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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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.

The Change Agents: A Thought for February

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

Copyright © 2014 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

Leslye Joy Allen, Copyright © 2013.  All Rights Reserved.  Self-Portrait.

Leslye Joy Allen, Copyright © 2013. All Rights Reserved. Self-Portrait.

Several months ago I heard Black British film director Steve McQueen (not the now-deceased White actor), say that art did not change anything.  I clutched my chest as if I was surely having a massive heart attack at what must be blasphemy.  Later, I figured out what McQueen meant.  Art alters and suspends that space in your head where your creativity and out-of-the-box thinking is located, and then YOU might be able to change yourself or your situation or your mind.  Art is the match or spark, which lights the fire in the potential change agent—YOU!

Now, history has taught us that my brothers and sisters, Black Americans, have, at least since the early twentieth century worked diligently to create art—paintings and sculpture, music and dance, or theatre—that they imbued with the herculean task of changing the way the rest of the world looks at us, and how we look at ourselves.  Too often, the belief is that an artistic representation of us, once seen or experienced, will alter the way others think of us.  This is why so many of my brothers and sisters can hyperventilate until they burst into a sweat (or burst a blood vessel) about a film or television characterization of us that is a pathetic and insulting stereotype or caricature of us that strays far from the truth. Typically, what happens next is a mad search for the most exceptional among us.

This February, 2014, I have been guilty of what WE historians call “chronicling.”  Chronicling is posting basic information about a person or event, often in date order, which we think, or believe to be of “historical significance,” whatever that means.  For Black folks, Black History Month reeks of an unsavory type of history that I, and others, also call “Great Man/Great Woman” history, or “Unsung Man/Unsung Woman” history.  I call it unsavory because it never really satisfies—It is the history of our people whom we see (or have been taught to see), as exceptional, or the exception to the rule.  I am also as guilty of it as anybody else.  Yet, this month, February 2014, in many of my Facebook and Twitter posts, I deliberately focused on Black people that have contributed to or participated in theatre.  I did not do this to simply cast a light on Black folks in the theatre that I think everyone should know about.  It was also designed to cast a light on Black theatre itself, something Black folks, those who were theatre professionals and those who were not, used to participate in on a regular basis as a matter of ritual, as a matter of teaching and learning, as a matter of lifting the spirit.

It did not matter whether the person(s) had talent or not, theatre was what WE did for each other and for ourselves.  In the early days of the twentieth century, theatre had not yet become the rather parochial profession as some folks think of it today, but rather it remained an essential exercise in the communal rituals we always participated in as a people.  After all, nobody said you needed talent to recite an Easter Speech or to memorize and recite a poem, did they?  Mama, Daddy, Grandma and Grandpa all thought you “did good” up there on that stage even if you would never, ever be able to act or sing your way out of a jar, to say nothing of survive an audition.  I say all of this to make a few simple points…

Take one moment and forget about “Great Man/Great Woman History.”  Forget about “Unsung Man/Unsung Woman History,” and begin to look at your mothers, fathers, grandparents and others who belong to so many generations before you as the “multi-talented,” “multi-hat-wearing,” “multi-title-holding,” “multi-I’m-going-to-get-this-done-if-it-kills-me” people that they were.  When you do this, you will begin to measure greatness not by accolades and plaques, but by how well something they did served them, saved them and you, and whether it is or is not possible for you to emulate them.  Then you will find out everything you ever needed to know that never went into a History Book or on the cover of a magazine or in a documentary about our/your people.  You will then find that match or spark that ignites you—the change agent!  Ashé!

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 © 2014 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 and visibly stated as the author.

The Debt

by Leslye Joy Allen

from Birmingham to Bahia                             from Sapelo to San Juan

women black brown bronze tan                    men black brown bronze tan

looked away from more than we will see    paid for more than we will collect

scholars scrubbing Miss Anne’s floor          scientists slapping rags on shoes

teachers taking Mister Charlie’s orders      architects covered in coal dust

Coloured women                                              Coloured men

braided our hair                                                held us in barbers’ chairs

amenned, fanned on hard church pews      shop-talked at fraternal meetings

heard bedside prayers                                    slipped us quarters

fragrant of Crisco and rose water                 pungent  with Old Spice and cigars

admonished us with switches                       early-rised us to duties

and quick-witted wisdom                               ordered us home by dusk

We                                                                       We

whose breath their hopes are hung on         whose breath their hopes are hung on

owe them                                                           owe them.

Copyright © 2012 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

(I have been blessed with wonderful teachers who have insisted that my being a historian had nothing to do with my ability to write something other than history.  Much love & respect to my two favorite Partners-in-crime: Poet-Professors Dr. Waqas Ahmad Khwaja & Dr. Steven Guthrie of Agnes Scott College.)

 

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

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.

 

 

 

Mercy, Mercy Me: Black, Clean, and Green!

by Leslye Joy Allen

Historian, Educator, Theatre and Jazz Advocate & Consultant, Doctoral Student

Copyright © 2012 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

I am sure there is someone who saw the title of this blog and instantly thought of the late Marvin Gaye’s environmental anthem from 1971, “Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology).”  Well, this is not exactly about Marvin Gaye.  Yet, music can trigger an entire series of memories.  Music is as much a cultural and historical marker of the times in which we live and have lived through as anything else.  However, I arrived at this title and this blog via a beautiful and talented woman named Freda Payne.  If you recognize that name, then you probably remember her anti-Vietnam era song “Bring the Boys Home.”  Freda sang “Bring the Boys Home” with a sense of urgency and longing that none of us who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s will ever forget.  It is ironic, but no accident that Freda’s anti-war anthem and Marvin Gaye’s song bemoaning our poisoning of the environment were released in the same year.  For those of you who are unfamiliar, you can do a quick Google or YouTube search and find all the information, beautiful music and pointed messages you need.  Yet, this blog is not exactly about music.

Not long ago, I received a sweet and thoughtful message from Freda Payne, along with a request from her to tell folks about her son Gregory who is a partner with Clean Green Nation.  Before I could even visit the website, I heard Freda’s song in my head, then I heard Marvin Gaye.  These were songs from my childhood and adolescence.  As the music played in my head, I looked up Clean Green Nation on the Internet.  It specializes in environmentally sound and clean energy for your home, your business, and even your farm.  I smiled as I clicked on one section of the website after another because one of the first things that struck me about the website was the same thing that struck me about Freda’s request.—Her request, like the website itself, was filled with a deep understanding about this nation’s need to reduce its dependence on foreign oil, and the need to reduce greenhouse gases so that everyone can breathe cleaner air.  She is also a proud mother.  Her son Gregory is one of a growing number of young Black Americans committed to this admirable and much needed goal.

I visited what has to be one of the very best websites and businesses for selling, installing, promoting, and explaining clean energy.  The best part about what Gregory and Clean Green Nation are doing is that there is some item or service available there for every budget.  Solar panels and wind turbines are available for homes and businesses.  For under $20.00, you can purchase a variable flow showerhead that saves water; another nifty gadget that helps you to time and shorten your showers is available for $2.99.  Importantly, Clean Green Nation has one of the best Learning Centers that I have ever seen.  In clear language, visitors to the site find out exactly how solar and wind energy work.  They learn about radiant barriers that keep heat out of a house in the summer and hold more heat in during the winter.  A range of services and products are offered that will simultaneously save the customer money and help clean up the environment at the same time—I cannot stress the importance of these factors when it comes to marketing anything affiliated with that word “environment” to Black and other communities of color.  There was a time when I would go to rallies and lectures about the environment and I could count the number of Black folks (including myself) in attendance on one hand.

The first time I told someone I was an environmentalist was over fifteen years ago.  The man looked at me strangely, as I stood there with my cloth shopping bags.  I went into one of my quick talks about how we should use “these bags” instead of the petroleum based plastic bags many stores continue to use.  Once, I even got a manager at a local grocery store to start recycling these same petroleum based bags.  However, for a long time there seemed to be a kind of disconnect about the whole concept of cleaning up the environment in many Black communities; and that is a shame because WE Black folks, and other peoples of color, are usually the first to suffer from environmental toxicity.  It is no accident that toxic waste dumps are often located near or in poor communities, particularly poor Black communities.  Yet, regardless of race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status, WE all bear responsibility and have the capacity to contribute to the fight to clean up the environment.  I say this so that those folks who read this, who happen to be White or members of some other ethnic group, do not feel left out.  My message in this blog, however, is deliberately directed at Black people because information about the environment has not always reached or been directed toward Black communities.  This is where Clean Green Nation comes in.

While Gregory services the West Coast and West Hollywood specifically, anyone can order products and services from his website.  Even more important, anyone can learn more about how to lower utility bills and help the environment!  It is just that simple. I must add something important here: Gregory was not born when his mother sang that song that showed the human and personal costs to us as we lost one young man after another in the Vietnam War.  The song was so potent that U. S. Armed Forces Radio banned it from its airwaves.  Gregory was not born when Marvin Gaye sang a song with lyrics filled with sadness over the way we all had poisoned our natural environment.  The tragedy is that both of these songs are still relevant some forty plus years later because the problems we were dealing with in 1971 are still with us today.  I remember it well.  Future generations do not so much need new songs as they need new songs with different themes.  Now when I was a kid, James Brown taught us to chant, “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud.”  Today I ask you to support a committed young man who drives a hybrid in a town that often prides itself on glamour; a young man trying to make an honest living and help clean up the planet at the same time.  Say it with me now, “Let’s Be Black, Clean and Green.”

Copyright © 2012 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

Leslye Joy Allen is proud to support Clean Green Nation.  Visit the website to learn more about it: Gregory at Clean Green Nation!

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.