Wow! It’s been a year. It’s hard to believe that I have only been in Ann Arbor for three years. I’ve done a lot and settled in with a new home and a new car. I feel so suburban. My suburban utopia nurtures me as I try to get a lot done. This was a traveling year as I connected with Black British artists and establishing new collaborators for the Living Lakes (Jonathan Girling) and Ayanna Kelly (Errollyn Wallen) and developed the Dance One UK website with Mercy Nabirye and Adesola Akinyele. I also traveled to Oaxaca with the inimitable Holly Hughes and 4 amazing art students.
Ybor City had a first workshop production at the University of Michigan directed by John Seibert with choreography by Ron DeJesus.
But mostly its about reaching out and expanding the network. Connecting NYC with Chicago and LA and finding new homes in Birmingham UK and London. Trying to remain close with Mexico and Andrea Valeria while remembering good work from the past with Serafin Aponte and Francine Kelly. We lost some good artists this year. Laurie Carlos has transitioned…
So I’m taking a breath and thinking about what’s next. The Humanities Center has offered me a fellowship so I will have a year to think and write. Let me breathe and realign with artists doing activism as we enter the new era. The 45th President is in the house and new challenges lie ahead. Breathe and make art.
So excited. This month Lorca Peress will direct a staged reading of a musical that has been evolving in form and structure over the past decade and a half. The story began with my interest in knowing more about my grandfather. There’s a photograph that my Dad used to keep on his desk of three men sitting together.
Grandpa Pedro Paulo was a cigar roller in Tampa Florida who died in the influenza epidemic of 1918.
The musical Ybor City is a collaboration with Dan Furman, a talented jazz musician, composer and pianist. We met at a Dramatist Guild mixer about five years ago. Since then we have flirted with the idea of musicalizing a story about Cuban cigar rollers and unionism.
August 21 we present our first rendition of this project at the Strasberg Institute in New York City. I can wait to see where it goes from here.
Book by Anita Gonzalez, Music and Lyric by Dan Furman
Friday, August 21, 2016 at 7:30 pm
Strasberg Institute, 115 East 15th Street, NY, NY
Directed by Lorca Peress
“When romantic Rafael arrives to read at the Fuente cigar factory, trouble is brewing. As workers prepare to confront their greedy boss, violence erupts, and no one knows who can unite Ybor City.”
School is almost out, and the year is ending with a production of Sun and Shadows produced by Christianne Myers for the kick off of the 100th Anniversary of the School of Theatre and Drama. The projected show was a re-telling of a Guatemalan story about the Sun and the Moon. Directing the shadows – 4 to 8 foot translucent puppets – was a unique experience that helped me to reconsider how stories shape lives and politics.
Technically it was a fascinating opportunity to work on a large scale outdoor production. The sounds for the event was a pre-recorded voiceover whose cast included Department Chair Priscilla Lindsay (what an amazing speaking voice) and selected BFA students. We worked in the audio studio with sound designer Isaac Levine to record songs and sound effects that could evoke the work of the play. The Puppeteers worked hard to animate the translucent figures.
Aesthetically,the production team thought about what it means to deconstruct the human body and connect it to universal forces. If the central character of the story is a giant woman, and her lover is a short boy who is also a hummingbird, what does this say about transformation and it’s possibilities? In our story the woman is destroyed by lightning, but the short-boy-who-is-also-a-hummingbird has the power to restore her if he patiently meditates and prays. He is the ocean and she is the daughter of the mountains. When she is restored they bring the world back to life.
Early in the day there was a panel about Guatemalan language recovery programs with a professor from the Rafael Landivar University. In Guatemala, the right-wing government works to squash indigenous sovereignty. Recovering the very language that can provide a context for the story is a political act. Contemporary Maya are taught to believe that their language and culture is not valuable. They are encouraged to forget and assimilate. This much stop. Indigenous people, in the Americas and elsewhere carry knowledge that can enlighten all of our western studies if we prioritize those understandings.
Perhaps the best part of the Sun and Shadows experience was watching the audience come with picnic blankets and lawn chairs to see the show. Watching the audience is always my favorite part; seeing children and elders, students and artists all gathering, looking up at the facade of a glass building to see what magic will unfold. And the magic of the shadow play rekindles magic of a time-long-gone magic now present in the windows of our memories and imaginations.
Moving Forward with Liverpool Trading….
This month I’m working with Richard Aellen to revise Liverpool Trading for Kim Weston Moran’s Potpourri Festival. Reading is Sunday March 8 at Kenkelaba Gallery on Second Street. I’m very excited to be collaborating with Anne Hamilton of Hamilton Dramaturgy on revising the script. Director is Letitia Guillory
The play will become a musical called Mersey, a bi-national project in collaboration with producer Jonathan Man of the UK. Look for a fall workshop production of new songs.
When Pat, an Afro-Caribbean woman from NYC returns to Liverpool to find her roots, a magical pub run by an Irishman named Monroe transports her through time. In the process, she learns about her roots in the musical madness of the Mersey.
Snow piles on the ground in Ann Arbor yet my head is in the clouds as I plan for the Spring.
Global Theatre and Ethnic Studies moving forward…
Liverpool comes at me twice. In March the “Atlantic Sounds” conference in Liverpool is about Port Communities and Sailor Towns. Giving a paper there will be a a chance to repeat a public conversation about how buck dancing and sounding the boards affects sea shanties.
Multi-Cultural Theatre in Liverpool
In June I head to Liverpool again with 15 student performers. Working with Rachel Rogers, Maxine Brown and the Merseyside Dance Initiative we learn about the Liverpool Black Community’s history and culture. And we are making plays, songs and dances about Liverpool life and our encounters. Look for our show in Fall 2014 in Ann Arbor.
Performing Gender: Archives and Oral Histories looks to be a fantastic opportunity to have students create new devised work form archival sources. We are working with artwork from the University of Michigan Museum of Arts to tell stories of diverse communities. And now the amazing Glenn Gordinier of the Williams Mystic Maritime Institute comes to Ann Arbor sharing his Joshua “Jack Tar” character. Look for him April 2nd
Excavating Ira Aldridge
Finally, a team of computer scientists and computer visualization specialists start building the Ira Aldridge digital tool that maps Aldridge’s performances, theatres, roles, and relationships. This amazing African American actor performed clown, noble, and middle class characters in countries as far-ranging as Turkey, Poland, England, Russia and France. Students will be recording scenes from his global repertory in the Duderstadt Media Commons and these scenes will then become a part of a geo-spatial mapping project. I’m hoping for a dynamic user-friendly interface. And the icing on the cake is that all project participants travel to NYC to see the Tricycle London’s performance of Red Velvet with Adrian Lester.
Those are the broad strokes of winter activities. Also watch out for the Martin Luther King Day celebration at the Power Center on January 20. Latino Studies also has an MLK day event on February 7th.
They are honoring Oyamo (Charles Gordon) at the Stamps Auditorium on January 30 and presenting one of his latest new plays in the Arthur Miller Theatre the last week of February.