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.

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I AM…

 

(for Billie, who insisted that I boldly say, “I AM,” and for Nevaina (nih-von-yah)—one of many actors who were once under Billie’s direction—who reminded me to say it even louder)

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

“Self Portrait” by Copyright © 2015 Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

“Self Portrait” by Copyright © 2015 Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

I am Thomas and Syble’s daughter.

I am the granddaughter of Lorena and George and Minnie and Will.

I am a historian.

I am an intellectual.

I am a dramaturge and patron of theatre and the arts.

I am a Jazz fan.

I am a Johnny Mathis fanatic.

I am eloquent.

I am also a great procrastinator.

I am one who is often impatient.

I am one who does not like braggarts or pretenders.

I am a good and loyal friend.

I am also one who, some times, does not listen.

I am a woman who will drop you like a bad habit if you lack empathy or fidelity.

I am an environmentalist.

I am a lover of animals and nature.

I am a lover of children.

I am a Black Nationalist because it makes sense to take care of your home and your people first.

I am a woman that does not deal easily with shallow people.

I am a woman that prefers simplicity.

I am a woman who is fond of the exotic.

I am a woman who has learned how to say, “No” the hard way.

I am a woman who does not like playing small.

I am a woman who never discounts what other people have to go through to do whatever it is that they need or have to do…which is why I am deeply offended when other people discount what I go through.

I am a woman that dislikes men and women who try to prove their worth with things rather than demonstrate who they are by what they believe in and what they put into practice.

I am a woman who would prefer the company of a poet over that of a stockbroker or the company of a musician over that of an accountant or the company of a college professor over that of a CEO of a Fortune 500 company…

I am my mother and father’s daughter.

— Leslye Joy Allen 

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 blog or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly and visibly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

Sayonara 2015…Changes in 2016

by Leslye Joy Allen

“Self Portrait” by Copyright © 2015 Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

“Self Portrait” by Copyright © 2015 Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

I lost a lot and gained a lot in the year 2015. When this happens you reassess what makes sense in your life, and what you need to let go of. So, with that said…

I lost my dissertation advisor Dr. Clifford M. Kuhn, who died of a massive heart attack in November 2015. Yet, I learned that I had the support of the wonderful faculty of the History Department at Georgia State University; and I thank them all. I had to agree to stop teaching for at least a couple of semesters in order to fulfill the requirements of a dissertation fellowship, but that is okay—I won that dissertation fellowship.

I had the love and support of supremely talented actor Margo Moorer—one of many members of my extensive theatre family—who ensured that I witnessed the phenomenal stage play “Uprising.” Margo and that cast were superb in this great play and she generously pressed some money in my hand when I was dead broke.  I should also acknowledge that Margo was one of the first members of Atlanta’s theatre community to show up when my Mama passed in 2013.  Her fellow actor and co-star LaParee Young said it best, “Margo will be there for you.”  LaParee was damn right.  THANK YOU MARGO!  She also insisted that I meet the author of “Uprising” Gabrielle Fulton, who is a brilliant playwright whose literary and artistic maturity are far beyond her years.

As an only child, I naturally have “adopted” brothers and sisters. I could not let this year go by without thanking my long-time “adopted” brother (and fellow only child) Marc Freeman for covering me, praying for me, and for letting me hear some amazing music that no one else has heard.  He is an amazing composer and producer. We have been friends for fifty years and counting.  I must thank Wafa who is my “sister from another mother,” and who has covered my behind more times than I can count.  I also have to thank my cousins Saundi, Yolanda (Yandi), Lorena, and Cynthia for reminding me that I am loved and for showing up to make sure that I knew it.  My cousin Saundi lost her Mom (my Aunt Sara) this year, but I have one of her angel ornaments to remind me of her.  I thank Claude and Don, my “adopted” brothers and favorite couple for always making me laugh and for reminding me that only children often inherit loving siblings late in life.  

I thank Dr. Karcheik Sims-Alvarado—the Historian in Heels—for “talking me back from the ledge” so to speak, as she understood/understands the stress and frustration that comes with being a doctoral candidate; and I must give a special shout to the GSU History Department’s Business Manager Paula Sorrell for getting all that paperwork handled so that I could get paid on time; and I also must thank Paula for always remaining cool when she is dealing with crazy Ph.D. candidates like myself.

I thank all of my former students who are too numerous to mention by name. They remind me that the future is in good hands. I also thank the young men and women who have chosen me as their mentor.  It is an honor to be chosen by such wonderful young people from everywhere around the United States, and from as far away as Nigeria, Ghana, Pakistan, United Arab Emirates, Antigua, and Québec.  All of my students, protégés and protégées will change the world.  

This year I participated as a historical consultant in the directorial debut of Keith Arthur Bolden, a brilliant actor and artistic director of the phenomenal Spriggs Burroughs Ensemble of Spelman College. I thank Keith for inviting me along on his very special journey. Okay, I give up!  Margo, Keith and several other performance artists have called me a dramaturge, and I am finally accepting the label.

I must give super props to my adopted “Baby Sister,” the phenomenally talented actor Nevaina Rhodes (pronounced “Nih-Von-Yah”), who is also a drama coach and founder of Real Actors Workshop (RAW).  She also remains the only person I can honestly call a bona fide prayer warrior. Her midday prayers at 12:00 Noon every weekday are a revelation. I know of no one who prays with as much intensity or belief or talent…and she and I have also laughed at some supreme silliness—that is always a blessing!

I met and befriended talented young Black male doctoral scholars like Jerquil “JC” Campbell and Malcom Devoe (his Malcom does not have that second “L”), and talented young doctoral scholars like Jessica Ramadhin, Cinnamon Mittan, and Corrianne Bazemore-James. Cori was my roommate during “The Compact for Faculty Diversity: Institute on Teaching and Mentoring Conference” for SREB Doctoral Scholars held in Washington, DC.  Meeting these young dedicated scholars of color is/was always a blessing and inspiration…

I recognize and embrace the fact that I am a fierce and brilliant intellectual who owes so much to so many scholars and artists who invested their time and energy in my intellect and abilities. I am also the daughter of two now-deceased parents who knew that my purpose and destination would exceed the limits of their lifetimes. Therefore, some changes for 2016 are in order so that I might fulfill my ancestral legacy and complete my sacred God-ordained mission.

I am saying, “Sayonara,” “Adios,” “O da abọ,” “Kwaheri,” “Au Revoir” and “Goodbye” to that small group of men who narrowly envision me (and women in general) as someone designated to sit and listen to their plans, their projects, and their problems. If any of these men are reading this and need some kind of advice, I suggest that they call a counselor or their Mamas, but they need not call me. Too many of these same men who dialed my phone for all kinds of help and assistance have also routinely compensated other men for doing what they expected me to do free of charge…Therefore…

I will no longer vet projects and/or consult and/or render my academic expertise without some form of compensation. The wonderful people that I have individually thanked above in this blog deserve me as one who operates at full capacity for myself and for them.  Mess over or mistreat or mishandle any one of these phenomenal people and I will take it as a personal insult.  I have only one thing, however, to say to those men who think I am some kind of built-in, automatic, academic workhorse meant for their personal use: Delete my phone number until you recognize my value and until you can pay me what I am worth; and we need not speak unless I consider my association with you to be a plus rather than a liability. And please understand that all of the people I care about know who you are, so do not bother calling them either!

To all those friends and colleagues who have encouraged me in some way this year:  You are too numerous to name in a single blog, and I am sure I have forgotten someone, but charge it to my head and not my heart.  Please know that I appreciate every one of you.  Happy New Year!  Àṣé!

Copyright © 2015 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 blog or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly and visibly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

Frank Wittow’s Legacy…Nevaina’s Dream

by Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

The late great actor-director-educator Frank Wittow remains one of my favorite figures in Atlanta’s rich theatre history.  His work with the late, great Georgia Allen was second to none—He placed this multi-talented Black woman in a non-servant role on an Atlanta stage in the early 1960s when the city and indeed the nation were still grappling with the idea that maybe Black folk were more than just the servants of White folk. Georgia Allen had appeared in numerous films and theatre productions throughout the nation and on the campuses of Spelman and Clark Colleges, and Wittow was wise enough to recognize Allen’s superior gifts.  He was simply a different kind of White man. There were no syrupy and useless White liberal platitudes about race relations spewing out of his mouth—he just did what he wanted to do.

Now, Allen predated Wittow’s arrival in Atlanta and she had a much longer career, and to fully honor her contributions to all of the arts and to education would require writing a tome. So, I will save that project for a later date.  Much like Allen, however, Wittow directed, trained, and mentored some of the best performers on the planet and took theatre performances into Atlanta Public Schools throughout much of his life.  He did this almost to the day he died in 2006.  One of his younger protégées had the benefit of his training…

Her name is Nevaina Rhodes—her first name is pronounced “Nih-Von-yah” like “lasagna.”  The first time I saw her perform, I did not know she had any affiliation with Wittow.  When she told me her basic philosophy about acting there was something refreshingly new about her approach to her craft, but also something rather familiar…Let me explain…

You see, when I was growing up in Atlanta, an actor, a musician, a poet, an academic, an intellectual, was simply part of the community in which we all lived.  Importantly, you had to participate in the arts and the humanities, and it did not matter if you had talent or an exceptional intellect or not.  While I adore and admire many younger performers and scholars—and by younger, I mean anyone born after the Baby Boom—I find an increasing number of them who are quite insular; they have fewer connections to each other or with the folk in the communities where they live.  Unlike the Atlanta of my childhood, in recent years I have attended far too many functions filled with musicians, actors, poets, filmmakers, and historians and I end up being the only person in the room who actually knows everybody in that room…

Well, to make a long story short, Nevaina’s conceptualization of Real Actors Workshop (RAW) makes it open to amateur and professional alike.  Her basic theory is that whether you are a professional actor or not, all of us humans act and perform in certain ways depending on the circumstances.  In other words, she insists that, we all are actors. Although she is a North Carolinian by birth, her approach feels much like the Atlanta of my youth, where the long theatre traditions on the campuses of our Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and people like Georgia Allen and Frank Wittow made certain that theatre reached who it was supposed to reach—the people. We were not a community of strangers…everybody knew everybody, which is the way it should be.

I should add that I am writing this to inform you that Nevaina is not only a dazzling performer and an amazing drama coach, but she is also a real survivor. Native Atlantans, in particular, love people with a strong work ethic and those who bounce back when things do not always go as planned.  Less than five years ago, Nevaina miraculously and fully recovered from a stroke that could have easily killed her; and she remained positive while she also endured some personal losses that probably would have destroyed some weaker souls.

Today her Real Actors Workshop (RAW) is headquartered at Dream Café, Atlanta’s first cafe and empowerment lounge, which is owned by Nevaina and her partners, Jay White and Stevie Baggs.  Dream Café‘s premise is simple.  It is designed to be a place where artists, intellectuals, young and old folk can meet and greet and talk and achieve their dreams, over coffee and healthy food.  This concept and these young owners have my support not only because it feels familiar to me, but because it feels right…and it also feels rather cyclical…

Now, I am aware that my hometown has changed.  Nothing stays the same, nor should it stay the same.  Yet, there are some core elements that we must never lose—namely, the ability to connect with each other and exchange ideas.  Not even a semblance of community can survive if we lose this ability.  So, I am proud to call Nevaina a friend. It has been a great privilege to watch her perform; and I have been encouraged by her intellect, her big smile, and her big spirit…I am also certain that Wittow (and Allen) are watching her from that place where great souls go when they leave this earth…So, in honor of them and in honor of future generations, go visit the Dream Café, and write your dream on the wall. Àṣé!

To learn more about Real Actors Workshop (RAW), and Nevaina’s distinguished career as an actor, drama coach, and public speaker, click here: Nevaina Rhodes Inspirational Speaker and Drama Therapy Specialist.

Copyright © 2015 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 blog or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly and visibly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

Artistic and Intellectual Dangers: Two Scenarios

By Leslye Joy Allen                                                                                                     Historian, Educator, Theatre and Jazz Advocate & Consultant, Ph.D. Candidate

Copyright © 2013 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

Scenario One:

Although it now seems ages ago, I remember one of my former classmates told me something quite revelatory shortly before my graduation from Agnes Scott College.  She told me that when my classes were over, and I had turned in that last paper, I was going to make a discovery:  I would discover my reading and analysis addiction.  I laughed.  After all, I thought, we both were older when we returned to school to complete our college degrees.  Were we not naturally immune to the kind of excesses that affected much younger women?  Agnes Scott’s student body was and still is well over a fourth non-traditional age students, meaning students over the age of 25.

The benefit of attending school with students of various ages was that we all learned something from each other.  I was a History major and every semester I was usually assigned anywhere from 18 to 22 books to read in semesters that were usually no longer than 15 or 16 weeks.  When my classmate (who graduated before me) told me that after graduation she would get up at 6:00 AM just to go out to fetch the morning newspaper to read, I was certain she was telling one of her funny stories.  I was wrong!

After I turned in my final paper for the Senior History Colloquium, I lounged around for a couple of days and then it started: the hunt for reading material.  Now, I already owned over a thousand books.  I suddenly found myself opening books and re-reading chapters of books I had read years ago; then magazines, scholarly journals, and the TV guide.  I read a couple of stage plays, including the stage directions.  Was it possible for me to just stop reading and just let my brain relax for a moment?  Was it possible for me to pause and not do what I was trained to do?  Yet, if I did read something, could I read it just for pleasure?

Like most “Scotties,” my classmate gave me some good advice.  She said we all know that most people need to read more.  We tell our children to read books; and there is a genuine crisis in how little some people read.  Yet, she said, anything you cannot turn off for a while is controlling you, not the other way around.  Reading is absolutely necessary and essential to any good education.  Yet, when you have to struggle to allow yourself to take a break, there is a problem.  Reading and deep analysis must always be self-directed.  Deep analysis can become ineffective once it becomes an involuntary reflex.

Scenario Two:

On a few occasions, I have attended stage plays with actors.  Most of these actors I love to death.  We have sat in the audience making small talk before the show began and then WHAM!  Less than two minutes into the production, the same actors that I love were analyzing every thing:  “I wonder why the set designer placed that chair over there?”  “How did the stylist get that woman’s hair to look like that?”  After the play was over, the analysis really kicked into high gear:  “I thought that this character should have entered from the left instead of the right.”  “It was a great play, but I would have placed the intermission in a different place.”  “Why was that odd sculpture on the table in the corner?”  Soon I was thinking to myself, “Why, oh why, did I not just come to see this play by myself?”

Now, to be fair, all actors, playwrights, directors, and etcetera have to analyze plays like this.  If they do not do this, they risk overlooking important details that might compromise the integrity of their future performances and productions.  It is an exercise in understanding what works on a stage and what does not work on a stage.  They cannot take anything for granted: the lighting, the set, costumes, particular moments in the script that they believe need to grab the audience’s attention.  Yet, there is a problem when the criticisms and evaluations seem to run on automatic pilot.  There is also a problem in not being able to simply sit in an audience and just enjoy the show.

So why are these two scenarios a bit dangerous?  After all, there is every reason to complain about the lack of intellectual and artistic stimulation in society as a whole.  Most of us with any degree of brains knows that putting a book in a child’s hands or taking them to see a play or to a concert is far better than giving them $200 sneakers and video games.  Most of us have witnessed the performance that pandered to the audience for cheap laughs or sank into a ridiculous melodrama designed to do nothing more than make people weep.  We have all read the book or essay that seemed written purely for titillation.  We do not need any of that.  Yet…

The danger in never being able to simply watch a performance just for sheer enjoyment is dangerously close to losing the joy of viewing performance art altogether.  The danger in not being able to momentarily, put the book down or not being able to stop analyzing everything is also very close to becoming entirely disconnected from the very people you wish to reach and teach.  When you watch what they watch or read what they read, do you do so through their eyes and ears?  How can you know what the people expect or need to know or want to know or want to experience or need to experience unless you occasionally JOIN THEM?

So, take a moment and just chill.  Every once and awhile, when you read, simply drink in whatever you are reading, and leave your criticisms, questions, and analysis for some later time.  If you are watching a play or listening to a piece of music, just watch, just listen, just enjoy.  Pause and try to recall when everything that you know now (or think you know now) was once perfectly fresh and new to you.  Take that occasional moment to deliberately NOT review, but to renew.  Then, get back to work!

Peace.

Leslye Joy Allen is a perpetual and proud supporter of the good work of Clean Green Nation.  Visit the website to learn more about it: Gregory at Clean Green Nation!

Copyright © 2013 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.
Creative Commons License 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 blog, or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author.