in their 13th season with the production of FENCES. The Playaz production of FENCES played to capacity crowds at the African American Museum and Library at Oakland CA. It closed Thanksgiving weekend to a standing room only crowd.

Next up is the seventh play in the series; Two Trains Running is slated to open in late August.The troupe is the oldest North American Theater Troupe in Oakland and has produced works that range from classical Shakespeare with North American African cast, site specific adaptations of Shakespeare, (Ebony & Johnny: A Star Crossed HoodTale, & Mack, A Gangsta Tale), classical Black Theater (Hansberry, Baldwin),  to the works of  Marvin X Jackmon and Opal Palmer Adisa. Their love affair with Americas Shakespeare August Wilson began half a decade ago and the production of his work has become their driving force.

The journey is more organic than one might imagine and its a testament to doing the work. The troupes willingness to make Shakespeare relevant to modern audiences and to employ  the bard to make a space for their own work in marginalized communities proved to be an auspicious and learning filled beginning. The works of Wilson mark the application of the learning gained on the journey, the maturation in the troupe, and a sharpening of its direction in tune with the director's focus on the perpetuation of the continuum of work that speaks from and to the North American African experience in North America.

If asked the Director will tell you the story of how the willingness to do Shakespeare got the troupe a 100 hundred seat theater in West Oakland. The Sister Thea Bowman Memorial Theater was built for the troupe Director's practice in the Black Arts which is centered in  community engagement through the medium of theater in particular and performance in general. The outdoor theater was the troupe's home for over a decade. That relationship came to an abrupt end when the venue's board of directors fumbled on their commitment to produce the sixth play in the Cycle.

The troupe subsequently produced the work at The African American Museum and Library at Oakland CA to record breaking crowds. The now nomadic troupe continues their march through the Century Cycle with the seventh installment in Wilson's work.

Two Trains running brings us into the sixties in America, a tumultuous time in America, a time of social upheaval, and societal unrest in response to the repressive systemic containment of North American Africans across the country. Southern migrations as a result of overt racism brought droves of North American Africans to the North, East, Mid West and the West Coast of this country, in search of opportunity and the elusive dream of inclusion. Many discovered that racism was by no means confined to the Southern part of the United States. They encountered a world that perhaps moved faster than the bucolic countryside but found that it was equally as reluctant to offer up inclusion.  In response to being excluded from the mainstream they build communities in the space they were allowed to make a life as opposed to the many spaces they were systemically barred from by redlining, and other less than welcoming scenarios.

Two Trains Running is set in the Hill District of Pittsburgh PA, the year is 1969 and gentrification has come calling. The once thriving and self sufficient Hill District is being redeveloped. The historic buildings and the property owned by the self reliant community is being absorbed through the process of eminent domain. There are only a few businesses left in a formerly vibrant community and their demise is certain. The reality of the Hill District is being echoed across the country.

Our business is with the patrons of a small restaurant sandwiched in between a meat market and a funeral home. An apt placement for the character's of Two Trains Running to make a final stand. Please join us as we immerse ourselves in the everyday lives of these everyday people as they find ways to move forward in a world full of obstacles to their thriving.

Two Trains Running opens in Oakland CA in August.


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The Lower Bottom Playaz:FENCES at The African American Museum and Library at Oakland.

September 17, 2014

The Lower Bottom Playaz:FENCES at The African American Museum & Library at Oakland.

Lower Bottom Playaz, Inc, under the direction of Ayodele Nzinga, MFA, PhD present the 6th of the 10 play cycle on their march to be the first troupe ever to do all ten in chronological order. www.TalesofIronandWater.com


FENCES: Art Without Borders--Wilson the Universalist

September 17, 2014

The Lower Bottom Playaz, the oldest North American African theater troupe in Oakland CA is presenting FENCES as a part of its commitment to August Wilson’s Century Cycle. 

FENCES is perhaps the most familiar of the 10-play cycle written by America’s Shakespeare, August Wilson. The play which puts The Lower Bottom Playaz over the half-way mark in their history making march through the Century Cycle in order of decades presented in this historically inspired theatrical Cycle (also known as The Pittsburgh Cycle), also literally crosses the bridge from the first half of the twentieth century to the second half, while in characteristic Wilson style offers us a lens to examine the current moment in the history of North America.

The themes in Wilson’s Fences while focused on the North American African narrative gives voice to universal issues, those of fathers and sons, husbands and wives, and the force of the outside world on our inner lives. Although the play is nuanced through the lens of the North American African the work has universal appeal that is as enduring as the details of the specifics of the North American African experience of Post World War II America.

Wilson gives us a picture of America 6 years before Martin’s I have a Dream speech, he offers us a portrait of America on the verge of the Civil Rights era, through the eyes of a people caught between the history and dreams of the past and the yearnings of a present generation straining to write its own page in history. We are given a space to consider the dreams of fathers and sons as we consider the dance of future optimism along side the wisdom of stories of lived realities.    Must the past stand in the way of the future, can the future ignore the past, what does responsibility to self and community look like in spaces of shifting lived realities. What does the path to success in American society look like for North American African men who have had investment in institutions such as the military, organized sports, or entertainment as the paths offered to enfranchisement in the American public sphere? Do these remain the avenues to 21st Century success? In reality none of these institutions or enterprises has allowed more than a few individuals to prosper while the great majority continue to struggle to find equity in the receding shadow of the American Dream. There are examples to be cited that instruct us that investment in these institutions has failed to provide entry into the public sphere and that unsuccessful attempts at assimilation by any means often leads to bitter disappointment in the face of systemic safeguards to successful assimilation into a system has demonstrated the intention by letter of law and repetitive deeds to thwart your thriving.

In FENCES as in the reality of life today in the 21st Century the world is on the precipice of radical change, it is a time of great invention and great inequity, and yet for many the only measurable markers of change are the music and fashion inspired by youth who want to find a way on to a front page of American history from a vantage point of a present day that we could not have conceived of a few decades ago.

The central character in FENCES, Troy Maxson, has been compared to Willie Loman from Death of a Sales Man. Here is another American everyman, responsible to the things and people who shape his life in spite of life’s ups and downs, he is the best man he knows how to be, he is dutiful to life and the debts he created by living, yet he longs for something bigger than the narrow confines allotted him for his song of himself.  His flaws find purchase in his human desire to be the hero in his own life if nowhere else.   Troy is everyman affected by the same things that affect all men – love, honor, beauty, betrayal, and duty.

 A great beauty in Wilson’s work besides his ability to consider the past in a way that consistently illuminates the persistent issues of the present moment, are the ways the simple stories of ordinary people are amplified to lend the way to the creation of space for the consideration of humanness in a universal manner. His work, situated largely in the Hill District of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania holds great significance for urban audiences nation wide as his chronicles of the Hill District intersects with stories of industrialization, modernity, migration, identity formation/reformation and gentrification across 20th “Century America.

West Oakland CA shares some of the circumstances that shaped the creation, lived reality, and eventual gentrification of Wilson’s Hill District. His work offers a wide-angle look at the history inside the history of North America from the lens of the invisible. Troy is a garbage man who settled for what was offered him and attempted to build a life by burying his dreams of something bigger. His struggle to do his duty to his family and especially to his sons is the struggle of the past to clear a path for the future. The imperative to survive along with instructive history has lead us to the dilemma of how one imparts the skills necessary to survive to the next generation when one suffers from systemic containment. That is Troy’s dilemma in FENCES and the problem of the 21st Century inner city parent where we teach the tone test to young black men in order to help them survive inevitable interactions with the police.  We struggle to define what manhood means in a system that has made access to the things we define masculinity by problematized by unequal access to suitable education, disproportionate involvement in the carceral system, and the lack of employment opportunities in the ghettos created by the American way of life. In these respects FENCES and indeed the entire Century Cycle hold a topical relevance for West Oakland CA and other spaces that hosted North American African migrations and experienced the process of gentrification of those spaces.


The Importance of August Wilson to American Theater

September 17, 2014

Fences web_both_sides

August Wilson is a playwright. In my opinion he is the most important American playwright of the 20th century.  His work the Century Cycle is the most expansive chronicle of American life in  the history of American theater. His tale of America is a tale told from a view off center. It is the view from behind the veil. The center of Wilson's America is the nation in the nation. A view from off center affords a different vantage than the vantage afforded from the center of the public sphere.

DuBois speaks of the duality of Negritude in North America and those of us who are conscious behind the veil know that our twoness has followed us through the twentieth century into the new millenium. We are caught in a facade within a facade even in this dubiously titled post-race era in possession of a President with African blood and a North American African wife. Even his historic presidency is fraught with duality the highest office in the land has never been the recipient of such odious disrespect yet those the most disrespectful also claim to be the most American. It seems race is still a major issue in this "post-race" era. It seems we can't language our race problem away. It remains onstage be it center or hovering in the wings it is a part of the story. Enter Wilson.

With a sweeping mastery of language he tells us a story laced with music, history, and folk wisdom as we travel though the history of America from the point of view of housekeepers, brick layers, musicians, soul washers, cooks, and impaired prophets. Wilson dances us through a century a decade at a time sampling the music, the dialect, the issues d'jour and the unending longing for honey in the land of milk and honey. Wilson shows us poverty along side wealth, hunger in souls to rival hunger in belly, the wealth in a song of self and other essential elements of our glorious humanity. He dresses our struggle in its Sunday best and sends it out to preach the gospel of us overcoming, failing, rallying, and soaring in the midst of obstacles and snares. Race travels better here than in our strained lived reality. But make no mistake it is center stage as it has been throughout the North American African experience in North America.

It begins with Aunt Ester washing weary souls who are in search of their songs. Most don't even know they are looking. She told us how to be  in a land where your song can get shook loose, she warns us everything ain't what it seem. We better understand the importance of our song as we search for the shiny man to find him in Herald Loomis once he is reunited with his song. Herald sends us the powerful message that we will have to learn to bleed for ourselves; we have to find wholeness. Ma Rainey lets women gain a limited access to the conversation that mostly turns around the trials of men yet can any tale of men be told without women and remember Ester as mother to all. Ma Rainey allows us to consider the old and the new and how they cohabit and feed it other. The present is grown from the past. The future springs from the present. Sometimes the future fights with the past to be born. What becomes clearest is you must remember where you been to get to where you are going. It is important to remember. Wilson is big on memory. Boy Willie weights the value of memory/legacy against the value of being able to invest in the present. His struggle illuminates our struggle to progress and to be rooted in memory/legacy. What does progress cost? Is it worth your song? Can you live in the world without your song. In Wilson's cosmology it is unlikely. Your song and your soul weight the same neither should be for sale. Progress without these elemental pieces of self yield characters like Caesar who lives in a narrow space beneath the contempt white people have for him and the contempt he has for those that look like him. Levee loses his mind when he discovers his song has been stolen and all he has is an empty promise. Floyd SchoolBoy Barton wants to barter his song for some comfort in his life. He does not want to live in a cold world. When all the ways seem blocked he makes his self a way out of no way. He takes a chance.  Although it works out to be his last chance we are encouraged to believe God was pleased by his effort. Floyd like Herald delivers himself. Wilson like Shakespeare is a teacher, a poet, a preacher, and a sooth sayer. He is the master magician who bends time and memory to his service and invites us to understand the significance and the meaning of the trick. In his skillful movement decade after decade he shows us how time has stood still in the Nation in the Nation only the clothes and music have changed.

August Wilson is the American playwright who has harnessed the the twentieth century in a basket for out appreciation. He has divided it by decades so that we may ingest the elephant. It is rich and unusual fare offering a view of America not seen elsewhere on the American stage. It offers a frank view from off center showcasing the driving dream myth of America along side its grounded reality for people who hoed, planted, tended but have yet to harvest the fruit of the dream we have so religiously chased. Wilson offers us a glimpse at a whole served in units each whole unto them selves. If you have not discovered Wilson you have not yet understood what the American theater can offer or how rich and textured the unstoried life of America beyond the pale is and has ever been.

Discover Wilson and the Century Cycle with The Lower Bottom Playaz. Visit www.Talesof IronandWater.com to learn more. See Seven Guitars July 5-7 at The Sister Thea Bowman Memorial Theater in Oakland CA. Tickets at www.lowerbottomplayaz.com . Support The Lower Bottom Playaz in their presentation of the entire Century Cycle at:http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-lower-bottom-playaz-inc/x/173176


Unlikely Magicians

September 17, 2014
Unlikely Magicians


Seven Guitars 2013

September 17, 2014
Seven Guitars 2013


Unlikely Magicians

September 17, 2014

The Cast and Crew of The Lower Bottom Playaz are unlikely magicians. Some have day jobs, some are students, others are teachers and entrepreneurs; we are all entertainers. Some of us are new to the game, others were hooked long ago, some of us are just showing off at this point. Together we are magic.

I have written before about the magic of theater where in all works out in the end. Some how, all things come together and we rise to the occasion. It becomes a pattern. Work. Work. Panic. Work. Panic.WORK. PANIC. PANIC. Work. Magic!! Magic like theater is a craft. All crafts have many dimensions. The theater  Gods are generous; you are allowed to take as much of the magic as you can carry.

When you view theater you are encouraged to slip into the story. You willing suspend belief along with paying the price of admission. You come to hear the story. You walk into the dark and into another world. Good theater transports you; it can be cathartic. We often turn to art for that very effect. In theaters we are free to cry our own tears for someone ele's grief. In the dark we are free to feel, to be wounded by art, to be moved to understanding. Theater holds all that for audience members and actors alike.

We do urban theater. We have for over a decade. Sometimes actors who start productions do not finish. Life happens and it is so much larger than the fictions we breathe air into. People get sick, their loved ones have issues, they have domestic problems, they lack the funds to be present, they have legal problems, and some times they are afraid of their own success.  So they opt out because they can't handel life and the story of it at the same time. It takes all they have to be in their real realties.

And then there are actors. Real actors. The kind who know that in real theater the show goes on. Theater imulates life. It does not stop. The curtain goes up like the sun rises, in a real theater, just like in the real world. We are a real theater and in twelve years we have never gone dark. This is as extraordinary when one knows the drama behind the scenes  often threatens to eclipse what is intended for the stage. But we show up. The show becomes the real reality that we understand, the reality which we have some control over. Unlike real life which sometimes hurts so bad one needs a place to hide and often defies "control".  Actors sometimes hide on stage in plain sight in the middle of some one else's life. This too can be cathartic. The allusion of control allows us the ability to "cry our own tears for someone eles's grief."  In this way actors are magicians able to turn sorrow into light to better illuminate the practice of living for themselves and others.

Theater offers you a chance to solve a character's problem, enjoy his destiny, fight along side  him against his fate -- stride with him to his destiny. Theater gives a performer a place to spend the emotional currency stored in their well  of lived experiences, it gives you a place to go when it is necessary to vacate your own reality temporarily for the sake of being able to carry it when you are forced to return to it. I have used theater as a refuge on a number of occasions. I ran to it when one of my sons was critically injured and nearly died, and when another was shot. I stood in the light of its comfort while embroiled in a prolonged war of the flea with the police department in a city in which I once resided. I sought its expanse when I was smothered in the confines of government housing. Theater has been my rock. I create therefore I am.  It is reminiscent of life but with much more civilized rules. Most North American Africans are skilled at making a way out of no way. As a performer it is stock and trade.

The production of theater in the hood is a procession of miracles. Healthy productions spring from anemic budgets. Costumes and props are manifest from will; you need it and it appears. Hopefully its cheap. Sets come together out of dreams, the logic of functionality, and what you have on hand  to build with. I print scripts on my Epson at home. Advertising is a barter, calling of favors, and word of mouth affair. And because creating is like breathing to us the Gods of such things bless us. We are the work and the work is us. It is difficult at times but that is how life/art is -- things that you work hard for tend to be the most worthwhile. We work hard at the production of theater. We encourage miracles.

The production of Seven Guitars puts The Lower Bottom Playaz at the halfway mark in their march through The Century Cycle by August Wilson. The troupe has weathered a lot  since it undertook the production of the entire series. We have lost friends. We have made new friends. Some people have opted out. Others have become addicted to creating. We have had  sorrows, bad times, and some good times too. Babies have been born. Art has been made. Projects have been conceived and executed. Degrees have been completed. We are sharper than ever, our dedication has deepen, and we have become more tightly focused. We are learning from Wilson as we hone our craft as actors and magicians. We are learning that our stories are nourishment. We have learned that most of what we experience has happened before to other people and their stories stand to inform us of how we might emerge out the other side and that our own stories give us a sublime understanding of life if we allow them into our art. We are learning to appreciate the salt and sugar of life as it continues forward one day after another.

In this sense we resemble the characters in Wilson's Seven Guitars. We are perfecting the ability to see and elevate the gloriousness of the mundane. We see the hunger in Floyd Schoolboy Barton and we are reminded of our own. We understand Louise's caution having been burned by love. Yet we are with Vera when she risk all perhaps foolishly in the belief that her love can unpack her man's trunk. We agonize with Canewell over his love from a distance as it walks out of his life. We hold their lives up next to our own and feel reaffirmed in our realness, comforted by our not so far from normal angst, and we understand our fierce human beauty in our imperfect perfection.


Seven Guitars opens June 28th in West Oakland CA.



Seven Guitars, A Glorious Gaze at the Mundane

September 17, 2014

Seven Guitars is a story told in a flashback. It starts and ends at a funeral repast. Between the bookends of funeral ritual we examine a slice of the life lived by Floyd Schoolboy Barton. As with every Wilson work he is talking to us.  What story does the life of Floyd "Schoolboy" Barton offer the living?

The men and women of Seven Guitars are ordinary folks; they are people I know. I know people with fire in their belly willing to take a chance to see where life will take them;  the reckless and brash, wanting the sweetness they have seen life yield up to others. I know men who hunger for a quiet place and a woman who knows how to sit with them in the dark. I know women who want to believe in the men they love. I know women bruised by love and some who bruise with their love. Wilson says the work is inspired by his mother, and the beautiful notion that, everything about her was worthy of sharing. He found wonder in everything connected to his mother; the contents of her medicine chest, her music, the laughter of her and her friends were all of equal fascination to him.

The world in the backyard of Seven Guitars reminds me of my mother and her friends. It reminds me of fish fries, bid whist, bottled beer, and music. I am reminded of how much my mother loved music; she was a Southern transplant, first generation Californian. She got here from Mississippi via Chicago. I imagine she traveled straight up the 61 Highway like so many southern youth before her in search of a life in the land of milk and honey. She ended up in the East Bay in a small town and there she had a family and polished her city ways. Like Wilson I found my mother's world fascinating and perhaps more so in appreciation inspired by hindsight. Wilson easily connects me to the world as it was when my mother was young--thusly offering me a way to understand the shoulders on which I stand and how I might live in my children's memories.

Seven Guitars is a testament to the richness of the everyday. The work elevates the trials and tribulations of this small group of friends to the art that is synonymous with Wilson. The back yard as a meeting place for dreams and life lessons over a card table with a cold beer on a hot summer night is a perfect stage for the philosophy of a race to unfold. Wilson offers a plot as effortless as the dialog in this piece. It almost eludes you in its integration of the rhythm of ordinary life blooming, blossoming, and withering all at the same time in the same place, as is its habit.  Wilson meets us where we live in all our drama and turmoil amidst the mundane backdrop of one day following another despite the brutality of the previous one.

The play is a blues/ jazz symphony orchestrated by seven people whose lives intersect. They are a skillful blend of wisdom, experience, desire, longing and raw joy at being alive to strive. With little more than a song and desire the inhabitants of the yard move forward in their lives despite obstacles and pitfalls. They take a chance on living and if you look closely you may find you see yourself or someone you know in the characters who have come to the game of life with all the gusto they can muster.

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Seven of One, Five of the Other: Half way through August Wilson's Century Cycle

September 16, 2014

Having declared my intention to stage and direct the entire Pittsburgh Cycle or the Century Cycle by August Wilson I am taking time to take stock of the journey begun in 2010 with my first production of Gem of the Ocean.

The experience of staging and directing Gem of the Ocean had a profound effect on me and my troupe of Playaz. It set us on a path we are still traveling on. It gave us new language. It gave us a clearer lens. It sharpened us in many ways. For some of us, it offered defining moments, we now knew what we knew in contextual ways that allowed us to understand things we had always known. This blessed us with the ability to act. For us its about acting; acting on stage and in real life. The association with Wilson has affected our own art making and made us look at how we move in the world, our neighborhood, and our lived lives. We are connected to our song. We are aware we have a song. We have come home and home is glorious. Wilson has made us rich. So we have become devotees of tales of iron and water. We are walking with Wilson and singing.

As we begin our 12 season of theater in West Oakland Ca. we do so from a point informed by our walk with Wilson. We are contributing to the preservation of the tradition of Black Arts being presented in West Oakland like tales from Wilson keep alive the Hill District of Pennsylvania. We are using our story as scribed by Wilson to open dialogues in public spaces like the stories have opened spaces within us for introspection of the richness of our culture prior to and in North America.

Wilson is a bluesologist and we are blues people. Avotcja Jiltonilro explained to me once that  the blues as we know it actually evolved from praise music not from the angst of the American experience as we have been taught. It is our song. Our ever overstanding of the beauty and majesty inherent in life and our heart's determination to continue beating. The non apologetic shout of our triumphant survival when they thought there was no way we could survive. It is our juba paid freely after rising resurrected from plantations, share cropping, segregation and the perils of integration. It traversed with us from bucolic planted fields with blood at the root to blooming neon flowers springing from concrete. It is the battle cry that sustains us as we beat back the meanness of city streets as we vigilantly search for the path to a better now.




(Pictures from top to bottom: Season 11 Piano Lesson Flyer back designed by Eesuu. Koran   Streets Jenkins as Citizen Barlow from Gem of the Ocean, Seasons 9 & 10, Adimu WolfHawkJaguar Madyun as Solly Two Kings in Gem of the Ocean, Seasons 9 & 10.)

The production of Gem in Season 9 was such a profound experience we repeated the production in the 10th Season. In staging the second production of Gem my love affair with Wilson bloomed as my troupe grew into the work and my commitment to see the entire cycle produced in order in one theater was born.

The experience of doing the work in order has been a high point in my career as a creative. It is perhaps the most conscious I have ever been in the staging and producing of work. It is the work being done here that has allowed me a unique way of integrating my understanding of the movement, driving forces, and shaping context of the North American African experience in North America over the last century.  I am a person who wants the whole story in as much as it can be given. It is the African in me that wants and needs context to make sense of the past and its relationship to the present. Wilson has helped me to understand that my desire is natural, and a necessary skill for a would be griot who wants to use story to instruct and guide. Wilson is the most skillful storyteller I know.

The stories while each dedicated to a decade are the same story told over and over again to different tunes. I contend that artists have one conversation they simply reiterate it in a kaleidoscope of their overstanding of the points they are making.

Wilson wants us to remember to remember. He wants us to have a point of departure for the many paths our North American experience has taken. He wants us to see ourselves as whole and capable of thriving and adept at reinventing ourselves and the most scared elements of our culture wherever we land. He wants us to question, to see, and to rejoice. He draws our attention to geographic place to explore our inner workings and unconscious motivations. As a part of Wilson's song he recalls for us and our part of the song is our response to remembering. In a real sense we are singing with Wilson. In a real sense the song continues and we grow it connected to the wind, the water, the land, and all the things that lie between like the old folks. We plant this song like seed knowing it will be grown. We are blues people.

Gem set us on the path of understanding the past to overstand the present and Joe Turner grew our understanding of how our failure to remember stunted our ability to discern. In Joe Turners Come and Gone it is Herald Loomis's ability to bleed for himself that sets him free to reinvent himself in a new life and to stand on the life he has finally been able to let go. He is able to love, to live, to dream again once he is connected with his song -- his movement in the world becomes smoothed out so that he can continue. Wilson's blues is a song in motion.  Movement is a recurring theme.

In Ma Rainey we see the song on the move and as we move with it along the continuum the cycle offers we come to the place where we examine how much the song is worth. Can we sell it for comfort as we move through this world. What is the cost of selling your song? In Joe Turner we considered the fact that those who were willing to pay for the song were hungry for something they thought we had. Something they perhaps felt they were missing. Joe Turner was ravenous for it and kept collecting folks and holding them to learn the secret of the song. The men that lost their song were broken but Joe Turner remained hungry. Perhaps as Bernice asmonishes Boy Willie in the Piano Lesson about exchanging his soul for money; the song won't go with the buyer.

In Ma Rainey we walk with Levee in the thirties in North America and think about the violence enacted by North American African youth at the dawn of the new millennium. That is another powerful element in the artistry of Wilson, his eriery ability to collapse temporal space, rendering time liquid.  Beginning with Gem and throughout the cycle we are encouraged to see time as a place in which the then, and the now merge, and create a connection; a new viewing platform. This fluid view of time is again a reminder of movement and in this case the lack of movement through the space of time in the face of constant movement in place. The consideration of non-movement is as essential as the consideration of movement in unearthing the context of the present moment.

In Ma Rainey we were allowed a space to consider the modern minstrel  what motivates them and what role they play in our community. The experience of this production inform our discussions of new media offered by the likes of Tyler Perry, and Quentin Tarrentino. Our palates have been educated in a way that dull our appreciation of gas station sushi.

Gem's Caesar, both Seth and Herald in Joe Turner, Ma Rainey's Levee, and Piano Lesson's Boy Willie  lend complexity to conversations about striving, hunger, and ambition connecting them to the ownership, loss, and selling of your song/your soul/your mojo. It connects the song to concepts of wealth and deepens discussions of hunger as well as discussions of becoming what you eat. What does it cost to wear the clothes, speak the language, and think in the logic of the ancestors of those who brought your ancestors across the water and shifted the very ground upon which they stood metaphorically and literally. Wilson makes you want to consider the worth of what your ancestors  brought with them and tended for you.

His sense of the North American African experience in North America as a vehicle to unfold a more contextual autochthonous American story is the reason Wison is aurgeabley the most important American playwright in the last quarter century. His work allows and enables an American narrative of wholeness and thriving in the face of change, and in the face of the lack of it, that is muted elsewhere. In the parlance; Wilson is the truth.

I am more appreciative of Wilson's contention that "our stories are all we need" as I travel on with him into the 12 season. I am  looking forward to becoming immersed in the world of Seven Gutiars. I welcome the things we will come to know as we enter the backyard where this story unfolds in flashbacks. Wilson, stunting, takes us into our own backyard making us understand and continue to explore the function of memory and the evolution of story as it stands steadfast to tell the same tale until you overstand it like a blues song.




(From top to bottom: Top-Scene for Joe Turner's Come and Gone, l to r, Adimu Madyu, Tatiana Monet, James Brooks, She Cat, Alicia Green, and Stanley Hunt. Middle photo Tyler Thompson and Niko Buchanan form The Piano Lesson. Bottom photo: Ma Rainey's Black Bottom cast members Ayodele Nzinga and Loren Churchill. )

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Oludumare creator of Galaxies

September 16, 2014
Oludumare creator of Galaxies


True North: Me and Wilson

September 16, 2014

When you are on a quest there are some things in your control and others that are left to fate. There are things you can bring to the journey but the more important things are those you take away. One can decide to start a quest, or acknowledge they are on one, they can't decide when it's complete they can only decide when its over. One can always quit. It would then be over. However those who have the heart to quest are rarely quitters. Thus once foot is set to the path less traveled the travler becomes an instrument it is the quest that has life and volition. My foot is on the path and I am an instrument. I travel with August Wilson as a companion because he is my True North.

You see I know where I am trying to go -- I surrender to the fact I have no idea how long it will take to get there or indeed even if I will ever arrive. But out of a hunger present at birth, as constant as a guiding star, I travel due North from deep South. My wording of my quest for understanding is a metaphor translated as my passion drives what I want to learn ; from my heart to my consciousness. So with Wilson as my True North I have set sail. I want my song back. I want other's to sing their songs. I want the songs to heal us, uplift us, fill us with a fighting spirit that will not tire and will of a certainty see us through.

Resistance never sleeps and songs of struggle are passed down . Wilson's song is in his stories. In honoring Wilson I am singing my song. I am singing a song of self and using that song to crystilize a vision of thriving. I make a business of remembering to remember. Some of what I remember cuts like a knife and stings like the whip.  But that is not all I remember. I remember wealth. I remember song. I remember stories. I remember to remember those who have been torch bearers on our way out of no way. I remember triumphs and victories. I remember successes, inventiveness, courage, valor, and a spirit as big as Africa. I remember our joy, and our gladness, our heartfelt love and our braveness. I remember to resist feeling like I am at the bottom of life, or worth less than any man or woman made by the creator. I remember to marvel that I am and I am because we are.

The Piano Lesson opens on October 5. I have made it to the 4th stop in my commitment to direct the entire Century Cycle in order. I have learned something with each production. There never seems to be enough time to spend to know all that Wilson wants to tell me. But I listen as hard as I can and I remember.

In The Piano Lesson Wilson wants me to remember to be Janus eyed. I need to look both backwards and forward to inform the moment I am in. The future is carved from the past. We must hold on to ancestry and we must build for future generations. Wilson is talking about time. Now is when we can act. In a sense now is always all there is however now stands on yesterday and is the door to tomorrow.

I create in West Oakland CA. Art and activism have been joined at the hip here since we been here. Racism and the constraints of segregation are as responsible for West Oakland past and present as is our resilient struggle to keep our song playing. Wilson wants me to remember to be dedicated to our stories he has told me they are enough. I learned long ago that if we don't tell our stories someone else will. I am the lion's historian the hunter is not the hero here.

In West Oakland for me Wilson's conversation of movement, time, and place are perfectly placed. I am watching the march of time of the streets of The Bottoms as urban pioneers or innercity so called hipsters displace traditional residents and families which once gave the space its character and grace.  Yet I knew yesterday today would come. The Lower Bottom Playaz will stay in the Bottoms as long as we are able. Holding space for the story of thriving that was once the reality of a West Oakland composed of people of color who were not allowed to buy elsewhere. There is no longer a Redevelopment Agency in Oakland but the damage has been done. There is no longer a mass concentration of upwardly mobile, well educated, fully employed home owning Black Folk in the Bottoms.

There is a growing swell of new residents who move with the same privilege they move with elsewhere. I am living in the space that Wilson created Radio Golf to define. It is sad and telling to watch people destroy the culture they want to own. It is chilling to be in territory that is being repopulated without conscious or mindfulness.  Is this what the natives felt like watching the pilgrims expand with their fences and endless hunger? I am harshly reminded that all you can really own is your own song even as I hear Boy Willie from The Piano Lesson advising us that, "land is the only thing God ain't making no more of."

Here in West Oakland we sit between the need and desire to hold on to ancestral legacy and the need for opportunity. Once again we are engaged in involuntary migrations moving by force from the urban centers of Oakland and San Francisco to Antioch, Pittsburg, Stockton, and Sacramento looking for the opportunity to mortgage our song for a slice of the American Dream dissolving ourselves and our ability to influence policy or be effective in elections  in the process. Oakland is no longer Chocolate City and The Bottoms, the home of the Panthers has been gentrified like the Fillmore, and Hunters Point, we have been redeveloped,  dispossessed, and dispersed after being stripped in the mortgage melt down which took back generations of accumulated black wealth. If you don't understand watch the process as it unfolds in East Oakland, which happens to be the second place in Oakland Blacks were allowed to purchase land in Oakland outside of West Oakland (thus the large concentration of North American Africans in both places). Our movement is not always at our pleasure but often in response to outward forces or in a nomadic search for opportunity denied in our present circumstance. We are ever questing equality. We are searching a place to set down roots and move easy with life in tune with it and ourselves. We are looking for America. When we find the place where our song and our roots are welcomed, the place where our whole self can thrive, then we will be home.

9 9 2012


The Piano Lesson

September 16, 2014
The Piano Lesson


In Search of A Song

September 16, 2014

Every Wilson play I have directed is about Africans finding their song.  The search for our lost song is a part of a conversation about movement literal and figurative both voluntary and involuntary. We have indeed lost our song and we often live without knowimg that there is a rhythm more fitting our growth that the raucous call of  the material that one associates with spaces of concrete and neon. We have come to the city to trade on our song, we have put down our country ways, and we have lost our souls.

It is an illusion that all movement is progress. Our involuntary move from Africa to America was not a matter of progress for us although somehow we have tried to make the story end that way. Because those who colonize are in essence thieves who profit off the labor, talent, and natural resources of others our involuntary migration stripped us of all visible resources. Our song snugly stored in the soul sustained us through a holocaust.  It allowed us to consider recreating ourselves. That thought is carried forth in our evolving language, our effervescence culture, our stumbling volatility in our continued containment and our song soaring above the heads and understanding of our captors.

In the third work of the Century Cycle, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Wilson spins out the base for the entire cycle. Although the work is third in the cycle it is the first of the ten Wilson wrote. His blues thoughts guide the rest of the cycle's recurring themes and motif.

In Ma Rainey we see our restless quest that moves us in search of opportunity. We come from the south to the the urban centers of the mid-west, the east coast, the west coast, we come looking for a way up out of our no way. We are determined to rise above the meaness of poverty, the lack of opportunity, the mule like existence of constant servitude and lack of ownership. We come with hunger and hope. Some come to sell the song for the chance to build a future. Some have lost their song and are in search of it. Others have no idea they had a song or that it has gone missing. The latter are full of despair and they are dangerous to themselves and others. For them nothing goes right and we are all the blame for their constant and unrelenting misfortune. Young Levee  in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom offers up his song and is crushed when the oppressors steals it from him in front of his face. Unlike young Citizen form Gem of the Ocean hot headed Levee does not recognize the power of the past to light the path to the future.  Citizen is redeemed and follows the path that Solly Two Kings lays his life down to preserve.  But Levee is deaf and blind he can't see the wealth in the room he occupies. So when the white man breaks him he is so broken he kills the first black man that crosses his path. By killing Toledo the future kills the wisdom of the past and as the play ends we are left in disarray as Toledo representing the wisdom of the past lie dead. Levee, representative of the song of youth waiting to be sung, is left without a path to follow. Lost in the wilderness without his song. Like Herald Loomis in Joe Turner's come and gone if he can't recover his song he will wander lost forever.

Then there are those who gave away their song to become something that dosen't exist. They gave up their culture to become the rulers over all they could take. They have accumulated great wealth yet they live in great spiritual poverty. It is these pale shadow people who seek the song of others to make them real. They buy songs but some how the songs wither and die away from the soul of the owner. This doesn't stop their search for a song any song. Have you sold them yours?

Working with Wilson's Century Cycle has helped me to locate my song. I value it more than ever. For me Wilson's work is like finally coming home after being lost for a long time. It is confirmation for me. It makes my dreams of iron and water make sense. They say when the student is ready the teacher will appear. I understand that I am in conversation with ancient things. It is my job to keep the conversation going there are students looking for teachers.


Ma Rainey

September 16, 2014
Ma Rainey


Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

September 16, 2014

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
By August Wilson
Presented by: Prescott Joseph Center For Community Enhancement
Starring: The Lower Bottom Playaz
Directed by: Ayodele Nzinga

The Prescott Joseph Center For Community Enhancement is proud to present August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, starring The Lower Bottom Playaz, under the direction of Ayodele Nzinga. The play will open at The Sister Thea Bowman Memorial Theater, on July 13th and run though the 22nd of July. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is the first of two works by Wilson slated to be directed by Nzinga as a part of Theater in the Yard, Season 11.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is the third of the Pittsburg Cycle by Wilson to be presented at The Sister Thea Bowman Memorial Theater in West Oakland. Although Wilson’s Cycle is set for the most part in the Hill District of Pittsburg PA he sets this work on the South Side of Chicago. This work will not be “relocated” to West Oakland, as is Nzinga’s habit with work for The Lower Bottom Playaz. Audiences should be able to make the leap on their own. Chicago’s correlation to West Oakland as a migration destination along with the history of Chicago’s Black Belt and Oakland’s 7th St. as two of the countries important North American African musical centers is obvious. Both were stops on the “chitlin circuit” and in both the North American African community lived similar lives with identical constraints and motivations.
Wilson’s raw and gritty expose of the American music industry allows us to look at a community developed as a result of the Great Migration. The work is pushed by and pulled out of the music of people in transit on a quest to a life they can imagine but can not touch; it is the music of loss and desire. The music is a story in and of itself. But the people who bring the music are the heart of this piece. The story within the story is always as instructive as the main event in Wilson’s work. In the sorrowful funk and divine fury of the music there is a delicately etched study of humanity for us to consider if we want more than entertainment from our theater.
Wilson celebrates the complex existence of North American African men in North America. The story within the story in Ma Rainey is as timeless as is Wilson’s exploration of the exploitation ever present in the music industry. He looks at power relations, voice, injustice, and manhood in a series of beautifully lucid profiles of the men behind the music. Wilson wants us to have a front row seat, he invites us to walk into the angst, anger, and hunger of the men in Ma Rainey, so we can walk out of the theater knowing something more about what resides in the spirit of men who walk our streets and live amongst us.
Join the Lower Bottom Playaz at The Sister Thea Bowman Memorial Theater in their celebration of America’s Shakespeare as they continue the tradition of Theater in the Yard, Season 11!

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
July 12, 13, 14, 15 & 20,21,22, 2012
Sister Thea Bowman Memorial Theater
Box Office: 510332-1319
920 Peralta St., Rear yard
Oakland CA 94607
Information: wordslanger@gmail.com
5 14 2012


The Altar of Bynum

September 16, 2014
The Altar of Bynum


In the Valley

September 16, 2014

One supposes things get easier the longer you do them. Not necessarily so. Some things don't get easier. Some times the degree of difficulty is a divining feature. It helps to illuminate one's dedication to a task. It helps to codify the reasons for some acts of valor. Creators create out of a necessity. They are called forth to create. They are compelled to create. They are driven. Some folks say that artists must suffer, that their art is a product of that suffering. I don't know that to be a fact. Suffering may deter creation, may block the fount from which it flows, may prevent creation. Sometimes suffering informs creation. But it is perhaps the ability to suffer that should be examined. The source of an artist's angst is often awareness, the ability to see, to feel, to empathize. The ability to sit in "suffering" can be a birthing process. To be informed by suffering is worthwhile if it is an inspiration to move to transform it. I remember a song from my Grandmother's church choir, "Lord don't move that stumblin' block, give me strength to go around it, Lord don't move that mountain, give me the strength to climb it."

And so it is that I am a "Long Distance Runner",  build for distance, not so much for speed. I am water. Not as substantial as the mountain, but in possession of the fluidity to flow around it, the persistence to wear against it, to form the valley in which we flourish in defiance of  dwindling ground on which to stand. Sister Thea Bowman, a personal inspiration, urges me to remember its ok to be tired but beware of becoming weary. I remind myself that all clouds have linings. Difficulty offers opportunities for growth.

I have been in the Valley planting flowers in the stone of mountainsides. I have stayed to ensure they are watered. Their own need is the sun that draws them forth. I am of the Valley. It is my home. That hard spot next to the rock is my reference point. It is from this point I greet the sun and the things that walk in my night. It is from this perspective that I tilt my head to capture the sound of God's voice. It is from this vantage point I strive for justice. It is on this battlefield that I stand behind my art, stand on it, stand for it as it stands for me, and swing creativity like a lance to bring down the forces that would keep the valley unlit and bereft of flowers. Here we use creativity like scalpels to rewound our selves and let the poison flow out as overstanding finds room inside us. We use art like medicine. We heal here. We are the first to be infected with transformation and a symptom of our wellness is our need to share the virus.We want you to get it.  We are a Learning Community in dialogue with our emblematic geographical and metaphorical diaspora wide community.

Cultural is a linga franca in the building of bridges that would enable us to emphasize with kindred communities, enabling us to strive towards the universal in this conversation of saying, and seeing us, working the story of us to explain the now of us to us and others. It is a leavening agent helping us to contexulize our selves as we become the drum we are playing, as we get the message, we become the message, as we move to overstanding, we broadcast the message. We are a smooth coal-black song, complete, seeking diamond sharp conciseness to help us cut through the veil. Through performing we become seers. Those who fail to achieve overstanding remain poor seers. Thus innately they are not good performers. They are bound by the story of self and not ready to stand over it, not ready to own it, to transform it by becoming the author.

Even those who will not perform can be moved. They stand to be wounded by those who do perform. They come to trust or they fall before those who see. If they are lucky they find a source of light they trust,  they can stand in it and come to know what they have failed to overstand; because someone picked up a drum and beat a path to overstanding.

In the Valley I listen to August Wilson's drum. A lion singing lights my path and I overstand. I perform. I walk with waymakers; we perform. Our path is lit. We hear the drum. In the Valley we are learning to be the drum.

Strike here to hear lions roar. We are overstanding Wilson. Standing in the fire being forged. We are not afraid of closing doors or open windows we have seen it all before. We seek overstanding. We will be made whole. We will not be bound. We are becoming the roar of the lion.

10 15 2011
Written the day before The Roar of the Lion*


Stanley Hunt as Herald Loomis

September 16, 2014
Stanley Hunt as Herald Loomis


A Song of August Wilson or The Lion's Roar, Parts 1, 2 and 3.

September 16, 2014

Comments on Walking thru Fire or Banging Full Metal

September 16, 2014

Woke up this morning and I could breathe again.

I knew it would be like this. Of course there is still a shit load that could go wrong. But that's life. You're crossing the street and a bus hits you. Can't do anything about the random crap that can and often does go wrong. But I have done me proud. I am lighter this morning if sore and bruised. My spirit is light and soul satisfied. The warrior has survived the battle and is here writing about it.

Marvin X talks about Block Man. The world is full of 8RS. Some say if you ain't got a couple you ain't done nothing. An interesting perspective: your success weighed against the people who begrudge it. My grandmother is the first person I can remember talking about folks who would not kill anything nor would they allow it to die. I loathe the presence of a person who insist on complicating the simple. I abhor those who traffic in road blocks. For me that's like a red flag to a bull.

I have reached a point in life where I exercise my option to do what feeds my soul. The universe is so pleased with my decision it has allowed me to make a living doing so. I remember what the Most High told me to do and in every action undertaken I strive to manifest what has been gifted to me; may my ancestor's be pleased.

I am a warrior. Sometimes I find myself bewildered at the spaces that become battlefields. Where one seeks to be the purest and do the most good one often encounters the most vicious resistance. I am always aware of the weight of living in a state of constant war. I meditate to soften my heart as my mind sharpens my resolve to steel. The tension between the two squeezes me like a vise and I long for places where the ground is even but I am extremely proficient at walking uphill.

I travel armed. I am prayed up, walking with the ancestors, standing in the light, and we can still take it to the streets if that's how you want it. I am a general. I got folks. We got standards and rules we live by. We don't care who you are, we do us, and we good at seeing how you do you. At the end of the day we are more than willing to check in with you and see how that's working out for you. You'll find us on the other side of the finish line.

We don't lose, we don't quit, we don't know how to stop- don't know no direction but forward. How you gonna whip folks who refuse to lose. We legion- raising babies who think just like us. We are pouring  foundation - the ancestors want institution; we walking on a path well worn. We know the way in the dark and we know how to make light. What you gonna do with us, Whom Jah done blessed?


Word in Paint

September 16, 2014
Word in Paint


The Lower Bottom Playaz; Full Metal

September 16, 2014

Bullets are usually made of lead. If you cover a lead bullet with copper you get a Full Metal Jacket; an armor piercing projectile.

It is our intention to wound you with art. You will leave feeling something. You  will be moved . This is our promise to you. It's a full metal season and it's coming at you full force.  We want you to catch the fever, be a part of our movement, or at the very least, stand still and be wounded.

We are doing it big. So incredibly big we can't do it without your help. So big we can't put it all out right here; but you are an integral part of what's about to go down.

We are bringing you some stock that just keeps getting better and some new work that is already being called tour de force. Look out for visits from Queen, Flowers for the Trashman, a new Wilson piece, the return of Gem of the Ocean, and two brand new pieces by WordSlanger at the San Francisco Theater Festival held at Fort Mason this year. Did I say we were doing it big?

Last year the Playaz turned 10, this year the theater built for WordSlanger turns 10 as well. We are on a collision course with destiny and we invite you to stand in the headlights with us. Be a part of our Full Metal Theater Season.

Stay tuned--- it's about to go down!

Save the dates: August 7, Fort Mason San Francisco, San Franciso Theater Festival

August 19. 2011: Gem of the Ocean opens at The Sister Thea Bowman Memorial Theater, West Oakland, CA

6 16 2011


Gem; Again

September 16, 2014

Since I last wrote about Mr. Wilson, and his contribution to my foundation, some time has passed. Of course a great deal has happened. I have read the entire Pittsburgh Cycle and have dedicated myself to the production of as many of the plays as I can manage.

I have wed Wilson. I proposed. He did not resist, he drew me closer and here we are. He is most generous in his attention to my growth, despite his own death, which of course makes the continuance of his work imperative.   I strive to be worthy of the pairing and the mission to lift up the bard least his great works be hungry for the overstanding they deserve and Wilson intended.

We have the rights to Gem, again. This year we will also do Joe Turner's Come and Gone. Another great pairing I think. We need to revisit Gem. We flew though it last year. It only lasted long enough for me to fall in love. This year we will get to dance with it longer. We have been prepping for it since the music of the last production died. We are seated at a better table this time. Be prepared for a better meal.

'Joe Turner's Come and Gone,' continues Wilson's exploration of place, time, and lost for North American Africans. Like 'Gem', if you listen carefully, you hear the communal present being explained by the telling of the communal past. With 'Joe Turner', we add the dimension of continued captivity to the conversation of the North American African experience in North America.

'Gem' opens August 27th at the Sister Thea Bowman Memorial Theater in West Oakland CA.

You can preview the show for free by attending the August 7th, San Francisco Theater Festival, held at Fort Mason. 'Gem,' will be one of three pieces offered by the Lower Bottom Playaz, under my direction. The work offered will  include two new pieces of work, Big Brother/Little Brother; A one act for two players, and INK: A MultiMedia-Cross Disciplinary Poetic concert.

Stay tuned we are about to blast off on a Full Metal Theater Season!

6 14 2011


Diary of a Mad Creative # 19: Precious and the State of the Arts (pt. 2 of The Ground on which I stand.)

September 16, 2014

"If you do not know, I will tell you that black theatre in America is alive … it is vibrant … it is vital … it just isn’t funded. Black theatre doesn’t share in the economics that would allow it to support its artists and supply them with meaningful avenues to develop their talent and broadcast and disseminate ideas crucial to its growth. The economics are reserved as privilege to the overwhelming abundance of institutions that preserve, promote and perpetuate white culture.

That is not a complaint. That is an advertisement. Since the funding sources, both public and private, do not publicly carry avowed missions of exclusion and segregated support, this is obviously either a glaring case of oversight, or we the proponents of black theatre have not made our presence or needs known." August Wilson

Precious and the State of The Black Arts

Ayodele Nzinga

An important part of black theatre that is often ignored but is seminal to its tradition is its origins on the slave plantations of the South. Summoned to the “big house” to entertain the slave owner and his guests, the slave that reached its pinnacle for whites consisted of whatever the slave imagined or knew that his master wanted to see and hear. This tradition has its present life counterpart in the crossover artists that slant their material for white consumption.[1]

I wanted to write a review of Precious after I saw it; problem was, I didn’t know if I wanted to see it.  Although I am an avid consumer of entertainment media, and an advocate for most, if not all things black, I hesitated to view this film. I was happy that the work of an artist primarily known for poetry had found a path to a bigger venue for her creativity. If one can go; others can follow.  But it is wise to be careful what you wish for and even better advice to be careful of what you make. Creativity is a gift and a burden.

Maybe I should have followed my first mind. In the end, the best things I can say is, I brought a bootleg “directors cut,” so none of my money made it to Lionsgate's coffers and this waste of film eventually ended. If I were to elaborate, I would offer that it made me physically ill.  It was comparable to watching “The Birth of a Nation”.

I have included links of critiques of the work by Ishmael Reed, in large, he has covered the travesty that is Precious from a point of view I resonate with. Even better, he has shone a light on how and why such tripe is awarded while North American Africans fight a lukewarm fight to be seen in more realistic ways. The last sentence should focus on, “being seen,” period. The stereotypes that have always fed mainstream media have blurred visions of a “Black Experience” beyond recognition.

When did you last see yourself on stage or screen?  The you reading this, when did you last see yourself on stage, TV, or in a movie?  When did you last see a character that was you, and the you reading this related so strongly, you could see you own story unfolding before you? We have a curious relationship with invisibility that bears further exploration, but I digress. This discussion is about how we are “seen” and ultimately how we see ourselves.

I am always happy when Black actors work.  I remember Robert Townsend’s, Hollywood Hustle, a movie parody of American drama that employed every Black actor that considered him or herself such. It was a satirical spoof on the state of the arts and a payday. I  gotta love it. You can’t undercut the importance of a payday. Artists have to eat and living indoors can become addictive. But what are you willing to do in the name of the mortgage?

The battle to be seen, make a living at art, balanced by or at least tempered with the need to be relevant is not new.  Hattie Mc Daniels often played the maid in her film career. I remember her best for an interview.  She was asked by some forward thinking Black reporter why she always played the maid? Didn’t she know how this demeaned her and her race? Hattie replied with a question f her own, “Would you rather I played the maid for $50 a week or be the maid for $5 dollars a week?”  Hattie’s logic carried her to the Academy Awards. She won an oscar for playing Mammy in, Gone with the Wind.  It’s a hard point. It comes down in the end to the ground on which you choose to stand.

You must choose there is no middle ground. Serving two masters is a hard if not impossible task.

A  second tradition occurred when the African in the confines of the slave quarters sought to invest his spirit with the strength of his ancestors by conceiving in his art, in his song and dance, a world in which he was the spiritual center and his existence was a manifest act of the creator from whom life flowed. He then could create art that was functional and furnished him with a spiritual temperament necessary for his survival as property and the dehumanizing status that was attendant to that.[2]

So with our two masters clearly delineated  and sat before us  which path do we choose to travel? Everything in the universe, cost. You pay a cost for following in the tradition of the Black Arts. You pay a cost for jig-a-booing. There is a cost for trying to balance the cost. You get it; it all cost.

What if, what you see on TV,  at the movies, the books and magazines you read, the music you listened to, and the news you watch were all defining the parameters of your existence; would you be more careful about what you take in? If artists overstood arts power to create and decipher reality, would they be more careful of what they created?

If art reflects life, where in the mirror can we take a real look at the life and times of North American Africans?  One would assume that this would most likely come from the life, talent, experience, hands, and minds of Black creatives. We are a tribe that serves many masters.  Some of us will do most anything in the name of the mortgage. It’s often called success.

Some artists who view art solely as a means of economic remuneration will tell you they made a clear choice.  They chose the “form” of their art that would sell.  They make what pays the rent.  When one measures success by money alone then indeed as a friend of mine once observed: “The most salacious mainstream artist, is a conscious artist; he’s conscious of the fact he needs to eat.”  If money is the ultimate measure of success if your art isn’t making money then you are not a successful artist. If its only entertainment what does it matter; we all know the difference between art and life, right?  Art for arts sake?

How should we perceive Sapphire's treatment of the young North American African males accused of raping a jogger in Central Park? Her vividly brutal depiction of hyper-black male sexuality, black men as beast likened to wolves in a pack, wild things, hot for white girls to the point of falling on a poor innocent and ravishing her, was performed, and awarded. The collection, American Dreams, in which the poem, originally called the Central Park Rapist, and renamed Wild Things, appeared garnered her a lot of attention. So much so that she got a deal for Precious. Here's the thing, the youngsters she vilified were exonerated, they didn't rape the jogger. However Sapphire's rape of the image of North American African men stands unpunished. It in fact was rewarded by a bigger venue, a larger stage, a bigger audience and a payday.

But it's just entertainment right? We are instructed by what sells. We know the difference between fiction and reality. Nobody believes what they see on stage, on TV, in the movies. It doesn't matter because they are just stories. In truth these crooked images are a part of the American parcel we are familiar with them, grew up with versions of them, we know what sells.

Somewhere neatly wrapped in this reasoning is an assumption that no one will pay for the truth, no one wants to hear or see it, and it doesn’t matter, pass the Patron and party on, if it ain’t about money it don’t matter.

For the sake of brevity, we will play the extremes.  It is obvious that straddling the fence gets splinters into interesting places.  Therefore, we will not dwell on folks who play a balancing game of being relevant to all and ending up relevant to none.

I stand myself and my art squarely on the self-defining ground of the slave quarters, and find the ground to be hallowed and made fertile by the blood and bones of the men and woman who can be described as warriors on the cultural battlefield that affirmed their self-worth. As there is no idea that cannot be contained by black life, these men and women found themselves to be sufficient and secure in their art and their instruction.[3]

I have made my choice. The path was laid so clearly I never thought to stray. I have always sought the ground on which I stand, plant me here, I am home. I want to see myself on stage. I want you to see yourself. I want my life to matter. Your life matters to me. There is more than money to consider. The stories have a deeper purpose. They are breadcrumbs, history books, dream catchers, sooth sayers, and they are a method of inter/intra group communication. They form a conversation that is referenced, called upon, should be built upon. I do Black Theater.

We are sufficient. Our stories are sufficient. We have a duty to ourselves and our stories. Who will tell them if we don’t? The answer is simple, any and everybody, or they will not be told. We have paid a cost for being imaged by mainstream media in all its forms since inception in North America. There is a cultural battle being waged by cultural warriors to give us ground on which to stand as Africans, descended of a captured people who heroically survived and prospered in a SorrowLand and we their descendents are alive to tell the tale least it be forgotten. We the seeds of dungeons, alive and well, have a story to tell. We have a duty to that story.

Further, it is that story that holds us. The story matters, and its all a matter of story. A friend from the Middle East stared curiously at all the North American Africans I introduced him to, he was waiting for the chain wearing, gun-toting gangsta’s that Lionsgate has fed him and his countrymen for a hefty profit. He had an image before he came and he was looking for the reflection of that image. The story plays out in fearful white women hiding their purses as young black men walk by and in black elders not feeling safe in the presence of black youth. Even more sadly it serves as a blueprint for youth a one sized suit with a target on the back.  We are marketed and we are marketed to. We consume it all.

If you do not know, I will tell you that black theatre in America is alive … it is vibrant … it is vital … it just isn’t funded. Black theatre doesn’t share in the economics that would allow it to support its artists and supply them with meaningful avenues to develop their talent and broadcast and disseminate ideas crucial to its growth. The economics are reserved as privilege to the overwhelming abundance of institutions that preserve, promote and perpetuate white culture.[4]

I tell stories that lift us up. I tell stories with lessons. I tell stories with messages. I tell Black tales. I practice Black Arts. I practice inversion. I am a student of the Diaspora and a devotee to the Griot tradition of ritual story. I practice Nommo, the ancient art of speaking into being. I am battling debilitating stories that box us in either failure or assimilation into a culture in which we aim to be either invisible or the perpetual coon. I tell stories for and about North American Africans. I talk to and about them. It does not matter to me if others listen. It is a way perhaps for them to gather a different understanding. It is a way for those outside my circle to see beyond the stereotypes if they care to. If they come to listen to the tales I choose to tell they will not be coddled, they will not be pandered to, they will bear witness to reality and its consequences, they will be treated to considerations of how things came to be and how we live as a result. I am talking to family about family. It's an honest conversation dedicated to us seeing ourselves, growing ourselves, celebrating ourselves, praying ourselves up, arming us, feeding us from an overflowing larder of stories big enough to do those things.  That is the center of my artistic world. It is where I begin and where I will end. I tell tales about the complexity of our lives, the layers, the rawness of life behind the veil, the reality of being North American African in these days and times.

We are in dire need of messages of survival, victory and transcendence. I try to supply them in a place where the “story” furnished is inconceivably heavy. I create in a space where real life is compelling enough to inspire art, is worthy of artful rendering. I create in a place where the beauty, determination, and the regal spirit of struggle is often unstoried by mainstream press. I do not see that as an accident. My mentor, Marvin X, reminds me that the other side will not tell you when you are winning. Nor are they likely to announce the form and content of warlike assaults on your well-being. I see the battlefield.  I have made my choice and I have paid for it.

Access to the tools to create remain a problem for artists like me. Money is an issue. It cost to create art. People have a strange relationship with this fact. I have seen folks blow $100.00 a seat to imbibe swill served by Tyler Perry. I have also had to argue with folks for trying to lowball my performers. I point out they need to pay rent and feed their kids too. I get heated when potential producers ask what do my actors do to pay the rent as if they should not expect to live off creating art.  If Perry's tripe can feed him why shouldn't artists who care what you eat be able to live off their art as well? You get what you pay for, so if you willingly pay for shit, then that's all you will be served. If you stopped paying for shit, they would serve something else. If shit is all that's on the menu you should eat elsewhere or consider a fast. It seems fairly simple but it's not. In the dearth of positive offerings and in our love of being told stories we become unwitting co conspirators in our own poisoning. We evidence this when we accept and start to play and get paid off the stereotypes we proclaim to disdain. When we consume a steady diet of pimps and thugs balanced by video ho's and damaged women who are the pitiful and perpetual victims of vicious men grabbing their crotch, rabidly consorting with multiple partners, refusing to raise their kids, as they shoot one another and sell drugs in an endless pursuit of the true American dream, a fly lifestyle, - we become limited in our ability to consider ourselves as anything else. Further, consider it as comfort food for people who want to believe the stereotypes, those who need those images to be consumed as truth in order to justify the conditions in which North American Africans build lives in North America.

So when you see an institution composed of artists who continue to bring you relevant art, the kind that leaves you feeling taller inside, or uncomfortable with the reality you see, consider the dedication it took to bring it to you.  Consider the cost they pay to bring you something proper to eat. I can bear witness to the dwindling resources, the fear of stepping out of the box of what sells, the limited number of resources that actually exist for those who tell tales designed to rock boats. In an age that so hardily embraces diversity we seem to only be able to fund things that look the same. Our villains and heroes have run together and the end of stories are as predictable as the potential box office for them. I was not surprised to see the negative reviews of Ntozoke's work, Colored Girls, peppered with references to the lack of multi-dimensional characters and the failure to offer a view of growth or transcendence. That's a Perry signature. Tyler Perry has decided where he stands. One day the immense wealth he's acquired may serve us by him backing story tellers with taller visions. Or perhaps he will understand there are other stories, and he by virtue of his access, is capable of putting more than shit on the menu. Colored girls was not a good indicator of my hopes but I will continue to hope he finds his way to art that matters. Meanwhile I work to balance the crap my better financed brother turns out for our consumption and for the comfort, titillation, and affirmation of  a mainstream culture that is heavily invested in the management and marketing of those stereotypes.

That is not a complaint. This is an advertisement. Since the funding sources, both public and private, do not publicly carry avowed missions of exclusion and segregated support, this is obviously either a glaring case of oversight, or we the proponents of black theatre have not made our presence or needs known.[5]

My troupe, The Lower Bottom Playaz, turned 10 this year. Institutions like people have ages and they are expected to become more intelligent, to grow, to stand for something. 2010 has been a year of struggle and triumph. We have grown as artist. We have become more clearly defined. We know who we are. In short, we know the ground on which we stand is a less traveled path. But we know where we are trying to go. We will not settle for making art for the sake of art or because it sells. We are guided by arts own purpose, we are driven to illuminate the breath and complexity of humanity. We have decided to do work that confronts, chronicles, and celebrates the North American African experience. We hope the work is worthy of support by those who want to be entertained and those who wish to be moved. We contribute to diversity by being true to who we are and not trying to blend in the melting pot.  We stand up for us, we want to stand out for that. Rather than comfort food we are most content to be hard to digest, troublesome, provoking and unforgettably relevant in a way that makes you want to come back and ponder with us, overstand with us, as we continue to fight to be who we know we need to be in order to matter. We don't do art for arts sake. We do art that matters.

To paraphrase Sonia Sanchez, Will your story save us?, if not it don't matter.

References and Suggested reading.

[1] August Wilson-The Ground on Which I Stand (Excerpt)

[2] August Wilson-The Ground on Which I Stand (Excerpt)

[3] August Wilson-The Ground on Which I Stand (Excerpt)

[4] August Wilson-The Ground on Which I Stand (Excerpt)

Full text at www.nathanielturner.com





Ishmael Reed: The Selling of "Precious"

Ishmael Reed and Sapphire: a Dialogue on "Precious"

Op-Ed Contributor - Fade to White - NYTimes.com

Ishmael Reed vs. Precious -- Vulture

We are respectable negroes: Ishmael Reed on Why Precious is ...

The Indypendent » “Precious” or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and ...

Hattie McDaniel Biography - life, family, children, history ...

Why the Wire should be studied and taken off TV by Malik Russell http://www.voxunion.com/?p=3073





I create therefore I am.

September 15, 2014
I create therefore I am.
Ahhh the theater--I can think of no better place to gather humanity in the consideration of what it means to be human!

Diary of a Mad Creative: I create therefore I am. Pt. 18

September 15, 2014

What you do regularly is your religion. I don't care what you call yourself. You may be a Muslim, a Methodist, or a member in good standing of the Church of God in Christ but what you do daily is your true religion.

If you only worship on high holy days or the sabbath but the rest of the year you are a money changer then no matter how you label yourself you are at heart a money changer before you are a Jew or a Gentile. If war is your occupation it is also your religion. You die by how you live. Your religion is the way you spend your days.

I  create. I create therefore I am. I make a way. A way to see it, say it, understand it, to bring it to you. I make things. I cause them to be. Theaters, troupes, actors, shows, audiences, applause, epiphanies... I create access. Access to stages, microphones, opportunities to shine, to show em what ya got, to tell em what ya need, to grow yourself, to the gift I was given. I use the talent to increase what is for myself and others. And I make damn good lemonade.

Being a creative gives you room to channel fear. A challenge is an invitation to triumph if you read it correctly. It's true what you've heard; most of the troubled water in life is a matter of perspective, it's an ill wind that blows no good. A creative is open to seeing.

I see. I look at things to see. I look into things. If my gaze catches it; it wants to penetrate it, to understand not just how it is but how it came to be and what it means. I think. I have been told I think too much. What a fine joke. That's meant to be funny right? I thought it was the ability to reason that supposedly separated humans from lower primates. Apparently it can be a flaw; especially if it freezes you like a deer in the head lights but as a prelude to action, I encourage it enthusiastically.

I listen. I do more than hear. I listen to what is said, and what no one  is willing to admit they think, let alone say aloud. I listen to the silence. I listen to the dead. I listen to myself. I am willing to know. Despite the fact it is also true that to know imparts responsibility. Ignorance can feel blissful. Knowing requires you to act. If you do not act, know that your inaction is an action by default. You speak when you refuse to speak; you say it's all good.

I speak. I say what I think. I say what I see. I say things the dead whisper to me in my dreams. I listen to the shadows as they fall in the evening and I speak their thoughts.  I am a talker. I talk to power, to the powerless, to the dreamless and the dreamers. I speak.

I create. That's my religion. I am the builder in my parable of the builder. I have learned to make what I need. I have learned to build for the sake of building. I have discovered that I am increased even when the gardens are for others. I understand the moral in "The Parable of the Talents".

The Parable of the Talents

Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them.  To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability.  Then he went on his journey.  The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more.  So also, the one with the two talents gained two more.  But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

After a long time, the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them.  The man who had received the five talents brought the other five.  “Master,” he said, “you entrusted me with five talents.  See, I have gained five more.”

His master replied, “Well done, good and faithful servant!  You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.  Come and share your master’s happiness!”

The man with the two talents also came.  “Master,” he said, “you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.”

His master replied, “Well done, good and faithful servant!  You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.  Come and share your master’s happiness!”

Then the man who had received the one talent came.  “Master,” he said, “I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed.  So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground.  See, here is what belongs to you.”

His master replied, “You wicked, lazy servant!  So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed?  Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

“Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents.  For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance.  Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.  And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

- Matthew 25:14-30 (NIV)

We do not all start in the same place. Some are given more than others. We can all increase ourselves. We can all create another story from the one we are given. We are all in a position to go forward. We are all capable of being more than we are. We are all able to take what we got and make it more than it is, we can create what we need. We can take the most humble circumstance and turn them into the stage we shine on. We are all capable of making lemonade. We are all we need to create the life we want.

Creativity is my religion. The road is uneven but that keeps you alert. Sometimes the things I carry own me but it's good to belong to something. Sometimes the things I stand for scare others into trying to box me in but I am my own razor. Sometimes the sorrow and pain I see weighs me down but the weight of it transforms into the beauty of knowing how many talents are on the table, then we know what the path to being increased looks like. Perspective allows me to hold truth and not explode, it also reminds me that dark clouds are liminal spaces where not knowing is a birth place for knowing. I don't believe in luck as much as I believe in hard work. I value tears as much as smiles. There is a value in despair; it is a motivator. I respect my enemies and work to ensure they remember to fear me.  I would rather be joyful than happy. I am as happy giving as taking. I am a creative.

I create; therefore I am.


Diary of a Mad Creative: I create therefore I am. Pt. 17

September 15, 2014

Performance is good. Hell, its the payoff right? It's why an artist works; that one moment in front of the crowd with your future in its hands. That's the meat of it. Right?

No. Not really. It's what you get at the end of the road. Possibly after sweat, some tears, lots of yelling and cussing, and hopefully after revelations about what it is you seek to breath life into. Rehearsal is under rated. It gets a bad rep; like the millions of miles you run to stay in that high school outfit. But it is the place where you grow. It's where you sharpen the razor your art should be, must become, if it is to matter.

Rehearsal is like prayer. It is the highest form of artistic meditation. It is where the privilege of presenting is earned. What you do daily is an application of religion it is who you are. An artist should live to work. Work is the reason to be. The devout pray daily.

A body of work should have a progression. It should increase, increase the artist, the consumer, the form, it should make things clearer, it should complexify things, it should undo the contradiction between the two. It should change and affirm; soothe and challenge. A practice in the arts should grow an artist. That growth takes place in the work done between shows.

They say no work is ever completed; artist just quit working on it. If the work is alive the tinkering with it continues. It is reinterpreted. It is honed. It's given music. The music changes. It's done without music. You take away the 4th wall. You give it a fourth wall. You keep breathing into it. It grows as you grow and you grow in it; it is organic.

Maybe I know this because orality is the basis of my art. Orality has in its roots the ability to keep things relevant by interpreting them according to who is telling the tale, where and when it's being performed, why, and for whom as instructive post to delivery and focus and ultimately, meaning. Orality is fluid and organic. It's alive in places like Ebonics; a moving fluid form that is constantly recreated.

It is in preparation when we are most conscious of what it is we wish to render. It is here we commune with form, delivery, nuance, overstanding, effect/affect, and what we wish to leave on the stage. It is where we have the opportunity to consider what we add to the ritual of presentation, and what is it we strive to evoke in those who come to add to the ritual by witnessing.

A sharp knife cuts best. Even improvisation is best when born of artists who hone their craft in anticipation of the moment in which from their unseen hours of labor they will seeming effortlessly create sublimity on demand. Ask a battle rapper or a great free styler how many hours of craft actually go in to those supposedly spontaneous burst of lyricality.

A gift does not mean you don't have to work on increasing your talent. A gift is a seed. Oak trees grow from seeds just like blades of grass. If you are grateful for the gift then why not increase the talent; why not grow an oak tree or a whole damn rain forest?

There are feathers and then there is Mt. Thai.

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