Category Archives: theatre

some days i feel like, ntozake shange

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some days I feel like ntozake shange. in the most simple sense of what EVERY artists dreams… to have a timeless piece of art that can transcend across generations.

her award winning play, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf was first produced off broadway in 1975. it moved to broadway and continued to win awards and marked her place in the literary world. some 35 years later, this same play was turned into a movie. timeless art… this play is rich with emotions and complexity. shange’s work is also where I learned the literary style of writing and performing prose. my all time favorite, ellington was not a street.

I always say, ‘I want my art to be able to live without me. To feed my children’s children.’ 39 years after it debuted in new york, her play, ‘for colored girls’ is currently being produced on two different stages in atlanta, ga. some days I feel like ntozake shange and just trust my heart through my pen. trust that this is the piece of art that will transcend time.

some days i feel like a skyscraper (part II)

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Somebody had to do it. And somebody had to re-member. I was there. And it’s not that I want to be given some glory or plaque. I just want artists to know that it wasn’t 1961 when the Los Angeles poetry scene displayed this disproportionately approach to female poets. And now it is so natural for females to get features and travel but not too long ago we were blatantly denied this. And Jaha, Bridget, Rachel and I really changed the perception of when female poets should be allowed to eat.

Did we pave the way? Call it whatever feels good to you. But I know I was there when humiliation and doubt was given to us from our male peers. I was there when the men performers would get paid a different amount than us at the very same show. I was there when our male peers thought the best position for any of us would be next to them in a relationship and when he was denied he campaigned a “she’s gay” rally to save his reputation.

I saw Roni take poetry to the Hollywood comedy clubs.

I saw Sandra, Alice the Poet and MstMuze operate the longest running all female poetry venue in Los Angeles to date.

I saw Deana produce/host sold out poetry shows inside restaurants on Sunset Blvd.

And all I’m saying is, this happened after she/we shared stories and almost cried because we thought we were alone in feeling so indigent for expression. Some days I feel like a skyscraper in the Los Angeles poetry scene. Standing bold, cold and razor sharp with the moods of mother nature, not being erased from the series anytime soon. My love for Jaha, Rachel and Bridget is beyond an ordinary means of measurement. We were there, when it felt like 1961.

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some days i feel like a skyscraper

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I feel part of the smaller story. I feel part of the larger story. Skyscrapers are like small cities with thousands of people that live and work there. Their foundations and superstructures provide different appearances. These tall buildings are seen as symbols of power and greatness. They are improved in live time to stand the test of weather and the moods of mother nature. Yes, some days I feel like a skyscraper… especially when I began spoken word in Los Angeles.

It was clearly the congregated movement of griots and sages before us that declared the time again. Only the shadowless and their corners really thought “they started something new” or “took it to the next level”. Only time would be able to determine those thoughts just as the medu netter has spoken for centuries in the pyramids. Only time, still will reveal that.

One would have thought the time was 1961 and women were still only allowed to be house attendants. When in fact it was 2001. Writing and performing poetry was not new to me. I was shocked that it was being critiqued and shared in seemingly ‘non art environments’. Coffee shops, lobbies of recreational centers, after hours at businesses and theatres in need of publicity. The art form was taking on a new timeframe and would need new walls to hold it’s voice.

In an already big city. A city with the most highly structured designed skyscrapers, one would think she could just pick up where June Jordan left off. Just take the notebook from Gwendolyn Brooks and turn the page. But it wasn’t like that for Jaha Zainabu, Bridget Gray and Rachel Kann, my “come up” crew. None of us were novices to the arts. Together we were decades of stories, poems, lectures, theatre and visual art. Together we split the city and nestled our art amongst those who neighbored our homes. We supported our venues week after week and then by bequest, politics were engaged in our arts but this time the agenda was to undermine. From history our community arts had a focus of meeting weekly to “build and feed each other”. These new politics were of division because all of us would not be able to eat. In fact, it happened so fast we weren’t even able to decide on our seasonings! And many owned microwaves and had never lit a stove or practiced patience with a crock pot. But she/we stood there.

One would have thought it was 1961 they way we were over looked to perform feature poetry shows. One of us was even told, “women can’t hold the audience attention to do a feature segment”. And week after week, we went and supported the self served. And we began to see the bending of the art. This was called open mic, to disavow the necessity for us to hold one another accountable. We were allowed to do and say anything and not read or study and some times not even demanded to practice. Our art scene became like loose, dangled dred locs from an unhealthy scalp. Her voice strewn like sidewalk abandoned Christmas trees. With the desperate opportunity for manhood to be demonstrated, she/we were overlooked. It was not 1961.

Now about this, She was given the mic and then cut short by loud music playing in the background to a host dancing behind her begging for a laugh and a few smiles. She wasn’t given the same time limit, as he. And She, was given time on the stage to express her newest and most intimate poetry piece. She was accepted by the audience with warm applause and finger snaps. Capsized with emotion, she stepped away to gather herself only to have the host scold the audience clapping for her by saying, “We don’t do that here”. And then She, was too serious and her voice was too loud. “You should write some love poems”, he declared to her after she received thunderous applause when all night he received scattered rain drops. And then She, was a performer amidst reading writers. And while both are styles of interpretation, it distinguished her natural flame to a fire and cast her away feeling lost and unheard.

And she/we were paid less. And she/we were heard less. And then one night we all talked. And we almost cried. And we all had the same story and we all reaffirmed it wasn’t 1961. And Rachel decided we should do our own. And we did. And we sold out a night club on Hollywood Blvd with an all female poetry feature show. The first of it’s kind during this wave of poetry in Los Angeles. And we ate. And then our four corners of the city saw what we were made of. That temblor thwarting technology that doesn’t fall during earthquakes. That strong wavering skyscraper that houses thousands of people working and living with stories to tell.

(part II tomorrow)

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some days i feel like, attallah shabazz

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the oldest child. the one who clearly remembers. I am the one who appears to have “kept it together”. the one sought for direction and clarity.

Attallah Shabazz is the daughter that can silence a crowd with her commanding beauty and strikingly visible resemblance to her father, Malcolm X. Attallah became the artist to this family that was thrown in the political arena. She is a lecturer, playwright, director, producer and performer. She mirrors her art to her father’s message to continue to elutriate ill perceptions. She has found her own voice to preach her own gospel of human rights and self-esteem.

In an interview, Attallah speaks of having coloring books and reading books that depicted persons from black history. She continued, “So when I went to school and parts of me were omitted from history books, I knew the hole wasn’t in me, it was in the books.” Some days I feel like Attallah Shabazz because even though I learned the hole wasn’t me later in life… when I did find out, my art began a path that had a natural commitment to preserving my community and its’ vernacular.

I come from that good stuff

that stuff that dreamed. my generation had one of the highest high school graduation rates and college enrollment rates. we were at the cusp of technology. the apex of video games (Atari) and cable television. I remember when “God Bless America” played on the television channel before the network would turn off for the night. I’m from that old school learning of patience and manners being taught by everyone. I remember the bad kids being “paddled” in the principal’s office. I remember how long it took to dial a phone number on a rotary phone. (especially if they had 9’s or 0’s in their number!)

I come from that good stuff of after school programs and free summer programs at the local boys club or ymca. I come from organized marching drill teams and family reunions every year. I come from a grandmamma that got on her knees every night to pray. a family that knew how to hunt and fish for food.

I come from being nurtured to dream. a schooling with arts integration. that culminated in my generation being so inspired and viciously ambitious. we were provided an outlet to create, imagine and dream.

not so much for our kids now. they call them the “microwave kids”. they don’t have to go to the library. they don’t even have to go outside to play or talk with one another. they can do everything via internet and online gaming. now the arts are a privilege for those that can afford it. and that is the impression most have.

the impression is dancers come from wealthy families that can afford for them to train for years. and writers were all left family trust funds so they can sit around and stare out of windows while they write best sellers. the impression is theatre actors are funded by their wealthy family members that sit on the board of trustees for the winter and spring programming. art is viewed as unattainable. the absence of art has our children where they are today.

they are at a lose for individuality. they are born in a box of selections for a career. collectively our communities have shun anything outside of our “safe boxes”. the boxes created to keep us from being murdered or kidnapped or lynched. yes, we still battle that psychological warfare. my dreams were “I could be anything I wanted” and I was presented various platforms to fail and succeed. now our children are told, “you can be anything you want but..” and they aren’t given a safe place to test it out. after so many failures accompanied by laughs and “I told you so’s” from their peers, it is easier for them to stop. and to save their esteem we allow it.

arts is integrated in all studies at school. I believe it is strategic that it has been removed from public schooling and community centers. too many close calls of that next generation connecting their oneness inside of themselves. what if our children figured that out? they would become genius and critical thinkers and seek to remedy all their ills. they would then be from that good stuff like I come from.

God help us. Ancestors guide.

their gold

“Let’s go ahead and be, Betty and Malcolm to infinity
not boo and nigga to never,
Me Ruby Dee and you be my Ossie!”
– excerpt from the poem Make We by Nikki Skies

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They existed before we could quit. Before we began to measure faith. And I don’t know what their arguments were about! I don’t know if they ever went to bed mad at one another! But I can’t find an article of them speaking ill of the other or talking about giving up.

I see a complete picture. It’s like they’re looking at the end. They spotted the pot of gold and this is the best poker face they could deliver to hide their joy! I imagine this picture is after the blessings of their families for them to unite. After he promised her family he would now be the provider. This is after she agreed what he would bring to the table would be enough.

Perhaps this is before Malcolm X began to rise. This is a still when our antiques were their current treasures. This is a still of the black arts movement! If you stare long enough Ossie begins to sweat and pulse points on Ruby Dee’s neck palpitate subtly.

They look like they are ready to conquer the world.
They look like they will create their way out of any situation.
They look like a purposed love.
and I stand on their shoulders.

Ossie Davis and Rube Dee

Some Things I am Convinced Of

I am convinced of my ancestors effortless being of linking the seven sciences. 

                         (Grammar, Arithmetic, Rhetoric, Dialectic, Geometry, Astronomy and Music)

I am convinced my ancestors altruistic nature taught this ingenuity to everyone else on the earth

I am convinced once it was duplicated the magic just wasn’t the same… it never had the same exact medicinal results

I am convinced this angered the foreign thieves

I am convinced the foreign thieves feared our wedded power if we were to ever reconnect the power of It All

so we were taught to compete in a way that destroyed families/communities/dynasties

we were distracted with results while the formulas to create now became our quest

and this continued through captivity

but we began to communicate through drums and quilts and songs

and then some of us were chosen to eat and… we were separated again

something happened in the 50’s/60’s where we began to communicate through song and dance and sermons and theatre

and then some of us were chosen to eat and… we were separated again

and then we created a culture of hip hop with music and dance and graffiti and religion and clothes

and then some of us were chosen to eat and… we were separated again

and then poetry began to crawl then walk and ran from corner to corner of the world

and we met at coffee houses and corners and churches

and then some were chosen to eat and… we were separated again

I am convinced the spirits of our ancestors will garner enough energy to once again present an opportunity for us to reconnect ourselves as One

and this time my dear Artists,

We Must Feed Each Other until we get the formula just right!

We must bite the hands of the presenter and

re-member Ourselves.

I am convinced of this.

 

diary: from here

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Another day “from here” with snow still spread on our lawns and the kids are in the house with a major case of cabin fever. They are so desperate to get out of the house they are willing to go see “Frozen” at the movies. At their ages of 7, 9 and 11, cartoons are a complete waste of my money! They just need to get out! We have a little sunshine so the snow and ice should no longer be a threat on the roads. We are still now plagued with the frozen tree branches falling and breaking power lines. Please let us get through tomorrow…

I created a calendar for me to submit my new plays to contests, etc. My ten minute play, Son Unknown, about Virgil Ware has to get out into the world! The only thing preventing that is ME. Keeping it saved on my laptop under the folder “writings”. He has been a secret for too long! I have to get this script out there. If all works out, it will become a short film by the end of the summer. I get to sharpen my scriptwriting chops! That is what I studied my MFA for! Very exciting for me to be able to see this script come to life on stage as well as film 🙂

The film process will make me tell the story visually. With that, I am planning a 3 day trip to Birmingham, Montgomery, Selma and parts of the Delta in Mississippi. I need to record the trees and streets and some other visual clips that can be shown in the film. Last time I visited Mississippi, my short book came to fruition. What will come of this journey?…

Only I stand in the way of my works not being read in coffee shops, libraries and book stores. Move over Nik!

“You don’t have writer’s block, you just don’t want to tell the truth.” – Nikki Skies

the duality of it all

her name is Coco. she was the brave one when I was petrified to walk in front of the class to speak. she was the one who dreamed me through tough times. she has impeccable comedic timing! she loves bright colors and big hair. she is my muse.

seriously, my mother recalls me talking to her and referring to myself as Coco as early as three years old. I haven’t referred her as a part of me in years but, she remains. bringing out the courageous part of me that is an artist. the place in me that remains timeless. oh, the duality of being an artist…

the other day I was thinking if it is truly more liberating to be an artist in Europe. a country where artistry is not thought of as strictly entertainment but linked to the perseverance of their culture. no doubt, this is imitated from the antiquity of Africa where artistry was connected to the seven sciences. there, a writer (djali/griot/scribe) was one of the noblest jobs one could have in ancient times! so important that if the documentation was not accurate, it could mean death to that writer. from what I have heard, artists in Europe get compensated well. what brought those thoughts about were my life long struggles with balancing out my “regular” life and my “artistic” life.

the duality of it all. when I’m on A-Game 100%, the performance art (and product, i.e. books,) pay the bills. when I do something like, let’s say… rest, I have to get that speaking engagement booked with a quickness to rid the urge to dip into the savings account. I have to balance my performance art with education. I yearn for the solace of one. for my two worlds to become one.

as the years go by, I want to turn in my juggler hat. I’m losing the patience of being careful and I just want to have the gig of writer/performer. I suppose what Coco has allowed me to do is always have a safe plan b. say what you want but… that trait ends with me. no safe plans for my nieces! no plan b! go with your heart and MAKE PLAN “A” WORK!