Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Summer of Poetry Immersion by Daemond Arrindell

This was the summer of poetry immersion. I was involved in soooooo many venues for writing, performing, critiquing the art of writing and performance poetry you might say I had it on overload. You might say I became a living breathing metaphor, a freestyle waiting to happen, an edit in progress.

This summer I co-coached the Seattle National Youth Slam team and the adult National Slam team, co-facilitated a poetry and theater residency at Echo Glen Children's Center AND wrote three brand new poems for a show called "Up, When I Grow", a beautiful collaboration of music, poetry, and film.

This past spring I joined my dear friend and poet Denise Jolly in taking on the mantle of co-executive directors of Youth Speaks Seattle - the Pacific Northwest's premier youth spoken word program. YSS is well known for having some of the most amazing young poets and performers out there. These are young people who tackle the topics of identity, racism, sexism, gender, abuse and violence and many others on the page and then bravely take it to the stage. Here are links to give you a taste of the brilliance that emanates from these young people:

Dujie from Chris Wiggles on Vimeo.

Henry: Names from Chris Wiggles on Vimeo.

Dakota 2009 Grand Slam from Chris Wiggles on Vimeo.

ClaireJF (Invisible Man) from Chris Wiggles on Vimeo.

And while the level of talent is obviously immense, so were the challenges. We had one member of the team residing out of the area, crazy schedules, my co-coach and I were juggling the transitioning of an entire organization which had been run in very specific ways in the past - change, even when positive, is always a difficult thing. And somehow, we managed to make it work, through heavy and confrontational conversations, through hardship, through honesty. The work culminated in a trip for the team and coaches and a few mentors to the Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam festival.

If you've ever been to summer camp and LOVED it - did NOT want to go home at the end of it, then you have a tiny idea of what BNV is. Imagine HUNDREDS of young people who are passionate about their art form from across the country and the globe. There were youth from Guam, India, England, the Caribbean and ALL of them eager to share their words and hear the words of their peers. I could spend days trying to recap and take account of all that took place at BNV, so instead I will say this: the brilliant youth we brought with us to this festival were changed by it. Each of them will remember their experience for the rest of their lives. Not just in regards to their writing and performance but in regards to the possibility for young people to make a positive impact on the world around them. Beautiful.

At Echo Glen, we had but 5-6 workshops to take a group of young people who had been incarcerated, many for violent crimes, and get them to write poetry and put on a show. Total, we had about 18 young people. And i have to admit, getting "buy-in" was NOT easy. Because honestly, what difference is poetry going to make to a 16 or 17 year old locked behind bars? Well, to quote Robin Williams' Mr. Keating from "Dead Poets Society":

"We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. ...you are here - that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play *goes on* and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?"

We provided these young people with an opportunity to speak their OWN truths about themselves - who they've been, who they are and who they want to be. They held themselves accountable, talked about the future in terms of things that they wanted to own but also in terms of what actions would get them there and what could get in the way. The final result was a script of their own words, an invitation into their world, to see them from a different view point than just a bunch of kids in orange jumpsuits who make really bad decisions. The final result was a work of art, was something none of them had ever done before and it was moving, honest and hopeful.

With the adult national slam team, I had the honor of working with an all-women team - Seattle's first. Tara Hardy, member of MANY Seattle Slam teams, a verbal powerhouse and founder of the Bent Writing Institute; Maya Hersh, alumnus of the youth poetry scene and member of last year's Seattle team, Rocky Bernstein, alumni of Youth Speaks Seattle, the rookie of the team, singer and vocal virtuoso; and Karen Finneyfrock, novelist, former slammaster, media darling and an incredibly versatile writer. This team was a powerhouse of grace and ... and I could seriously gush about this team til the cows come home. I know for a fact that I learned so much more from them than vice versa. The way that they took care of each other and grew in such a short period of time was so heartwarming. Especially because the team took on the goal of crafting numerous group pieces - something Seattle has never really done before.

Crafting group poems is not an easy feat and there are numerous ways to go about it: take an existing poem and divide up the lines amongst the poets, write a poem together, take sections of existing poems and weave them together or take an existing poem and bring in some background singing and/or sound effects to enhance the words/storytelling.

What was amazing to watch and participate in was the Seattle team engaging in ALL of these forms. In the end, there were five multi-voice poems. And there was something very significant about watching a team of four women take the stage each time it happened. A hush would fall over the crowd, as if they knew they were in for something different and special. Beyond that, The National Poetry Slam this year was a ton of fun. It seemed to lack the drama that sometimes gets in the way of the good stuff. The good stuff being the greater community of spoken word artists coming together for a week of art, competition and camaraderie. It's the Brave New Voices for adults - summer camp for poets. And we love it every year.

My summer came to a close with the show I performed in called Up, When I Grow - multi-genre, multi-voice collaborative show that wasn't quite theater and wasn't quite a poetry show. I DO know that our audiences raved about it and many said they had never seen anything like it, as well as this was one of the best shows I've seen in a long time.

All of the work in the show was original. Eight artists in total, two singer-songwriters and six poets, all writing and performing about the craziness of growing up. Strangely enough, every single one of the cast members had a moment over the summer feeling like what they were working on was crap and not worth anything. I guess facing our childhoods was borne to bring up insecurities and fears.

But in the last rehearsals it came clear that all of the work that was being brought was original, timely, poignant and VERY well crafted.

In the end, I performed two solos and a duet. The solos addressed my desire to be the first black Jacques Cousteau AND my initial experiences with the "N" word. The duet faced fatherhood and the meaning of fathers when growing up.

In the end, I received tons of affirmations and applause; 'wows', 'im so proud of you's, and my favorite "you need to be doing this more".

Which brings me back to the quote from Dead Poets Society - while I love teaching and coaching and facilitating to help others find their own words and truths, the most amazing gift poetry has given me is my own words, my own voice. I have been reminded of the need for me to contribute my OWN verse to the great and powerful play, which will go on no matter what. What will I choose to contribute? Keep your eyes and ears posted and you'll be sure to find out.

Daemond Arrindell will be teaching Spoken Word and Performance Poetry at Freehold beginning October 9th. For more information, go to Spoken Word.. To check out a sample of Daemond's class plus other Freehold acting classes, come to our Open House on October 8, 6:00 - 8:00.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

From Our Studio: Student and Alum News

Cris Berns, Amber Cutlip, Elizabeth Deutsch, Ted Dowling, Lisa Every, Toan Le, Sachie Mikawa, Carter Rodriguez, Sally Rose, Sara Rucker Thiessen, Ryan Sanders, Tom Spangenberg, and Lori Stein will be performing in Bash Theatre's production of The Suicide at Ballard Underground, December 3 - 19, 2010. Info at www.bashtheatre.org.

Sachie Mikawa, John Leith and Carter Rodriguez will be performing in Le Frenchword's Fancy Mud directed by George Lewis in late September or early October with the full-length piece being shown in December.

David Kubiczky
is doing a film called Mouse Ward Diaries, which is supposed to begin shooting in October. It's a small role and David plays a doctor in a psych ward. David has been fairly busy over the year in Los Angeles, landing lead or supporting roles in 10 indie films (4 features, 6 shorts), a voice-over for an animated short, a music video (Rihanna) and a commercial (with Taboo of Black Eyed Peas).

John Leith will be performing his original one man show Villians on Tuesday, November 9, Sunday, November 14 and Tuesday, November 23 at the Rendezvous, one block north of Freehold, 2322 2nd Avenue, Belltown, Shows at 6:30 and 8:15 pm, $10.00 He will be previewing a selection of the show at WhizArtBang on September 2nd.

Kathy Hsieh, Lisa Maria Nakamura and Elizabeth Daruthayan will be performing in SIS's production of Sex in Seattle 18: An Everyday Kind of Love written by Kathy Hsieh running September 10 through October 9th. For more information, go to SexinSeattle.org

Carol Maki will be performing comedy at the Comedy Underground in Pioneer Square 9/8, 9/28, 10/19, and 11/2.

Lucinda Stroud
wrote the adaptation for Book-It's upcoming Great Expectations. The play is running from February 8 - March 6th.

From our Studio: Freehold Faculty News

Daemond Arrindell will be seen in TumbleMe Productions & Mae Pictures film UP (When I Grow), September 9th & 10th at Theatre Off Jackson, Seattle. 7:30 Door, 8:00 Show, $10-$15 tickets available at Brown Paper Tickets. UP (When I Grow), is a collaborative, multi-genre show about dreams. More info here. Daemond also produces the Seattle Poetry Slam every Tuesday night at Rebar. $5.00 tickets.

Gin Hammond directed The Westerbork Serenade which is now going to the Netherlands! The Westerbork Serenade, written and performed by David Natale, brings home a seldom remembered story of the Holocaust. His award-winning one-man show tells the story of Jewish entertainers in a Nazi transit camp. All are welcome to attend their benefit performance in Seattle on October 13 at the Odd Duck Studio. For more info and to contribute please go to: http://www.indiegogo.com/The-Westerbork-Serenade?i=pite

Sarah Harlett will be performing in ACT's The Christmas Carol running November 26 - December 26. More information: ACT Theatre.

John Jacobsen's show - The Artist Toolbox just got picked up to start airing nationally on public television starting Jan 7, and they just got John Legend for their next episode (www.MogaJacobsen.com). Also , the film John directed, Arthur, is done and being entered at Cannes and Sundance.

Darragh Kennan
will be playing the title role of Hamlet at Seattle Shakespeare Company, October 25 - December 5th. More information: Seattle Shakespeare Company.

George Lewis is directing the Bash Theatre Company in the 1920's Russian comedy, The Suicide by Nikolai Erdman. It will be performed at the Ballard Underground, December 3 - 19, 2010. Info at www.Bashtheatre.org George is also directing Le Frenchword's Fancy Mud which will be performed sometime in late September or early October with the full-length piece being shown in December.

John Longenbaugh plays will be performed at Arcana, running 9/10-10/2 at Open Circle Theatre. John Longenbaugh's Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Christmas Carol finally gets its fully staged premiere on November 26 at Taproot Theatre. Tickets for Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Christmas Carol

Paul Mullin's play Louis Slotin Sonata will be making its mid-West premiere in Chicago at A Red Orchid Theatre, opening Sept 10 and running through Oct. 24. Originally commissioned by A Contemporary Theatre as part of their now defunct FirstACT play development program, Louis Slotin Sonata premiered at Circle X Theatre in Los Angeles and went on to win the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for Outstanding World Premiere. More information about the play can be found on Paul Mullin's blog. Poster image from A Red Orchid's Theatre production of Louis Slotin Sonata.

Amy Thone will be performing in Seattle Repertory Theatre's production of God of Carnage with her husband, Hans Altwies. Performances will be from October 1 - October 24. More information, Seattle Repertory Theatre.

Annette Toutonghi
will be doing a public reading/performance of There is a Field by Jen Marlowe. Performances will be the first weekend in October.

Billie Wildrick will be performing in Café Nordo: Sauced, then followed directly by A Christmas Story, and then Vanities.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

From Our Studio: "Commitment, Play the Action, Make Choices" by Denise Powell

"Commitment, Play the Action, Make Choices," these are all words that you'll hear and experience as part of the Intro to Acting I class with George Lewis.

We start our first class by standing in a circle, taking a temperature of how each person is feeling and then launching into a series of movements with our bodies, I mean your entire body! I hope you're not shy because this class is all about experiencing the action not just being an innocent bystander. I soon realized people come for all different reasons, to feel more confident, those that are actively pursuing the profession and those that have just always secretly wanted to take an acting class.

There were many different experiences in this class; one of my favorites was one where you bring in something of importance to you. We weren't given any more information about what to bring. Each person got the opportunity in front of the group to re-live their recollection of the item. It was wonderful to see and feel that person's experience. It was also a chance to be vulnerable and see how that experience can make you and the audience feel. In George's words "that was lovely to watch".

Another great assignment was the 2 Minute Exercise where you choose a recent ordinary moment and recreate that in class. You also bring in and set the stage for that moment. You'll never look at ordinary every day moments quite the same anymore. Humanity is so much fun to watch and experience. You don't even know the idiosyncrasies each of us have until you put a spotlight on it. It's what makes acting so interesting.

I've taken several classes other places but this felt like I really was taking my first 'real' acting class here at Freehold. I know this is what I want to do even though I know it's one of the most competitive careers out there. I really appreciated the constructive feedback that George gave; he was specific and knowledgeable in his responses. I really liked and appreciated his no nonsense and direct approach. I would highly recommend this class to anyone ready to take a crack at this acting thing. I'm sure you'll walk away hungry for more, I know I did!!!

Denise's Fellow Summer Intro to Acting students had their own thoughts on their Freehold acting experience:

"I experienced a wonderful connection with myself and my partners in the different activities we did. It was amazing what place you can get to when you really open yourself up and become vulnerable in the moment with yourself and your partner." - Dani

"Class provided me the chance to break down, examine and understand what I felt during the exercise. The activities challenged me and got me thinking in a whole new way. Instead of ignoring feelings to maintain appearances which often happens in real life we were asked to express those feelings. It was great." - Holly

"This class helped me develop my whole instrument with vocal and movement exercises. I learned how to use my voice and body to be a stronger actor." -Brie

From Our Theatre Lab: "Embrace" by Vanessa Skantze

A longtime desire was realized for me this past July, when Robin Lynn Smith asked me to join her in conducting workshops inside the detention facilities we had performed within during the tour of the Freehold Engaged Theatre Program's production of Julius Caesar. I had long wanted to share the essence of my passion, Ankoku Butoh (Dance of Darkness), with incarcerated people and veterans. Butoh dance is a way of delimiting the self by awakening movement through deep focus and visceral transformation. In highly charged situations such as prison and war the person must be embodied and focused, prepared to engage with any danger that arises. This can prove highly stressful, but it can also hone an ability to be present and immediate, to listen deeply and respond authentically in ways the outside culture can distract the rest of us from doing. I knew entering into this experience that I would be more taught than teaching. It was such an honor to share the work I love and the gifts received from dancing with my teacher, Atsushi Takenouchi, that any resistance I perceived did not dissuade me. I saw his face and heard his voice, and felt graced to be able to transmit elements of this dance to these individuals.

In joining Robin Lynn Smith, Daemond Arrindell, Reggie Jackson, Sly Kamara, Sarah Harlett, Lori Evans, Eva Abram, Kirsten McCory, and Trina Harris for these workshops I was also agreeing to be a participant in the acting and writing exercises, as were they. I found myself paired the first evening at Monroe with a small and wiry bookish fellow who chose for our improvisation an ancient god and the first woman he created. I found the encounter sweet and playful, a gift of the saving grace that wild imagination provides for this man. I led the men in a brief movement exploration -- feeling the breath as wind, flying the body, experiencing the waves within -- and there was laughter and uncertainty. One guy exuberantly shouted out "I'm a bird!" another "I'm a surfer!" In that moment we shared the pleasure of the child at play-- a quality many of us bury when very small out of pain and fear. Each time I beheld and felt this sense of play I was reminded of its healing power and also its value for learning and change: the essence of beginner's mind (this is how teachers are paid-- we get to steep in that quality again and again with our students). The joy of resurrecting that openness has been one of the great gifts of butoh for me -- the recovery of our original wonder and curiosity which blasts through the fear of being ridiculed or exploited. This recognizance gave me an understanding when the kids at Echo Glen were hesitant to give over to the butoh imagery I was leading them in exploring... I knew at that long-ago point in my life how hard it would have been to enter into that space. At the same time it was wonderful how impressed the kids were with our performance -- that the intensity and rigor of our dance could strike them so profoundly. One, a young guy who said he stood for original hip hop, asked how long would it to take to get to our level? He said he thought he could do it, and that he would see us out on the road one day. To have my strange and obscure dance affect this kid so much was thrilling!

The rawness of the life experience in these places gets under your skin immediately. I felt feverish and quickened each time we entered a facility. Our time was so concentrated -- rather than a steeping in the practice of acting, or writing, or butoh we were asking them (and ourselves) to throw back undiluted shots. Which they did without flinching. They entered in along with us.

On our second visit to Monroe the guys were beautifully exuberant, horses let out of the stalls into pasture with eager bodies and hungry spirits. I again had a remarkable duet improvisation exploring the mistrust and pain experienced in the long separations these men have from their partners. I was in the body of a woman trying to hold it together alone, frustrated with but still so much in love with her man. How much these people carry inside! We listened to their words about what they fear: Would they get out? How would they live if they got out? We were seared. They have no respite from feeling this fear, they breathe with it day and night. This gauntlet they walk -- if only more people could hear and empathize with these people and see how much they yearn for another way. This remarkable guy who nakedly shared his experience of fear -- of how that was the real deal for all of those men, running through everything -- came up to me afterward and asked about the practice I had led, which evoked waves of wind and water, bearing the flowers that bring life and death, the dead body being carried by loving hands rising, spirit walking into the heart of the sun. He asked about me - was I vegan, did I practice yoga (yes to both) -- immediately understanding that this work I love was also part of a path, a different way to live. We graced each other: me by extending my practice of seeking deep connection to life force in all things through deep attention and care, and he by intuiting the spirit life the dance is a manifestation of.

My teacher calls his dance Jinen butoh. Jinen means All, the energy or life force infusing all things. One of the first practices I danced with Atsushi was the Embrace -- using the mantra of the OM while extending the arms out and drawing into the core of the body, reaching and touching all life and bringing it into oneself, becoming more viscerally part of the All. The embrace does not judge -- it draws into its field the young and the old, the beautiful and the hideous, the joyous and the brutal, the vast and the infinitesimal, the sick and the dying. At last one embraces ones own death, and then experiences oneself embraced in that dying. When I led this practice at the VA hospital center and at the women's prison, I had my heart caught by that vulnerable space of people when they are listening and feeling deeply. This is what I fell in love with from the first yoga class I taught, fourteen years ago. I believe in sharing our work we become empathetic bridges, through visceral connection with others. I felt the whole experience of these workshops was an embrace -- a deep part of me touched and transformed irrevocably by the willing spirits of all whom we worked with. It is palpable how much these individuals desire not only their own healing but want to be sources of healing for others. Like returning vets who dedicate themselves to helping other vets heal and find a valuable life path, these people have the innate capacity to be empathetic bridges for others struggling with hard choices around how to live. Witnessing not only their articulation of their personal struggle, pain and triumph but also their energetic support as they listened to each other (and to us) in the potent writing prompt exercises that Daemond led, I experienced a piercing shimmer of the vision of community that fires our work and life. I am fortunate to have been present.

Vanessa Skantze practices and teaches yoga and butoh dance, and is co-director of Danse Perdue Ankoku Ritual Butoh. She performs regularly in Seattle at alternative venues and at her space Teatro de la Psychomachia in SoDo.

Photos from Freehold's production of Julius Caesar, photo above Sylvester Kamara and Vanessa Skantze and second photo: Vanessa Skantze, Lin Lucas and Jacob "AZ" Squirrel. Photo credits: Kate Gavigan

From Our Studio: Freehold's Summer New Play Lab: Truth as Theme by Dickey Nesenger

When Oedipus discovers he's the one who killed King Laius, slept with his own mother and caused the plague, he rips his eyeballs out. The protagonists created in the plays during this summer's New Play Lab may not have succumbed to a similar fate but each was built on the necessity of telling the truth; moreover, accepting the consequences. As evidenced in all the plays, "truth as theme" was foremost on the minds of the nine playwrights, each writer using his imagination and considerable dramatic skill to kick start characters into "coming clean." The writers and I shared much dialogue on the nature and application of craft in terms of character development and how to peel away the proverbial onion of behavior and personality to get to the core of truthfulness or, knowingness.

I have excerpted a few questions and comments offered by the playwrights and myself, on how to transform protagonists into truth-seeking missionaries.

Q: How will using the "truth as theme" help me in the writing of my play?

A: It will assist you in creating proactive characters with strong acting choices for your actors and a point of connection for your audience.

Q: How will this concept help me with my story-line?

A: It will help you find what your story is about. (In the New Play Lab, the plays were about family longing, loyalty, betrayal, corruption, fear of failure, loss, redemption and guilt).

Q: With all the information I have gleaned on this subject, how do I feel like I am writing a play rather than a thesis?

A: You won't if you write succinctly, focusing on what it is your character ultimately needs to reveal (All great plays have a story that is simple. It's the characters who are complex).

Q: I understand the concept of external event, and what a character wants; for example Oedipus wants to find out who started the plague, but what about the internal event, the deeper story that evolves from a character's point of discovery?

A: Great question! When a character discovers the truth--through unfolding events--he changes big time, moving in a new direction, either succumbing to his dark side (tragedy) or enlightenment (all other genres). Ask your protagonist by the end of the play, okay, now what do I do with the rest of my life? If you built your "truth as theme" story on solid foundation, he'll tell you the answer.

Dickey Nesenger is a playwright and playwriting instructor. Dickey teaches at Freehold and Hugo House and mentors for PATH for Art, a Seattle based community outreach program, and serves as panelist for Artist Trust Foundation and Advisory Editor for Knock Press at Antioch University Seattle.

JOIN US for Freehold's New Play Lab
September 16, 17, 18
At Freehold, 2222 2nd Avenue, Suite 200

Check out some exciting new excerpts from the plays of Freehold's summer New Play Lab students taught by Dickey Nesenger. The staged readings/showcase are directed by Bill Selig, Dave Tucker, Meghan Arnette and Susan Harrison.

Featuring excerpts of plays by:

Patty Cogen
Robert Flor
Bonnie Foster
Don Harmon
Marcia Helme
Michele Lucien Erickson
German Munoz
Mary Paradise
Kathleen Thompson

Cast includes: Jim Anderson, Simone Barron, Jillian Boshart, Alice Bridgforth, Eloisa Cardona, Gary Estrada, Bonnie Foster, Jason Franklin, Gail Harvey, Katelyn Hanson, T’ai Hartley, Gail Harvey, Barbara Lindsay, Kere Loughlin-Presnal, Richard Payne, Matt Riggins, John Ruoff, Ron Sandahl, Michael Xenakis

FREE - Donations Accepted

The performance times are:
Program A, Thurs, Sept. 16 @ 8:00pm
Program B, Fri, Sept 17 at 8:00pm
Program B, Sat. Sept 18 at 3:00pm
Program A, Sat. Sept. 18 at 8:00pm

Program A: Thursday and Saturday Night

Aftermath by Mary Paradise
Brain Tumor Dreams by K.C. Thompson
Sentimental Journey by Patty Cogen
The Route by Don Harmon

Program B: Friday Night and Saturday Matinee

The Dealer's Hand by Bonnie Foster
Icarus by Marcia Phillips Helme
Daniel's Mood by Robert Flor
Garage Sale by Michele Lucien Erickson
The Abortion Play by Germán Munoz

Questions? (206) 323-7499 or kate@freeholdtheatre.org