Rituals, Theatre, and Transformative Goodness

Adinkra symbol of transformation.

Adinkra symbol of transformation.

By Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © 2017 by Leslye Joy Allen

The first time I met theatre expert Paul Carter Harrison, he distinguished “theatre” from “drama” as theatre being the story that always contained some form of ritual and symbolism whereas drama simply told a story.  It was a bit more complicated than that, but I still remember that discussion.  It made me think of essays I read about how theatre began among us humans as rituals and performances designed to appease the gods or God.  Theatre was birthed in belief, in belief in something higher and more potent than ourselves, and that we all had a responsibility to this entity or entities higher than ourselves.  This thought has popped in my head off and on for the last two weeks…and today I think I discovered why this notion of ritual as theatre and theatre as ritual all designed to bring favor from the gods or God is so potent and timely…

Today I met a fiftyish White woman from Minnesota who told me that several cities in Minnesota solved their transportation problems by “building freeways through Black neighborhoods and business districts.”  Then she said, “they destroyed those neighborhoods.  There is a documentary about this but I can’t remember the name of it.” I then mentioned a former classmate who was writing his thesis about such a topic.  She was genuinely angry about it and talked about how unethical it all was.  “I’ll take Atlanta’s traffic to that kind of destruction any day of the week,” she said.

After she and I exchanged a few mutual comments about the late Minneapolis-born Prince, she asked me what was my discipline and I told her “History” and that my dissertation topic was about theatre.  Then she mentioned the Penumbra Theatre in Saint Paul, Minnesota and our conversation was off to the races.  I also had a conversation with a young man from South Africa that had moved here and lived on my side of town.  “I love it, here!” he said.  He and I had a conversation that ranged from the problems of the old South African government to recent politics to the status of women.  He also mentioned that he had a hard time with sexism since everyone came from the body of a woman.  I reiterated that I always meet talented, respectful young Black people every single day.  So what does this have to do with theatre and rituals?

Here is something I would like you to think about, and it ties in with theatre as ritual, and the rituals found in theatre and everyday life.  When one attends the theatre, one typically leaves with a different perspective.  No one leaves a theatre the same way that they came in.  Sitting in the dark of that theatre and watching performers suspend reality and portray characters other than themselves is in and of itself a ritual for performer and audience member alike.  One is literally transformed by witnessing what is done on stage.  One can get into the habit of going to the theatre, but a ritual is not a habit.  A habit is something you do almost by reflex, almost involuntarily, and it may or may not have any particular benefit to you.  You just do it because, well, you’re in the habit of doing it; and that might not be a bad thing, but a habit does not originate from the same source as a ritual.

A ritual is deliberately done; it follows a deliberate pattern in order to produce specific results.  Rituals create order, or at least make us feel that there is some order to the universe and the world we inhabit even in the midst of chaos, which is why human beings created rituals in the first place; and also why human beings can become so alarmed when certain rituals are not followed to the letter.

Today I discovered my own ritual.  Someone asked me how I end up having these stimulating conversations with people who are often complete strangers like the woman from Minnesota and the young man from South Africa.  Well, maybe it is because I don’t really meet strangers.  Yet, it is also due to my determination to not become a news junkie that feeds on bad news and controversy.  And to avoid bad news and controversy these days, one must deliberately turn off the television and internet and smart phone, and look for the truth, or at least find some balance between the real truth and the truth that is often manufactured for us.  So consider this…

The word “theatre” comes from a Greek word meaning “the seeing place.”  The seeing place was where you went to witness performers deliver the truth and wisdom.  Well, the truth is that, in spite of what you see in the media, there are so many nice, thoughtful people out there. Most of these people will never be on the news.  You have to look for them where you are; and you often find what you deliberately look for.  Make that a ritual.  Àṣé.

Copyright © 2017 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

 

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: https://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

A Few Hyperlinks…

by Leslye Joy Allen

“Self Portrait” by Copyright © by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

“Self Portrait” by Copyright © by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

Copyright © 2017 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

I have to thank my academic and theatre families for reminding me that what I say and do matters more than I think it does.  They remind me to keep pressing on.  For those that asked, here are the archived hyperlinks to some segments of WABE’s Closer Look with Rose Scott and Jim Burress that I participated in as an Atlanta historian and as a native Atlantan of my beloved hometown.  Just click on any of the titles/hyperlinks below and then scroll down to listen to these archived programs on SoundCloud.  Thanks to all of you for your support. Enjoy!

June 6, 2016: Closer Look: Emory’s New President; Muhammad Ali; And More

August 12, 2016: History and Rebirth of Manuel’s Tavern

Sept. 22. 2016: Closer Look Special: How The 1906 Race Riot Changed Atlanta

Jan. 3, 2017: Closer Look: Kasim Reed’s Legacy; Community Planning; And More

 

Copyright © 2017 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: https://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

 

Sacred Places

By Leslye Joy Allen

Tropical Blue Ocean Water (public domain)

Tropical Blue Ocean Water (public domain)

I was among the people supremely delighted at the decision of the Army Corps of Engineers to halt any further construction of the Dakota Pipeline on Sunday, December 4, 2016 until further study of its environmental impact on the water supply in that area. I am not going to preach about the fact that eventually that pipeline would have negatively affected the water supply. You can read my previous blog “A Time of Drought,” to get an idea.

For environmentalists, like myself, this was an incredible victory because for the first time, in a long time, the environment was front and center.  The many Native American nations, along with military servicemen and women, environmentalists, and peoples from around the globe were involved in this protest. Often protests of this nature compete with news stories about who-wore-what to some awards show or the endless stories that moan and groan about things some people obviously have no intention of doing anything about, else they would not spend so much time moaning and groaning about them in the first place…

This time something as precious as water was at the forefront; and access to clean water is something that everyone can understand, even when they are less informed about other matters related to the environment…

Now, what I am about to say here might stun a few folks…

What a lot of people often fail to recognize is that in almost every instance where the earth or air or water has been disturbed or polluted, whether it is to extract oil or some other resource or to build some structure, there has almost always been some violation of the sacred, some disturbing of something that meant something precious to someone or to some group of people…

For my Atlanta readers, you might know, or might need reminding, that underneath a portion of Interstate 75-South lies an old cemetery filled with the graves of Black folks, our brothers and sisters. Where Interstate 75-South meets Cleveland Avenue lies a marble marker that designates the graves of roughly 1,700 former slaves who were buried in Gilbert Cemetery which had been created as a burial place for slaves in the early 1840s.

Because the area around this grave came to be known as “Plunkett Town” which was still occupied by poor, rural Blacks as late as the 1960s, the graveyard there did not illicit much concern until work crews from the Georgia Department of Transportation discovered the damaged burial grounds while building Interstate 75.  By the time of the discovery, the graves had already been disturbed, and the plans and money to build that highway were already in place.  No one considered the graveyards to be more important than building a much-needed highway.  What has been left there is a marker letting people who bother to look know that they are driving over a graveyard…

This is exactly what we all have been doing to Native Americans’ sacred sites ever since Europeans arrived on these shores, eventually and forcibly transporting millions of Africans here to perform heavy labor as slaves…

This is not a moral judgement, but rather food for thought.  Too often we—and that includes environmentalists as well, and I am just as guilty—do not think of water as anything other than something that will come out of a faucet when we turn that faucet on.  And as long as we can pay our Water Bill, we seem assured that when we turn that knob, water will come out…

But go pour a glass of water.  Look at it!  Say a prayer to it!  Respect it!

The Standing Rock protest that has temporarily halted the Dakota Pipeline might not have converted any new environmentalists; I know too well from experience that a lot of people do not want to be inconvenienced in any way, even if that small inconvenience will help clean up the environment, or at least slow down the toxicity of the natural environment…

Yet, we all need to stay on guard because this battle may come up again as a new president moves into the White House in January 2017.  However, for the time being, recognize what this protest and this small victory has made us all pay attention to: respect for the dead and for the most precious resource on earth: water.  If you are not humbled by this, I do not know what else to tell you except that you will eventually be humbled by this, whether you want to be or not.

Àṣé.”

Copyright © 2016 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: https://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

 

A Time of Drought

By Leslye Joy Allen

rain-on-the-pines-copyCopyright © by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

I still remember the first time someone laughed at me for carrying cloth bags to the grocery store to shop. Unfortunately, the person was Black, just like me, and failed to understand the greater implications of climate change and what we all could do to slow it down.  I was told that my using cloth bags instead of plastic bags would probably not make that much difference to the environment.  I replied, “No it probably won’t make that much difference. But at least I can decide not to contribute to the problem.”

I write this blog at the very moment when it is raining heavily in my hometown.  Day before yesterday we saw the first few small showers after enduring over 100 days since rain fell in Atlanta.  The forest fires that have now devoured over 25,000 acres in the Appalachian region of Georgia, Tennessee and other areas are still raging.

Those individuals who did not think much about climate change are beginning to think a little bit more about it now.  With a protest against a dangerous pipeline going on in the Dakotas, along with this multi-state drought, I have only one desire: to point out some things you can do that will cost you basically nothing; and you might learn a few talking points.

  1. Every time a building is torn down and a new building is built in its place, the soil loses some of its ability to absorb water. Demand that your local politicians and city leaders refurbish old buildings rather than tear them down.  It not only preserves a city’s physical heritage it also saves money as buildings built before 1930 are more energy efficient than modern buildings.
  2. Most cloth shopping bags cost between one to two dollars and they are pretty durable. You can leave the petroleum-based plastic bags at the store.
  3. Recycle your paper, and your plastic, glass, and aluminum containers rather than placing them in the trash. Over the long haul, you will save on garbage bags because you will place less garbage in them. If your city does not have a recycling program, start one yourself.
  4. Remember that the chemical methane is naturally reproduced below the earth; and while it is non-toxic, it is volatile. Low income Black communities, Latino communities, and other communities of color are the most likely to live near garbage dumps that produce high levels of methane. If methane seeps into the water supply, you can literally strike a match and the water will burn. If you consume methane at high levels you can die from asphyxiation.  Pay attention to where your garbage dumps are located.
  5. Fracking for precious minerals and resources below the earth is believed to not only produce the potential for methane seeping into drinking water, but is also believed to be responsible for some earthquakes.  The fight against the Dakota pipeline is based not only on a respect for Native Americans’ sacred sites, but also on the potential problems that this pipeline will eventually create.
  6. For people who think that the problem with drinking water was at its worst in Flint, Michigan, think again. Flint is and remains a long-term problem that was on the radar of environmental groups as early as the 1970s.  You can read more about it here. “Before Flint, Before East Chicago, There Was Smeltertown.”
  7. While 70 percent of the earth is actually covered by water, only 2.5 percent of that water is drinkable.
  8. If you believe in a Creator or any higher power, then try treating what has been created as if you did not own it or create it, because you did not.

Àṣé!!!

Copyright © by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: https://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

No Ordinary Man

By Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © 2016 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

Left to Right: Actor & Cultural Architect Charles Reese, Historian Leslye Joy Allen, and Actor-Director-Drama Professor Keith Arthur Bolden (Copyright © 2016 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.)

Left to Right: Actor & Cultural Architect Charles Reese, Historian Leslye Joy Allen, and Actor-Director-Drama Professor Keith Arthur Bolden (Copyright © 2016 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.)

When I learned that Mrs. Margarette Bolden passed on to the ancestors on Wednesday, October 26, 2016, I immediately thought of her son, my friend Keith Arthur Bolden.  I never met Keith Arthur’s Mama, but I knew her through him.  He spoke of her lovingly and often.  But then, that is Keith Arthur’s nature. (I call him by his first and middle name.)

An actor, director, Professor of Drama, and director of the amazing Spriggs Burroughs Ensemble at Spelman College that contains actors from all-female Spelman and all-male Morehouse College, I am highly familiar with Keith Arthur’s phenomenal work with young actors.  I had the good fortune to act as a Historical Consultant for him and this group; and the adventure was a lot of fun, and his asking me to do so was a supreme compliment.  But on Wednesday, October 26, 2016, Keith Arthur lost his Mama.  Yet…

In an act of unwavering devotion to his art and craft, he was up at 1:00 AM on October 27, 2016 for a late night/early morning rehearsal with his actors in the Spriggs Burroughs Ensemble.  One day after his amazing mother passed away from her third bout with cancer, Keith Arthur stated that his Mama would want him to keep working and perfecting his art.  This behavior might sound unreasonable to an ordinary man or woman, but Keith Arthur Bolden is not an ordinary man.

I have listened to him rave about how good his wife Tinashe Kajese is at acting.  “If you want to know how to get into a scene, you watch my wife,” he has said on so many occasions.  He could routinely brag about how beautiful his wife is (and she is a real beauty), but he praises her work all the time.  In that respect he is quite different from a lot of men.  Many men will praise a woman’s cooking and will talk about how pretty she is, or how supportive she is, but rarely do we women get praise for our professions unless the man has discovered some personal use of his own for our particular skills.  Even more rare is the man or husband who brags about his wife’s abilities in her chosen profession.  Keith Arthur Bolden is proud of his wife—as he should be, because Tinashe is a powerhouse of an actor.  He doesn’t mind telling everybody how proud he is of her as a professional.  In addition to that, he remains one of the most thoughtful men I have encountered…

When my cousin and theatre veteran Billie Allen passed to the ancestors in December of 2015, one of the first people to contact me was Keith Arthur.  When I had no money to attend the theatre, Keith Arthur made sure I saw Tinashe Kajese in the phenomenal play “Serial Blackface” about Atlanta’s late 70s-early 80s missing and murdered child cases; and actor-playwright Terry Burrell in her one-woman show “Ethel” about the life of the late Ethel Waters. (I have to add that Atlanta actor Margo Moorer is also another one of my theatre angels.  Margo came and picked me up and took me to the theatre to see Gabrielle Fulton’s “Uprising” and made me take some money.)  Keith Arthur adds even more love and light to the best in the theatre tradition.  He thought of me and got me tickets all while he managed and directed a college theatre group, while he taught classes, acted in a variety of television roles, while he had the regular duties of husband and father, and while he went back-and-forth to L. A. to check on his ailing mother.  I WILL NEVER FORGET HIS THOUGHTFULNESS.  So…

When I learned his mother passed away, I thought of the value of good parenting, the value of raising a boy to look for substance in a woman. Mrs. Margarette Bolden had to have been one hell of a woman and Keith Arthur’s dad was probably pretty smart for having married her…and now she has left the earthly plane to join the ancestors…

Keith Arthur would probably tell me that he has made some mistakes and that my compliments here are a bit over-the-top.  I would have to disagree.  Ordinary men rarely understand much about women, not always because women are that complicated, but often because ordinary men never really ask women any real questions, at least not any questions about what a woman wants to do for a living, particularly if what she wants to do professionally has nothing to do with the man asking the questions. Keith Arthur Bolden is not so self-absorbed and does not fit that description…

I suspect that his mother had a lot to do with his thoughtfulness and genuine respect for a woman’s ambitions and talents.  I have little doubt that his tenacity and belief that “the show must go on” (which explains his early A.M. rehearsal) not only comes from the theatre tradition, but also from his mother who battled cancer like a champion, always with a smile and positive attitude.  I looked at the photos Keith Arthur would post of her smiling, even though her health was declining.  So I thank Mrs. Margarette Bolden for her shining example and also because she raised a man who is not ordinary by any definition of the word.  One day at a time, Keith Arthur…Rest in Peace Mrs. Bolden.  Àṣé.

Copyright © 2016 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: https://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.