Love the power of theater. I am moved and awed when serious actors, fueled by words, story, setting, movement, and dynamic silence, invent a world on stage for an audience that becomes more than a performance – it becomes “an incantation…,” as Roger Guenveur Smith described my piece Johnson Chronicles. Theater allows me to intensify the power & poetry of my words.
For the Happiness Project, I’ve written a ritual in which Genetic Dancers gather at “1,000 O’clock” in The Inspiration House …. Their host, The Apocalypsonian – a Trickster played by two actors who are spiritual fraternal twins – is a Cultural Journey Agent for men trying to answer the elemental question: What is a Happy Black Man? The ritual has received public readings at the Robey Theatre Company in Los Angeles, with support from a Frances Williams Artists Grant (2010); Leimert Park Theater Festival (2014); and at Carrie Hamilton Theatre at The Pasadena Playhouse (2014).
Excerpt Below: “A Father’s Prayerbook,” a Spoken Word/Dance/Video Program for the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,Commemorative Celebration of The Claremont Colleges, premiered on Wednesday, January 21, 1998, Bridges Auditorium, The Claremont Colleges. The piece featured choreography by Maura Townsend, and vocals by Charles Lane (Father’s Musical Spirit). Dancers: Daryl Copeland (Father’s Dancing Spirit); Darrell Cleveland (Son); Valerie Hampton (Father’s Female Spirit); K. Alisa Hawkins (Son’s Female Spirit).
A Father’s Prayerbook
At curtain’s rise, FATHER’S MUSICAL SPIRIT (FMS), stands IN DARKNESS center stage and faces VIDEO SCREEN, his back to the audience.
Singer is musical alter ego of FATHER of father. Through acapella singing, VOCALESE and other creative soundings, movements, and actual speeches, FMS lifts, accents, deepens the words of the FATHER. FMS is the link between the FATHER’S story and the DANCERS on stage who illustrate and push the story along.
FATHER stands at podium down stage right, in front of curtain line.
UP VIDEO CLIP #1
(VIDEO CLIP OUTCUE: “WHERE THERE IS NO GREAT LOVE”)
After clip ends, SPOT ON FMS while he still has Back to audience. FMS turns, meditating on what He’s just seen on the video screen, and walks to Down stage center.
FMS hums “DOWN BY THE RIVERSIDE,” Shifting into lyrics, TALKSINGING at this point, As if he’s remembering the lyrics and their deeper Connection to video clip. He stops. He speaks first. Two lines of FATHER’S SPEECH.
FMS: The familiar eloquence of Martin Luther King, Jr., rings across the decades. His elemental voice can persuade us all to testify, sometimes at unexpected moments, sometimes in unpredictable situations.
FMS stops. Really starts singing before winding. Down again to a thoughtful state.
FMS: His elemental voice can persuade us all to testify, sometimes at unexpected moments, sometimes in unpredictable situations.
Spotlight abruptly off FMS & up abruptly on FATHER, who speaks as FMS hums “Riverside” IN DARKNESS, as if he’s FATHER’S imagination Playing a soundtrack.
FATHER: King’s courageous voice inspires me… now… to stand publicly within the quicksand of a major personal struggle. I, too, love in the face of deep disagreement, painful disagreement, yet still struggle to maintain family. When my son turned 18, he quit college to join the U.S. Navy. Just before Christmas of 1995, as we drove home from his college campus, he said:
SECOND SPOT UP ON FMS.
FATHER: ‘I got something to tell you and I know you’re not going to like what I have to say.’ He was right!
FMS stops vocalizing.
FMS: How can the song of a Black poet — weaned on the words and ideals irrigating the late 1960s and early 70s — join the Navy to become a nuclear engineer on a submarine?
FATHER: His decision hurt me and plunged me into deep reflection. I could do nothing to change his mind, and believe me, I wanted desperately to change his mind.
FMS turns & walks upstage. Stops. Turns to face audience. DANCERS enter & take Positions.
FATHER (continued): But finally, before he left for boot camp in March of 1996, I opened myself to the ache of losing my Son, and, surprisingly, the pride that he had made up his own mind.
FMS: I stood at the crossroads all parents must face eventually:
FATHER: I helped give birth to him but I don’t own him.
FMS: I am a poet in love with a soldier.
FATHER: I am a poet in love with a soldier.
FMS & FATHER: I am a poet in love with a soldier.