Saturday, December 26, 2009

Woah....the Holidays are whirring by...

How is it already the day after Christmas. I realize I haven't posted since before Thanksgiving, but please don't think I haven't been hot on the scene. I have good excuses I promise.

First: The Apollo launched the national touring production of Dreamgirls in November, and that kept things at the "day job" busy busy busy busy! But it's an awesome show, and I am so proud to help bring it to new audiences.

Elsewhere in the Theater/Performing Arts Scene, I've taken in quite a few shows in the last six weeks or so, from FELA! to the Subjective Theater Company's Jump Jim Crow. I took in Memphis too. I just got a copy of the Kennedy Center's 2010 programming, and I really want to take a day trip to Washington DC to take in the national symphony orchestra.

But for the moment, I'm back in Ohio, catching up with the fam. As the year rounds out I've got a lot of analysis to do on my personal goals and such, so I'll be posting an end-of-year report and 2010 Goals soon...


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Next Chapter with Under the Spell Productions

Wednesday, November 4, 2009 7PM
Delancey Lounge - 168 Delancey (btw Clinton and Attorney)
New York, NY 10002

Guest Performance by LaJune

Live Entertainment. DJ. Raffle.

Come Celebrate our production company's' ongoing success. From Los Angeles to London, Midtown to Harlem, Under the Spell Productions, Inc., continues to gain momentum.

You won't believe what we've got planned for 2010.

The Next Chapter begins with a Bang, November 4th! Celebrate with us.

$10 suggested donation

Teresa Michelle Lasley, Co-Founder and Executive Director
Rhonney Greene, Co-Founder and Artistic Director
Derek Lee McPhatter, Director of Development

Under the Spell Productions, Inc.'s ‘ vision is to be a leading force in 21st century arts and entertainment. The production company has been gaining momentum since 2005, and is setting the stage for an amazing 2010 season. Here’s a few highlights from the road so far:
- 2005 - Founded by Rhonney Greene and Teresa Michelle Lasley
- 2006 - Premiere of It Goes Unsaid, anchor production in Los Angeles California
- 2008 - It Goes Unsaid makes its London Premiere at the Institute of Contemporary Arts
And that’s just for starters.

In a few short years, Under the Spell Productions, Inc. has pursued and provided opportunities for a dynamic range of onstage and backstage talent, showcasing diverse voices.

We’re celebrating this success on November 4th, with an eye to the future. We want you to join us. ($10 suggested donation)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Bring the Beat Back Photos

I’ve had access to the photos for a good minute. I shoulda woulda coulda posted them a while ago, but I honestly needed some time away from this project. So, I didn’t post ‘em up.

But here they are anyway. Autumn is here and there’s no time to lose. Enjoy!!

Photos taken by Sabelo Narasimhan

Freedom Train Productions 2009 Fire! Festival Bring the Beat Back: an Apocalyptist Episode by Derek Lee McPhatter 8/05/2009

I’ve had access to the photos for a good minute. I shoulda woulda coulda posted them a while ago, but I honestly needed some time away from this project. So, I didn’t post ‘em up.

You can catch more photos here.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Shows on the Go and A Rant on Exposition

Update on the scene. Wow! How did we get to September? I looked at my refrigerator and it seems only a few weeks ago I was putting up my 2009 Obama Calendar. Ah well.

I have been pretty busy, taking in some shows. Here’s the last fourteen days or so

I was lucky enough to get into the closing night of Lynn Nottage’s powerhouse Ruined. Fantastique! I also took in Programs A and B of the River Crosses Rivers Festival of new plays by women of color, presented by the Ensemble Studio Theatre. (some real gems there.)

Last week, I took in a treat of two One-Acts: Ardor Doody by Lucile Scott and Jesse Cameron Alick and In the Big Rock Candy Mountain by Julia Holleman with music by Lucas Cantor. That was some thought-provoking work, and I enjoyed hanging out with some of the cast and crew afterwards.

And that’s not all. Elsewhere in live performance, I punched it to Brooklyn for a special evening of house music, dance, and sci-fi sensibilities in a show called Atlantis, produced by WildSeed music, the show featured Imani Uzuri and Monstah Black, among others. I thoroughly enjoyed breathing underwater at Atlantis.

And just last nite, I took in a Hip-Hop Cabaret show at the Castillo Theatre, showcasing a talented troupe of youth performers.

So, no, I’m not doing anything tonight. I need to take a break. Seeing all this stuff is great for the soul, and is testament to the vibrant arts scene of the city. We won’t even get into the shows I didn’t get to see. With all of this great material and talent finding its way to the stage, I wanted to take a step back and reflect on some technique stuff.
So let's just get to it --- EXPOSITION.

It’s interesting to me how in the theory of performance, EXPOSITION is something of a detractor. A bad thing to have. Why, you ask? Because exposition is not drama. It doesn’t reflect conflict or resolution. It provides context. And providing context, put simply, is not the stuff of good theater. Therefore, one of the most common comments you may hear about a work that “wasn’t so hot” is that it was heavy on the exposition.

I will go ahead and admit that I basically agree that exposition cannot be the core of a dramatic piece. Exposition can be an essay. Pure exposition can be a newspaper article. Explanation. Extrapolation. But things that sing, things that get into the grit of the human condition have to move a step beyond that. At least, that’s the consensus I’d say. SHOW US, don’t TELL US. That’s part of all of this exposition expulsion as well.

Now this anti-exposition dictum can really be a conundrum for those of us who dare to write non-realistic stuff, that is sci-fi and fantasy. I mean, we have to figure out a way to explain our world. And I am seldom satisfied with simply telling the audience, for example, that in this universe the Queen rules supreme because it is a matrilineal society, and that’s just the way it is. At the same time, some things really do require explanation. Some things, in REAL LIFE, come to us through. So at times, when I hear the “no no no to exposition” critique, I sometimes go a little deaf, especially if that little moment of explanation leads to some really interesting drama.

I’ve also been looking back at a lot of the plays and films I love, to see how they get around this business of exposition. News Programs are an interesting and oft-used conceit. So are briefings by bosses. Prologues are often employed, to get you into the set-up. Things like that. I would like to point out however, that sometimes the characters just say it. And what’s wrong with that?

And before someone tries to slam me with Shakespeare, let me just remind you that I needed loads and loads of footnotes to understand a lot of those Henry plays. Not just the language, but the situations required further explanation. The teachers prepped us for Julius Caesar and we were often reading history beside it. You need exposition for Shakespeare too. So there!

And that’s my rant and update for the week. Laters!


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Beat is Back!

Last weeks' show was a hit, if I do say so myself.

On August 5th and 6th, Freedom Train Productions presented the first public performances of my new work-in-progress--Bring the Beat Back.

Christopher Burris directed the show, and played Deputy Deacon Duncan Studness
Shaun J. Wright provided costume concept and design.

Lee Avant played The Shopkeeper
Vandit Bhatt played Rey Presscott
Jerome Braggs played The Baron Jammaster
Shydel James played Dayton Macnamara Black
Fatima Quander played Trudy Macnamara Black
Johnny Ramey played The Captain
Penny Danielle Tinsley played Lady Ace.

Sheree Renee Thomas and Kenyon Farrow led lively post-show discussions with the audience, and my good friend and stylist Randal Jacobs made sure I was dressed to impress!

I was thrilled with the performances, and I'm looking forward to moving the show to the next stages. Thanks to everyone who made it out, and everybody else who sent good vibes my way!

Pictures soon....

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Bring the Beat Back! Bring the Beat Back!!!

So here we are a few days out. Bring the Beat Back, my newest play, gets staged reading performances August 5th and 6th, the culminating event of my residency with Freedom Train Productions.

I am very excited about the show. I’ve worked very hard on Bring the Beat Back, from concept to working draft. Freedom Train really creates a community around its resident playwrights, and the talented team (on stage and off) behind this project is AMAZING. This has been a challenging, energizing, and an enriching experience that is really pushing me in terms of craft and professional development. That community helps bring the play along, setting the stage for its first performances – the Fire! New Play Festival.

As my director says, this is a trip of a show. The characters are dealing with the consequences of their convictions – spiritually, in family matters, and in matters of the heart.

The project crosses a lot of cultural terrain, from the “cult of the celebrity” to rigid religious dogma, to gay house culture, and more. I’m looking forward to hearing what the audience will have to say about Bring the Beat Back. Will it confuse? Entertain? Provoke? I’m about to find out!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

I hope you can Bring the Beat Back

Hey everybody. I want you all to save the dates!

My residency with Freedom Train Productions continues, and next month, Freedom Train’s Fire! Festival begins.

My project – Bring the Beat Back – opens the festival, followed by two other exciting projects from Freedom Train’s resident playwrights. More info is available here.

Here are some upcoming dates:

July 22, 2009 – 6:30 P.M. Offstage Forum: Freedom Train will host an open discussion exploring the relationship between the concept of the Apocalypse and progressive social movements.

August 5th, 2009 – 7 P.M. – Bring the Beat Back -Performance
August 6th, 2009 – 7 P.M. – Bring the Beat Back - Performance

Bring the Beat Back: an Apocalyptist Episode

What's it About?
Tru Believers know the Musicship Megarhythmic is on its way to save them from the End of the World, but you can’t get on if you can’t get down, and somebody done stole the beat. Trudy thinks her boy-crazed brother may be the troublemaker in question. And unless she can literally “straighten things out” between her brother and his latest love, the Musicship may just groove on by without them. Reaching into a transcendental realm of underground dance music, Bring the Beat Back is an experimental work of music-drama.

This is shaping up to be a very exciting project. Christopher Burris has joined the project as my collaborating director, and I really appreciate his perspective as we are moving towards the staged reading events.

Freedom Train gives its resident playwrights so much support to help bring the work to life. From the play development workshops, to assistance with casting, to career sessions, to the Train’s great network of backstage and onstage talent, to the other resident playwrights.

It’s great, great, great! I hope you all get a chance to see our work in August.
More soon.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

So many shows, so much to do...

So here we are halfway through June. I am WORN OUT. From work, writing, being a good citizen for the arts, and life in general. But hey, would I really want it any other way?

Here’s a quick rundown of what I’ve been up to:

Residency with Freedomtrain
Things are really going well. As a resident playwright, I’ve been attending workshops designed to support the development of my new project, as well as the other resident playwrights this year, Ayanna Maia and Patricia Ione Lloyd.

Most recently, Freedomtrain provided a great workshop with director, Michael Goldfried, looking at the play development process from a director’s perspective. We’ve also had workshops with J. Julian Christopher, Marian Yalini Thambynayagam, and Carla Ching. They’ve all brought different strengths and points of view to our new works. It’s great! Aurin Squire is putting all of this together, as Freedomtrain’s Director of New Play Development, and I think he’s doing a fantastic job!

In other news, I’ve been all over the local arts circuit. I caught Theresa Rebeck’s Our House at Playwrights Horizons a few weeks ago. I took in Harlem Stage’s E-moves, which really is a great way to see what choreographers are up to in the world of movement. Last week, I took in Jamal Williams’ Eulogy for the Black Man and Wendell Edward Carter’s Rara Avis, presented as part of an arts festival celebrating Harlem’s historic Sugar Hill and Hamilton Heights neighborhoods (where I live.)

And those are just a few of the highlights. Thanks for reading! Later…

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Apollo Salon Series 2009

So I have been given the opportunity to host the Apollo Salon Series. I am SOOOOOO excited, and it has been a great experience so far.

Last Saturday we kicked-off the Series with a really cool preview event. Jessica Care Moore, Dana Leong, and Melvin Van Peebles were in the house and gave the audience a sneak peek into their Salon Series projects. Greg Tate led a panel discussion with the artists, on working outside the mainstream and other interesting topics.


And I’m not just saying that because I work at the Apollo. This was a multifaceted, multicultural, multigenerational group of artists. And to have them on the stage together, sharing about their process, about American culture, and the arts---it was just a great moment to be a part of.

Hip Hop Theater pioneer, Will Power is also presenting a project in the Salon Series. He couldn’t make it to the kick-off event. But his project, the Upper Room plays this weekend. And I’m very excited about what he’s brought to share.
Anyways, that’s what’s keeping me busy these days. That and a thousand other things.


Saturday, March 28, 2009

Residency with FreedomTrain...

Hey guess what!

I am a 2009 resident playwright with Freedomtrain Productions. In a nutshell Freedomtrain seeks the development of politically progressive Theater from a queer black perspective. I’m a big supporter of the Train. They’re a relatively young organization and are already making waves! This residency is a great opportunity.

There are a couple duties that come with the residency, so I’ll be sharing more in the coming months.

On the immediate horizon is the Spring Fire! event April 19. There will be a performance event showcasing the work of the entire 2009 resident playwright cohort, Ayanna Maia, Patricia Ione Lloyd and yours truly.

The evening concludes with a Benefit dance party. It should be a lot of fun.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

How did we already get to the Ides of March

Julius Caesar + Malcolm X =
Blood, Politics, Heartbreak, etc. - the stuff of DRAMA.

Well I'm past due for an update, and there's a lot to share. So I'll be hammering out some posts over the next few days.

First off, in the world of shows, the last 45 days or so have kept me busy. I've been especially caught up at work, with the 75th Anniversary of the Apollo Theater.

But I've found some time to support some other shows going on.

The Classical Theatre of Harlem supports new works in its Future Classics Series, and the series presented a reading of Julius X, by Al Leston, Jr., and directed by Tracey Jack. The reading was presented at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

Julius X draws inspiration from two assassinations: Julius Caesar (as retold by Shakespeare) and Malcolm X. It's an interesting combination of source material, with a great pay off.

Leston's text evoked a blended world, mid-twentieth century Harlem inflected with the Shakespearean versions of Rome and Romans.

It's precisely the kind of work I would expect from the Classical Theatre of Harlem, and I'd really like to see a full production of it.

Julius X wasn't a musical, but music was a heavy element. There were sing-song moments of dialogue, full out song, and a musical narrator/side character. But the music, far from lightening the mood, added an element of gravitas. Rallying cries, political soliloquies, moments of resolution and uncertainty. Those were the moments when the music showed up, drums and vocals, and to great effect.

You can get more on the show's blog here.

Yep. I'd like to see this work on the stage. Congrats playwright, cast, director and the team at Classical Theatre of Harlem.

That's all I've got right now. Stay tuned for more though.

Monday, February 2, 2009

2009 Projects - Setting the Stage

These are my lead creative projects slated for this year.

The Lattice Crashes

Goal: Full NYC Production/minimum 2 week run

The Lattice Crashes is a stage-play that examines a contemporary hate crime from the vantage point of the distant future, where race, gender, and sexuality no longer hold the same meaning.

Bring the Beat Back
Goal: Script development, staged reading in August 09 (hopefully with Freedomtrain productions)

Bring the Beat Back is a work of music-drama that reaches into a transcendental realm of underground dance music to trace a new idea of the American family. Bring the Beat Back is informed by scholarship in ethnomusicology and cultural studies, and gestures toward an alternative to conventional musical productions.

Goals: content development, feature film script completion, live production options

NightQueen contemplates a new multicultural mythology that blends mysticism with an imperfect politics of feminism, social equality, and environmentalism.

is a multifaceted creative project that explores a unique fantasy-world through live dramatic presentations, musical performances, web-based offerings, and other production projects.

I’ll also be working on an independent LGBT romantic comedy as well as a spec script for a television program.

More later. (much more. there's some major stuff I can't share just yet.)


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

With a Spirit of Optimism – Inauguration Day and a renewed American promise

So here we are, somehow already in the future so many generations before thought we’d never reach.

Wow is really all I can say.

This is a well-deserved moment of celebration. Yes. Jubilee! Sing Praises. Give thanks! All of that and more!!!

Time moves us forward, and we’ve come to this threshold in history to build a better future.

Today, watching the inauguration on a big screen at work, I felt the immense promise in the air. The energy was electrifying. It wasn’t simply the sight of the first black president, it was this genuine spirit of hope I shared with people everywhere.

For those who have come before, for ourselves, and for future generations, we are coming together to seek our best destiny.

There are challenges on this bright, renewed path, I’m sure. But we are going to meet them and overcome, together.

Congratulations President Obama. Congratulations to all of us.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

2008 Review: What I Wrote – NightQueen

I was supposed to figure out how musical elements would help ground my fantasy work, NightQueen this year. NightQueen, in a nutshell, contemplates an alternative reality, grounded in environmental principles and structured as a matriarchy. It’s a fantasy piece, writ large, and since 2000 or so I’ve been on again off again with versions for the screen and stage.

The last time I worked on the project, I got stuck as I wanted to present it as a live performance, but the world is so intricate and stuff that it got overbearing. So I resolved to do something musical instead.
And I didn’t do it.

I wrote, yet another version of NightQueen. This time, I began in an Urban Wilderness, and followed a young woman as she gradually discovered this alternative fantasy realm, and her role in it.

I’ll have to do better. NightQueen has a lot of potential, but I have to dedicate my full attention to it to do it right. This on again, off again, isn’t cutting it.

And since I mentioned music, I was supposed to collaborate on a full-fledged musical in 2008 too. That didn’t even get out of the concept stage, I’m afraid.

Now for the record, I’ve got chops as a pianist, and my musical talents have been rather latent since I got to New York. With good reason, I might add. But excuses can’t carry the day.

So poor marks for me with NightQueen and my musical forays. Bad form and all that.

That’s all I have. Next post…What’s on the horizon for 2009…

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

2008 Review: What I Wrote – The Apocalyptists

The end of the world.
Like so many, I am somewhat fascinated by the inherent drama and the various possibilities in world-changing and world-ending events. This fascination is coalescing into a fictional group I will call the Apocalyptists.

In my imagination, the Apocalyptists are a group borne out of ideas of human fatalism, Freud’s death drive, and a few other ideological positions. There are many variations of Apocalyptists over human history, and, in the worlds I’m writing about, the Apocalyptists organize formally to seek out the end of humanity (as the ultimate, most desirable, and most just conclusion for the human race).

Some Apocalyptists are disenchanted secular humanists, some are religious fanatics, some are extreme environmentalists. There are many flavors, and over the decades they’ve been the source of lots of good schemes to bring about Armageddon.

I had a great time researching this stuff. Freud's death drive came up. I re-examined Samuel Delany and his masterpiece, Dhalgren. I looked at the Book of Revelation. The singularity. A little bit on pralay in Hinduism. I also threw in some suicide cults for good measure...

And even though I didn’t get Teena Keeper quite right in 2008, I’ve got a very good footing for these Apocalyptist folk. So much so, that in 2009, I’m going to pursue an Apocalyptist Episode called Bring the Beat Back.

Teena’s not going to be in this one (we’re taking a break from each other), but Bring the Beat Back is going to help set the stage for a more compelling exploration of Teena’s world.

And sometimes, that’s how these things have to go.

Apocalypse (Greek: Ἀποκάλυψις -translit. apoca'lipsis, meaning literally: the lifting of the veil), is a term applied to the disclosure to certain privileged persons of something hidden from the majority of humankind. Today the term is often used to mean "End of planet Earth", which may be a shortening of the phrase apokalupsis eschaton which literally means "revelation at the end of the æon, or age".

Eschatology (from the Greek ἔσχατος, Eschatos meaning "last" and -logy meaning "the study of") is a part of theology and philosophy concerned with the final events in the history of the world, or the ultimate destiny of humanity, commonly referred to as the end of the world.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

2008 Review: What I Wrote – The Lattice Crashes

Even as Teena and I fell out, I was getting geared up for another ambitious project, grounded by a modern-day hate crime. This project was to have homophobia, racial tension, and class conflict galore, and really give me a platform to share some of my own social and cultural hang-ups.

I took a leap with the subject matter, setting it in the distant future, which gave me lots of room to play. I was trying to look at today from a removed vantage point, trying to take every conflicting position at face value, and I didn’t want to villainize anyone.

My historical characters – the hate crime victim, the accused assailant, and their parents grapple with the horrific events that bind them together, but they also struggle to understand themselves as relics, as far removed from a clear and present reality. They emerge, future-shocked in a world they don’t understand, and a world that doesn’t really understand them either. After a few rewrites, I think I’ve finally gotten it about right.

2008 was a “development year,” for the Lattice Crashes.

-I hashed the first draft of the scrip in my playwriting fellowship with Edward Pomerantz (one of the lead teachers in the Harlem Arts Alliance/Columbia University/New Federal Theater Dramatic Writing Fellowship)

-I got some scene excerpts performed with Freedomtrain Productions.

-I did a full reading with the River View Players.

Any dramatic writer will tell you these experiences are invaluable in the birth of a new play. Performers, directors, readers, and audiences have provided great feedback for various elements of the work in progress.

The outcome is a stronger tighter version of the Lattice Crashes that I cannot wait to bring to the stage in 2009. More on that a bit later, but for now, it’s time for some thank you’s:

Andre Carrington
DuEwa Frazier
Bryan Glover
Patricia Golden
Rhonney Greene
Tanya Hartwell
Elizabeth Herron
Laurence Holder
Aymar Jean
Aaron Joy
Andre Lancaster
Teresa Michelle Lasley
Clinton Lowe
Meredith Pierce
Edward Pomerantz
Shanae Sharon
Kelvin Summerhill
Emmitt Thrower
Mona Washington
Bridgette Wimberly
Darius Wilkins
And everybody I forgot...

Monday, January 5, 2009

2008 Review: What I Wrote – Teena Keeper

I create a list of annual objectives every 12 months, helping to focus and ground my artistic and professional decisions throughout the year.

2008 was no different. I set out to build upon my successes (and failures) in 2008 to advance my efforts as a creative writer. Over the next few days, I’ll be posting reflections on my progress. Starting today with:

Teena Keeper

I have a complicated relationship with this character, so please forgive me if I speak about her like a real person.

She's a favorite in my character roster. I find her resonant in so many ways, and what little I’ve written about her over the years has been received rather well.

From the very first short story I wrote about Teena (in an undergrad creative writing class), she has been a young woman in torment. Essentially, Teena suffers from a turbulent childhood. As an adult “voices in her head” that just might be real disrupt every stab she takes at a normal life.

This past year, I set out to examine Teena Keeper’s resistance.

*She resists her paranormal abilities.
*She resists her role in the unraveling of our world,
*She resists the relationships that may help her be healthy.

She’s a mess, and I wanted to explore that with a new work on the stage.

Result: I fleshed this character out. I’ve gotten details of her early childhood down. I know who/what torments her now. I know the overall narrative arc of her rather extraordinary life. I tried to get at some of this with a new play. I focused on Teena and a special Voice in her head that is particularly troublesome, a presence I call the Remnant.

Their antagonistic relationship, when executed properly, should yield emotional and narrative pyrotechnics that would delight any audience. However, what I wrote early last year didn’t even delight me. In short, it sorta sucked. I knew it, and so did Teena. So we aren’t on speaking terms right now.

This is not to say this was a waste of time. Teena Keeper and I are meant to work together, and I’m sure we’ll be speaking again soon. I’m going to get Miss Thing’s story right, but I’m not rushing her. It has to be right. And all that work did help me flesh out her world, especially this Remnant adversary of hers. So I’m not upset a bit about it. (Teena’s upset though, and so are some of her friends. Ms. Keeper hasn’t gotten a fair shot since 2001!)

Also, because I started the year off with this rather meaty character, it got the creative juices going. Most directly, I realize that Teena’s story can be part of a multi-pronged SAGA that has tinges of sci-fi, but dabbles in “real people” fiction, and will have all sorts of iterations. The connecting element for all of this stuff? The Apocalyptists, which is the subject of another post coming up.